Working together, slowly
“ … and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning forks” Holy Bible, Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3.
FAT chance, Mr Editor, that this will actually happen any time soon in the House, but it would be a good place to start, don't you think? Of course actions speak louder than words, but words are a pretty good clue as to what people are thinking. We traffic in words on the Hill, and lots of them, and they are not always encouraging.
I have said it before and I will say it again: the antiquated system under which we labour is partly to blame for the constant, almost exclusively adversarial nature of the way in which we govern ourselves. That can be changed, if there is the will to effect change.
This will require that those in charge actually start to move us in a new direction, and translate those words into meaningful action. So it isn't just the system that has to change; it's the people too who put a premium on partisan party politics. It may be expecting too much. I hope not.
But, hey, it isn't all doom and gloom on the Hill. We are seeing flashes of how else we can govern. The Joint Select Committee on Crime is the best current example. There's no question that gun and gang violence is the number one issue in Bermuda. We finally got a committee of parliamentarians off the ground to investigate the causes and to report on what can be done to arrest the problem.
The committee features representatives from all three parties plus an independent Senator. We have begun public hearings and those who are interested have been invited to make submissions. We are sitting around the table, listening and asking questions, with the promise that we will come back to the Legislature with findings and recommendations in February.
I know, I know, this may not be fast enough for some, but it's a good start as to how I think we (i.e. your parliamentarians) should be tackling the major issues of the community. It's roll-up-your-sleeves, time to get to work time.Together.
We may not ultimately agree, but it a strong and powerful message that is being sent as we work our way through a major, major issue of concern to everyone. These Thursday morning meetings stand in stark contrast to what goes on each Friday on the Hill.
The committee on crime is by no means the only committee that should be working this way. The multi-partisan Public Accounts Committee has started with public hearings and should be up and running again soon. Please. There were vacancies that had to be filled at the start of the new session. That has just now been done. This committee has a lot of ground to cover in view of the many outstanding reports and findings of the Auditors General and there's more to come. This is real work that needs to be done and done in the sunshine of public scrutiny to bring about greater transparency and better accountability with respect to Government spending.
It's a pity about the Joint Select Committee on Education which started out with such promise and enthusiasm, but appears now to have languished into nothingness. On the other hand, we have seen the value that cross-party committee work can bring to potentially difficult matters. The Boundaries Commission is a fresh and good example whose most recent work found favour with all sides in the House. Take note of its composition: two independents and two appointees each from Government and Opposition. It's a model, frankly, that can and should be employed elsewhere.
Working together in these ways does not mean that anyone has to give up their right to criticise. Nor should it. Those in Opposition are supposed to speak up and speak out where they disagree and to do so after casting a critical eye over what's proposed. It's our constitutional job. For instance, I had some stinging criticism of the Government last week on their proposed amendments to the Children Act. I pointed out that the Act was 12 years old and Government had still to introduce any regulations to govern home day care yet there they were finding fault with the original Act and professing concern over the care of infant children.
It didn't go down well. No surprise there. But what I said was a fact, and that said I also made a few suggestions on how we could improve examination of bills on the Hill:
n Set up a standing cross-party Legislative Committee to review proposed legislation with the drafters, walking members through what's there and why, which might at very least increase understanding, and, possibly, lead to improvements;
n When tabled, provide members and the public with red-lined copies of the original Act as amended to further assist understanding; and
n Take full advantage of new technologies to post to a legislative website for review and comment by any and all interested parties.
I thought they were fairly simple, straightforward suggestions, and reasonably practical. Sadly, they didn't appear to find favour on the Front Bench. They were flatly rejected by two Ministers who spoke after me:
n Attorney General and Minister of Justice Michael Scott made it clear that Government did not share drafts of legislation and was not about to; and
n Health Minister Zane DeSilva declared that the Opposition UBP had had an opportunity for 30 years to change the way business was done and they have to win the Government at the next election if they want to change it now.
Pity that. The world has so marched on in the last ten years while Bermuda remains stuck on stuck, our future seemingly determined by our past rather than informed by it. Speaking of the next election, Mr. Editor, I promised the other view this week. I won't be long. The new Premier herself has now gone on record (Boundaries Commission report debate) as saying a snap election is unlikely. There are also these other factors:
► There are two years left on the current term;
► Premier Cox wants to make her own mark and run on the record of her administration, not that of her predecessor; and,
► There is that continuing gift of a divided Opposition, the gift that apparently keeps on giving.
Comments? Write jbarritt[AT]ibl.bm