Campaign of smoke and mirrors masks a cupboard bereft of ideas
“Partial truths or half-truths are often more insidious than total falsehoods”
— Samuel P. Huntington
“Remember, Jerry, it’s not a lie if you believe it”
— George Costanza (Seinfeld)
The Pre-Budget Report released by the Ministry of Finance on January 21 is an inadvertent goldmine of shocking statements exposing fiscal mismanagement by the Progressive Labour Party government and blatantly convenient amnesia in respect of its disastrous role in bringing Bermuda virtually to its knees.
What is striking about the report, which ultimately lacks meaningful substance, was the very deliberate mixing of a government message with a political message, arguably the speciality of the PLP.
Let’s examine the insidious subtlety of the approach.
The front page of the report is green, its subtitles are green and the propaganda-type messaging is green — all in the colour of the PLP. Going further, sentences such as “ ... the Government reintroduced a PBR as part of the preparation process for the 2018-19 budget ...” and “The only other PBR was prepared in December 2011, under the former Progressive Labour Party administration ...” are totally unnecessary in respect of a pre-budget report, but is a subtle way by the PLP of trying to manipulate the minds of the voter that Government = PLP and PLP = Government.
Cabinet ministers wearing PLP pins and not the flag of Bermuda in posed photographs while on government business is also symptomatic of this very point.
The insidiousness goes further with deliberate attempts by the PLP to distance itself from gross mismanagement between 2003 and 2012. It consistently paints a picture that outside forces created the national debt, that the One Bermuda Alliance’s concentration on fiscal prudence limited economic growth and that only “this government” is capable of fixing the major economic issues we face — issues created by the former PLP government.
Remember, it is not a lie if you believe it.
Despite self-congratulatory statements issued regularly by the Government about the supposedly explosive fintech sector, the Premier has been unable to answer basic questions about how this alleged explosion is translating into the jobs for Bermudians promised on the campaign trail. He is practising an eternal shell game: having the voters look here while what is really going on is happening over there. Grand pronouncements, and the creation of committees and advisory boards is not action; rather, it is an illusion to make it look like you are busy while actually accomplishing very little.
Let’s go a step farther. The Government continues to pat itself on the back in respect of construction projects all started under the reign of the OBA. When those projects are all completed — the airport, St Regis and Morgan’s Point — there will be nothing more coming. There is not one significant construction project on the cards to help struggling Bermudians, which is presumably why transport minister Zane DeSilva attended the roof-wetting ceremony at the airport in one of the most desperate acts of hypocrisy in Bermuda’s history.
The PLP is basically fresh out of ideas — I query whether there were any realistic ones in the first place — to bring about economic stimulus to Bermuda and is seeking to tax Mr and Mrs Bermuda to raise revenue. It has no intention of cutting costs. Only “this government” has the audacity to say that revenue is up without saying it is because of increasing taxes rather than more people contributing to the coffers. “This government” also fails to recognise that the earning capacity of Bermudians will have also decreased, thereby increasing the overall burden on hard-working families and causing a further decline in the local economy. “This government’s” political trickery is masterful.
Let’s take, for example, the statement by the Premier that he reduced the number of government ministries. While the statement is technically true, it hides a greater evil. The insinuation is that the amount being spent on Cabinet has been reduced. But, actually, the number of ministers increased, as did the cost of the Cabinet. It is a sustained campaign of smoke and mirrors. It is the partial truth which is more insidious than a total falsehood.
So who is benefiting from the PLP’s fiscal management? Friends and family: with Renée Webb being the latest beneficiary of the PLP’s generosity to long-term supporters, government ministers with portfolios that are very thin in terms of responsibility and the Premier himself with an army of personal staff and no real portfolio of his own — with Curtis Dickinson doing finance, Walton Brown doing the Cabinet Office, fintech being heavily supported by Wayne Caines and, finally, other responsibilities presumably being undertaken by Jamahl Simmons as the Minister without Portfolio.
We are spiralling into an economic abyss and only the chosen few will be saved. Before you accuse me of being the agent of doom, just ask yourself this: are you better off now than in 2017? Will the taxes proposed by the PLP create wealth for you and your family? Has the PLP fulfilled its mandate of manna from heaven for “Real Bermudians”? Will the new proposed taxes help you save money? Will public services improve?
If you are honest, the answer to these questions is a resounding “no”.
As the Leader of the Opposition said recently, “I’m saying to Bermudians ... exercise your discernment when you see these things.”
I could not agree more.
• Michael Fahy is a former Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities, and Junior Minister of Finance under the One Bermuda Alliance government