Holding the Premier to account
OPINION By Kim Swan JP, MP - Leader of the Opposition
It is apparent Premier Ewart Brown is surrounded by consultants telling him he needs to improve his image to soothe public disappointment in his Government's actions and dissension within his own party.
That was evident to me when I saw and later read the Premier's televised 'Address to the People' on October 15.
The 20-minute speech was clearly an exercise in image-building. He spoke as a unifier of people not the divider he's been. He assured his audience that projects were moving ahead and that his Government was blameless for the troubles confronting Bermuda.
But make no mistake; this was an elaborate, carefully crafted effort to pull the wool over people's eyes. Given the seriousness of Bermuda's economic and social challenges, I was disappointed Dr. Brown would continue his shameless use of spin and false argument to deflect accountability and avoid responsibility for anything it seems.
A close look at the language of the Premier's speech also reveals something shocking an unintended confession that he and his Government are utterly weak in the face of the challenges confronting Bermuda today. If you accept the Premier's words as spoken, then you accept that Bermuda has no control, no say in anything. In key areas of public life, Dr. Brown had a buck-passing excuse for his Government's inability to take action.
So the global recession is the reason Bermuda tourism is in such a sorry mess. And the Governor is the reason crime continues to climb. Continue reading and you learn that "more predictable tax environments" are the reason Bermuda is losing international businesses to other countries, even though departing companies themselves have said including one this week that they are leaving for a more stable political environment.
Look again at the language and you see a leader who cleverly shifts the blame everywhere else and who does not have a sure grip on anything:
On visitor numbers, he could only say: "We expect to begin to see more."
On the Bermuda Festival "We expect visitors… will not be able to resist it."
On low-cost air carriers: "I pushed… to try to replicate" price reductions.
On new hotel developments: "I continue to believe that all of these projects will come to fruition."
And on the oft-promised St. George's hotel "I am hoping" to break ground in the next few months.
There is nothing concrete here, nothing but more empty words from a man who has said the same things about the same subjects for years. Don't even try to figure how many announcements he has made about the opening of a new St. George's hotel.
As one of my colleagues remarked after the speech: "There is no there there."
There was more deception in the Premier's speech with news that his Government was working with the Obama administration on two initiatives that that "would have a tremendous positive impact on Bermuda".
The first was a US Coast Guard programme that would provide Bermuda with "interceptor boats, special communications and, importantly, training of Bermudian public safety officers in drug interdiction". The new US Consul General later said discussions about this grand initiative "are still in the planning stages" a nice diplomatic way of saying nothing is really happening.
The Premier followed the Coast Guard "initiative" with his commitment to ending the US Stop List an effort the US Consul General later said was a non-starter.
The Premier then blamed the Governor for ineffective law enforcement. "Constitutionally, we are hamstrung," he said, adding that his Government was "deeply frustrated with the current approach to tackling crime". But after the speech, the Governor said he had proposed a forum for regular discussions on tackling crime, but that Dr. Brown's Government had "declined to take up the proposal."
This one exchange revealed how far this Premier is prepared to play games at the people's expense, even on crime, the biggest issue facing Bermuda today.
The Premier then told us he was "elated" to announce a freedom of information bill would be tabled in the Legislature come November. Later, we learned the bill would apply only to future information not the past one more example of his slippery use of words to dissemble a self-serving restriction that runs counter to the best practices found in respectable countries around the world.
Spin lies at the core of virtually everything the Premier says. Here are a few more examples from his "Address to the People":
• The upbeat announcement that 600 new businesses have come to Bermuda this year did not mention the fact that incorporations in the first half of the year were down 30 percent from 2008 and that 2008 was down 27 percent from the year before.
• The statement that his Government "will be even more aggressive in finding jobs for Bermudians" stands against the fact that the number of jobs held by Bermudians has declined almost every year under the PLP watch from 28,881 in 2000 to 27,180 in 2008.
• The re-statement of his Government's "commitment" to providing shelters for the homeless did not mention that its 2005 Throne Speech commitment to build a homeless shelter for 200 remains nothing more than words on a page.
The Premier ended his speech with words to the effect that Bermudians need to come closer together to face the future.
He said: "We need to cease to be motivated by our differences of opinion and to start to be driven by our common love for Bermuda."
I swallowed hard hearing this because Dr. Brown has championed the politics of division and, I believe, has damaged our ability to come together in "our common love for Bermuda".
But on this point, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because the need for unity among Bermudians, the need to come together as One Bermuda, is more vital than anything.
On the night of the address, I said the UBP was pleased the Premier had "adopted the language of inclusion and unity and we are flattered that he has lifted for his own use our motto of 'One Bermuda'.
But we are not sure what this speech really means for the people of this great island. Who is the Premier? He has been the architect and driver of the most divisive politics Bermuda has ever seen from a Government leader; he spins the truth away from terrible failures and presides over a Government that favours friends over fairness.
"Bermuda needs its Premier to lead by example and move beyond mere words to real deeds that can build the 'One Bermuda' all of us want. The country has been severely fragmented under his leadership and until we see meaningful change for the better, the jury remains out.
Unfortunately, a few days later the Premier was addressing a PLP conference laughing at the demise of the Mid Ocean News, which cost Bermudian jobs a reaction wholly unsuitable for a government leader and contrary to the spirit of One Bermuda.
I call on right-thinking people to hold the Premier to account, to stop the spin. Force him to speak the truth, and keep his feet to the fire on the need for One Bermuda. If he truly believes in it, he will embrace its unifying, positive and more truthful spirit.