Moving beyond the age of partisanship
It will very soon be my first anniversary as an elected MP. People often ask me how I am finding it up on the Hill. My first year as the newest Member of the House has certainly been interesting, sometimes frustrating, and, occasionally, profound.
The legislation is probably the most “interesting” part. Our laws matter: they are not just words on a page; they impact upon our daily lives. How the Government raises and spends the people’s money is also fundamental to the economy. This past year has seen considerable tax increases. Time will tell whether it was really sensible to raise taxes in a faltering economy.
The “frustrating” part is the “politics” of it all. But what did I expect, right?
Still, it astounds me to hear people speak in Parliament — often with great passion — saying things they must know to be incorrect.
Take the Government’s shocking declaration that it “achieved” the first budget surplus since 2003. The Government has done no such thing, of course. As any MP should know, the budget is merely a prediction for the future year. Bermudians won’t know whether any surplus has been achieved until afterwards. Again, time will tell.
Yet the Progressive Labour Party budget was spun as having “achieved” a surplus. This is misleading. Such spin is unnecessary. Frustrating.
But there have been “profound” moments, too. And this is the reason public service matters.
Recently former PLP Cabinet minister Michael Weeks spoke in the House, possibly for the first time since his removal as the minister responsible for social development. He gave such a powerful speech that the House fell silent; there was no “chirping” from MPs, as is often the case.
Weeks spoke of the shame all Bermudians should feel about how we treat our most vulnerable citizens. Specifically, he spoke of the crisis of homelessness; of no government having fulfilled promises to fund the new homeless shelter at Bishop Spencer. His speech was rightly covered in the media. Do listen to the audio: parliament.bm May 10 2019 at about 2.30pm.
The former minister called for a bipartisan effort to address this serious problem. The speech took courage on his part. The present government is not fond of having its inadequacies pointed out. It tends to call for bipartisanship only when it already knows the Opposition disagrees on an issue.
Yet here is a very important issue about which, surely, all Bermudians can agree. What is the point of government if it does not help those most in need?
In an all-too-rare show of consensus, Weeks’s clarion call was endorsed by the One Bermuda Alliance. Shadow Minister of Home Affairs and the Environment Sylvan Richards confirmed: “This should be a bipartisan effort. This is something that we all agree on. We are put here in this place for a reason, and taking care of our homeless is a noble one.”
So, on this issue, the Opposition is prepared to roll up its sleeves and help the Government get this done. As I noted when I stood for Parliament, we Bermudians have more in common than that which divides us. We must work together to solve Bermuda’s problems.
And while on the subject of our most vulnerable, let me return to an issue about which I have spoken often in my short time in politics: the scandal at the Department of Child and Family Services, where several Bermudian children have raised allegations of neglect and abuse.
On the same Friday that Weeks extended his hand across the partisan aisle, the Premier, in answer to a parliamentary question, confirmed that the investigation into the DCFS has now concluded. The Premier stated he did not read the report. He would not confirm that the report will be made public. Present indications are the report will not be.
This is another issue that is too important for partisanship. Bermuda must know the outcome of the investigation into alleged mistreatment of Bermudian children under the department’s care. Repeated calls for an independent judicial investigation have, sadly, led nowhere.
The Department of Child and Family Services was part of Weeks’s former Ministry of Social Development and Sport. Perhaps he will demonstrate courage yet again and do what he can to ensure the report is released.
• Scott Pearman is the Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs and the MP for Paget East (Constituency 22)
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