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A pyrrhic victory

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You win, you lose and you lose, you lose: Curtis Dickinson, left, and the victorious David Burt after the Progressive Labour Party leadership race last month (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

“We cannot lie our way through it. We cannot manipulate our way through it. We cannot save our country if we only tell you what we think you want to hear.

“The lack of transparency around this deal [Fairmont Southampton] and the urgency to get it signed regardless of the consequences suggest that either our party leader doesn’t know what he’s doing, or he is so desperate to cling to power that he would gamble with all our futures for a public relations win”

Curtis Dickinson (The Royal Gazette)

“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.”

Cheryl Pooley (The Royal Gazette)

They entitled this year’s Throne Speech “Social Renewal”. Does that threadbare document even come close to that goal? Not by a long shot. When I read that colonial era-styled circa 1960s Throne Speech the other day, I imagined that David Burt sequestered himself in a bunker and wrote that banal, largely empty speech. It not only insulted the great Black author and polemicist James Baldwin, who was quoted and was included obviously as some sort of Black token or signifier, but it insulted every Black Bermudian who has read Baldwin and explicitly understands what he was writing about.

If this is not the worst Throne Speech ever produced by a Progressive Labour Party government, I challenge you to name one that was.

To sacrifice the common good

Once again, Mr Burt has shown us who he really is and who he has always been. Clearly, the Reverend Nicholas Genevieve-Tweed did not get the memo. Will someone please tell Mr Tweed that we still do not have a living wage nearly six years since the Government’s commitment to it in the party’s 2017 platform and subsequent Throne Speech. He seems to have conveniently forgotten.

And as to Curtis Dickinson, a one-time friend and peer of Burt, who publicly accused the Premier and party leader of being a liar, I have something for he and the constituents of Pembroke South East to ponder: would Dickinson even be the MP there were it not for Mr Burt misleading the public within hours of the 2020 election. Even worse is what he was doing behind the scenes to ensure that Mr Dickinson would be the candidate in Constituency 21.

We all know that Mr Dickinson was a bird of the same feather as Mr Burt until the Fairmont Southampton deal, where Mr Burt demonstrated a clear willingness to sacrifice the common good for the most base of political motives. That deal in my mind is no different substantively than that which the One Bermuda Alliance agreed to at the airport project or at Morgan’s Point. All three have one thing in common: none of them would have occurred without significant giveaways or concessions by the Government beyond which was prudent. Those deals in effect held the taxpayer hostage in return for the promise of jobs and, for the politician, something to run on. They simply transferred too much of the financial risk of the project on to the public coffers of the Government, to the financial benefit of the developer to the tune of $125 million and counting of taxpayers’ dollars. That proved a bridge too far for Mr Dickinson to stomach. He saw the real David Burt of his nightmares and recoiled.

So he in that sense was right about the Fairmont Southampton deal with Gencom. Where he and I differ is that, unlike Mr Dickinson, I do not believe economic growth alone can save us from the growing crisis at hand. He quoted the Fiscal Responsibility Panel in an interview recently and its affirmation of the necessity for economic growth in order to address the matter of government debt. But what he ignores even at this late date is that the same panel, in two consecutive reports, advocated as best it could — in light of the constraints placed upon its work by successive governments — the need to increase the Government’s tax revenue as well. It has consistently stated that in relation to Bermuda, it is too low. It also affirmed the need to create a more equitable tax system. Translation: We must tax the wealthy and profitable businesses and corporations, including in the international business sector. Cheryl Pooley, in an op-ed in The Royal Gazette, only recently conveyed that “international business comprises 80 per cent of Bermuda’s gross domestic product, yet it is not taxed”. Has Mr Dickinson ever articulated the type of redistributive reforms that would address the issues that Ms Pooley highlights above and others such as I have consistently highlighted? Think about that.

This reform is necessary not only to address the government debt but also to fund the necessary progressive public policies such as healthcare, which needs to be addressed now. And to accomplish that the first step is a retooling of our tax system as noted. Mr Dickinson, I might add, is not in favour of any of this because if he was, he and his wingman, Jamahl Simmons, would be singing from the same hymn sheet. But the reality is that neither is Mr Burt, except rhetorically.

Although I prefer the term “master of deceit” to characterise Mr Burt rather than “liar”, it now appears belatedly that Mr Dickinson, the neoliberal Manhattan banker has learnt some sort of lesson. What kind of lesson still remains unanswered .

To turn a preacher

What took place with the re-election of David Burt as leader of the PLP will not halt the alienation of a key part of that party’s base — Bermuda’s Black working poor, along with those in the lower to middle-income bracket. Those who still remain on island, that is, and have not decamped to Britain are now increasingly turned off to put it lightly. They have arrived at the point that they now are judging Mr Burt not by his faux/fake rhetoric, which tends to sound progressive when he feels that his power is threatened, but by his actions. That is why well in excess of 4,000 enthusiastic souls who voted for the PLP in 2017 had disappeared from the polling stations by 2020. Add to that total since then hundreds more who are suffering under the two-decade growth of income inequality and, more recently, the high levels of inflation outlined above.

Only redistributive public policies can be of relief to those who are the most affected. There is consequently a justifiable distrust of Mr Burt, the party and, more importantly, the Government after nearly six years of unfulfilled promises most of which would have done exactly that.

It also seems that Mr Burt possesses the uncanny talent to turn even a preacher into a purveyor of blatant untruths, thanks to the uncharacteristic and frankly shameful benediction he received from Mr Tweed. “The Transactional One” has promised him something, I’m afraid, but I predict it will be a gift that will end in nothing but tears for the recipient.

It goes without saying that neither the living wage nor a commitment to healthcare reform, which should be a basic human right for the estimated 5,000-plus Black Bermudians without health insurance, has still not been committed to. What we do have in terms of healthcare is another “kick the can down the road” exercise in the form of another committee. Maybe Mr Tweed went back in time in attributing healthcare reform to Mr Burt, as last year’s Throne Speech at least included the term “universal healthcare”. This year even that glimmer of optimism was missing in action, and is nowhere to be found.

Ditto, has anyone heard a peep from the Tax Commission lately?

The secret plan?

The consistently shrinking support for Mr Burt and the PLP has been occurring over the past two to three years at a minimum. I predict that trend will accelerate now in the wake of the party’s horse race to determine its leader. In other words, the victory such as it was for him and the party was a Pyrrhic one — empty in political terms.

Mr Burt did have a secret plan in 2017, though, and that was not one anyone signed on to. That plan was to go all in on fintech, more specifically crypto. His bet was that Bermuda could be a global centre for the industry and thereby it would avoid him or his government having to build a more equitable society by going after the deeply entrenched system of White-dominated power and privilege that has led directly to the profound underdevelopment of the Black community for decades, with Black men from lower-income families being the biggest losers. For those Bermudians, his vision by default amounts to nothing more than a trickle-down form of economics.

We need look no farther than the crypto lender BlockFi, a Bermudian-based fintech operation that recently had its California lending licence suspended to see how well that plan is working out.

This brings me back to Mr Dickinson. Mr Burt will find it far more difficult to continue with his favourite trick, which is to buy time. The cost will be far greater and the impact more immediate in doing so. The only thing between us and the fiscal cliff over the past decade has been the virtually recessionproof insurance sector and the historically low cost of borrowing, essentially free money since the quantitative easing of 2008, especially in the capital markets, which made it easy for countries such as Bermuda to manage its debt. Those days, thanks to Jerome Powell and the US Federal Reserve, are over with only hard choices at hand.

The late great Skipper Ingham

In tribute: I represented “Skipper” Ingham for close to eight years in the House of Assembly but I truly valued his friendship and, when needed, his counsel for at least four decades. He was “Bermuda’s sensei” for those of my generation. I considered it an honour to know him and his family. He was an iconic Bermudian figure, the likes of which we seldom see these days. A man of character who embodied that Bermuda spirit of strength and kindness. To his wife, Christina, and his children, you have my deepest condolences.

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

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

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Published November 18, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated November 17, 2022 at 6:14 pm)

A pyrrhic victory

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