PLP MP speaks out against Government policies
The Progressive Labour Party appeared to draw stinging criticism from one of its own in a broadside in the House of Assembly, with backbencher Jamahl Simmons decrying a “mindset” pandering to businesses and putting population growth ahead of the party’s founding ideals.
It came one month after a succession of PLP MPs broke ranks in the House over a mandatory 14-day quarantine for unvaccinated travellers that has sparked a series of protests and a constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court.
David Burt, the Premier, drew an uncompromising line on the policy last week after one family openly defied the quarantine to a backdrop of repeated critiques of his leadership on social media.
Mr Burt criticised “WhatsApp forwards” as political manoeuvring.
Last night, a PLP spokesman said MPs were “welcome to speak on any matter they feel passionate about during the motion to adjourn”.
“The last year and a half has been tough and the PLP Government has had to make some tough decisions and not everyone agrees with every single one of them.
“That's why we have robust debate not only in the House of Assembly, but, also within the party. That debate makes us stronger.”
One party member dismissed Mr Simmons’s speech as “a PR stunt” and said it did not speak for the mood within the PLP.
The source said the unpopular mandatory quarantine policy was the only matter of contention within the party.
Speaking on Friday, Mr Simmons warned against a stance that “the end justifies the means, and believes that deception, intimidation and arrogance are acceptable”.
He said his constituents had expressed “their disgust, their dismay and their desire to see this mindset fought, conquered and defeated”.
Mr Simmons, speaking during the motion to adjourn, singled out “aspects of the Government’s economic plan that we debated earlier this month”, saying his constituents felt “hope – but we need more, and our people need more”.
The former Cabinet minister opened by telling MPs that “four years ago this Sunday, we were blessed with an opportunity to govern this beautiful land – elected by people who believed we had been humbled by our time in the wilderness of opposition and were willing to give us not only another chance – a big chance”.
He said the party’s founders and ideals were based on “the breaking down of the two Bermudas”.
But the Sandys South MP added: “We who believe in the elevation of the condition of the small man are offended by and forced to contend with a certain mindset.
“A mindset that hears and listens to the cries of non-Bermudians wanting to buy a piece of the rock, but is deaf and whose hearts have been hardened against the cries of own born and bred Bermudians struggling to find a decent, affordable place to lay their heads.”
He went on to condemn prioritising “the cries of foreign investors for tax relief and benefits” over “easing the burden in real and transformative terms for those who can’t afford to make ends meet in their own country”, as well as putting “the cries of those who want to grow Bermuda’s population” ahead of those calling for “more to be done to give our own Bermudian people the hope and the means just to stay here”.
Mr Simmons warned that there was an attitude against “a plan to bring back Bermudians forced to leave their home” but with “no problem contemplating term limits on giving assistance to the poor and working poor”.
He criticised “financial assistance in the form of tax and other concessions for businesses to roll into perpetuity”.
Mr Simmons, who spoke for nearly six minutes, said people had told him that “for too long the mindset that I have spoken of has dominated the narrative” while the economy has “left too many Bermudians behind”.
He added that “the struggling Bermudian needs, deserves and are entitled to the same respect, the same attention and the same sense of urgency that the elite, the rich and the non-Bermudian receives”.
The PLP holds an overwhelming parliamentary majority of 30 seats to the Opposition’s six since a landslide General Election victory last October.
A source familiar with the party said Mr Burt did not enjoy popularity within its ranks and was seen as “underhanded” – but added: “They want to replace him, but don’t know with who.”
The PLP member who spoke with The Royal Gazette said Mr Simmons had not attended party meetings for “months”.
“This is Jamahl speaking for Jamahl.”
The party member called the speech “a soapbox”, adding: “I can’t take it seriously.”
The PLP spokesman said: “The party and its leadership, despite the pandemic, has made steady progress on our election promises and remains focused on implementing legislation and policies that continue to put Bermudians first.
“Things are getting back to normal thanks to our strong leadership, and we will continue to listen to the sentiment of all the Bermudian people while we act to make positive change in our island.”
Mr Simmons told the House many young people “see Bermuda, Inc as a broken and failed model and are speaking out about how they want better for themselves and their children”.
He said others were urging for “ideals and suggestions that are in direct line with the original ideals of the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party: equitable taxation, economic parity and welfare programmes, as well as housing, educational and electoral reform”.
He added: “We can elevate the poor out of poverty, we can stop the prison revolving door and we can take broken men and women and make them whole.
“We can invest in our people and give them the support they need to get off the walls, get trained, get hired, get promoted, and yes, even get their own business”.
Mr Simmons, who today declined to elaborate on the content of his speech, closed: “All it will take is a defeat of, and a change from, a certain mindset.”