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Silence isn’t all that persuasive

The politics of distraction, some call it. I am not so sure. It's all plain politics, if you ask me: the good, the bad and the ugly.

We really shouldn't be too surprised either. Politics is what politicians engage in, some of them being obviously better at it than others.

The criticisms, the accusations, the questions and the answers (or not) are all grist for the mill of public opinion, another means by which voters get to measure the credibility, the character and commitment of not just those at whom fingers are pointed but those who do the finger pointing as well.

Sure, we complain that some of it goes too far, and some of it does, but there are also those who enjoy the theatre of politics, not just the players but the partisans who cajole and cheer from the sidelines.

Still, you can't help but wonder if all the politics distracts from the real task at hand which is governing our Island home; and if not distracts, detracts.

Too often politicians and their advisers are sidetracked by, if not preoccupied with, strategy and position in their skirmishes with one another (Skirmishes? A mild term maybe for some of the recent clashes we have witnessed).

Yet those of us on the outside only get to see the external struggle. Rarely are we afforded the opportunity to see or know of what also goes on inside each party.

Nevertheless we have some idea of the toll it must take and, more importantly to voters, the time, energy and manpower that is lost to distraction and which ultimately can and does detract from the business of running the country.

Three recent events come to mind:

(1) The push and then retreat on that amendment to make public transport an essential service: the reaction of the Bermuda Industrial Union could hardly have come as much of a surprise, to anyone.

The reasonable among us were left wondering why the consultation and dialogue to which Government subsequently committed, wasn't in fact done before the Bill was tabled rather than after. So it took another march on Parliament.

(3) I don't know how many were listening late Friday night to debate on the Hill (remember you can always catch it on replay the next day at a decent hour) but Government pushed through an amendment to the Municipalities Act, which was in fact an amendment to amendments they made last year, which means that any lease entered into by either municipality (Hamilton or St George's) will be void and of no effect should the Legislature disapprove.

The Opposition Progressive Labour Party and Independent Member of Parliament Terry Lister roundly criticised the move and were quite scathing in their criticism, variously describing the action as an assault on private property rights, potentially unconstitutional, and one that exposes the Bermuda Government to political and financial risk, they claimed, presumably anticipating legal suit from those adversely effected.

Surprisingly, and notwithstanding the intense criticism and expressions of concern, not all of which sounded far-fetched, not one member of the front bench (Cabinet) spoke in defence of what was being done and why.

Only the Junior Minister who introduced the Bill spoke and who, in reply, referenced the recent special report of the Ombudsman who was most critical of the Corporation of Hamilton and the process by which the waterfront lease was secured, concluding that “ideally” it would be good to start over. Okay.

But in view of the criticisms and concerns, what is Government's position and plan going forward? It is reasonable to assume there is one (I think) but for the listening public seeking reassurance, silence isn't that persuasive.

(3) On the Opposition side of the ledger, I can think of no better example than the work that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) should be performing, which, under the chairmanship of the Opposition Shadow for Finance, still doesn't appear to be happening — at all, at least not publicly.

It's been over a year since the election and PAC is still not cranked up to where it should be.

This cross-parliamentary committee needs to become current to become effective and the only way to do that is to bite the bullet and work through past (PLP) Budgets tout de suite.

PAC is after all meant to be the parliamentary watchdog of Government spending and. its track record to date is of anything but.

Here's how it could be so much more effective and useful going forward: concerns, fears even, have greeted plans the One Bermuda Alliance Government has to trim expenditure by exploring privatisation, public private partnerships (PPP's) and mutualisation.

We already have one example of one those alternatives under our collective nose — the PPP behind our new hospital. Okay, so how is that working out for us?

Are there any lessons to be learned about PPPs and how to proceed in future or whether we should proceed again at all?

Public hearings into the project by PAC could help learn us all up — in so many ways. If only.

These are just three examples. You probably have your own. There's another looming with the reports (majority and minority) of the House Committee on Elections and the concerns that have been raised once again about disclosure and the eligibility of at least two MPs to sit in the House.

Once again, silence on the issue may not be an answer. On the other hand, something more than the usual rhetoric would make a welcome and useful change.

* Your views may be shared on The Royal Gazette website or write jbarritt@ibl.bm.

The lower half of the Parliament of Bermuda, the House of Assembly is housed in The Sessions House in Hamilton.

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Published March 14, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 13, 2014 at 9:46 pm)

Silence isn’t all that persuasive

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