Another day in the life on Tom Island
“I know lots of folks will hate you and not because they want to. But sometimes they don’t even know why…for when you fall along the way, people will have lots to say, they don’t really care if you make it through the day…”
Warriors Don’t Cry (Beres Hammond)
I listened intently to the sermon by the Reverend Nicholas Tweed a couple of Sundays ago and like most people — including some of his admirers, of whom I considered myself one — I was shocked to hear him describe David Burt essentially as the second coming of Christ on Earth. To me, as someone who still bears the knife wounds in my back inflicted by Mr Burt, it was a bridge too far to hear Mr Tweed do something that, frankly, was far beneath him.
What many people may not know is that Mr Tweed is a Progressive Labour Party member, although lacking status he is not entitled to vote in a Bermuda election. However, he is entitled even from his pulpit, I guess, to express his views on the political horse race between Mr Burt and Curtis Dickinson. But what he is not entitled to are his own facts.
Here, I am referring to what proved to be borderline blasphemous in a purely political manner as he ascribed or attributed both the living wage and healthcare to the leadership of David Burt. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. In my thoroughly painful experience to bring a long and vitally important living-wage implementation to fruition, Mr Burt and Jason Hayward within the party and government proved to be my most insidious opponents in frustrating my ability to see this through from 2017 onward.
Mr Tweed knows this. Then what would have motivated him to perform that benediction of David Burt? I will leave it for you to decide.
I am still fighting for our people. What are they fighting for? A corner office at Belco or at Clarien Bank?
And healthcare reform is still nowhere in sight, save for the finger wagging and Ronald Reagan/1980s-style personal responsibility tropes wielded the other day by the health minister, Kim Wilson, who seems to delight in deflecting hers and David Burt’s failure to deliver on the reform that we were promised. She even went as far as indulging in an unconscionable scolding of the obese (read Black) as being those who are really to blame for the state of healthcare in Bermuda. You can’t make this stuff up. Clearly, we have a government that still clings dearly to respectability politics as opposed to doing the right thing.
Mr Burt has been in effect furiously kicking both of those public policies down the proverbial road for far too long, along with other progressive initiatives designed to materially improve the lives of Bermudians and create a more equitable society — such as a restructuring of our tax system to ensure that the wealthy corporations and businesses, along with high earners, carry a larger share of the tax burden.
By way of contrast and to employ a little Jamaican-style patois in order to make sure David Burt, Lawrence Scott and Wayne Caines get this, dem belly full with expensive bread while our people go hungry — hungry for opportunity, hungry for racial equity and equality, hungry for health insurance, hungry for affordable food and a living wage. Because of all of this, too many now are hungry for a flight out of here to Britain.
Back to the living wage, could David Burt, Jason Hayward and Cordell Riley live on $640 to $656 per week before taxes and benefits are deducted? Considering that this government in the form of Hayward gave public backing to a minimum-wage range of between $16 and $16.40 per hour, and endorsed a pay range between $12 and $12.30 per hour for workers in key sectors of our hospitality sector.
But the living wage is nowhere to be found.
David Burt whose middle names should be Edward Seaga, a former Jamaican prime minister, possesses a ruthlessness that seems to be his chief talent. But that ruthlessness is a talent that is never wielded when it comes to putting in place the systemic changes that he promised in 2017. A pledge made almost six years ago, not the least of which was the living wage, which the Black working poor are still waiting for while the “King of Gencom” need only call Mr Burt’s hotline to get all that he seeks.
Roughly a year ago, you may recall that Mr Hayward promised hard-pressed Bermuda workers that the living wage was on its way in 2022. Well, he still has 90 days to deliver. And as to healthcare roughly 5,000 Black Bermudians (circa 2019, Ministry of Health and Bermuda Health Council) are without health insurance as I write this.
John Wight, the group chairman of BF&M, summed it up nicely in a perverse way. He stated it will be at least ten years before this fee-for-service, Wild West-style healthcare system is restructured. Now that would be the ultimate kick-the-can-down-the-road by this government. Even by its existing standards, it would set a record, but by that time Mr Burt would be long gone.
There has been a clear pattern here since 2017. Those progressive public policies that were designed to materially improve the lives of those earning lower to lower-middle-income wages, mostly the Black working poor have been:
• Largely ignored
• Pushed aside
• Taken for granted
To tackle and implement those public policies would go against an entrenched system of power dominated by a wealthy White elite, most of whom these days are foreign-born.
Only when their hold on power and privilege is threatened or perceived to be do Mr Burt and those benefiting within his patronage system then provide inadequate gestures to appease those most affected in order to buy more time and maintain their hold on power. They lack the courage of their convictions to enact the types of systemic change that are required, and neither the Reverend Nicholas Tweed nor any of us for that matter should be under any illusions about that.
• Rolfe Commissiong was the Progressive Labour Party MP for Pembroke South East (Constituency 21) between December 2012 and August 2020, and the former chairman of the joint select committee considering the establishment of a living wage