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Does an eye for an eye mean justice?

Hamilton Medical Centre patients protest in support of JJ Soares against the Bermuda Health Council (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

After reading about the well-warranted protest over the imaging clinic, the thought came to mind of the adage “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. As a jurisdiction and society, one would think we are evolving and that things in the past — such as a political and institutional collaboration that suppressed one group to advance another — were our past. Or is life really about getting even, so that what is done now is a fair return?

The living experience is the best of teachers and to be directly involved in the market and face the contortions and play is the vantage that lends insight to what goes on. I recall back in the 1990s during what one could call the height of my construction contracting career when involved in a $40 million housing project and simultaneously carrying out other million-dollar contracts. My company faced bankruptcy with the major creditor being the Bermuda Government with one default period of payroll and pension payments. Those receipts totalled about $110,000, which sounds like a huge amount but when compared with the annual value of work under contract represented about 5 per cent. Most people would know that retentions generally were 10 per cent, so in theory the company was solvent but lacked immediate cashflow.

OK, one party says good! It was a well-deserved foreclosure, robbing the government coffers of tax revenue. OK, fair argument. However, one mile up the road there is a Sea-Land-Construction company building the new prison, which faced a similar cashflow problem, and the same government handed them $2 million under the table. The auditor's report said it wasn’t even a loan but a gift. The gift came to light only during parliamentary questions. The ministers defended the action as necessary; one justification was that many workers would become unemployed.

I had 100 workers on one site alone, 44 of them carpenters. I recall going to the prison site and offering to do all their formwork, to be told arrogantly by their supervisor if you have carpenters he will hire them — not knowing at the time he was being backed by a government gift. The recession started to bite our economy and many construction companies were suffering. Most of them had heavy overheads, aside from staff.

My company was light-footed with virtually no overhead but we could do the same level of work. We did not have cranes and heavy equipment and a yard crew to maintain; hence, our pricing was always on the competitively low end. It was strategically good to get rid of us and they had the muscle to do it. When you research the companies of that time, all of the big names went under and reformed. BCM became BCMMcAlpine, Forth became ForthRyco, and Sealand got bailed out. It should have become SealandGov Inc. That bankruptcy had a knock-on effect on every aspect of my life, both business and personal.

Interestingly around the same time, a cousin and I wanted to embark on a water bottling plant. I applied to the planning and health departments and the bank, only to be stifled by planning and turned down by the banks even though I did not absolutely need bank funding. Three months later, a water company emerges with the same idea. I cannot argue and say they weren’t planning it earlier, I just know the sequence of events. I believe anyone who loves research will find what I am saying is true.

We all know those were the bad old days and the present question is a moral one: does an eye for an eye mean justice? Or is there a higher methodology, and if so what would that be? Blocking JJ Soares from opening his clinic does not repay my loss back in the 1990s or of others, and the doctor competitor of the new imaging could care less about my travails, if at all.

So I would come to the conclusion that right should prevail no matter what era; if it was wrong yesterday, it is still wrong today and the only way forward is to be fair and ethical. Everyone needs to have their hands in the marketplace, and it is not wrong for a government to assist in addressing an historical wrong, but the avenue must not be through suppression. The better alternative is to expand the marketplace and make room for more participation. Don’t curtail certain sectors to make room for another.

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Published June 03, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated June 02, 2022 at 5:15 pm)

Does an eye for an eye mean justice?

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