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Past vital when evaluating future leaders

Opposition leader David Burt

“When The Royal Gazette contacted Mr Burt by telephone, he insisted that any conversation be off the record, before asking for questions to be e-mailed to him. He later e-mailed a statement asking for a deadline time, but did not respond to subsequent e-mails from this newspaper. Repeated calls by The Royal Gazette to Mr Burt’s cellphone also went unanswered.”

Last week I circulated a 2013 Royal Gazette report about shadow finance minister David Burt, and I dared to ask: “Is this the kind of leadership Bermuda needs?”

Although the question ruffled a few feathers, I am no less convinced that voters need to give great consideration to what is required of our leaders.

To refresh your memory, three years ago Burt found himself in hot water for selling BurtBliss Swizzle online.

Per the Gazette report, not only was the Director of Public Prosecutions investigating the matter, it was also understood that officials from the Department of Consumer Affairs were investigating possible breaches of licensing, trademark, and health and safety regulations. Burt shut down the operation soon after officials received complaints about the product, and the issue eventually faded away.

Some who complained about the reposting of the report stated that it is a petty issue from 2013, and that it is not relevant to this election.

But let’s imagine for a moment that Burt was seeking a senior management position in the private sector. If the employer conducted a background check, as they do, and if they found a 2013 story such as this, would it be of any relevance? Of course, it would.

Could Burt legitimately accuse the employer of being petty or personally attacking him for considering his business record a mere four years ago? Of course, he couldn’t.

If such common circumstances are known and accepted in the private sector, why would a review and discussion of Burt’s prior business conduct be unacceptable for someone seeking to be Premier and Minister of Finance?

Should the swizzle incident still not concern you, then what about Burt’s usage of populism to stop the airport contract?

For two years Burt made claims of a secret deal, that the airport was being privatised, and that hundreds of millions of dollars that otherwise would have been spent on social services were being given away to Canadians.

Back in March 2015, he was claiming that the contract would be in excess of $1 billion, and by August he raised it to no less than $2 billion.

By December 2016, Burt had ratcheted up the rhetoric, and on December 1 he sent out communications calling upon “the people to demonstrate our strength yet again” and force the One Bermuda Alliance to request the Auditor-General to conduct an independent review.

His stated mission was to “make sure that December 2 will be remembered as a day the people earned a victory for our children”.

After the events of December 2, the OBA established the Blue Ribbon panel to review the airport contract. Although the panel was far more qualified than the Auditor-General to review the contract, Burt dismissed it as being “handpicked”.

The Blue Ribbon Panel conducted a comprehensive review, and its report rejected Burt’s financial analysis and his conspiratorial accusations. In reply, the Progressive Labour Party dismissed the report but failed to provide any counterpoints to the panel’s conclusions. This is utterly unacceptable for someone seeking a leadership position.

Unfortunately, sometimes it feels as if we completely forget the connection between business competence, good governance and Bermuda’s survival.

Every single public service that the Bermuda Government offers is based upon the successful management of the country’s finances. Whether we are contemplating public education, healthcare or financial assistance, our ability to manage our finances is absolutely critical.

Last week we were once again reminded of the constant threat to our economy. Before we have even had a chance to contemplate Bermuda’s return on the America’s Cup, we are being forced to defend our offshore status.

Untimely threats such as this make crystal clear that our leaders must be adequately experienced and qualified to successfully promote and defend our economic interests at the highest levels of international business and global politics.

This is not to say that business skill is all that is required of our politicians. Make no mistake, we need leaders with a social conscience.

However, we must be conscious that politicking about inequality is extremely easy. Likewise, pretending to have a social conscience just to win an election is the very height of deceit.

General elections are not mere popularity contests. They determine who will have control of the country’s affairs for the next five years.

Given the magnitude of this responsibility, Bermuda must come to the realisation that our fragile economy requires leaders who not only know better, but will also do better.

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