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Political malpractice

More than three weeks ago, I came across a story that raised a red flag over the prospects of a resumption of the cruise ship industry upon which Bermuda depends on for at least 80 per cent of its visitor traffic to the island between April and November. Upon seeing the story, I decided to put down my thoughts about where we were at this stage of our seemingly never-ending crisis.

First, a little more background on the ill-fated “Cruise from Hell”.

The Sea Dream cruise line, as reported by CNN, was to be the first ship and cruise line to bravely go where others won’t — as a result of the global pandemic. In this case, to the Caribbean. But we now know it was woefully premature on the part of the cruise line in question, as a number of passengers for the high-end line contracted Covid-19 and the ship was forced to pull into Barbados as the virus began to spread throughout the vessel.

Rolfe Commissiong was the Progressive Labour Party MP for Pembroke South East (Constituency 21) between December 2012 and August 2020

This cruise was supposed to demonstrate that it was safe to cruise again and that the cruise lines had found the “special sauce” to at least mitigate the threat of the virus — enough to make a return to the high seas feasible.

How wrong they were.

Moreover, how wrong were we in light of the dreaded community spread that now appears to be present on our shores? As I sat over this writing the other night, I was told that we had a further ten cases of persons who had contracted the virus. That number has increased by an additional 18 after yesterday’s announcement. To deny what has been occurring as anything other than community spread strains credulity and constitutes political malpractice. In fact, we likely crossed that threshold more than a week ago. In the spring, we closed down the island for far less.

To continue to maintain air links with incoming flights originating from countries such as Britain and the United States, two of the absolute worst performers when it comes to the ways in which they have chosen to combat this deadly pandemic, now appears to have been a very short-sighted recipe for an impending disaster. This has not been an example of pragmatism, but gross irresponsibility.

Nonetheless, as noted, I put pen to paper some weeks ago and wrote the following and posted it to persons in my network :

Dateline: November 13, 2020

“There will be no tourism industry to speak of until the third quarter of 2021 — which will result in roughly two hundred million dollars in lost revenue for the upcoming year. When I made the same informed prediction on the floor of the House with respect to 2020’s season in April or so, I was pilloried by some on my own side, most notably the Premier, who spoke at the end of the motion to adjourn to assure Bermuda that we had a plan to revive tourism in spite of the pandemic — and that I was wrong. We all know how that worked out. Clearly, there were some who apparently preferred false optimism being disseminated to Bermudians, as opposed to hard reality. I described that habit at the time as akin to political malpractice. I have been thoroughly vindicated, though, I might add.”

In fact, 2020 has been worse than I had imagined.

I then added the following in the same post:

Additionally, how long can we afford to keep our airport open to international flights? After all, the countries with the worst record in fighting the pandemic by far, the UK and the US (our chief trading partners) are heading into a very bad period over the next six months with respect to the virus that will make what occurred eight or nine months ago with respect to the virus look mild by comparison.

And so goes those countries, so goes us; notwithstanding the promise of a vaccine beginning in the first or second quarter of 2021.”

It gave me no pleasure then or now to think out loud in consideration of the above but the facts and the trend lines were clear even then. The next six months will be dire for our country as the virus takes hold and as the economic pandemic that it has spawned globally, and which is getting worse in Bermuda as it relates to jobs and overall economic security for so many, really begins to bite.

The anecdotal and statistical evidence is all around us that Bermudians are hurting and, as per norm, it is black Bermudians who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the growing misery gripping more and more households.

Nothing illustrated this more than what a good friend related to me the other day. He said: “Rolfe, my wife drove past the Eliza DoLittle place in Warwick last week and said that she had never seen the lines for food hampers that long. Ever.”

This crisis is exposing serious faultlines in our society that have been there for some time, as the numbers of people whom one could describe as the working poor literally explodes. This will test us in ways that many could have never imagined, as I have previously written. It’s time for straight talk in the midst of this growing misery and despair.

The following should be sobering to us all.

The promised vaccine(s) may immunise the vast majority of Bermudians over the next nine months, but this economy, which has never fully recovered from the Great Recession of 2008, is not due for real, broad-based recovery anytime soon. Consequently, the structural issues that were present before the pandemic, and which we have not adequately addressed by way of the implementation of the right set of public policies to combat rampant income inequality, has been accelerated or made worse by Covid-19. The existing government debt stands at a little more than $3 billion.

This trend is also producing even higher levels of income inequality in Bermuda than that which existed before the pandemic made its presence felt — as it is globally. Moreover, our economy will continue to deteriorate in 2021, as revenue streams hasten their decline for the Government and the taxpayer in a big way.

The reality is that those who are working at the higher professional levels in the corporate world, particularly in international business, financial services, high-end law firms or at the higher levels of government — Civil Service, etc — will be somewhat insulated by their more substantial incomes and full-time employment. However, for many, downward mobility will be ever-present, as jobs that existed before the pandemic will no longer be there when the so-called post-Covid-19 recovery resumes.

In closing, I wish every one of you and your families all the best during the upcoming holiday season and into the new year. During crises such as this, a strong family can be the refuge and rock upon which one can weather any storm.

Rolfe Commissiong was the Progressive Labour Party MP for Pembroke South East (Constituency 21) between December 2012 and August 2020

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Published December 08, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated December 07, 2020 at 5:13 pm)

Political malpractice

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