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Nothing from nothing leaves nothing

Have you ever noticed how you can find a cliché for almost every occasion?

Two came to mind during 2020’s last session of the House of Assembly, when MPs gathered, virtually, to pass laws affecting all of us.

One cliché was “something’s better than nothing”. The second: “do it well or not at all”.

The first cliché, I regret to say, is too often the approach of our present government.

Scott Pearman is the Shadow Minister for Legal Affairs and Transport, and the MP for Paget East (Constituency 22)

When a policy is rushed, ill-conceived, or has unintended consequences — such as when the May 24 holiday was changed to never actually fall on the 24th of May — the response from the Government is too often: “Hey, we are doing something, so don’t be critical if it could, or should, be better. Something’s better than nothing.”

This approach strikes me as flawed.

Why is action, merely for the sake of action, a good thing? Sure, it gives an impression of activity. But doing the wrong thing is often worse than doing nothing. Consider the medical adage: “first, do no harm” (Is that a cliché too? Doctors probably call it “received wisdom”.)

Hence the second cliché: Do it well or not at all. This is sound guidance, although not always possible. Our actions are invariably constrained, whether by time, resources or even ability. Yet do it well or not at all seems a better approach to life than activity for the sake of it.

Nothing like a deadline to focus the mind

Otto von Bismarck, the former German Chancellor, once said: “Laws are like sausages; it’s better not to see them being made.” Odd but true. When I was first elected, the process of lawmaking struck me as strange — even though as a barrister, I am used to arcane court procedures.

The Government is keen on passing laws. The Premier has even boasted how many laws have been enacted — is more law really a good thing? But David Burt also reduced the frequency of Parliament. And if you meet every other week only, this doubles the legislation on the day.

The December 11 sitting saw MPs scramble to complete some 11 Bills and regulations. This is a heavy task to complete in one day. And, remember, the goal should be to do it well. The House continues through the night into the next morning until business is concluded. Hence, Bismarck’s quote about sausages and laws (a friend once visited a sausage factory in Chicago, and never ate one again).

Is it really sensible when laws affecting all of us are passed after midnight?

Behind closed doors

Most of us are blissfully unaware how laws are made. And unaware when new laws are on their way. There is a bizarre time lag between the Government’s announcement and the public’s reaction — even when your Loyal Opposition highlights the issue.

This disconnect weakens democracy. Informed citizens can scrutinise what is done in our name. Potential laws benefit from being poked and prodded. Negative outcomes are sometimes identified and fixed. Transparency, consultation and public input all contribute to better legislation.

So it was surprising when MP Christopher Famous, during the December 11 debate on the new labour Bill, suggested the Progressive Labour Party “go behind closed doors and sort our business out”.

There are at least two problems with his approach: one philosophical; the other practical.

His instinct for backroom political decisions — taken without public scrutiny — makes for poor outcomes. Practically, there are serious flaws with the PLP’s labour Bill. Some have been ventilated in the media. Let me mention two:

• One Bermuda Alliance MP Michael Dunkley has cautioned how the new law must make clear that our Hamilton Docks are an “essential service”

• OBA senator Ben Smith has warned how new law diverts money from needy charities to the unions

Although the labour Bill passed the House in December, the OBA has tabled Senate amendments to cure the Bill’s flaws. These amendments caused the Government in December to adjourn Senate business until January 13.

Now you know. As an informed citizen, it’s time to poke and prod. Let your senators know you support the proposed amendments to the labour Bill.

Do it well or not at all.

Scott Pearman is the Shadow Minister for Legal Affairs and Transport, and the MP for Paget East (Constituency 22). He can be reached at spearman@oba.bm

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Published January 09, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated January 09, 2021 at 10:39 am)

Nothing from nothing leaves nothing

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