The thing about absolute power ...
“If you want to test a man's character, give him power”
These cautionary words, attributed to President Abraham Lincoln in 1883, still hold true today. And history is scarred with similar warnings.
Power is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.
Think of phrases about wielding power: power-mad, power-hungry, power-crazy, abuse of power. The warnings are there for all to see.
Power is dangerous, to be handled with great care — like dynamite.
Yet some in our government — those who wield political power — seem very keen to dismantle existing structures to achieve even greater power.
With the repeated mantra “25-11”, fuses are lit as the Government seeks to consolidate power.
Is this a good idea? What of the consequences …?
There is no doubt that in 2017 the Progressive Labour Party was given a democratic mandate to govern. But how far does its electoral mandate go?
The PLP's election platform did not say: “Vote for us so we can dismantle everything and consolidate our power.”
Yet dismantling seems the preferred policy.
When a government — and, to be fair here, I mean any government — tears apart something, then whatever follows needs to be an improvement. Right?
Test this question against two practical examples. One is the Government's recent foray into tourism. The other is the proposed changes to the healthcare system.
Ask yourself this: is greater government interference the best solution in either instance?
Example 1: the Government's increasing interference with the independent Bermuda Tourism Authority.
If one thing seems to be improving on our island, it's tourism. The revived tourism numbers are one of the few real positives in the doldrums of our local economy. Yes, there is more work to be done, but few would dispute that tourism has been trending positively under the BTA.
The BTA was created by the One Bermuda Alliance at the end of 2013. The BTA was, arguably, one of the former government's greatest achievements.
The thinking was to remove Bermuda's tourism product from the grasp of politicians, who are often ill-equipped, with knowledge gaps, like an old map with bits eaten away.
The thinking was that professionals are better equipped to chart the course for tourism.
The BTA has been doing this energetically and well. Don't take my word for its success, the statistics speak for themselves and you can see them on gotobermuda.com.
To take but one example: visitor air arrivals have (ahem) taken off. Between 2008 and 2015, they were static at about 150,000 per year. This was followed by an upward arc, soaring to more than 200,000 by 2018 (see Visitor Arrivals Report 2019, Page 6).
Although 2019 then slipped a bit to 191,417, air arrivals have generally been improving over the past five years, thanks in no small part to the independent professionals of the BTA. The adage “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” comes to mind. But some prefer dynamite …
In November 2018, the PLP intervened to amend the BTA's legislative mandate, with the tourism minister, Zane DeSilva, taking greater control over the BTA board. This was the first step to consolidate power, as the minister admitted.
Mr DeSilva quoted former OBA finance minister Bob Richards, who on inheriting the economy from the PLP in 2012 quipped that he needed to “look under the hood” to see how bad things really were.
Of his own plans for the BTA, Mr DeSilva said: “I'm pulling the car apart! I am going to tear that engine apart! Oh, yes, I will! So they better get used to it. This is the beginning, Mr Speaker.”
Fast-forward November 2018 to February 2020: Mr DeSilva tells the House “changes are coming” and they are coming “as soon as this week”.
Bermuda then saw the resignation of Kevin Dallas, the BTA's Bermudian chief executive, widely praised in many sectors for his leadership and tourism expertise.
Is this interference a good thing?
Example 2: the PLP's proposal to dismantle our health insurance system and replace it with the Government's “Basic Plan”.
Much has already been written, and said, about this ill-conceived plan, but let's look at the Government's proposal from the perspective of power consolidation.
This is a classic case of “Big Government” telling you how to live your life — quite literally, given that it is your healthcare at stake here.
If you have “major medical” insurance — and it must be acknowledged that some on our Island do not — this government has decided you cannot continue your private health insurance. The existing system of private insurance will be dismantled.
Instead, you must switch to, and pay for, the Government's Basic Plan.
Sure, you can then pay more to supplement the Basic Plan, adding additional layers of private coverage at your additional cost.
The key point here is this: rather than fix the real problem — providing health insurance to the approximately 3,300 Bermudians who are uninsured — the dynamite is out again. The Government wants to dismantle the existing independent structures to control the whole system.
It wants to dismantle the existing car, which, we can all agree, is not perfect. But it drives pretty well, all things considered.
Yet, as with tourism, the Government wants to tear that engine apart.
Is this interference a good thing?
What is the replacement going to be like? What if the Basic Plan does not drive as well? What if this new, government-designed plan proves more expensive for you when all is said and done?
So, I ask again: when a government dismantles something, then whatever follows needs to be an improvement, right? If not, then what's the point?
Power is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Meaningful reform must make things better.
Otherwise, we are just ripping engines out of cars.
• Scott Pearman is the Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs and the Opposition MP for Paget East (Constituency 22)