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Arrogance mixed with ignorance

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The Grin Reaper: it was a “loving” relationship once, but the mood has shifted in the wake of this shot about eight years ago, and Marc Bean, left, and David Burt could hardly be described as bedfellows since the latter assumed the party leadership and then became Premier of Bermuda in July 2017 (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

As the world becomes smaller as a result of transportation, telecommunications and technological improvements, the opportunity to strengthen human relationships and understanding increases by the day. This is potentially good for all of us and can be of huge benefit in terms of the cultivation of peace and prosperity. But, as we all bear witness, such advances can also represent a double-edged sword where we also observe a proliferation of negativity, strife and confusion of the human mind.

As in all things, it is not the tools available that matter, but the intention of us humans who use these tools. A knife can be used to feed a man or kill him, and that depends on the person holding it.

The recent Throne Speech, in which the Government indicated its desire to pursue full membership status in Caricom is just one example of creating negativity, strife and confusion.

Many can be forgiven if they think that this was the intended purpose of the announcement. It would not be the first time that the Burt Government has deployed such tactics, in particular for the purpose of distracting the public’s mind from the pressing issues of the day.

I can think of one issue that has impacted a large majority of the traditional Progressive Labour Party voting base, which involves the Premier, his former senator, his taxi and the death of a young father who represented and exemplified the very best of our community. May the truth be revealed, justice served, our memories never grow dim of a great light extinguished, and the depths at which narcissism and psychopathy permeate our present leadership. I write with an intimate working knowledge of their modus operandi.

Regarding Caricom and the Caribbean, a distinction must be made as to the intent and purpose of such relations, as the latter is much greater than the former. Therein will we be able to identify the potential cost and benefits of pursuing such engagements or not. Such distinctions should be determined through the lens of economics, culture and politics. I will state from the onset that if the basis of such relations are economic and cultural in scope, then I am 100 per cent in support. But if they are focused on the political, which appears to be what Caricom represents to this government, then I am not.

Permit me explain. On the economic and cultural side, Bermudian business must act with urgency to engage the Caribbean for our individual and collective benefit. I will use the example of one business group that represents the absolute best that we have to offer, and that is the Gibbons family and their presence in the region. I cannot recall this group being the source of complaints from their customers or their employees, as they provide top-class, international standards for products and services. Their reward for “getting it right”, among other things, is profits, and rightly so. In turn, they provide good/services that people need/want, substantial local employment within the countries in which they operate, and tax revenue for the respective governments. The profits are their reward for participating in what amounts to be a mutually beneficial relationship, and since we are discussing the Gibbons group, have you noticed the cultural impact through sport as the primary sponsor of West Indies cricket? That is leadership by example that can be replicated by other Bermudian businesses!

Grant Gibbons, right, then Minister of Education and Economic Development, and Sir Russell Coutts, parade the America’s Cup through Hamilton after the historic bid victory to host the famous sailing event in Bermuda in 2017. Gibbons and his family, through CG United, continue to make an impact in the Caribbean (File photograph by Nicola Muirhead)

While I use the Gibbonses as an example, there are other companies from Bermuda similarly engaged — some smaller and maybe some larger in scale. LOM, BF&M, which are publicly traded — affording all of us the opportunity to participate — and the Green family are other notable examples that we can reference. There are many others, too, that are engaged to some degree or the other across the region — some within Caricom members states and some outside.

Contrary to the prevailing narrative, there are Caribbean-based firms similarly involved in extending their financial and human capital into Bermuda. The most notable that springs to mind is Michael Lee Chin, the billionaire Jamaican businessman who owns a large stake in Clarien Bank. This is evidence that, just as we have much to offer the region, the region has much to offer us as well in terms of commercial activities.

Considering the above facts, I take this opportunity to encourage Bermudians, constrained by contracting conditions on island owing to poor policy decisions of this present regime, to look south as a potential economic release valve so that they may deploy their capital/savings to enable an adequate return and create wealth for your families.

I think of the multiple Bermudian construction firms, for example, whose assets sit idle at home while Jamaican and Portuguese contractors profit as the result of the aforementioned erroneous policy decisions of this PLP government, coupled with a lack of vision on Bermudians’ part.

Yes, such thinking contains risk and challenges, but I encourage each Bermudian so inclined to strengthen your mind, be flexible, minimise complaining and get ready to compete!

You can do it, just as others are doing it! Look south for the opportunities that exist across many sectors in many countries, especially within tourism and real estate. In competing, remember that there is wisdom to be found in co-operating with each other towards these ends, and since only a select few throughout the decades can depend on the government of the day “to eat”, working together represents an alternative solution that can help you and your family.

While some may agree or disagree with these ideas, I would like to emphasise one indisputable fact: in terms of economics, Bermuda’s commercial engagement with the Caribbean is being accomplished without full political membership into Caricom. On the other hand, there is no denying that such membership can potentially enhance Bermudian businesses’ entry into many countries within the region. We will take a brief look into this later in our discussion.

In respect to culture, who can refute the indelible mark that the rich and diverse cultures of the Caribbean have provided to Bermuda, and the negative impact on us as a country with its absence?

Already mentioned is the Gibbons family's support of West Indies cricket, yet the same applies to the other sporting activities that we participate in — from swimming and athletics via Carifta, to football, tennis, sailing, golf. I think you get the point. Our young people are blessed to be able to test their skills at the regional level that is afforded by our connection to the Caribbean.

Alongside sport, can you imagine the spiritual mental, and physical void, not just in Bermuda, but the entire world, without the music and cuisine of the Caribbean? The rhythms and the recipes represent a life-giving force for Bermudian society, an authentic energy that has declined over the years to our collective detriment, especially in the sphere of tourism.

Tourism is the supreme cultural-economic activity to be shared with others. Tourism is, in effect, the primary international export of a people and their respective cultures. While many persons travel to experience the natural beauty of a particular place, it cannot be denied that without the presence of the people to freely express themselves to others via their food, music and other innate assets, a nation’s tourism product is devoid of spirit and purpose.

In this “post-pandemic” environment, the facts and data speak for themselves. The entire region of the Caribbean is booming, while at home in Bermuda, we languish in despair, struggling to recapture the tourism levels of 2018-19. If we are honest with ourselves, this is nothing to brag about. In addition to the selfish, shortsighted policies of this present regime, and the resultant deleterious impact that has basically decimated an already-weak industry, let’s not delude ourselves in denying the reality that our tourism product — notwithstanding the best efforts of entrepreneurs — is boring, old and stale.

In the words of our young people, such as our soca and reggae-loving demographic, “our tourism product is trash”!

Based on the very high taxpayer-funded salaries at the Bermuda Tourism Authority, its performance has been shambolic and abysmal. Respectfully, and I do not digress, when we compare ourselves with the rest of the Caribbean, these are just the plain facts.

And for those who claim that we are not located within the Caribbean, neither is the Bahamas or Turks & Caicos, as geographical location does not negate the value of Caribbean culture within our product.

If people from our key target markets want to enjoy British culture, it is more valuable for them to jump on a plane and fly to Britain!

I highlight this as an example of the value added that flows from deeper cultural relations with the Caribbean. It should be self-evident to all of us. The point that I am seeking to drive home is this: the economic and cultural benefits of Caribbean engagement exist in abundance, but they are not dependent on full membership into Caricom.

There is, however, one key area that provides benefits that may accrue from full Caricom membership, which must be addressed, and that is the free movement of persons. I cannot think of another issue that has exposed the rank hypocrisy of our country more than this, and it applies to both sides of the debate. As much as we love to sit on the proverbial high horse as it relates to the Caribbean, and other regions for that matter, we should hang our heads in shame.

Yes, I understand the tribalism at play; it is nothing new. In the southeast, Bajans think that they are the best thing since sliced bread, while Bahamians think that they are better because their bread is whole wheat. Yet we in Bermuda think that we are the best because we have raisins in our bread!

Arrogance mixed with ignorance.

Thomas Sowell’s research on the matter indicates that it is a southern English trait. Regardless of its origins, there is no doubt in my mind that future generations will judge us as one big collective, narrow-minded, embarrassment. On one hand, we have people who have, at least for the past 15 years, vociferously proclaimed and advocated for the need for an increase in population, as the key policy solution to improve our economic wellbeing.

Fair enough. I, too, agree with the need to increase our population, whether as short-term or long-term residents in various forms. But when the idea of joining the Caribbean Single Market and Economy, which would entail the free movement of persons between Bermuda and Caricom was raised, we are subjected to arguments that are totally opposite to what they have been advocating for decades — a complete departure from openness towards one of protectionism and xenophobia.

What is even more egregious are the weak rationales submitted, which upon deeper analysis can be reduced to age-old attitudes of a seemingly bygone era. While I don’t engage in such thinking and actions, it is no great surprise as to why race has been a convenient and constant political tool used by the PLP to great effect. It is a tool that is used by this government, but not one that the PLP created.

Let me be clear on this point: if you don’t like race-based politics being deployed as a strategic weapon, you must first put these tools away into the dustbin of history, and that can be accomplished only by changing your attitudes, especially in terms of what you think, speak and act upon. Nothing has exemplified this cancer more than this particular discussion on the free movement of persons granted by the CSME.

Likewise, on the other side of the debate, we have the PLP government literally bending over backwards to proclaim that it has no desire or intention to subscribe to these CSME provisions, ostensibly referring to the Bahamas as an example of the option to not become a signatory to the idea of free movement of persons.

Bermuda does not face the Haitian migrant issue that the Bahamas grapples with, so the comparison is not relevant. But being that we depend on the Caribbean to supply our healthcare system with highly qualified and capable personnel — in particular from Jamaica via its University of the West Indies medical school — you would think that national requirements demand that we embrace the CSME provisions to ensure we have easier access to this available pool of specialised human capital.

What we see is the complete opposite. Instead, we witness this government erecting, with haste, additional immigration barriers for Jamaicans and other specific countries — as a shallow and childish reaction to their own colleague’s desire to open a new air charter business, and as punishment for daring to verbalise his political intent to possibly challenge for political leadership.

Basically, saying one thing and doing the other.

The key point in all of this is that access to highly skilled persons from Caricom, and the reciprocal access of Bermudians to gain business, educational and employment opportunities in the Caribbean, is a benefit to be derived from full Caricom membership. If we so choose to embrace it.

Otherwise, Caricom will only represent politics and a personal opportunity for certain politicians to waste limited taxpayer funds on what amounts to be political junkets, which see some countries’ Heads of Government accompanied by as many as 20 civil servants to pontificate and argue about issues that, depending on the agenda item, may or may not be of benefit to their respective citizens — regional security being a tangible example of a matter of importance.

Of course, there are the customary photo-ops that accompany all international affairs throughout the world, Caricom being no exception. In fact, the only leader that I observed in these meetings attempting to make sense out of the nonsense, even as a limited associate member, was Ewart Brown, who on more than one occasion reminded those gathered that “two plus two gives the same result as two multiplied by two”!

In closing, while I am very sceptical regarding this PLP government’s true intention towards the quest for full Caricom membership — a scepticism justified by its own track record of deceit, mistrust and poor performance — it is the Government that the people voted for, which gives it the right to pursue such a course of action.

In turn, the Government must remember that without good governance exemplified, it will be virtually impossible to convince the electorate to support these aims and objectives, or any other more substantive in nature, such as independence.

Indeed, voting comes with consequences!

I do not support this path towards fully joining Caricom and would rather the Government focus on promoting our economic and cultural relations with the Caribbean as a whole, alongside other regions such as Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.

It is my hope that any new relationship may redound as a direct benefit to the people of Bermuda. That must be the focus of political service based on more accountability and transparency. We need less government, less politics, more economics and more culture.

As an elder reminds me: “If you can’t help the people, do not hurt them.”

Marc Bean was the leader of the Progressive Labour Party from December 2012 to November 2016

Marc Bean was the leader of the Progressive Labour Party from December 2012 to November 2016

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Published December 13, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated December 13, 2023 at 11:47 am)

Arrogance mixed with ignorance

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