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PLP proves adept only at exploiting communications problems

Misleading claims: have been made about the OBA's airport plans, our columnist writes

“The Premier and his supporters have convinced themselves that they have a communications problem. They might. But more importantly, they have a policy problem.” — David Burt, Acting Leader of the Opposition

One thing that continues to fascinate about some politicians is their ability to say things they don’t believe in with a straight face. Surely, David Burt had to fight back the tears of laughter when he stated this week that the One Bermuda Alliance “might” have a communications problem. Might? Surely you jest.

If there’s one organisation that knows that the OBA has a communications problem, it’s the Progressive Labour Party.

To Bermuda’s detriment, it has spent the past three years exploiting those communications problems at every possible opportunity.

For example, take the missing rubble from Blackwatch Pass. Ordinarily, the Government is painfully slow to clarify matters. Knowing this, the PLP immediately sought to fill in the blanks with baseless accusations of cronyism.

Photographs, not video footage, were offered as hard evidence of an entire morning’s activity at the worksite.

Anonymous sources were treated like unquestionable character witnesses, while anyone who dared to question Works and Engineering was deemed questionable. Faster than you can say “Facebook”, the term “Wallgate” was added to the PLP’s catalogue of conspiracy theories.

Another example can be seen during the Senate debate last year about concessions for Pink Beach Hotel. In that particular debate, OBA senator Vic Ball stated that the hotel estimates that Bermudian employment would be about 50 per cent.

The PLP recorded his comments and published a truncated version online. By doing this, it was able to falsely claim that the OBA had granted Pink Beach work permits for 50 per cent of its workers before jobs being advertised to Bermudians. Again, the OBA took far too long to set the record straight.

Last but not least, let’s consider the airport contract. The OBA’s failure to proactively communicate its plans provided a grand opportunity for the PLP to manufacture truth out of repeated false claims.

Burt himself demonstrates this by repeating the false and misleading claim that the airport will be privatised, that Bermuda will pay Aecon’s electricity bill for 30 years and that Aecon will earn a taxpayer-guaranteed return of 16 per cent. The facts are that:

• The airport is not being privatised

• If the Bermuda taxpayer was not paying for electricity directly, they would have to pay for it within an inflated airport contract

• If Bermuda borrowed funds to pay for the airport, the lender would likewise be guaranteed a return

• The multimillion-dollar, 30-year airport public-private partnership contract is not terribly different from the multimillion-dollar, 30-year public-private partnership contract that the PLP government executed for the hospital redevelopment

Burt is absolutely right that the promise of change and economic turnaround remain unfulfilled for far too many, but he will never admit that the OBA’s policies have halted our economic decline. He is right that the OBA has made some major policy mistakes, but he will never admit to the OBA’s major accomplishments. And, if he was being even remotely truthful about the PLP learning from its mistakes, the PLP would be acting differently:

• Instead of the shadow government being split in two, and PLP members suing one another, it would be offering constructive opposition to the Government

• Instead of maligning hoteliers with false claims about work permits, it would encourage this much needed investment

• Instead of treating international business like a parasite, it would support pro-business initiatives that seek to sustain Bermuda’s benefits from it

• Instead of demonising events such as the America’s Cup, it would encourage support for world-class international events that can breathe new life into our tourism product

• Instead of practising and supporting demagoguery, it would set an example of honesty and inclusion for others to follow

• Most importantly, instead of making the false claim that Vision 2025 is a long-term economic plan, it would present comprehensive, actionable ideas that we actually could afford

With massive unemployment remaining and more than $2 billion in unsustainable debt, we need to appreciate that our crisis will not be solved by crafty House of Assembly debates, preaching to the choir at town hall meetings, rumour-mongering on talk shows and empty rhetoric in press releases.

They are solved by having the right ideas, along with the skill, integrity and character to implement them.

•Bryant Trew can be reached at bryanttrew@mac.com