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Taking one for the team

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Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, fronted up in taking sole responsibility for the demolition of Watlington House (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

In team sport, players often do whatever is necessary to win a game. A baseball batter, for instance, would sometimes not move out of the way quickly enough if a pitch is hurled towards them. If the player suspects the baseball will not cause an injury, they may purposely get hit to get on base.

This type of tactic is evident in other sports. In football, a player may deliberately commit a foul to prevent an opponent from creating a goalscoring opportunity, at their own risk of being penalised with a yellow card. A coach, sensing their team need motivation to succeed, may offend or argue against an official to intentionally get thrown out of the game. All different sports, but it is the same intent of action: a player or coach taking one for the team.

These types of strategies, an act of someone willingly making a sacrifice for the benefit of their team, are also used in the political arena. The voluntary “sacrificial lamb” defence is deployed usually when there is blowback for decisions that have been made. We have recently witnessed this within our own politics.

Are we to believe the Minister of Public Works took it solely upon himself to make the decision to demolish Watlington House, a building that had ties with Mary Prince, a Bermuda National Hero? Are we to believe that other Cabinet ministers or the leadership did not agree to this or know about it in advance?

The decision to knock down the building is baffling, and the reasons given for trying to justify it do not add up. Even though Watlington House was owned by a slave owner, and it was not the house where Mary Prince lived — but was sold as an enslaved person — it was still historic because it was a part of her “suffering” journey. Yes, slavery was barbaric and certainly it was a crime against humanity, but her story of suffering is largely why she became internationally renowned and ultimately why she was selected as a National Hero.

Mary Prince was the first known Black woman to have her story of enslavement written in a book, which was used to help bring about the abolishment of slavery. Mary Prince’s story is so relevant, it has been published in 18 different books, as far as I can count. The books have been written in multiple languages, it is available digitally for download, and teachers around the world have used it as a case study for their students. Our National Hero was even commemorated by Google on its search engine.

I find it difficult to believe Watlington House could not be salvaged. Bermuda could have taken a page out of how the house that Anne Frank and her family hid in from the Nazis was saved. The house was thought to be dilapidated, destined to be demolished, but there was resistance from the Dutch community. An Anne Frank foundation was then created, the building was saved and later restored.

Anne Frank and our own Mary Prince have something in common. They both told their stories during acts of evil; one in a diary during the Holocaust and the other in a book during slavery. The Anne Frank House, which was not her house, but where she hid for about two years, is the fourth most visited museum in Amsterdam. In 2019, it welcomed 1.3 million visitors, and 90 per cent of those came from abroad. At $18 an entrance ticket for adults, and $8 for children — assuming an even split of adults and children — that is approximately $17 million per year in entrance receipts. An economic and educational opportunity missed — perhaps.

The Government knew knocking down Watlington House would receive strong public opinion, particularly when the initial plan for the demolition was paused because of the historical link. This is why I suspect it was done without many being made aware and why only the Minister of Public Works has put himself in the line of fire. I do not recall anyone else defending the decision. There is no doubt he is taking one for the team. Unless we are to think the rest of the Cabinet became aware of it, like the rest of us, only when it was reported in the media.

Cole Simons, Leader of the Opposition, apologised publicly for the Reply to the Budget (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The response to the Government’s recent Budget Statement by the One Bermuda Alliance was bizarre and a head-scratcher. Are we to believe the Opposition leader took it solely upon himself to create all its ideas? Are we to believe that no other members of the party were involved, or knew about the content beforehand?

The Opposition party is giving the impression that its leader went rogue, decided to go solo, and dismiss everyone else’s thoughts. This is understandable based on the multitude of times its own members publicly cried down the Government’s travel authorisation policy during the latter part of the pandemic.

There was endless criticism from the Opposition arguing that the TAF needed to end so that we could bring back tourists to the island. Hoteliers called for the $40 TA fee to be abolished and tourism leaders stated the financial charge was still a deterrent for travellers.

With all of this in mind, and the Opposition party leading the charge of the travel authorisation being cancelled, why did Cole Simons recommend the reintroduction of the fee? This was not an own goal, as these are usually unintentional. This was akin to a player deliberately scoring in their own net.

The call for the resuscitation of the TA fee was so ill-advised and poorly received, it took away the spotlight of another puzzling suggestion in the Opposition’s response. That is, to examine the possibility of introducing a minimal VAT tax on healthcare services.

Only two years ago, the Opposition leader publicly stated that the cost of healthcare on the island had risen by 193 per cent over the past 15 years and Bermuda’s healthcare costs per head were among the highest in the world. The Bermuda Health Strategy Report has outlined the island’s health system is not providing value for money and the per-capita health expenditure is more than most other countries.

Although the Mr Simons delivered the response, and he took the criticism as a result, I suspect he is also taking one for the team. Unless we are to think that he truly drafted the Reply to the Budget himself without input from anyone else. If this was indeed the case, what does that tell you about the party?

The pushback these two decisions received were justified. It showed a government not being transparent by first making its case beforehand to demolish Watlington House, and it showed an Opposition party that was ill-prepared by stamping all over its own messaging. With that being said, the two decisions also revealed other things.

It shows the detriment of the island’s private and public education systems not focusing more on local history. Had more Bermudian people and residents valued who Mary Prince was, I believe the community would have rallied together to save Watlington House. To be clear, this does not excuse the Government from lacking the leadership to spearhead a public-private solution.

Another revealing thing, obviously, is how far the Opposition has to go to become a viable option to lead the country. Right now, the gap feels like it is as big as the Dutton Ranch on Yellowstone. At the very least, Bermuda needs a strong opposition party to bring more accountability to the Government.

Representatives from both political parties need to be challenged more broadly by their own supporters when it comes to decisions such as these. Do not be fooled when there is one who is taking the heat for the team in an effort to shield them from any controversy. Ask direct questions such as why did the Government make the decision to knock down the house that was linked to our National Hero, or why was the Opposition thoughtless in its Reply to the Budget.

If the response is that it was a lone decision, then we have even bigger problems.

Malcolm Raynor has worked in the telecommunications industry in Bermuda for more than 30 years. Benefiting from Cable & Wireless’s internal training and education programmes held in Bermuda, Barbados, St Lucia (The University of the West Indies) and Britain, he rose to the level as senior vice-president. An independent thinker possessing a moderate ideology, his opinions are influenced by principle, data and trends

Malcolm Raynor has worked in the telecommunications industry in Bermuda for more than 30 years. Benefiting from Cable & Wireless’s internal training and education programmes held in Bermuda, Barbados, St Lucia (The University of the West Indies) and Britain, he rose to the level as senior vice-president. An independent thinker possessing a moderate ideology, his opinions are influenced by principle, data and trends

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Published April 03, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated April 03, 2023 at 8:01 am)

Taking one for the team

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