With the PLP internal elections over (and congratulations to the new Leader, Deputy Leader and members of the Executive), the Party and Bermuda can now focus on the tasks ahead. In the run up to the internal elections I was contacted by both the RG and Bermuda Sun to share my thoughts on what I thought should be the priorities for the new Leader. Both of these have since been published in their respective papers, in one form or another, so I thought I may as well publish them here in their entirety now. They do not, of course, cover everything that I think needs done, only what I saw as the immediate priorities. They are also slightly repetitive, which is no surprise seeing as I was answering essentially the same questions.
To the RG:
The new Premier is no doubt going to be facing advice from everyone and their uncle after their election, that is true. Hopefully they will have the opportunity to pick and choose from them as a result. I think most people would agree that the new Leader faces three immediate priorities, that of the economy, fixing education and dealing with the problems of gang violence that have so blighted our island over the last year. In short, the new Leader should be focused on repairing our social and economic infrastructure. There is a time and a place for throwing a new coat of paint on things, like we had over the last four years, but if you don’t at the same time check the solidity of the foundations, it becomes a wasted exercise. There is no point having the best pro-IB or pro-tourism policies and resorts in place if we can’t produce well-educated citzens or if there are gangs shooting up the place.
From the perspective of the economy, we need to reach a clear position on extending (or not, and explaining why not) the tax-free status that makes us attractive to IB. The relationship with IB isn’t ideal, that’s true, but our situation would be A LOT less ideal without IB. We also need to re-evaluate the term-limits issue. Not scrap it, but there is no reason why we cannot evaluate it and look and see if we may be able to tweak it a little, perhaps introduce a little flexibility on job areas where we know we cannot produce enough Bermudian workers in those fields. Domestically we should also focus on some major infrastructure developments. We have the new hospital coming online, but we should also look at repairing the water catchment systems and putting in some sort of sewage treatment plant, at least for the CoH, which could produce grey water at least. These can help ease the economic pain for our people, stimulate the local economy a bit, and would have some long-term benefits for the country.
On education, well, we know the problems. We don’t need any more expensive ‘expert’ reports. What we need to do is start implementing the recommendations, but do it properly, involving all the relevant stakeholders and following proper procedures. That doesn’t seem to have occurred so far, instead we have apparently introduced another laywer of suspicion there. I think an argument could be made for identifying about ten top teaching schools and fund our prospective teachers to get their qualifications there, and have them bonded to the public system for X amount of years. Right now there is at least the perception that some teachers themselves have questionable credentials from questionable teaching colleges. This way we would at least get rid of that perception as well as standardise some of the quality.
On crime, well, I think we really need to focus on proper rehabilitation and counselling inside prison, and outside we need to give the parole officers the support they need, which has been sorely lacking over the years, at least in practice. This should help reduce recidivism. What I am wary of is some sort of neo-conservative reaction demanding the reintroduction of corporal and capital punishment, which I feel would be both a step backwards and counterproductive in the long-term. Ultimately crime, at least the levels we have now, is a manifestation of the problems in our education, housing and social/cultural areas that we have allowed to fester. It will take time to fix it, there is no silver-bullet there.
To the Bermuda Sun:
Basically I would say that the next Premier needs to make the three areas of the economy, education and crime their priorities; in short we need to take some time out from focusing on fresh coats of paint (which is important) and instead take a look at the solidity of the structure itself.
In addition to those three areas I think the time has come for the Party to move forward on some substantial political reform, moving beyond the constituency reforms of our first term. I would even like to see a new Constitutional Conference initiated. This would have to involve all stakeholders, and we should look at the way CUAS and the original Sustainable Development plan went about, with a series of key stakeholder consultations and followed up with a series of regional town-hall style meetings.
Particular areas that I think we can look at is a reform to the Senate, some form of proportional representation, a right of recall mechanism and caps to political campaign financing. For the Senate I would like to see it either abolished (and the creation of a unicameral legislative body) or the replacement of appointed Senators with elected ones (preferably elected mid-term between the HoAssembly). Alternatively we could keep the first-past-the-post system for the HoAssembly and the Senate composed of an approximation of the proportional vote from that election.
My own preference would be for something along the lines of a Holyrood (Scottish) Parliament as opposed to the Westminster system. In the Holyrood system there is a combination of directly elected MSPs and MSPs elected through proportional representation. I think that could be looked at for Bermuda. Additionally, the Holyrood system is committee based, fostering consensus decision making, as opposed to the adversarial Westminster one. There are more things that could be looked at – but the process itself has the potential to heal a lot of the divisions that currently manifest themselves in our society.
From an economic point of view we need to deal with two main issues; we need to maintain and enhance our IB sector and we also need to boost our domestic economy. For IB we need to seriously look at extending the 2016 tax-free deal. We could also look at the term-limits issue. I am in favour of the term-limits, although I recognise there may be some room for flexibility there. There is no harm in at least looking to see if we can tweak it a little. I am also in favour of giving our existing PRCs full status, however I realise that may not be politically feasible. I do think it is simply the right thing to do though.
Domestically, well, tourism tends to put more money into more Bermudian households (relatively speaking), while IB has more absolute money, but this is not necessarily as equally distributed. There is little we can do to compete with the Caribbean in tourism, we cannot compete for wages. We can however focus on niche markets, but that requires a focus on nurturing those markets, and it also strongly depends on having a solid physical and social infrastructure (which would also assist IB).
Repairing and expanding our physical infrastructure (such as the water catchments, for example) could also help boost the domestic economy, at least temporarily – although we will need to do this efficiently and realise we will need to deal with debt later. That can, hopefully, be more fully addressed when the global economy reboots itself, which it will, in one form or another.
Education, we know what needs done. We don’t need any more fancy expert reports. What we do need is to act on what needs done, but do so within the accepted procedural system, with full engagement of the people involved.
Crime, well, to a degree we have a lost generation at the moment. We are limited in what can be done for them, and the initial focus must be one of containment, to try and prevent future generations being so corrupted, and education will be a key part of that. This does not mean we simply give up on this lost generation. They are our sons and daughters, whether we like it or not. Introducing corporal or capital punishment will be a retrograde step, and I worry that there are growing calls for it within the Party. We need to really focus on rehabilitation and parole services. At the moment we have things in paper, but in practice they seem chronically underfunded, and that needs changed, big time. It is the only way if we want to reduce recidivism and salvage as much of this lost generation as possible.
I would also like to see the introduction of a minimum (and living) wage, as well as a 35-hour week, although I realise those may be difficult under the current economic situation. It is something we should have done in the last twelve years and it is shameful that these changes were not instituted. Similarly, we need to develop on a proper and fully accountable version of affirmative action. To a degree this has been the practice, in some Government tenders, but without doing it in the open it risks breeding suspicion and, at the very least, the perception of corruption. There is no reason why we could not introduce it as a formal policy, provided we approach it properly, with full checks and balances for transparency.