It seems we couldn’t care less about sinking without a trace
The Reply to the Throne Speech has come and gone without much fanfare. Self-congratulatory speeches were made by the government MPs and the Opposition poked holes in much of what was said. Jarion Richardson’s speech was as would be expected — attacking — but I am not convinced it landed many punches despite the declining state of Bermuda at present. Why? Well, it is simple. No one cares.
The truth is that the theatrics of the House of Assembly are pretty sad. While the proceedings are broadcast live, I would venture to say that 95 per cent or more of the electorate do not listen to it. Those who do likely have spare time for amusement or are senior civil servants in their offices waiting to rush to the House of Assembly to advise a minister on their ministerial brief written in support of a Bill written by the senior civil servants. Other than a few point-scoring opportunities, nothing much of anything memorable happens in the House. The battleground is actually on social media. And on that front the Government is far better.
We are not getting value for money out of our elected and appointed officials. We are overgoverned and underserved across the board. With 36 MPs, 11 senators, two municipalities (with 18 councillors each) and nine parish councils (varying in number of members), we should be able to do far better. Overgovernance leads to inertia and generally a lack of accountability — as such it seems like the time has come to drastically reduce the number of MPs.
The last time any reduction happened was in 2003 when the number of MPs went from 40 to 36 — when dual constituencies were finally done away with. I would go so far as to say that most of us would not be able to name all the Cabinet ministers, never mind our Members of Parliament or municipal members. It is time for another reduction of MPs, especially since it is very apparent it is becoming increasingly difficult to get members of the public to fill so many positions!
Given our government’s interest in the Caribbean Community, let us look at the numbers across the smaller jurisdictions in the region for comparison and just stick to the number of MPs.
As can be seen from this table, save for the Cayman Islands, Bermuda is overgoverned by a significant margin comparably in terms of registered voters. On average, of those I have selected to analyse, there are 4,394 constituents per MP. To get to this number in Bermuda, we would be looking at ten MPs, down from 36. Now that would simply not be functional!
Instead, I suggest we consider an uneven number of 19 MPs, which is in between Antigua & Barbuda and Dominica. This would approximately double the number of registered voters represented by each Member of Parliament. The Senate could be reduced from 11 to seven, with three government, two opposition and two independents. Many believe an Upper Chamber serves no purpose, but it my view it does allow for scrutiny and accountability, and gives the Government options in appointment of non-elected persons to be ministers, which is very important in a small jurisdiction.
Under our Constitution Order, Cabinet can have no fewer than six ministers plus the Premier, and no more than 12 ministers or junior ministers from the House of Assembly. The Cabinet must have at least one member from the Senate, no more than two, and that person cannot be the Minister of Finance. That is a lot of potential members! In fact, given the number of boards and other pseudo-government posts and quangos, it is far too many and there are not enough skilled persons to fill them all.
I would propose that the Cabinet be reduced to no more than eight, including the Premier. I would suggest that two ministers could still come from the Senate, which may include filling the post of the Minister of Finance. This would require merging a number of government departments, and quangos, in addition to privatisation of services, including most, if not all, that are under the auspices of the Ministry of Public Works through the development of a co-op programme overseen by a Government Reduction Czar supervised by the Premier — more on this another time.
The ministries could be as follows (the departments are not all listed, but you will get the gist):
Premier: Cabinet Office, External Relations including Caricom, Municipalities, Parish Councils (to be scrapped), Governance Reform, Government Reduction Czar.
Ministry of Finance: Registrar of Companies, Office of the Tax Commissioner, Customs and Excise, Bermuda Monetary Authority, Registry General, Shipping and Aircraft Quangos, Land Valuation, Social Insurance, Post Office.
Ministry of National Security: Police, Defence, Corrections, Fire Services, Border Enforcement, Fisheries, Environmental Protection.
Ministry of Economic Affairs: Planning, Tourism, Immigration Services, Workforce Development, Gaming, Land Licences, Energy, Agriculture.
Ministry of Health and Social Services: merge the Ministry of Health with Social Development and Seniors, add Financial Assistance and remove Human Rights Commission.
Ministry of Education and Sport: merge the existing Ministry of Education with the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sport.
Ministry of Public Infrastructure: remain as it is with Public Works but merge with the Ministry of Transport. I would argue that many of the existing departments would eventually be outsourced — how this is achieved without creating unemployment issues is again a subject for another piece.
Attorney-General and Legal Affairs: same responsibilities but add Human Rights Commission. All legislated decision-making tribunals should come under this ministry, including liquor licensing, labour disputes, employment tribunals, tax tribunals, etc.
Bermuda is at a serious crossroads. We need to attract the most competent people to run for Parliament. They can be paid more, given the proposed reductions in size at both the Cabinet and non-Cabinet levels. We have ever-increasing taxes and debt, not enough income and an oversized government for the size of our population. If we work together, we can increase private enterprise, protect and enhance essential government services, outsource others and reduce the burden to the public purse. The road will be bumpy, but we need to try. We need to lead from the top down.
There is an old advertisement for Buckley’s Cough, Cold and Flu medicine that would apply to these proposals: “It tastes awful, and it works.”
It is time to take our medicine.
• Michael Fahy was the Government Senate Leader and Cabinet minister in the One Bermuda Alliance government from 2012 to 2017. Thoughts or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org