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The frog and the scorpion

Politics will change when politicians change, one reader told me after last week's column. He has a point. Albert Einstein put it another way: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” That too, strikes me as a good place to begin: with our thinking.

But that may not be so easy. First, there is the very nature of politics. Here I can think of no better illustration than the fable of the frog and the scorpion. You have heard it before, I'm sure. The scorpion seeks out the frog for a lift across the river. The frog however, is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion responds that he would never do that because they would both sink and drown. Thus re-assured, the frog agrees and halfway across the river the scorpion strikes. When asked why, the scorpion explains to the frog that he was unable to help himself, it's his nature.

Think party politics now and the apparent reluctance to co-operate each has with the other. Think recent events too. You get the picture. We all do, sadly.

The script doesn't seem to change either. Exhibit number one: the current Budget Debate. If you don't believe me, spend a little time listening to the debates in the House on the Hill. Check out www. parliament.bm (“streaming”) where you can listen either live or on replay --- and on the latter you can save yourself some time (and anguish, in some cases) by speeding up from one subject and/or one speaker to the next. Close your eyes and you'll swear that you have it heard it all before, only this time the roles are reversed. Naturally, some of the players have also changed, but otherwise it's an old movie on rewind — without Oscars.

Secondly, politics tends to play out broad strokes. Detail is often overlooked. Still small matters do count. How they are handled will also often offer insight into how the bigger issues will be handled. It is pretty evident that the PLP hasn't forgotten that lesson. Think GP cars, consultants, travel and overseas offices.

It is therefore not that surprising that some of these featured in the Budget Debate earlier this week. Questions and critical comments on Ministerial travel could not have been unexpected. The PLP were caned for that, repeatedly during their tenure. Voters were promised curtailment. Ditto on overseas offices in London and Washington. These were expenses Bermuda could not afford. Closure of the Washington D.C. office was also a recommendation of the independent SAGE Commission.

Voters tend to remember promises made and whether those promises are kept. Like it or not, Oppositions don't just take delight in pointing that out; arguably that's why they are there. It's also their job. Does that mean that politicians and their parties are not entitled to change their minds? Of course not. There may be occasions where an about-face is warranted. Priorities shift and/or new information comes to light. The goal then must surely be to inform voters as soon as possible, and as often as possible, along with the reason(s) why. That isn't about better public relations. It's about good practice and better governance as well.

Speaking of good governance, the pity is that PATI also appears to have stalled under the new OBA Government. Voters again have a legitimate expectation here. The “implementation” of Freedom of Information legislation “within the first legislative session” was a featured part of their platform commitment to bring (greater) transparency, inclusiveness and accountability to Government.

Oh sure, the reasonable among us understand that Rome cannot be built in a day. But I think the reasonable among us were looking for — and still are — stronger evidence of steps toward change in the way we do the country's business, on and off the Hill. Much of it doesn't cost money, just the will to get it done. Like bringing an end, please, to the silly practice of reading these long written briefs (in one case this week for four and half hours of the allotted five hours!) which not only destroys debate (it's a mockery) but does a disservice to entire Legislature and the work that all members are expected to perform on behalf of the voters they are there to serve. It is a step backwards to even attempt to justify the practice by declaring that we can do it because you did it too. It is long past time to move off on change to the political culture around here, and this might also include moving on that other promise to strengthen parliamentary committees by drawing on parliamentarians from all parties to work on major issues of the day.

Nothing beats a failure but a try.

* Feel free to share your views on The Royal Gazette website or by writing jbarritt@ibl.bm.

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Published March 07, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated March 06, 2014 at 10:14 pm)

The frog and the scorpion

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