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Do as I say and not as I do

After all the Jetgate huffing and puffing, David Burt’s PLP is willing to accept campaign donations from outside Bermuda as well

Over the past two weeks the Progressive Labour Party has held a few press conferences, and they have been notable for a number of reasons. The first thing that struck me is that the conferences have been high on rhetoric and low on solutions. Although it should come as no surprise that the PLP would use them to promote its “Two Bermudas” campaign theme, voters should still be extremely concerned at the party’s continued failure to present solutions.

The second thing that struck me is how the PLP talks about the pain and suffering of Bermudians, as if it began in December 2012. Yes, there are Bermudians who are in pain and suffering, but there is a whole lot of rewriting of Bermuda’s history in these press conferences. Lest we forget where we were at the end of the PLP’s 14-year term:

• Bermuda’s economy was on life support for as long as we could increase our debt

• The Department of Statistics’ report on emigration confirms that Bermudians had been leaving the island in droves for several years before the One Bermuda Alliance came to power

• Public education had not been reformed under the PLP. Schools had mould problems, teachers needed retraining and students were underperforming

• Our tax system had not been reformed. Under the PLP, it still placed a disproportionate burden on lower-income workers, and the PLP showed no real willingness or ability to change it.

• The tourism industry fell back in reverse and was mired in questionable deals such as the Global Hue contract and Faith Based Tourism

• Government ministers had demonstrated very little regard for good governance, and several police investigations into corruption were commenced and remain active

The net result of this was that the PLP was removed from power under a cloud of what the Commission of Inquiry has now dubbed “possible criminal activity”. And just as in previous elections when the PLP called on black voters not to vote themselves back on to the plantation, it’s clear to me that the Two Bermudas campaign seeks to press the same emotional buttons to distract voters from the PLP’s track record.

Out of all the issues discussed during the press conferences, the most compelling so far would have to be campaign finance reform. Voters should recall the Jetgate scandal and how an anonymous source claimed to have overheard a conversation where a foreign investor claimed to have been asked for $2 million. Voters should also recall that since that controversy broke out, the only shred of evidence we have seen has to do with a $300,000 campaign donation.

Given how the PLP blasted the OBA over Jetgate, it was fascinating to see the Opposition leader squirm over questions about the PLP’s position on campaign finance reform. Burt clumsily fumbled through the most straightforward questions with half-answers. When asked who are the PLP’s top three campaign contributors, he jokingly responded that he cannot remember. When asked if he would accept donations from outside Bermuda, he initially implied that he would not, but then attempted to rationalise taking money from foreigners who wanted to contribute to the PLP’s cause.

Campaign finance is not so much about transparency as it is about conflicts of interest. It is here where the plot thickens: within maybe a week of that press conference, the PLP began to promote a golf fundraiser with sponsorships as high as $10,000. The primary sponsors for the fundraiser are Bermuda Healthcare Services and Island Construction, two companies that are owned by persons who are affected by Bermuda Government civil trials.

To point out the obvious, it would not be a stretch to believe that a PLP win would mean the termination of the Government’s civil trials. It also strikes me that given this incentive, the PLP has a significant campaign finance conflict of interest that is at least as questionable as the one in the Jetgate scandal.

The fact of the matter is that nothing but politics is stopping the PLP from disclosing who donates to their election campaign. Absolutely nothing is stopping them from setting a standard for the OBA to follow. Yet here the PLP is following Jetgate with blatantly obvious conflicts of interest. After all the Jetgate huffing and puffing, Burt’s PLP is willing to accept campaign donations from outside Bermuda as well.

Rather than this be an opportunity for the PLP to demonstrate leadership, it is a classic case of “do as I say and not as I do”. Whatever complaints it had about Jetgate, they have now been buried under a mound of hypocrisy during the press conference.

To reach out to Bryant Trew, e-mail: bryanttrew@mac.com