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Education authority must be independent, says senator

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John Wight, independent senator (File photograph)
Marcus Jones, Opposition senator (File photograph)

A proposed education authority must be free from government influence, a newly appointed independent senator said yesterday.

Speaking during the Senate debate on the Throne Speech, John Wight said: “I am pleased to see the creation of an education authority and hope it will be an independent authority.

He added: “The devil is in the detail. In the same way that the Bermuda Tourism Authority benefited Bermuda with ideas from the private sector, an education authority could have the same benefits.”

Ben Smith, Opposition senate leader, said it was vital that an education authority “take the politics out of education”.

“Our young people are way too important – decisions to put them forward will be one of the ways to get out of the predicament we are in,” he said.

Joan Dillas-Wright, President of the Senate, said getting education right could help mitigate crime and prison rates.

Collaboration will be key according to Michelle Simmons, vice president of the Senate. Ms Simmons said: “That collaboration should be as broad as possible … so once the model for our reformed public education system is put in place, the entire community can feel that this is a model that has been developed by Bermudians and Bermuda residents for the children of Bermuda.”

Ernest Peets, Government Leader of the Senate, said Bermuda needs a system that offers multiple pathways for success. Dr Peets stressed that those pathways should not only be academic but business and arts oriented. This was the intent of government’s promise to introduce signature schools.

Mr Wight said that immigration reform had been a “failure in many respects for many years”.

He highlighted that Canada, with a 30 million people and an ageing population, brings in 300,000 new people per year from overseas.

“We have to proactively work on a solution,” he said.

Speaking on immigration, Opposition senator Marcus Jones said: “We the Opposition will watch intently to ensure this administration continues bipartisan work in reform that reflects … equal contribution and buy in from both parties rather than the bias view of a select few that have a political agenda.”

Mr Smith said that immigration reform went hand-in-hand with fixing the economy. He said: “We are going to need immigration to help US rebuild and move forward. It is not about opening the floodgates but recognising that some of those that are here are the ones who have been helping US.”

Mr Smith said that Bermuda must position itself to compete in a global economy.

“When an international business came to Bermuda we used to think we could push them to make decisions here. Now they will hire someone in a different jurisdiction. We have to find ways to work with them and find opportunities for our people.”

Mr Wight said he was pleased capital projects would be launched to boost the economy but warned about increasing our national debt.

He said that in light of Bermuda’s $3.5 billion debt, it would be wise to use private investors’ money. He said he was a firm believer of removing restrictions on business ownership to revitalise the economy.

Mr Jones said that the Throne Speech had mentioned “nothing, zilch, nada” on the “fintech and blockchain-based national identity system that was heralded as the emerging third pillar of Bermuda’s economy”.

He added that “the silence is deafening” on tourism.

Mr Jones said that Throne Speech was “lightweight”.

“I believe this Throne Speech is remarkable in what it has not said or addressed more than what it does say,” he said.

“Take for example, the issue of reducing the ‘cost of living - barely a passing gesture.”

In the motion to adjourn, Owen Darrell later criticised Mr Jones’s op-ed in Monday’s Royal Gazette saying he did not appreciate the hard work that “some of us are doing as servants of the people”.

He added: “I’d like to finish where I started – not by giving credence to the comments of an author who has failed to win an election in two different One Bermuda Alliance safe seats for two different political parties, but rather by expressing gratitude to every member of our society that is working hard to rebuild Bermuda with Bermudians at heart.”

Robin Tucker, Opposition senator, said protection of our children should be paramount. Highlighting cases involving the abuse of Bermudian children that have come to light in recent months, she said she was cautiously optimistic that the “outdated” Child Placement Board had been replaced by the Children’s Commission but added: “There appears to be concern for the leadership at the Department of Child and Family Services – the commission should work independently from that department.”

The Throne Speech was approved with no objections.

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Published November 26, 2020 at 9:15 am (Updated November 26, 2020 at 9:13 am)

Education authority must be independent, says senator

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