Political theatre: you couldn't make it up – or could you?
“We have an idea of what’s going to come down,” Mr Scott said, suggesting CCC — an entity of the Canadian Government, which acts as Canada’s agent for procurement and contracting — would renew its lease of Bermuda’s airport after 30 to 35 years. “Because we won’t have money to redevelop or upgrade, CCC will say they have the money, so why not sign for another 35 years?” he asked.
— Shadow transport minister Lawrence Scott, December 3, 2014
Given the campaign of misinformation over the past two years, the incessant shifting of goalposts, and the doubts cast upon the Blue Ribbon Panel, it should come as no surprise that the Opposition leader rejected an opportunity to review the proposed airport contract under a non-disclosure agreement. But now that the One Bermuda Alliance has set aside best practices by sharing the document with all MPs, one burning question comes to mind:
How many Progressive Labour Party MPs saw the $25 million-plus per year, 30-year, taxpayer-guaranteed contract for the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital public-private partnership deal before it was signed with Paget Health Services? I also wonder how many PLP MPs have even tried to review the redacted version since the contract was signed many years ago.
If I had to take a bet, I would wager that the vast majority of them were more than content to let the minister of the day work along with the Bermuda Hospitals Board to get the deal done. And I also bet that few made a fuss about the hundreds of millions of dollars that would be earned by a company with very significant foreign ownership. Simply put, complete transparency was not an issue.
To get a better grasp of the political theatre on display, we really need to look back as far as December 2014. There you will find that shortly after the mere announcement of a potential contract, the PLP went into overdrive to disrupt it. The Royal Gazette’s December 4, 2014 report on the PLP airport public meeting opened with a key statement that says it all: “Bermudians have fewer than 30 days to stop the privatisation of LF Wade International Airport, according to the Progressive Labour Party.”
That false statement is in addition to the attempt to scaremonger voters into believing that the contract would be renewed after the first 30-year term.
The record shows that, from the very start, the public were being misinformed about privatisation, contract closure and the term of the airport contract. By March of the next year, attempts were being made to convince the public that cronyism was the driver for the airport proposal, and the PLP deliberately said nothing to remind the public about the airport plan that it had begun years before.
Since then, the PLP and the People’s Campaign have fed the public stories that are coated in one conspiracy theory or another. This behaviour demands that voters ask what the fuss is all about. That is, perspective is absolutely necessary if a way forward is ever to be found.
So why is it that out of all of Bermuda’s challenges has the PLP dedicated so much time and energy to the airport contract? Transparency simply is not a logical answer, especially if you have watched the Commission of Inquiry and taken note of the PLP’s failure to do anything but claim that the inquiry is a witch-hunt.
Here’s my theory: despite the One Bermuda Alliance’s massive own goals, it does not have an election-winning scandal that the PLP can sink its teeth into. After all the Jetgate fireworks have exploded, the OBA chairman’s report showed that the issue was really about campaign financing. The trumpeted bribery allegation was based on hearsay from an unknown source. Thus, with absolutely nothing to substantiate the allegation, it probably does not resonate with many voters.
Jetgate aside, there are not any stories of OBA MPs engaging in the same kind of election-killing behaviours that the PLP did. There have not been any stories about MPs selling personal property to the Government under questionable circumstances.
There are not any stories about questionable contracts being dished out to close friends or political allies. There are not any claims of national assets being leased out for indefinite periods, either.
In the OBA’s four years of government, I have yet to hear a single claim of kickback or other kind of cookie-jar politics. Instead of cleaning up poor governance matters, it has proactively pushed for good governance initiatives.
Without a real financial scandal, it is obvious why the PLP has a track record of inventing pseudo-scandal after pseudo-scandal. Strategically, it desperately needs its traditional voter base to come out to show support at the next election, so it is focused on stirring up fears of privatisation. And with an economy in recovery, its only options are to focus on race while digging its heels into pseudo-scandals such as the airport redevelopment.
• To reach out to Bryant Trew, e-mail email@example.com