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Tragic irony of democratic rights denied

So, what is next, Bermuda? Are we to expect Parliament to be locked down every time the “corporation” of Progressive Labour Party, Bermuda Industrial Union and the People's Campaign feels like it? I really want an answer to this question because the more I reflect upon this latest protest, the more I find it next to impossible to believe that the outrage is truly about good governance.

Since 2010, the Auditor-General released numerous reports containing significant concerns about good governance. Where was the protesters' concern when those reports were released?

We have seen multimillion-dollar contracts for the Berkeley Institute, Port Royal, Heritage Wharf, and King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. No one demanded to have all the details of those projects and no one is protesting over the details that remain behind closed doors. Why is that? For the past three months, Bermuda has held a Commission of Inquiry where several MPs provided some of the most absurd justifications for highly questionable and inexcusable conduct. Heck, just one day before Friday's protest, the commission strongly suggested that at least one MP lied under oath. So where is the protesters' outrage in this circumstance?

And why was no effort made to lock down Parliament when the PLP attempted to pass the Government Loans Amendment Act 2010? This amendment was required so that the Government could provide a guarantee for the KEMH public-private partnership contract. The largely foreign contractor, Paget Health Services, was thereby guaranteed annual payments of approximately $26 million for a 30-year period. Yet no one made claims of economic slavery when the PLP did this.

The answer to these questions is that the protesters did and said nothing. Many of them have even defended the PLP, regardless of the chronic good governance failures that still hang over their heads.

I am also unwilling to accept the theory that the protest is a reaction to racism. If the protesters have a problem with a foreign, white company such Aecon/Canadian Commercial Corporation, why didn't they have a problem with Paget Health Services? Are blacks not going to be allowed to bid on the airport subcontracts? Will our immigration controls be abandoned for this project? Why, then, would racism be perceived for one contract but not the other?

Also, as was the case during the Pathways protest, the protesters were not made up of a broad cross-section of black voters. More importantly, the PLP, BIU and People's Campaign do not have unanimous support from black Bermudians — far from it, actually. They, therefore, are not empowered to speak for, or act on the behalf of, all people of colour.

No fair discussion on the anger over the airport contract can be had without acknowledging the two-year mountain of disinformation spread by the Opposition and the People's Campaign.

We have seen claims that the contract will be renewed at the end of 30 years. Claims about the Minister of Finance taking bribes have been made; rumours about the airport being privatised, then sold off, have been spread; we have even seen an allegation that an airline fired an MP out of political retribution.

Never mind the pseudo-accounting that has also been spun into the public domain, the PLP has made a blatantly obvious effort to mention “Canada” whenever Aecon is discussed. And what about the claim that this deal will enslave generations of Bermudians? Let's be honest — these tactics are intended to inflame black voters. This is dirty politics, plain and simple. There is also something extremely perverse about comparing last week's protest to genuine acts of civil disobedience. No matter how vivid one's imagination, the farcical demand for the Auditor-General's intervention is not a civil rights matter. It is base politics. I would even say that attempts to equate the airport contract debate to the fight for universal suffrage or dismantling segregation is an insult to those who fought for the very freedoms the PLP now thumbs its nose at.

Fact: the men and women sitting in the House of Assembly were elected on the basis of one person, one vote of equal value, regardless of colour, gender or sexual orientation. These MPs serve at our democratic request, which means that unlike the civil rights heroes who risked their lives and livelihoods to fight truly oppressive systems, we actually have fair political representation.

Frankly, it is the height of absurdity to see people reject the right to have their MP debate and vote on issues, after so much blood, sweat and tears were shed to have that right. Whereas we once were denied these fundamental legal rights, and had no choice but to resort to illegal civil disobedience, there is an obvious degree of political immaturity in refusing to first exhaust the legal rights that have been fought for.

Bermuda has now reached a stage where it is not just about the reprehensible tactics being employed to win the next election. By shutting down the House, every voter's democratic right to representation has been rendered null and void. And when one group decides whether or not the rest of us have democratic rights, we no longer have a democracy. We have something far more sinister.

There is a tragic irony in this, but I fear that far too few will see it.

To reach out to Bryant Trew, e-mail bryanttrew@mac.com

We have seen multimillion-dollar contracts for the projects such as the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (File photograph)

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Published December 08, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated December 08, 2016 at 11:18 am)

Tragic irony of democratic rights denied

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