One year on, mixed reviews for Premier Paula Cox
As Premier Paula Cox completes her first anniversary in office, no one would disagree that its a rough time to be Premier of Bermuda. But few people could be found willing to discuss her tenure so far. For the most part, our request for frank assessments was met with a deafening silence.
Much of that silence was due to the fact that the ruling party is in election mode and many partisans did not want to go on the record with criticisms of their Leader. Some in the business sector felt that any perceived criticism may damage relationships at a critical time.
Those that did agree to comment offer a mixed report card.
Businessman and political activist Khalid Wasi gives the Premier credit for understanding the complexities of our economy, country and community, but claims she is totally lacking in a certain political depth or persona that builds public confidence. As a result much of what she does can easily be overlooked.
He added that Ms Coxs efforts in dealing with the financial scandals and issues that most people in the country were upset about was perhaps too careful to be appreciated. Notwithstanding she has put in place the needed apparatus for transparency for which she deserves credit.
Kim Swan, who was elected as a United Bermuda Party MP, noted that Ms Cox ascension to the Premiership came at one of the most difficult periods in Bermudas modern history and she inherited a fragmented country.
However, there is one important fact, and that is, that the Hon Paula Cox has been a part of the Cabinet that has been responsible for all decisions in Bermuda since 1998 and contributed to the state that she has inherited as Premier, Mr Swan said.
Its a theme that Ms Coxs political detractors echo repeatedly. Has Ms Cox made any difference as Premier? We dont think so, but perhaps it is unreasonable and unfair to expect anything different, said the leader of the One Bermuda Alliance, Craig Cannonier.
She is, after all, the same Finance Minister leading the same government implementing and defending the same policies, the same programmes and the same decisions that got Bermuda into this predicament today, whether it is the economy, education or crime. Bermuda needs change, not more of the same.
Ms Cox he continued, wrote the cheques and it has been her financial planning and decisions that weakened the Governments, and ultimately Bermudas, ability to not only navigate this economic crisis but to support people and businesses needing help.
But how has she performed? Chamber of Commerce President, Stephen Todd, is suitably impressed.
The conduct of our Premier has been without reproach and clearly we all would like to see more having been accomplished, Mr Todd said. However it must be stated that she has only been in office for 12 months and given the complexity of our current economic environment, she has done very well in the time she has had to act to date.
Mr Todd cites the introduction of the ten-year work permit as an indication of the Premiers ability to make sound and tough decisions at critical times.
It can be argued from a business and corporate standpoint that more should be done in this area, and we will continue to lobby for existing policy to be further relaxed, Mr. Todd said.
Environmental activist Stuart Hayward is not as understanding. He points to some of the Premiers first appointments as a sign that as far as race relations were concerned, things were not going to be any better than under Ewart Browns administration.
Some of us felt that, after the Brown departure, things could only get better. However, her retention of Rolfe Commissiong as (race) consultant spelled an end to any hopes for improved race relations, Mr. Hayward said.
That, along with the appointment of Ms LaVerne Furbert to the Senate signalled either an inclination on the part of the Premier that she approved of the messages of race hatred that these individuals typified, or that the Premier rewarded these individuals at someone elses behest. Either way it was an indication that this particular dial was not going to be reset; that this business was going to remain as usual. This is important because racial harmony, or at least movement in that direction, is the cornerstone on which tourism and international business will be rescued, or lost.
Mr. Hayward disagreed with a suggestion that the landscape was less rancorous under Ms Coxs leadership compared to Dr. Browns.
Race invariably comes up in blog discussion on almost any topic in which there is some criticism of the PLP, he said.
Almost always it is rancorous, accusatory and divisive. Premier Cox is less overtly combative in style, however, the appointments signify to me an undercurrent of approval that shows up in the comments from the hard-core cadre of pseudonymed PLP supporters and in election-related comments.
But its Ms Coxs handling of the economic crisis and fiscal matters that is meant to be the hallmark of her Premiership, based on her own words and actions. She retained the Finance portfolio and promised from the start a focus on fiscal discipline and good governance. After reports of allegedly dodgy deals under the previous administration, many appreciated the emphasis, but it has proven impossible for the Premier to distance herself from the immediate past.
As Mr. Hayward put it: Premier Coxs words about no more flawed procurements were encouraging. However, those words lost progressively more of their sparkle each time an issue surfaces like the Andre Curtis Faith Based Tourism or no-bid contracts for the Global House replacement lighting. Its not enough to say things are going to improve while the bad doings of the past just repeatedly surface to haunt us.
The Premiers stiff-spined stance resisting Minister salary cutbacks needs to be as visibly applied to Ministerial travel abroad and oversized cars locally.
Any effort to distance herself from the previous administration were doomed from the start since, as so many have noted, she was such a central part of that administration and she, arguably, made that mission an impossible one by appointing herself Finance Minister.
We might hope for a searching investigation into financial misdeeds that took place in the past decade, but the ultimate investigator (todays Finance Minister) would have to look into the deeds/oversight of the ultimate investigatee (yesterdays Finance Minister), said Mr Hayward. Who can believe thats going to happen?
One man in the business community, who insisted on anonymity, echoed that sentiment.
We have moved from the chicken house being run by the fox to the hen taking charge of the foxs den, he offered.
The relationship between Finance Minister and the rest of Cabinet and whichever Party should be slightly antagonistic. Allowing party objectives to be targeted and prioritised without maiming the countries financial integrity is the role of that Minister- without fear or favour, while paternalistically rewarding and punishing at the same time.
It is not a popularity game within the ruling party. If anyone has to bellow, No it should have been her- even at the expense of her political career.
And he questioned whether the Cox administration could be defined by an overriding vision.
Along with one or two other ministers we are able to decipher the message that this government is friendlier to International Business. This should be an unequivocal statement leaving no doubt in anyones mind as to the position of this government. A Cox Doctrine guiding us for years, he said.
What is the governments mantra today? Is it visionary? Is it defensive? Is it treading water? Seriously, what is it? Hopefully its not doing more with less. Would it sound right coming out of the mouths of their Senators, senior Ministers, back benchers. Is it supported by the same team players. I think not.
Despite his criticism, he and others believe that Ms Cox is the best of the lot. Having seen the performances of all her ministers over the last year, if not Paula, then who else? As with her choice of Finance Minister, he said. I dont think she had more choice.
Like every PLP Premier Ms Cox was, initially, well received by the public at large, if poll results are reliable indicators. And, as with each of her predecessors, that public goodwill declined as time went by. In January this year, according to a MindMaps poll, 62 percent of registered voters had a favourable impression of the Premier, up from an already respectable 54 percent three months earlier just before she assumed the top office.
Had she called an election then, the outcome may well have been a landslide victory for the ruling party as, according to the same survey, 44 percent would have voted for the PLP a strong improvement over the 22 percent support that was reported during the last three months of Dr. Browns tenure, and dwarfing the 28 percent support held by the United Bermuda Party. Ms Cox could have taken advantage of her popularity by approaching the job with greater resolve, according to our anonymous observer, and may even have succeeded in breaking away from some of her own missteps of the past.
Her disappointing cog in the wheel comment of earlier days would have been forgotten had she stepped into her new role with more determination and a stiffer broom, he said.
I believe this Premier has taken the right initiative in trying to bring back controls to the tendering process, extending [when she should have excluded] term limit lengths, cleaning up house, building on her external regulatory successes with the IMF and other international bodies. I still do not believe these various initiatives have been done with anywhere sufficient enough volume, bluntly acknowledging/explaining the reasons and often it has been done alone rather than as a team. She needs to do more than simply leading by a regal, dignified example.
As concerns over the economy grew, Ms Coxs favourability rating declined dropping to 42 percent in April and 25 percent in July but picked up again to 37 percent by September. The publics approval of her performance as Premier showed a similar pattern, dipping from 40 percent in January to 28 percent in April, 16 percent in July and picking up to 23 percent in September. Still, Ms Coxs favourability rating remains significantly higher than most political leaders.
Premier Cox has a loyal following, is Mr. Haywards assessment. Some because shes the Party leader, some because she is a woman, some because she is black, some because she exhibits a sweet personality. They will not be happy to see strong criticism, but the country needs to face the harsh reality that under her financial stewardship, our debt went from a few hundred thousand dollars to well over a billion, And each new revelation shows more starkly how badly we were gypped. Its going to take more than flowery language to stem the flow and restore confidence.
Kim Swan offered the following insight his most charitable about the Premier.
Notwithstanding the widespread concern with Premier Paula Coxs role as our Finance Minister, her more amenable style as Premier is noticeably better than that of her predecessor Dr. Brown and that is appreciated. However, in spite of this change in style, the country continues to remain a social pressure cooker, he said.
Premier Cox is fiercely partisan which is a two-edged sword and can be both commendable and a hindrance to her tenure. For many in Bermuda are perplexed that she was not tough on the previous Premier Dr. Brown, whose Ministries were among the main culprits for a huge portion of the overspending and financial mismanagement the country has endured.
Dr. Brown declined to contribute to this story. I am enjoying the view from the pavilion, he said.
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