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A leader must have the pulse of Mr and Ms Bermuda

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It is upon the shoulders of five giants that David Burt stands on. They exemplified integrity, commitment to equal justice, equal opportunities, compassion, and interest in the needs of the “common man” (Photograph supplied)

The Progressive Labour Party is in the midst of holding its annual delegates conference. On October 20, the delegates will either confirm David Burt or they will elect a new leader for the party — and Bermuda will have a new premier. I am therefore intrigued as to some of the events unfolding.

It is not the first time that the PLP has had internal leadership challenges and it speaks to the strength and resolve of its members. It can also be a two-edged sword when considering the all-male coup d’état that led to the ouster of Dame Jennifer Smith as premier two days after she successfully brought the party to a second election victory, which eventually led to the appointment of Ewart Brown as the ninth Premier of Bermuda. He caused a divisiveness parallel to Michael Fahy, the One Bermuda Alliance’s home affairs minister, he contributed to our national debt, and his integrity remains questionable for many Bermudians to this day.

It is upon the shoulders of five giants — former leaders of the PLP that are shown in the attendant 1988-89 photograph — that David Burt stands on. They exemplified integrity, commitment to equal justice, equal opportunities, compassion, and interest in the needs of the “common man”.

Now let’s reflect on how Bermudians have fared in the five years of a Burt Administration.

Having been elected in 2017, Mr Burt called a snap election in August 2020, which was a smart political calculation, considering he was riding high in public opinion. This was owing to several factors, namely his initially superb handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, his choice of finance minister, the introduction of socially progressive initiatives, his support for international business, restructuring of the Registrar of Companies office, and directing the adoption of a legislative framework to tap into fintech and cryptomarkets.

The socially progressive initiatives under his administration included amending legislation to extend maternity leave from eight weeks to 13 weeks. Pensioners saw yearly inflation rate increases and those insured with HIP saw a $1,000 increase in prescription benefits. Payroll tax was reduced for persons earning gross $48,000 annually and below. The College Promise Programme was introduced to ensure funding for students from low-income backgrounds.

The PLP won 30 out 36 seats in the House of Assembly in the snap election of October 2020. For most Bermudians, the landslide victory was celebrated with jubilation. Others, however, became concerned that a weak Opposition could potentially create an authoritarian government, particularly as there was only a 62 per cent voter turnout. For young people studying abroad, they were again left disenfranchised with no absentee-voting system.

Fast forward to October 2022 and public support for the Premier has plummeted. It appears to many people on the street that he does not have an economic plan and is slow in reacting. Rents have skyrocketed by approximately 30 per cent and there needs to be a two-year moratorium to prevent increases. Groceries are almost $100 a bag and the 21 food items that will not have import duty should have been actioned sooner. Belco fuel adjustments have been crippling and there needs to be a freeze on fuel adjustments for senior citizens earning less than $40,000 annually.

Bermudians are very angry over the passport processing delay, the $500,000 overpayment to financial assistance recipients, and the inability to recover the $800,000 allegedly stolen from the music studio venture in Dockyard. Bermudians are disturbed that the Government wants to take over the Corporation of Hamilton and the Corporation of St George so that it can get its hands on the money. Thirty-five government-financed public bodies are in arrears. Even the straightforward “Back to School” benefits programme was not run efficiently — and this affected parents.

The Covid-19 testing debacle of December 2021 does not square with Carika Weldon’s transparent explanation of the sequence of events, the fallout with the reputable finance minister Curtis Dickinson and the conflicting accounts of the development of the former Fairmont Southampton. People were astounded that the Premier lowballed the inflation rate in Donald Trump style despite economic figures.

Earlier this year, the respected Reverend Nicholas Tweed referred to the Premier as being morally bankrupt for failing to fire a PLP senator who threatened a senior citizen with his political influence over rent that he owed her for months.

Bermudians are worried that the Premier does not have an economic plan, and his integrity and honesty are being questioned. Social media exploded when the Premier on international stage talked about independence because we are so broke and unable to stand on our own two feet, have no defence alliances in place and have not introduced food sustainability.

Whatever the outcome of the leadership challenge, the successful person will need to be a leader who will broaden the tax base by grandfathering in existing tax assurance certificates to exempted companies and to implement a replacement certificate assuring a 3 per cent tax — on shareholder dividends — for ten years to new business. International business comprises 80 per cent of Bermuda’s gross domestic product, yet it is not taxed. The average, working-class Bermudian is taxed 25 per cent on consumption of imported goods and pays a disproportionate payroll tax compared with corporate executives. Some of those executives have their rent, transportation and private-school fees included as benefits.

Our national debt is $3.35 billion and if we are not careful the Bermuda dollar could be devalued against the US dollar. Clearly, annual government fees garnered from international business are not sufficient to sustain Bermuda’s infrastructure, education, police, defence, sport, health and social programmes, and the industry leaders know that. The question to be asked is, “would international business be taxed 3 per cent under a Burt Administration or under a Dickinson Administration?”

We need a leader who will not use borrowed money to support the programmes that a socially responsible government must provide to society. We need a premier willing to stop taxing low-income people and start taxing those wealthy speculators with huge real estate holdings who rent out high-end homes and offices — ie, a leader that will implement a capital-gains tax as noted in the 2020 Throne Speech. Wealthy property owners — both foreign and Bermudian — are making profits on selling high-end properties, and the profit is not being taxed like it is in other Western countries.

We need a premier that will be tough enough on the Civil Service to fire heads of departments that consistently under-deliver, go over budget and do not prepare prompt financial statements. A premier that listens to the young people by introducing absentee voting before the next election, to put forward a less aggressive cannabis Bill so that it gets approved, and appreciates that the young people support same-sex marriage. A premier that believes in separating church from state.

Bermuda needs a leader that surrounds themselves with those who will hold them accountable, is devoid of arrogance and who speaks the language of Mr and Ms Bermuda 365 days a year and can embrace our diversity.

Having bent the ear of Chris Famous, my MP for the Constituency 11 in Devonshire East, I will trust that the delegates elected to represent me and other PLP members of this branch will take into consideration the leadership qualities I have presented.

No matter the outcome, and whomever is confirmed, I would expect the PLP delegates of Constituency 11 to hold accountable the leader chosen regarding the promises they make in the upcoming debate during this 2022 Annual General Conference.

Cheryl Pooley is a social commentator and three-times former parliamentary candidate

Cheryl Pooley is a social commentator and three-times former parliamentary candidate

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Published October 11, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated October 10, 2022 at 2:42 pm)

A leader must have the pulse of Mr and Ms Bermuda

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