Abolition of conscription ‘irreversible’
The decision on whether the Bermuda Regiment should become an entirely volunteer force or manned through conscription is left “in principle to the Government and Parliament,” Governor George Fergusson has said.
The group Nine Colonels, which represents leadership in the Bermuda Regiment since its inception in 1965, has argued that conscription is the only way to maintain the required level of manpower, which is 400 soldiers.
Col Eugene Raynor and Lt Col Rance both raised the question of whether Bermuda could maintain the numbers required without conscription.
“Economic conditions, social attitudes play a big part,” Lt Col Rance said. “When our economy is buoyant, there is going to be less interest in volunteering because the bonus payments are not as significant as during hard times.
“We think that if conscription is abolished, it will be extremely difficult or impossible for politicians to write it back into the legislation. The Government of the day will have a difficult task on its hands to reintroduce conscription.”
Lt Col Rance also called the question of whether it is the Governor or the Government who holds responsibility for making the decision “interesting”.
He explained that certain aspects of the management of the Regiment, including finance, public relations and recruitment, fall under the Bermuda Government. However, ensuring that the level of manpower required for the Regiment to execute its duties is sustained may not fall under the party in power.
“If you had a legal counsellor review this, it would be interesting to see what they had to say,” Lt Col Rance added. The Governor explained that he was responsible for the Regiment under Bermuda's constitution.
“The Governor has constitutional responsibility for the Regiment. I have made clear that I do not consider conscription to be essential in these times for national security and therefore have been content to leave the decision in principle on retaining conscription or not to the Government and Parliament.
“It is important nonetheless that transition is managed in a way which does not have an undue effect on the Regiment. I am satisfied that this is being managed properly.
“I also welcome the steadily rising numbers of volunteers and the signs of more soldiers opting to stay longer in the Regiment. Both these factors help the transition to an all-volunteer organisation.”
Lt Col Michael Foster-Brown, the Regiment commanding officer, also said the Governor was responsible for the Island's military force. “The Commander-in-Chief of the Regiment is His Excellency the Governor, who has constitutional responsibility for the Regiment,” he said.
“His Excellency has made clear that he does not consider conscription to be essential for national security and was content to leave the decision on retaining conscription or not to the Government and Parliament.”
He continued: “The Regiment is doing everything within its power to meet the Government's intent to end conscription.
“We have had some early success and Recruit Camp 15 is likely to see a record number of volunteers, approximately 70, but we are not complacent about the challenges, not least the relatively small pool from which we are seeking recruits.
“There are also encouraging signs of an increase in the retention rate — those staying on after completing their compulsory service — which will also have an impact on recruitment numbers.
“To mitigate that challenge, and the fact volunteers cost more to attract and retain, the Regiment has requested an additional $275,000 to fund recruiting and retention incentives, and advertising.”
Lt Col Foster-Brown added: “Conscription has a social function through the mixing of soldiers from different backgrounds, but volunteers tend to be more motivated.
“Many find their service very rewarding and half the Regiment are currently volunteers, although most of that number were originally conscripted. Current financial incentives to join are $500.
“The Government has consistently stated that the Regiment's operational capability will be maintained and legislation provides that, if there are not enough volunteers to meet the number of soldiers required, a form of compulsory service can be retained or re-implemented.”
The Regiment said it offers recruits “adventure, good pay, leadership and management experience, fun, new friendships, national pride, new challenges and life skills”.
Efforts to obtain comment from Michael Dunkley, the Premier, on the Government's position regarding responsibility on the question of conscription were unsuccessful.
For more information on the Bermuda Regiment go to www.bermudaregiment.bm/content/BdaRegRecruit.pdf