Limited internet access…

Apologies to readers, however I have had limited internet access for the last two weeks, and likely for the next two weeks also.

So posting is kind of on hiatus at the moment – think of it as an extended CupMatch blogging holiday….

As soon as I’m able to get a regular and secure connection, I’ll be back to posting properly.

Article on Municipal Reform

So, I’ve got an article on Bernews today, written in reaction to the Municipal Amendment Act 2015 (no.2).

While I don’t comment on the articles themselves – as I find that completely derails the conversation even more than usual – I do occasionally break that commandment of the internet and read the comments on them. I do this primarily because I look forward to constructive criticism, added information or generally get some ideas on how to improve my writing style.

City Hall

City Hall

I must admit quite often I find the comments confusing at times – I find it difficult sometimes to really understand where some of the comments are coming from.

Perhaps the article wasn’t clear enough, or perhaps people are just reacting to it through a prejudicial lens and as a result are simply seeing something there that either isn’t there or I myself am self-blinded to?

What I’ll try and do here is respond to some of the main questions or comments that seem to be raised in the comments section, for the sake of an attempted clarification.

1) Do I think Team Hamilton worked out?

No – and I’ve been critical of Team Hamilton over the years. I, like many others, had some high hopes for them, but was disappointed by several of the more questionable actions taken by them. I don’t, however, fully blame them, and I think some of the coverage has only portrayed part of the story.

Take for example the whole car-parking fiasco (clamping, etc). As far as I can tell, the fault here lies with the Government, not City Hall. City Hall appears to have taken all the necessary responsible actions to try and follow the law concerning clamping. However, the hold-up came from Government in not Gazetting it properly – as I understand the situation. Government could have easily resolved that fiasco, but I almost feel as if Government were deliberately holding it up to apply pressure on an administration they had issues with. That’s just how it seems to me.

It’s also clear that City Hall was having cash flow problems resulting from the loss of wharfage fees that was a consequence from the Municipal Amendment Act 2010. Getting tough on parking issues – via clamping – was supposed to help alleviate those financial pressures, but…

I don’t think Team Hamilton was all that bad however. I think they did quite a lot of good work amongst the bad, and in particular I commend them for the work they undertook at Princess Street and Ewing Street, as well as the initiative they took to increase footfall along Court Street.

And just because Team Hamilton wasn’t all that great, does not justify, in my opinion, the undermining of municipal democracy, which several of the OBA’s reforms have done, especially this current one. There were alternatives to improving the system, rather than thoroughly undermining it like the Government has.

Essentially though, in answer to this question, criticism of the current direction of the OBA does not translate into full support for Team Hamilton. Things aren’t that black and white and it’s a mistake to interpret such criticism so simplistically.

2) The business vote…

A number of comments have focused on my reference to the business vote, and seem to have thoroughly misunderstood what I was saying here.

Yes, I’m skeptical of the business vote, but that’s not really the point I was making. I do have concerns that with the introduction of the business vote, in the weighted way they’ve done it, it’s handed the business vote an effective veto on the city council – it’s handed majority power to the business vote (in St George’s it’s the reverse). I am disappointed, as I say in the article, that the interests of both business and residents has not been balanced – rather the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, away from residents and to business. If we are going to have a business vote, then I think they should be balanced on the council, not weighted in such a way that one dominates the other.

This also speaks to the comment that ‘his claim about non-resident reps is a lie’. I never said there weren’t any resident representatives on the City council – no where in the article do I say that. I simply say that the interests of the two blocks of voters (residents and businesses) have not been balanced; that the business vote dominates and controls the council under the new system.

3) Why didn’t he demand the release of the $800k PLP municipal report under the PLP? And where was he before the OBA Government?

I did.

This poster either hasn’t bothered to fact check or simply doesn’t care. Either way, they are simply mistaken and creating misinformation, be it intentional or not.

This same commentator wonders why there were no continuous sit-ins or protests or articles from me under the PLP.

Well, there were articles of me, critical of the PLP before the OBA came to power. Most of those articles were online here, but there are plenty of formal media articles where I express crticism of various actions the PLP took when in power.

I also think it’s important to note that I really didn’t get involved in politics, in a local active sense, until around 2006. While in the Regiment (2003-2006) I felt it was inappropriate to be actively involved, rightly or wrongly.

Also, social media (for which I owe a lot of whatever public profile I have, through this blog primarily) only really got off the ground around 2006 or so – this site itself dates from 2007. Bernews itself only dates from 2010, and the rise of Facebook as a site for political discourse only really developed around that time too, and especially only since 2012.

Beyond that, in 2007 I decided to pursue a career change and realised I’d need to go back to school for that – and so I left in August 2008 for post-graduate studies, and was off island until June 2011. So I couldn’t really be organising protests or sit-ins in Bermuda while I was overseas – although I did continue to write on this site.

And it was only towards the end of 2012, with the election, that I gained a certain degree of a public profile that led to my being able to write articles outside of this site – and also with the changes to social media that occurred around that time that I realised it might be necessary to move beyond posting on this site only.

4) The business vote was not controversial!

I think the commentator has a different definition of controversy than I.

That it has exercised some of the most passionate debates around democracy, and was involved in the genesis of protests and angry exchanges in parliament, both under the PLP and the OBA, indicates to me that it is controversial. To the commentator it may be a matter of common sense that there be a business vote in municipal elections, but that’s got very little to do with whether that policy is or isn’t controversial in our political context.

[There’s plenty links I could post to articles on this controversial policy, both for and against – I’ve only included two to indicate that there are clear divisions on it.]

Again though, the business vote wasn’t the focus of the article…

5) Starling’s biased against the OBA!

I’m constantly amazed by this insight. Of course I’m biased against the OBA, that’s hardly a secret. My ideological position (Marxism) is inherently opposed to the OBA which is very much a political manifestation of our local bourgeoisie. Is it any wonder that I’ll be biased against them?

Bias in and of itself is not a problem. If anything it’s only when one’s unaware of ones bias that it’s a problem – my bias is explicit.

I write as a political commentator, not as a neutral political journalist. I have an angle, I have an ideology. I have no obligation to be objective in my treatment of the OBA – I’ve never claimed to write as a neutral, only as an independent – independent of both the OBA and the PLP. Sometimes my positions align with the PLP, sometimes they align with the OBA (on various social issues and political reforms – although the OBA haven’t moved on any of the political reforms I share with them). Often they align with neither, but as the OBA’s in power they’re the focus of my critique.

This same commentator also repeats the lie that I failed to criticise the PLP ‘at every turn throughout their 14 years of mismanagement’ – which as I touch on in point 3 above is patently false and more misinformation.

Missing the point…

Pretty much every commentator has completely missed the central point I was making in the article, which is that the Municipal Amendment Act 2015 (no.2) fatally undermines any notion of a functioning municipal democracy. It gives the Minister the power to assume direct control of the municipality solely on the Ministers subjective belief that such is necessary.

St George's Town Hall

St George’s Town Hall

No objective test is required for the Minister to take such action. The Minister can simply decided that ‘it is his belief’ that s/he needs to take control of the municipality. As the Minister is not accountable to the municipal voters – be they business or resident – it is an affront to democracy and renders municipal self-governance a pointless exercise.

Those commentators taking me to task about the business vote – and why they should be represented – seem blind to the fact that this amendment essentially makes all votes, whether they’re business or residential, meaningless.

Perhaps that got lost in between the additional points, that of an ad hoc and chaotic series of reforms (five in two and a half years) that demonstrates a policy failure on the part of the OBA, and that no such reforms should happen while there are some serious allegations that touch on the very municipal reforms (motives and process) that the OBA have and are doing.

The central point though is that this current amendment essentially abolishes the municipalities from a democratic perspective – it neuters them to, at best, a Quango, and is an insult to all municipal voters.

 

Behind Germany’s refusal to grant Greece debt relief – Op-Ed in The Guardian

J Starling:

I am thoroughly disappointed with the Greek Government’s vote last night to effectively capitulate to the Troika, despite the momentum they won from the successful No vote last Sunday.

I am increasingly convinced by the argument of Costas Lapavistas that the only viable option left for Greece now is a default and departure from the Eurozone.

Here former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis articulates some of the reality behind the Troika’s approach.

Originally posted on Yanis Varoufakis:

Tomorrow’s EU Summit will seal Greece’s fate in the Eurozone. As these lines are being written, Euclid Tsakalotos, my great friend, comrade and successor as Greece’s Finance Ministry is heading for a Eurogroup meeting that will determine whether a last ditch agreement between Greece and our creditors is reached and whether this agreement contains the degree of debt relief that could render the Greek economy viable within the Euro Area. Euclid is taking with him a moderate, well-thought out debt restructuring plan that is undoubtedly in the interests both of Greece and its creditors. (Details of it I intend to publish here on Monday, once the dust has settled.) If these modest debt restructuring proposals are turned down, as the German finance minister has foreshadowed, Sunday’s EU Summit will be deciding between kicking Greece out of the Eurozone now or keeping it in for a little while longer, in a state of…

View original 1,227 more words

Some Saturday Musings

OBA Lies?

I’m surprised that all of a sudden there’s a debate about the OBA’s 2012 election promise of creating 2000 jobs.

As election promises go, this one seemed clear to me as being empty fluff – it didn’t contain any clear policy commitment (like holding a referendum on casino gambling or suspending term limits for two years for a review) – it was just nonsense.  Irresponsible nonsense at that.

They were challenged at the time to explain how they would achieve this objective – along with explaining their economic plan – but their defence of the promise was nothing more than bluster along the lines of ‘trust us’.

It was irresponsible because it played on both the fears and the hopes of the people, without articulating how it would be achieved – it was little more than a cynical electoral ploy.

Of course, the OBA weren’t the first political party (in Bermuda or elsewhere) to adopt such a cynical election ploy, nor will they be the last.

I don’t think this was directly responsible for the OBA winning in 2012, but it could be seen as part of a web of election promises that we can now look back upon as either a direct lie (such as the casino gambling referendum promise or suspending term limits for two years pending a review) or empty fluff (and basically nonsense that just sounded good) – and this web of deceit and emptiness no doubt did contribute to their electoral victory, when taken in its entirety.

I argued last year, during the various discussions relating to the cancellation of the casino gambling referendum, that the OBA’s actions were making a mockery of electoral promises and platforms going forward, and rendering our politics farcical. I maintain that going forward at least the OBA’s future platforms have been rendered meaningless and their party itself untrustworthy.  I reckon they’ll eventually come to regret burning up their political capital so needlessly and thoroughly.

“He’s a Marxist!”

I continue to be amazed at how many online commentators, on the various news media, react to my op-eds.

They generally don’t address any points I make, pretty much ignore my argument, and just fall into some sort of personal attack mode along the lines of “He’s a Marxist! That means he wants to recreate the Soviet Union’s dictatorship in Bermuda! Run way, run away!” or “If you’re a Marxist why not go off to Cuba or Russia or North Korea or China and stop bothering to add an alternative political voice here!”.

The most recent examples can be seen in my rebuttals to Mr Robert Stewart, in my discussion of austerity as an ideological weapon in the class war and a defence of welfare.  Neither of my articles were really all that Marxist – certainly not the welfare piece, although the critique of austerity and the role of the State did draw on Marxist analysis, sure.

Yes, I’m a Marxist.  I don’t consider that a dirty word or something bad.  I think it’s a very powerful analytical tool.  I do not support the nightmare that the Soviet Union became – to me the revolution succumbed to a counter-revolution and became some sort of fascist state that used only the rhetoric of the revolution for purposes of legitimation.  It was only superficially ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’.

And I’ve made it clear that while I draw on Marxist theory, it’s impractical to institute truly socialist policies in the Bermuda context in isolation – that is, without substantial global moves towards socialism.

The best that can be done in Bermuda is to utilise Marxist theory for the purposes of critique and raising consciousness. In terms of actual policies, I think the maximum that can be done in the Bermuda context, in isolation, is a commitment to increasingly progressive social democratic policies.  These do not go beyond capitalism. I do not think we can go beyond capitalism without profound socialist moves in either Europe or, especially, North America, on account of our economic model and geographical location.

I also think it’s important (and I’ve alluded to this above) to draw a distinction between Marxism and ‘actually existing socialist/communist states’.  I understand why these two are constantly conflated, but it shows an intellectual dishonesty at worst and ignorance at best, a reliance on a simplistic and superficial understanding.

I do not want the State in charge of everything – I do not support a totalitarian vision of the State. Indeed, I see that as one of the chief defects of the Soviets, the reliance on the State, the acquisition of authoritarian powers by the State. There is a distinction between nationalisation and socialisation, as well as the socialisation and democratisation of the State.

I doubt my detractors really care though – they’re quite content to rely on a mix of ignorance, dishonesty and personal attacks.

The post the OBA didn’t want you to see! (?)

With the rise of Facebook and Twitter generally eclipsing the role of the blogs as the premier site for online discourse, I’ve been trying to adapt. Part of that involves using the blog primarily as a site for posts, yes, but more or less ‘out-sourcing’ the discussion on the posts away from the blog’s actual comment section (which remains of course) and onto FB or Twitter.  I also use FB and Twitter to disseminate the post, using links.

So, when I write a post, I generally post it also (in the form of a link) on FB and Twitter.  I haven’t yet created a FB page for the blog itself, and instead use my Vote Starling FB page for that purpose.  As Bermuda has evolved a handful of FB groups which can be seen as sites for political discourse, I often post these links in those fora – each group tends to have a different political flavour, and this is reflected in the way they react to the posts.  Some groups enthusiastically comment, others generally ignore them.  That’s fine.

What surprised me about the most recent post, about the serious allegations arising from Mr MacLean and Mr Peniston’s affidavits, is that the OBA FB group decided to delete the post altogether.  I was given no explanation for this action – it didn’t contravene any of their rules.

So I posted it again, pointing out that it had been deleted without explanation.

Second re-posting...

Second re-posting…

It got deleted again.

So I posted it once more, a third time now, only for it to once more be deleted.

Third time lucky? No dice it seems...

Third time lucky? No dice it seems…

This time I did get an explanation, perhaps as a result of my comment in the third re-posting that it should be common courtesy to let one know why ones post is being deleted, and that I would likely just keep re-posting it and they could just keep deleting it ad infinitum.

The explanation given was basically that they’d been advised by lawyers to remove any links that ‘had direct quotes from the affidavit and links to sites re the same’.

I maintain that my post didn’t include any direct quotes from the affidavit, and I made it quite clear that the affidavit should be treated as just that, allegations, at this point.  I suppose the fact that I provided a link to the tumblr site where one can view the affidavits for oneself could fall under the ‘links to sites re the same’, but to me that’s a stretch.

I leave it up to readers to draw their own conclusions – did the OBA FB page have a good reason to delete the posts, or did they just not want their members to read the post?

 

Serious Allegations – Serious Questions?

more-questions-1238452-m

As noted in my post yesterday, there’s a developing story which I feel is going to become VERY big.  Explosively big.

At the moment it’s impossible to say anything more than these affidavits contain a number of allegations concerning key persons in the OBA Government, allegations concerning bribes, possibly blackmail, and questions about governance in general.

The entire affidavits have been made available online via a blog ‘Bermuda Corruption’ that appears to have been set up explicitly for these revelations.  I don’t know who is behind the blog or what their motivations are.

I have, however, read over the two affidavits (one from Mr MacLean and one from Mr Peniston, who appears to have acted as some sort of legal consultant – but not lawyer – for Mr MacLean), as well as listened to the audio of a phone call allegedly between Mr DaCosta and Minister Fahy.

A large number of allegations are contained in both of these, and I would advocate readers to read them for themselves at this moment in time.

The Phone Call

For those wondering about the relevance of the phone call, it should be listened to in conjunction with certain sections of Mr MacLean’s July 2nd affidavit.  It appears to concern, according to the affidavit, Mr MacLean being presented with an early draft of the legislation which ultimately became the Municipalities Amendment Act 2013, and a discussion concerning some sections of the proposed Act.

This apparent phone call and alleged discussion about aspects of the draft Act does not strike me as a smoking gun.

It’s not necessarily unusual for Government to seek feedback on various proposed legislation from primary stakeholders affected by the legislation, and to do this before publicly publishing the Act in question.  We see this with the controversial legal reforms currently being discussed (the proposed Disclosure & Criminal Reform Act and the Criminal Jurisdiction & Procedure Act) where the Bermuda Bar Association was involved in prior consultation concerning them.

What does strike me as quite unusual (to put it mildly) is if Mr DaCosta (who is not a civil servant, MP or Senator) was serving as a middle-man or facilitator for such a consulting role.  That in itself is concerning.

While not a smoking gun in itself, I think the reasoning behind providing that one audio so far was to demonstrate that there are recordings and other evidence as noted in the affidavit, to give the other claims in it greater credibility – not only can the affidavit make claims, it can put forward evidence to back them up.  I get the impression that the site is including it to achieve two goals:

  1. Fire a warning shot that those behind the site have more information and have no qualms releasing far more embarrassing or incriminating evidence going forward.
  2. Indicate that such evidence will be released over time (presumably to allow people to analyse and digest information, maintain interest – build suspense – and avoid information overload/reader fatigue).

Whether those tactics are good ones or not, well, I reckon we’ll only be able to tell that in hindsight.

Thoughts

The allegations in these affidavits could hardly be more serious.

The OBA was elected, in large part, as a result of electoral dismay concerning a perception that the former PLP Governments had presided over various scandals, alleged abuse of power and alleged corruption.  They claimed to be the party of transparency and accountability, of doing business differently.

Instead they’ve been mired in successive alleged scandals, dating (as we found out later) right to their election campaign.  And while Jet Gate continues to be dismissed as a small thing – after initially being dismissed right out of hand – by some OBA supporters, it has created (along with terrible PR by the OBA) a situation where more and more people are increasingly receptive to these allegations as being more fact than fiction.

The OBA has created for itself a major trust deficit and failed to be the party of transparency and accountability in the eyes of many voters.

And beyond our voters these issues, these successive allegations (which all seem to have more substance than much of the scandals attributed tot he PLP) have no doubt tarnished our image internationally – both politically and with potential investors.

This should concern us all.

If, as these documents allege, certain members of the OBA have abused their positions to use a carrot and stick approach towards Mr MacLean, including using State power (approvals and changing legislation to suit their needs) to induce an outcome to enrich themselves, and engaged in even some of the activities alleged in the documents, then the people of Bermuda are entitled to the facts.

These issues go to the heart of the people’s concerns about whether their political leaders have integrity, are trustworthy and are transparent.

I think we need a full and transparent investigation into these allegations, and the entire handling of the waterfront deal and municipal reform by the OBA.  This is needed to establish the facts and clear up these suspicions once and for all.

[If you’ve noticed that my above comments echo those of then Opposition UBP Leader Michael Dunkley speaking in 2007 about the BHC allegations, you’re right – I’ve done that intentionally, because he was right then, and the same applies today under his Premiership.]

Time for a Commission of Inquiry

I’m wary of using ‘royal commissions’, but my opposition is primarily semantic.  I do believe we need a major formal public inquiry, and under our existing colonial system, that does mean a royal commission.

Such a commission of inquiry should have wide-ranging powers, be charged with looking also at matters around Jet Gate (and be empowered to investigate additional issues as they arise as a result of their investigation), and be required to publish their findings and recommendations, in full, to the public.

If the OBA elects to not act pro-actively on this, and the PLP is unable to force it through a vote in parliament, then I do believe the ‘people’ have the right and duty to agitate and organise to ensure this occurs, be it through petitions, demonstrations and/or civil disobedience.

Our people are increasingly disillusioned with politics. We need to change that and restore faith in politics and democracy generally.

A full, empowered and wide-ranging commission of inquiry seems to be the best way to achieve this.

A further note

This post is already at about the maximum size I like to post, so I’ll bring it to a close here.  I just wanted to note the following:

  • A small part of MacLean’s July 2nd affidavit should also raise concerns about the role of the previous administration.
  • The way both OBA and PLP supporters are reacting to these allegations are almost a mirror image of PLP and UBP supporters reacting to other allegations pre-2012 – such is the nature of partisanship.  This doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the allegations, but it’s an observation I think worth making.
  • Expect the House of Assembly to be full of fireworks tomorrow.
  • The allegations contained in these affidavits have the potential to reignite other allegations, including those from Valentines Day last year.

Direct Rule?

With the recent revelations concerning the City’s waterfront, there have been some calls on social media for some sort of Turks & Caicos model, where the UK Government dissolves the colonial legislature and declares direct rule by the Governor in order to make various ‘reforms’.

I can see the attraction of this – it plays on the feeling that our indigenous abilities have fallen short, under the PLP and now the OBA and that our indigenous institutions are not fit for purpose.  It plays on the sensation that we’ve proven our inferiority and it’s time for the colonial ‘mother’ to come in, clean house, put things back in order and set things up so we can start again.

I get that.  And I don’t disagree that our institutions, especially our political ones, are not fit for purpose.  However, I don’t agree that the recourse to that is to surrender our democracy and allow direct imperial rule – especially when these very failing institutions are themselves a product of our colonialism.

This isn’t simply about the fact that the UK Government is beholden to the City of London, a direct rival of Bermuda in terms of our main economic sector of IB.  This is much more basic about the question of democratic principle.

If our institutions are failing, we have the power to critically analyse them and either fix them or replace them with more effective institutions for our local context.

If our politicians are guilty of corruption we have the capacity to address that within our framework – and that includes introducing and enforcing new legislation that better deals with corruption, of which campaign finance laws are perhaps the most important right now. And if our parliamentarians refuse to act, the people can apply pressure to ensure they do so – or take action to replace them.

I don’t have a problem at all with serving Ministers and MPs being arrested and facing trial in the event of allegations being made warranting such (and there’s a case for improving our laws to avoid a repeat of the ‘unethical but not illegal’ farce – unethical only because our laws were outdated).  Our democracy can handle that.  It may need some by-elections.  It may lead to a no confidence vote in the Government.  It may lead to an early election or a change of Government by other means (a handful of by-elections or defections could have the same effect).

The Parliamentary Mace is the symbol of power, loaned to parliament by the people.

The Parliamentary Mace is the symbol of power, loaned to parliament by the people.

That’s okay.  Our democracy can handle that.  Our people can handle that.  We don’t need direct rule, we don’t need imperial ‘rescuing’.

Any such move towards imperial rule sets back whatever steps we’ve taken towards democracy, it brings us back to ‘year zero’ rather than advancing our capacities.  It would be a hostile act – it is something to be resisted.  And I am confident that it will, indeed, be resisted, by Bermudians on island and off.

Will it be welcomed by some?  Sure.  Partly out of exasperation, partly out of a belief that it would allow for horsetrading and a lighter reckoning than if we ensure local accountability.

I understand the calls for a T&C solution.  But it disappoints me that some are so quick to forfeit their own abilities and sell short our indigenous capacities.  We can solve our own problems provided we believe in ourselves and rule out the nuclear option of imperial dictatorship.

Power belongs to the people.  It flows from the people.

It does not reside in Government or with the imperial center.  They only have power should we grant it to them, but that mandate can be revoked, and the power of the people can be used to correct the institutional failures of our island.  It can also be used to confront moves towards imperial rule.

If the people judge that the power lent to the OBA on December 17th 2012 has been abused, the people have the ability – and perhaps the moral duty – to reclaim that power, not to forfeit their abilities and surrender it to imperial diktat.

Another ‘Gate’ Moment?

I think Bermuda may well be approaching some form of singularity regarding the recent explosion of ‘-gate’ scandals.

As many know the suffix ‘-gate’ has over the years come to refer to a political scandal, and, like it or loathe it, has come to feature prominently in Bermudian political discourse since the OBA were elected to power in December 2012. The use of the suffix itself comes from the Watergate Scandal of 1972.

The biggest scandal taking up this suffix to date, in the Bermuda context, has been Jet Gate, which led to the downfall of the first OBA Premier and – arguably – also led to the resignation of the first OBA Attorney General.

This developing story (and it’s been dripping out slowly since 2013) might just eclipse Jet Gate, if the allegations involved are true.  And as it refers to the City of Hamilton’s waterfront, is this going to literally be our ‘Water Gate’?

The Sherri J Simmons show today had a lot of explosive revelations, and this ZBM account gives a summary of it all.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I get the feeling this story has a good chance of developing legs.

And with the OBA so far taking a ‘no comment’ approach (at least on various FaceBook threads when questioned about this), they’re not exactly inspiring confidence in themselves…