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Independent inquiry

Blaming the voters is never a good approach for politicians, so Bermuda Industrial Union President Chris Furbert’s declaration that the One Bermuda Alliance did not win the election, the Progressive Labour Party lost it due to low turnout needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

It is true that voter turnout contributed to the PLP’s defeat. Many of the people who voted for the PLP in 2007 did not vote for the OBA or an independent and instead stayed at home.

But the reasons for that are complex. Many may have decided that the PLP had not earned their vote, but the OBA failed to close the deal for them to actually vote for them.

Now the OBA and the PLP each have five years or so to convince these voters that they deserve their presence at the polls.

Having said that, the PLP is wrong if it thinks that simply, to steal a phrase from election strategists, mobilising their base is all they have to do to win in the future.

The PLP lost because of its mishandling of the economy and the public finances and it failed to produce a compelling argument that it was the party to engineer an economic turnaround.

Whether that will be the case at the next election remains to be seen; much depends on whether the OBA can do what it has promised.

But it is worth remembering as well that the PLP never shook off the persistent allegations that it mishandled public money and worse.

Cost overruns on public projects, fulsome payments to consultants and failure to bring accounts up to date all contributed to this.

The OBA has promised that it will do better in this area and it must ensure that tenders and contracts are managed openly and fairly. It must also avoid the perception that a different set of cronies are at the public trough.

Ironically, they will be helped in this by the sheer fact that there won’t be much in the public trough to hand out; the likelihood is that the public finances are in much worse shape than has been publicly admitted. No doubt there will be more on this in the coming days and weeks.

But the OBA should consider the pros and cons of holding a public inquiry into the whole area of tendering and contracts.

Many allegations have been made about the management of public money and an independent review would be helpful for at least three reasons:

l Where there has been mismanagement of public funds, those responsible should be held accountable, not simply because abuse of the taxpayers’ money is never acceptable, but as a warning to anyone in the future who may be tempted to abuse the public trust;

l Where there are systemic problems with management of public funds, these can be identified and fixed; and

l Where projects have in fact been handled well and honestly, those who may have been unfairly accused or put under suspicion will be freed from the taint of guilt by association.

There are only two possible arguments against this.

One is that it will appear vindictive or politically motivated.

That is why it is crucial that it be handled by an independent panel, perhaps chaired by an overseas judge with no local connections and assisted by an accountant and another leading figure — perhaps an independent Senator or person with impeccable independent credentials.

The second argument is that it will be a distraction for the incoming government from the main task at hand, which is rebuilding the economy and generating jobs.

But this task goes hand in hand with that. With public funds in short supply, it is crucial that the money that is spent is handled as well as possible, and that may not be possible until flaws in the system are found and rectified. In addition, such an inquiry may lead to the recovery of misappropriated funds.

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Published December 20, 2012 at 8:39 am (Updated December 20, 2012 at 8:39 am)

Independent inquiry

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