Reply to the Throne Speech
PLP: Drop middle school system
After 14 years of attempting to reform the public education system while in Government, the Opposition Progressive Labour Party is advocating that the middle school system should be dismantled altogether.
And the party has charged the Government of being more interested in providing job security for non-Bermudians than for locals, while stigmatising people on Financial Assistance.
In his Reply to the Throne Speech yesterday, PLP Leader Marc Bean gave notice that the partys approach to education had shifted.
The middle school system should be dismantled because it is an inherent part of the institutional culture that is damaging our social fabric, Mr Bean said.
The mega school concept is a proven global failure and pretending that Bermuda has not been subjected to the same social and academic challenges as other jurisdictions is destructive.
Studies have shown that between the ages of ten and 14, young people begin to develop group consciousness.
This is the same age our young people enter a middle-school environment, the location of which depends on the community where the young person resides.
In our current format, gang culture has flourished. Studies conducted on schools in Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Baltimore where the middle school concept was eliminated each saw a decline in behavioural problems and a rise in academic achievement.
The system should be restored to seven years of primary school and five years of high school as well as the decentralisation from the mega school concept.
We further posit that the restoration of island wide competition in academics and athletics will create a stronger and more vibrant community for our young people.
Mr Bean repeated his partys election promises on education, including support for turning Bermuda College into a four year institution and the creation of school councils, but questioned whether the Government had properly consulted on its proposal to extend the school day.
Have they discussed the implementation of this change with the Bermuda Union of Teachers? Will this require the alteration of the existing collective bargaining agreement? Will it require the hiring of more teachers? What impact will this have on existing, successful after school programs?
Mr Bean also told the House of Assembly that the PLP was responding to the election result by pursuing a balanced approach eschewing the radicalism of far left policies or the extremist policies of the right wing.
Neither the nanny state, nor a state where profits take precedence over people is desirable, and we shall pursue and promote policies that expand opportunity for all, and renew our societys commitment to fairness and justice.
His speech, his first in parliament as Leader of the Opposition, was peppered with quotes from Ethiopian monarch Haile Selassie I.
He urged Government to continue initiatives started by the PLP administration before it lost power last year, including implementation of its infrastructure strategy plan, development of offshore fishing, developing the Blue economy and passing the Incentives for Job Makers Act to provide benefits for new businesses which establish in Bermuda.
Government, he said, should also extend payroll tax exemptions for the hospitality industry and create an Economic Free Zone on property owned by the Bermuda Land Development Corporation.
Mr Bean also called on the Government to implement the PLPs proposal to create a residential Job Corps programme which was a key element of the partys election platform.
While this programme was conspicuously absent from the Throne Speech, we hope that the government will quickly move forward with this exciting initiative, designed to get our young people into the economic mainstream, he said.
Mr Bean went on to criticise Governments approach to work permit holders.
The OBA has waxed eloquently and vociferously about their commitment to openness, transparency and accountability. They have demonstrated these ideals impeccably when it comes to providing comfort and job security to non- Bermudian work permit holders.
Yet, when it comes to jobs for our people, they have been remarkably and shockingly lacking in details, specifics or solutions.
In fact, the Government has given some sectors of our community the distinct impression that they are more interested in securing and increasing the number of foreign workers, than in creating jobs for the people already living here.
The PLP encourages the government to take immediate action on enhancing the work permit framework and making changes to immigration laws to provide Bermudians with the assurance that they will not be treated like second class citizens in our country of birth.
And, referring to plans by the Government to force Financial Assistance clients to take parenting and budgeting classes, he said while it appeared to be a noble sentiment the idea was based on a flawed premise.
Not everyone on financial assistance is there because of personal irresponsibility, and not everyone on financial assistance can be tarred with the bad parent brush.
Many Bermudians, for the first time in their lives have been forced to turn to the Government for help until they find a job. Until the recession struck, these Bermudians worked hard, paid their way, obeyed the law and took care of their responsibilities.
He continued: We see no benefit in stigmatising people on Financial Assistance, especially not in this economic climate.
Turning to crime, Mr Bean said that operational control of the Police should be in the hands of the elected Government of the day.
We believe that Bermudians are best suited to direct our war on crime.
He also called for a sexual predator and paedophile registry, a national crime reduction plan and a sustained police presence in areas known for drug trafficking.
And, Mr Bean said, a referendum on the decriminalisation of marijuana should be held after a full and frank discussion.
Governments tourism proposals were a cut and paste of what the PLP had already placed in the pipeline, Mr Bean continued.
But he suggested that contracts relating to the tourism industry should be tied to a Bermudian entity to create opportunity and jobs for Bermudians and the development of new markets.
Succession planning and the opportunity to shadow existing non-Bermudian job holders must be established to ensure that our people play a more active role in the promotion of our Island.
We believe that educated, qualified Bermudians are best suited to market and promote our island to the world.
Mr Bean also questioned why the municipalities were not mentioned in the Throne Speech.
And he urged Government to establish online gaming, explore the creation of a National Lottery to support the community clubs and move forward with our proposed private-public initiative that would have seen members of the business community assist in renovating at least seven workmans clubs with an investment of approximately $30m.
And he asked Government to explain how they would address the practice of fronting since they had decided to eliminate the land license requirement for mixed status couples who buy property on the Island.
But Mr Bean noted that there were many initiatives in the Throne Speech which were born within the Progressive Labour Party that the Opposition could support.
While it would be tempting to characterise the Governments Throne Speech as a cut and paste document or as an example of political plagiarism, we prefer to believe that the greatest political victory does not occur at the polls, but in altering the hearts and minds of your political opponents for the better.
To that end, we will not oppose for the sake of opposing, but instead offer meaningful, balanced and constructive solutions to strengthen these proposals.
He said: We have attempted to break away from the traditional role of armchair critic and offer our people an alternative vision for the direction of our country.
Some may ask why we did not implement these ideas and bring forward these proposals while we were in government? To them I say, with new leadership comes a new direction, a new purpose, and a new way of doing things.