SAGE a 'declaration of war' on the workers
SAGE appendix still not public
The SAGE Commission's 140-page final report is online at the Government's website — but readers interested in the extensive documents cited in its appendix will have to wait.
That section of the report is currently being checked over by Government, to ensure that restricted information used by the Commission doesn't go out to the public.
In the report's preface SAGE Commission head Brian Duperreault wrote that a special web site containing the entire report would be created — adding: “We have created the site in the interests of transparency and accessibility, and ask that with the tabling of the report in the House of Assembly, your Ministry ensures that the website is live to the public.”
However, according to a spokesman, the Ministry of Finance is “reviewing the contents of the SAGE Report appendix to ensure that no confidential or sensitive information is released.
“Once the appendix has been reviewed and approved it will be released to the general public.”
Bermuda needs a people's reply to the cuts proposed by the SAGE Commission, a town-hall meeting heard last night — as alarmed workers likened SAGE recommendations to “a declaration of war”.
Applause and murmurs of concern mingled at the first of three town hall meetings planned by the Progressive Labour Party, as the Opposition gears up to debate the report in Parliament on December 13.
“I'm petrified — frightened to death,” the first public speaker told Opposition Leader Marc Bean.
He added: “This government has declared war on us, and we have to think like soldiers. Privatisation is simply union-busting and monopoly-creating. This whole thing is, in my opinion, diplomacy by deception — these guys are determined that they are going to get what they want, by any means necessary.”
Mr Bean was last night joined by PLP MPs Walton Brown, Derrick Burgess and David Burt, to present a few of the sweeping recommendations in the final report of the Commission, tabled this month in the House of Assembly.
Anxiety over the privatisation implied by outsourcing Government services was paramount, as voiced by one member of the public who drew applause.
Envisaging waste disposal taken over by a company and charges brought in, he told the 130-strong audience: “What concerns me the most in this is, will we just see a limited group of people gaining from privatisation?
“That really concerns me, and it should concern everyone.”
Also dominating last night's gathering at St Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church Centennial Hall was the sentiment that more options are needed in addressing the Island's predicament.
Starting in April, the Commission trawled for six months through the inner workings of Bermuda's government to target inefficiency and waste.
Mr Bean and other Opposition MPs made frequent reference to leavening the cuts of the SAGE Commission with a “RAGE Commission”, or Revenue and Government Earning Commission, as promulgated by the Opposition's Reply to the Throne Speech.
Speaking of SAGE, Pembroke Central MP Mr Brown observed: “The reality is there are different ways of looking at the same problem. SAGE, under the direction of the One Bermuda Alliance government, were given a certain set of parameters to work in — many of us see that as only partial in its approach.”
One woman called for the creation of “our own SAGE report — it should be the people's agenda”.
She added: “I've heard too many people say it's time to riot. When black people riot, they destroy their own property.”
Challenging many in attendance last night, one member of the public asked the gathering: “Are we strong enough and bold enough to feel the pain in the short term and reap the benefits in the long term?”
Mr Burt, who is Shadow Finance Mister, followed: “One thing she said was consider your options. That's the challenge I personally had. The SAGE Commission does not consider all the options; it was only put in place to figure out what to cut. We can cut, or we can grow. I think there's another set of options that we're missing.”
More revenue for the country would result in “less drastic cuts”, he added.
Options for mining Bermuda's seabed and making better use of the Island's Exclusive Economic Zone proved popular, with one man pointing out that fishing vessels come from the other side of the world to harvest the seas close to Bermuda.
“The reason for that is they have out-fished their own resources,” he said. “I would love, if we could, as a country, look into how we could develop our fisheries.”
He added: “The same concessions to the retailers and hotels have got to be passed on to our fishermen.”
He called on Government to explore leasing land for the growing of food to stem the loss of money from the Island into food imports.
Another member of the public called for greater agricultural cooperation with Caribbean neighbours with more space for growing food.
“We built condos on top of our gardens,” he said.
Mr Bean said nothing was stopping private citizens from exploring business relationships with Caribbean islands.
He warned: “For revenue generation, I'm telling you, don't rely on Government to do it. We have to take our part in the private sector to create and generate our own wealth.”
Many PLP members sat in last night's audience — including former Premier Paula Cox, who listened from one of the front rows.
Mr Bean urged the public to make their concerns heard through talk radio, and said another public meeting would be held today in Southampton, with a third meeting to be announced for the East End.
He added: “What's incumbent on you, in expressing your views, is to be informed of what's in the report. In order to refute or bring alternatives, you have to look at it rationally. You have to study it — and then think about it.”
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