OBA/UBP, whats the difference?

The OBA was to be something new and different with an inclusive approach that unifies the community in a way the UBP didn’t.  It was that hope for something different that helped get them elected. The question is, 4 years in, are they really all that different from what the UBP was? They certainly haven’t fulfilled a few of their campaign promises for inclusiveness and according to an “#AskThePremier” session on Twitter, the OBA has no clear plan to do so.

Remember this part of their platform?

So, what’s the status on some of these?

UBP: Economy, Business Interests, Growth, Policy Focus

OBA: UBP + Inclusiveness

Hmm…

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Is the PLP preferencing politics over policy for work permits?

In the wake of the Reverend Nicholas Genevieve-Tweed debacle the PLP has claimed that their position on work permits for key personnel “has certainly evolved over the past ten years”. The PLP have stated that they would have allowed a waiver and granted the work permit renewal. This stance honestly seems more like a political move than good policy. It is a nice political soundbite but it isn’t clear how it puts Bermudians first. The whole point of key employee waivers is to create opportunities for Bermudians. How does granting waivers for pastors do that?

“The PLP position has certainly evolved over the past 10 years and one dual aim is to give companies and other organisations, including churches, the ability to hire the key people they need while maximising opportunities for Bermudians.

“The key is balance. The case involving Reverend Tweed shows that when it comes to churches, the OBA has not engaged in the level of consultation with this sector to the extent it did with international business.

Ok, they state that their aim is to maximize opportunities for Bermudians.  That is wholly applauded and agreed with. However, in Bernews the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Walton Brown suggested the AME church should have been allowed a waiver for Reverend Genevieve-Tweed. Why?  Doing so would set a precedent that churches should be allowed waivers for pastors as key employees when a waiver is already available for Bishops.

“Current immigration policy allows for a waiver of advertising of jobs under specific conditions. Based on what has been in the public domain about the AME Church appointment protocols, it seems more than reasonable to allow such a waiver and grant the church the work permit renewal they are seeking.

The core reason to support work permit waivers for key employees is to encourage opportunities for Bermudians. If a company is told it can’t have employees who are essential to the business then that company will go somewhere else. The only reason to allow companies these sorts of exemptions is to encourage businesses to base themselves in Bermuda and thereby encourage Bermudian job creation and opportunities. What opportunity is created for Bermudians by allowing a church to preference foreign pastors over qualified Bermudian pastors?

The whole point of the work permit policy is to encourage training of Bermudians and continue ensuring qualified Bermudians are provided opportunity.  Even then it isn’t clear that it is very effective. So to go a step further and advocate voiding the policy even further by granting waivers for pastors doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Why even bother having a work permit policy at all if, like the term limit policy, you’re just going to give everyone waivers.

This is why the PLP’s statement doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from the perspective of putting Bermudians first. It seems politically expedient to capitalize on the idea that granting waivers to encourage business growth and opportunities for Bermudians is anti-Bermudian and act like there isn’t a level playing field when churches aren’t given the same opportunity.

“The next step — what the next PLP government will do — would be to consult and work with the faith community to address the concerns they have regarding the work permit process and the need for prioritising Bermudians and then have these matters addressed in a revised policy.

Right now the policy is that only Bishops are considered key.  For any other positions all churches must advertise and confirm that there are no qualified Bermudian applicants. The PLP effectively contends that pastors should also be exempt but in the same breath states they’d prioritize Bermudians. It doesn’t make any sense. We require that qualified Bermudian teachers are hired before foreign ones. What is so special about a pastor that makes it more important to have a foreigner fill the role in the case of faith but in the case of our children’s future it is not? Why is a foreign pastor more capable than an equally qualified Bermudian one?

The PLP states they “would have done things differently” and “consulted”.  Aside from simply granting waivers to preference foreigners in the case of faith, what else would they have done?  Where is the advantage for Bermudians in suggesting that they would allow churches to appoint whomever they want without advertising? It makes sense as a political move to back the churches because some Bermudians place the church at a higher standing than our collective future. From a policy perspective however it would set a questionable precedent and further invalidate the work permit policy while undermining the PLP’s stated goal of putting Bermudians first.

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MPs who vote on the airport contract should be wholly informed

Opposition Leader David Burt makes a valid point in his rebuttal to the selection of the “blue ribbon panel”

‘The OBA refuses to share the airport project agreement with MPs who will ultimately vote on the contract, but will disclose this information to a panel with no legislative authority who he arrogantly states will “come to the same conclusion that I came to some time ago”.’

What is the point of having a parliamentary vote if MPs aren’t wholly informed on all of the terms of the deal.  By all means, every parliamentarian should be subject to non-disclosure expectations and not be allowed to publicly disclose details which remain private (why portions are private is a separate debate).  However, by no means should MPs be expected to make a decision based upon incomplete information.  To be absolutely clear: MPs being required to debate and vote on something to which they are not provided all details makes as much of a mockery of our parliament as blocking it does.

Frankly the PLP would make more of a positive statement simply stating they will boycott any vote on which they are not wholly informed and allowed to make a complete decision. In order to have a functioning two party democracy the opposition needs to participate. Make it clear that the OBA does not respect democracy and thus what is the point in participating if we live in a dictatorship anyway? That would garner respect and awareness not only locally but abroad as well and would make far more sense than blocking parliament which disrespects both democracy and the will of the people.

People wonder why I have little faith in either party, this is why. Ultimately neither party seems to respect democracy and both are more focused on winning than truly putting Bermuda first.

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The OBA’s communication strategy is not inclusive

 

Premier Michael Dunkley shared a video on his facebook page regarding the airport titled “The Best Option”.  It is a good opportunity to highlight what I suggested in an earlier post that the OBA doesn’t do enough to involve people in the decision making process.

They must focus on educating people on the choices not their solution. Only then can they guide people on why their choice is the right one. The people need to understand why the OBAs choice is the best one, not be told that it is.

The video is a good attempt, but it glosses over the options and doesn’t explain the implications in layman’s terms.

Let’s start by assuming you can make it past the 20 second intro.  Then lets look at how the video is framed. In that vein, what is the context and overarching theme of the video?

Is it:

A. Here are the options we have to choose from.  Here is why each option is good, bad and the implications.  This is why we believe option X is the right choice

 

B. We’ve figured out the best option and here it is. The other options are bad because of �ßÆ.

Would you say the video takes an approach of A or B?  I personally see it as B and it frames the whole discussion that the decision has already been made.  The problem with such framing it that it lends itself to the view that the OBA can be pedantic and condescending. I recognize it as I can be guilty of the same.  The problem the OBA runs into is that this kind of framing isn’t inclusive and thus people tune out.

It takes until 9:36 into the video before the options are presented and sadly glossed over.

Ok, from a layman’s perspective I’m not clear with any of these why these options are bad. Why is it too expensive? Why can’t we borrow money? Why do we need to control cost and put up guarantees? What in the hell is a bilateral approach and what does quality beef have to do with anything?

“The first three options have huge risks.  Bermuda would have to increase the national debt and or guarantee the finances.  Bermuda’s credit worthiness could be impaired leading to a possible downgrade increasing the cost of paying the debt.  Bermuda would bear the risk of cost overruns and paying to fix any quality issues. It would delay the timeline which has happened frequently with past projects.

To a layman I suspect the above makes about as much sense as �ßÆ. What does it mean in plain english for someone who doesn’t think twice about running up high interest credit card debt?  Why does it matter if our debt and interest goes higher? What should I care about credit worthiness or a downgrade?  More importantly: how will any of this impact me, the average Bermudian?

Finally, what about the key point repeated over and over by the opposition that the project wasn’t put out to tender.  That isn’t explained anywhere.

The elements are there but the framing is backwards. It could do more to explain the good and bad of the options and the merits of each. By not doing so it makes people skeptical of why only the bad is pointed out. It could make the people feel involved in the decision making process. Telling people what the best choice is rather than helping them conclude it for themselves is nowhere as effective. The OBA’s approach could certainly be more inclusive. 

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Why the OBA is failing to get buyin on the airport deal

The grand failure on the part of the OBA is that they’re pushing this whole airport deal as if their choice is the only option. This the problem with their style of governance. They can’t seem to figure out that today’s modern information based society requires a different governance strategy. They must involve the people in the decision making process.

The OBA are non-consultative ivory-tower politicians who keep following the same failing strategy. Here is roughly their approach to nearly every issue:

  1. Try to figure out the “right thing to do”
  2. Come up with a plan or legislation in isolation
  3. Announce the plan
  4. “Educate” the people on the plan
  5. Force through the plan or abandon it if there is too much backlash

It fails every time because it treats the masses like they’re stupid. It really doesn’t matter if their option is the best choice. Today’s internet based society is completely different than society was in the past. People have a lot more access to information and it raises a lot more skepticism. The people must be involved in the decision making process.

The OBA has to learn how to change its strategy or get used to the idea of being the opposition. They must focus on educating people on the choices not their solution. Only then can they guide people on why their choice is the right one. The people need to understand why the OBAs choice is the best one, not be told that it is.

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The problems with what we want from the airport deal

Here is a summary of what we as Bermudians seem to want in the airport deal:

  • Primarily Bermudians to be employed in building or repairing it
  • To own all revenues from the resulting project
  • No new debt

Here’s are the problems.

  • Employing Bermudians makes the project expensive and risky.  Sure we could put the project out to tender and try to get say a Chinese company to fund and build the airport but they’ll insist on using their own labor to keep costs low, control the budget and benefit them.  Even still we’d have to give up revenues or increase taxes.
  • If we want to own all revenues from the resulting project we need to cover all costs and risks. We simply can’t afford it. We simply don’t have any money. The commission of inquiry showed one thing very clearly, we’re not capable of conducting a large infrastructure project on time and on budget.
  • We can’t afford to take on any new debt.  If we take on new debt during the period of rising interest rates that we’re facing, I am certain we’ll be forced into mass civil service layoffs.  Simply because we can’t introduce a new services/vat tax as that is incredibly complicated and takes a lot of time.  We can’t simply tax corporate profits as the PLP extended the exemption until 2035.  Passenger taxes are already high so we can’t increase those.  That leaves options of, increase duty and payroll taxes or cut the civil service.

The options suck, however the biggest problem we face is that the OBA makes it seem like we only have one choice. We absolutely have choices and that is what the OBA should be putting to the people. The people need to understand why the OBAs choice is the best one, not be told that it is.

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The airport is a bad deal, but we left ourselves no choice

A comment from my last post garnered a lot of discussion on facebook.

The OBA needs to stop pretending the airport deal is a “good deal for Bermuda”. The airport project is frankly a bad deal for Bermuda but it’s the only realistic option we have available.

Some have been quick to jump on the fact that I said the airport is “a bad deal” and label me as an OBA supporter who admits it. Sorry to disappoint but I’m not an OBA supporter. The idea is rather amusing as I don’t have any association with the OBA and I’m pretty sure I’m disliked by a few in their circles just as I am likely disliked by a few in the PLP circles. I’m opinionated, tend to call it as I see it and occasionally I’m proven right which usually isn’t well received in larger organizations.

So here’s how I see the airport deal. Frankly, it sucks. I don’t like that we have to give away a 30 year agreement for revenues while we have to raise passenger taxes to pay for it.  We also have to divert existing revenues, have a foreign company run it and still have to maintain an airport while the new one is a built.  An airport that should have been maintained when we had lots of money but wasn’t. Sure its nice that we’ll get some jobs out of it and we’ll get a fancy, perhaps overdone airport that we’ll own in 30 years but it’s a still a raw deal.

Here’s the thing though, I don’t see a better alternative. A good deal would have been if we had money in the bank to pay for one in cash. Enough money to cover putting the project out to tender and paying for the whole project ourselves. Even better if we’d still had enough money left over for covering any cost overruns to cover our inability to both budget and manage infrastructure projects.

The problem is we’re broke and we need to come to terms with that.  Interest rates are starting to climb and we would be incredibly stupid to try to increase our debt load at this point any more than absolutely necessary. The reason being is that when we need to roll over our debt to new bonds we’ll be doing so at higher rates and when that happens our interest payments will jump and we’ll be forced to make some hard decisions. People aren’t simply going to keep handing us money if they don’t think they’ll get it back. Don’t think I know what I’m talking about?  How many other people were raising warning flags about the impact of interest rates on the housing markets and the risks of subprime back in 2007? Certainly I had no idea truly how bad things would end up being but I did point out the warning signs just like with many other things.

So what are the alternatives? I have yet to hear anything credible. The usual suggestion is that the project should be put out to tender to attract bids. Here’s the problem with that. We can’t afford to borrow money to pay for those bids. So, we need to attract people who can not only build the airport but also finance the whole project as well as take on the risks of any overruns. Oh, and we want them to employ Bermudians while doing it and not ship in cheap foreign labour because we desperately need jobs. On top of that, they need to have a decent track record because even if they take on the risks, we don’t want to end up having to maintain the current airport for years longer than expected because the project isn’t finished yet or gets abandoned half way through. Further, the project has to be worthwhile enough for the partner that they want to do it.

I’d love to hear some realistic alternatives but all I keep hearing is pie and the sky “if we put it out to tender people will magically appear because they feel so privileged that Bermuda would do them the favor of giving them such a project.” Let’s be realistic. The only way we’re getting a cheaper airport is if we import foreign labour from somewhere like China or India to build it and take risks on who runs the project. I simply don’t see that as a good option and I highly doubt the unions will like that more than the current deal. We can’t simply keep thinking someone else is going to come and solve our problems for us and magically still put Bermudians first and do it at a cut rate with no profit. If you think that’s possible I’d love to chat with you as I’m sure I can find some some wonderful pyramid scheme’s I’d like to introduce you to.

The sad and very hard truth is that we screwed ourselves. Up until Eugene Cox passed in 2004 we had great budgets and lots of extra money. Then without his guiding hand to control wayward spending, the money went to our heads. Now we’re broke. We have no money to spend on the multitude of much needed infrastructure projects that should have gotten attention over the last 20 years but didn’t. So do I like the airport deal? No, but show me what realistic credible alternatives we actually have before we screw this deal up too. Or perhaps your preference is that we simply skip the whole thing and resort to setting up a large tent at the end of the runway to act as our terminal.

 

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Addressing the underlying problems

The union has backed down for the moment, but that is only because the Reverend Tweed issue did not speak to the people. The underlying issues that drove people to demonstrate are still there. Ultimately many perceive that Bermudians don’t come first. This is a perception the OBA needs to address if they want to get reelected.

Bermudians don’t come first. That’s the overarching sentiment fueling demonstrations regardless of their stated cause. Its also the reason why “The President of the BIU” Chris Furbert has backpedaled. Bermudians don’t care to get behind an issue that isn’t focused on solving Bermudian problems.

The OBA needs to focus on providing a vision and a plan of how Bermudians come first. Where the Reverend Genevieve-Tweed issue did resonate with people was the idea that immigration policy doesn’t work well enough. It may be that the OBA aims to have the same rules for everyone, but there are many cases where Bermudians are disadvantaged or discriminated against in favor of expats. The OBA needs to devise credible strategies to ensure this doesn’t happen. It isn’t good enough to say “same rules for everyone” when those rules don’t work.

The OBA needs to devise strategies to fix immigration. Just as it shouldn’t be possible for a work permit to be approved without advertising, it also shouldn’t be possible for one to be approved where qualified Bermudians applied but weren’t interviewed. It also shouldn’t be possible where qualified Bermudians are interviewed but companies find ways to move the goal posts or discredit them in favor of a preferred expat. Relying on complaints is reactive and potentially penalizing to any Bermudian who complains.  We need proactive solutions because what we have doesn’t work and the process needs improvement for Bermudians to have faith in it.

The OBA need to wake up and realize Bermudians don’t have faith in an OBA government as made clear by the bye-election results. An OBA government is a lot like the airport project, it’s lipstick on a pig. The OBA needs to stop pretending the airport deal is a “good deal for Bermuda”. The airport project is frankly a bad deal for Bermuda but it’s the only realistic option we have available. That’s the way many people feel about the OBA. Their only saving grace is that they’re seemingly the best option we have available, though if they don’t improve perceptions of Bermudians coming last, that deal will be opposed too.

 

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The Reverend wants to block pathways to status, while inquiring about one for himself

The Reverend is a hypocrite.  He rallied people against the pathways to status initiative while at near the same time, delayed his work permit application on the basis that he was inquiring about a pathway to status for himself.

The Church’s statement admits as much

12. There also needs to be some context around the “late” 2016 application. The background to this is that a general enquiry related to Rev. Tweed’s eligibility for Bermuda status was in train and had been for some time. That enquiry had not reached completion and it was out of an abundance of caution and as advised by the Department of Immigration that the application for a renewal of the work permit was submitted to ensure that time did not run out on the work permit while the concurrent general enquiry remained in train.

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