Demonstrators claim government ‘refuses to listen’
Scores of people across multiple industries protested on Kindley Field Road yesterday united against a government they claim refuses to listen.
Almost 100 vehicles lined the road as representatives from the taxi, farming and fishing industries, as well as some individuals concerned with the public education system, took a stand against policies and proposals they said were damaging to the island.
The majority of those present were from the taxi industry, which has been in long-term talks with the Government about issues including the need to increase rates that have remained stagnant for ten years.
A taxi driver, who has been operating for nearly 20 years, said: “I want to see some of the rules and regulations for the taxi industry changed to make it better for everybody ― the drivers and the passengers.
“The rates definitely need to be adjusted. Even when we come out and make a stand nothing changes, the Government is going to do what it wants to do.”
Shari-Lynn Pringle, of the Bermuda Taxi Owners and Operators Association, confirmed that her organisation had reached out to farmers, fishermen and those calling for a better education for children with the idea of uniting for a protest.
She said more protests were planned around the island as soon as next week.
The taxi industry has also been calling for a centralised dispatch system to help facilitate a more efficient service.
Samuel Dickinson, the son of former finance minister Curtis Dickinson, is a young taxi driver who said he wanted to see change.
He said: “Credit card services should be a requirement in our taxis and there should be a central dispatch to make the industry more efficient.”
He said the industry in Bermuda was “behind the eight ball” in terms of technology.
“There can be tutorials that can help the older generation to create a more technologically advanced industry,” he added.
“We don’t have an app that works as efficiently as Uber in the US ― we have Hitch and Ride Bermuda but they are not as comprehensive, they might crash, you might spend an hour finding a ride.”
Allen Bean, the president of the Fishermen's Association Bermuda, said his industry was fed up with not being heard by the Government.
“We have been trying to reach a compromise with government but as it is, the Government isn't flexible to changing its position.”
Mr Bean said the main area of conflict was with the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme's proposal to protect 20 per cent of Bermuda's waters from fishing.
Mr Bean said in January that the Premier had given the industry until the end of this month to create an alternative plan but Mr Bean said they were unlikely to be able to complete it until early in the new year.
“Remember, the BOPP plan took three years to produce with experts who were are all on the payroll working on this non stop.
“We are producing a plan from a fishing industry and we only get paid when we go to sea. It is difficult to formulate a plan in a timely fashion. We have had a number of meetings getting input from the fishermen ― it is an ongoing process.
“The Premier requested we produce the plan so we will address a letter to him on why we need an extension. If not we, the FAB executive, will sit down and discuss it and then give our reply to the Premier.”
Jamie Walsh, the secretary for the FAB, said the common problem across the industry was lack of consultation.
“That is the common problem, so it is systemic. The Government says it is listening but then disregards what the industries have said. They are just checking a box.”
Tom Wadson, a farmer and farm owner, said the Government needed to “get out of the way” and let the professionals inform their own industry. He said red tape was strangling the industry, not least with restrictions on the import of plant materials.
“It is practically impossible to import plant material. We have a case about concerns about potatoes ― they want this test and that test which most of these guys will not do up north ― why should they? They can sell a million bags to Cuba, no problem.”
Samuel Dickinson, a young taxi driver: “People can’t find taxis after 12am and they are complaining about the wait time …
“I feel that, as a young Bermudian, I am representing the population of taxi drivers that we don’t have. This is an industry that can create stability for a lot of young Black men who need avenues. I have been driving since I was 18. For me it was a way to seek gainful employment. I was able to profit and self-sustain as a college student spending most of my time abroad. There has to be new integrations into the industry.”
Tom Wadson, farmer and farm owner: “It is marginal on a good day – we don’t need marginal. They [the Government] take anybody off the board that is any good and I think it starts at the top.
“It’s really sad. I have put 50 years into this industry and who is going to replace me? There is no incentive at all. It is sad and it’s dangerous.”
Danny Fox, the vice-president of Fishermen’s Association Bermuda: “These issues have been here for 30 years. There is a failure to execute. We have been asking for things and they are not getting done.
“We don’t have the trust that they will be executed in the future – that fishing licences are going to be done, enforcement is going to be done … If you don’t enforce then you can’t protect our environment. Our fishermen are out there every day, they rely on fish to feed Bermuda. It’s about food security.
“They don’t act quickly enough, they need to put extra resources into it.
“The farmers have difficulty getting seed and there is one common denominator here – the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.”
Rajai Denbrook, the PTA president of St George's Preparatory School and parent of children at the school: “We have spent nearly $5 million on [consultants] the Innovation Unit and we ask the question ― what has it produced that let’s us know what has been co-designed at Francis Patton and Purvis Primary [the first two parish primary schools] and this new 21st-century approach to education? Nothing has been released publicly that let’s us know.
“We are asking for a very basic thing in educational practice ― a curriculum document. You are launching a new approach in education and we haven’t seen anything as the public ― that worries me deeply.
“It is a very interesting time for education. My fear is that we are going to have lasting damage to the system as well as economically and socially. Just the teacher exodus alone ― we are losing amazing teachers to private schools and that is the last thing we need.
“We have young parents saying they want to take their children out of the country, parents who want a high-paying jobs so they can send their children to private school. It is a serious demographic shift that is taking place and if we are not careful it will widen the gaps between the haves and have-nots.”
Rajai Denbrook, PTA president of St George's Preparatory School, which is to close as part of government's education reform plans, agreed that lack of meaningful consultation was the unifying issue among the protesters.
He said that the Government's education reform plan had appeared to be a done deal before consultation even began.
West End Primary School and St George’s Preparatory School were chosen among eight primary schools to close and representatives from both schools were at the protest.
Concerns have been raised about the criteria for the closures, which was largely based on the school properties and the ability for them to be transformed into schools suitable for “21st-century learning”.
“The plan wasn’t even made public until 2020 but they had been working on it since 2017,” Mr Denbrook said.
“We don't feel heard. We question the integrity of consultation ― there is no trust. It has tainted the process.
”The policy had been developed to such an extent that the selection criteria had been designed, the scoring had been done ― things had gotten to a point that people felt like we don’t really have any sort of a say in this.“
He added: “We have to remember that establishing one primary school per parish, or even closing any primary schools, was not included in the Progressive Labour Party’s 2020 platform or its 2017 platform.”
For more pictures of the demonstration, click here.