Captain Bob licensed to spread his wings
The dress rehearsal was not spectacular, but there were many lessons to be learnt from what transpired on December 2, 2016 so that today should go as smoothly as can be expected. If last week was anything to go by, on MPs' very belated return to the House of Assembly, there will be a few speed bumps en route to conducting the people's business.
But better to have one parliamentarian expelled until he apologises publicly and another blurt out the unspeakable than to be subjected to the illegal blocking of lawmakers from those hallowed grounds of Parliament and the sight of senior citizens — anyone, really — being pepper-sprayed or otherwise forcibly restrained by the police.
Those who feel moved to protest against the airport redevelopment deal are encouraged to make their concerns heard, but in no way can their conduct be allowed to slide into the gutter to the point that law enforcement feels the need to intervene.
The police, too, have taken their mulligan, whether or not the actions by some among their ranks ten weeks ago prove to be justified.
With the Opposition still out for blood over “Who told whom” in relation to events that led to the use of pepper spray, police commissioner Michael DeSilva's men will be minded to be on their p's and q's — much as they were last Friday.
Officially, the Progressive Labour Party has asked opponents of the airport deal to protest peacefully, but it was noted that David Burt's request was not universally accepted in Alaska Hall on Tuesday — and it is those dissenters we need to look out for, with a nod to how successful Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert was yesterday in raising the levels of animation.
Come what may, we expect the crucial first reading of the Bermuda Airport Authority Act 2016, which once it reaches maturity in the legislature would put a seal on the deal, and the second reading of the Airport Redevelopment Concession Act 2016 to proceed with minimal interruption.
The independent Blue Ribbon Panel, derided in some quarters but applauded in many others, has had its say and there is no reason why its verdict should not carry the day. But in giving Bob Richards and Co a vote of confidence — not to be confused with the “dreaded” approval often accorded to lame-duck managers in Premier League football — the nugget to take from Malcolm Butterfield's summation was that the deal with the Canadian Commercial Corporation and Aecon was “reasonable”.
Open to interpretation, that leaves much room for improvement in any number of areas on which the critics would like to pounce. While the panel did not go as far as to outright dismiss opponents, some of whom had gone — and continue to go — to exhaustive lengths to be heard, it effectively echoed Michael Dunkley's clarion call: the right deal, the right time, the right reasons.
Because the Bermuda Government's debt stands at $2.3 billion and rising, because LF Wade International Airport is in such a relatively dilapidated state, because hurricanes these days cannot seem to miss our spot of an island, because even isolated rain showers render parts of the airport as hospitable as a watery grave, because the island is desperate for a capital project to be completed on time and with little cost overruns, because ...
Chief among the critics' concerns is the shortcoming that has plagued the One Bermuda Alliance for so much of its time in government — communication, occasionally rephrased as “lack of transparency”.
So many clumsy attempts at explaining away the deal, while warding off the PLP, People's Campaign and whatever other rent-a-sign start-up group that has wanted to pile on, have cost the Government countless man hours and a fair bob as well — fair to say, Bob?
But he has got there in the end, and now he and the Premier, as the two highest-ranking lawmakers in the land, have to convince the public that there is a genuine plan for our other concerns.
Education, seniors, healthcare, pensions, crime and social inequality — all long-term issues that have been used as bait in the politicking that sought to destabilise the airport project — will still be massive concerns heading into the General Election this year.
Whether it is called in August in the wake of an America's Cup feel-good factor, as some insiders believe, or if it is delayed until December, by which time impact may be better gauged, the OBA will have to improve its messaging or face the consequences.
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