Ref: PATI

Good evening Cabinet Secretary,

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the proposed Public Access to Information Legislation.  I have a number of concerns with the proposed draft that I would like to address in my submission and I thank you for taking the time to consider them.

The provision that the law will not apply to records created prior to its introduction is of considerable disappointment as it would disable individuals from collecting historical information that could prove very valuable.  An example are statistical records collected but not published by various government departments.  As more of our people become computer savvy it is undoubtedly a possibility that many would take interest in analyzing much of the data historical data that may have proven too cumbersome  for our government to undertake.  A great example is the recent announcement of dropout rates from the study of young black males where Professor Mincy had access to non-publicized data to produce answers to questions this writer had proposed  and been very interested in discovering over two years ago.  Had such information been available it is likely that individuals would have taken an interest in producing such calculations and yet it is a great tragedy that we do not aim to make such past, present and future records available to the public.  I implore those mulling over the structure of the Public Access to Information legislation to please revise it to include historical information.

The provision that existing law prohibiting disclosure will take precedence over the new PATI law is rather concerning and introduces unnecessary complications to our legal system.  The proposed PATI legislation provides an opportunity to clean up and centralize all of our disclosure legislation under one act.   It does not stand to reason why we should separately leave in place laws that should be encompassed within the PATI legislation as if they are not, then certainly this would be a good opportunity to ensure that PATI can and does replace them.

It is of considerable disappointment that the fee structure has not been outlined in more detail as it makes it difficult to ascertain as to whether PATI will only be legislation to empower the wealthy or if instead it will be made affordable enough to empower the common man.  It would be greatly appreciated if the fee structure could be outlined in detail as well as if it could be made as affordable as possible, if not free.  Subsequently it would be appreciated if no limits were placed on the number of requests that can be made by any individual or organization.

I am rather concerned by the provision in Section 30 to prohibit access to records associated with deliberations and decision-making of public authorities.  In the interest of promoting transparency and a better democracy it would be appreciated if citizens were allowed to view as well as participate in public affairs.  By restricting such information we would do a disservice to our goals of transparency which would seem in contravention of the aims of the proposed PATI legislation.

It is disappointing that no provisions have been made to protect whistleblowers as we need to encourage people in every means possible to speak out for what is right.  Bermudians able to speak out without fear of repercussions is something we are desperately short on in our society today as we witness many cases where we would be better off if they did.  Can we not take this opportunity to promote greater protection for those individuals willing to take a stand?

Subsequently provisions for transparency of the status of all requests including the date requested, the information requested, subsequent actions as well as denied requests with reasons would also be a welcome addition to the legislation.  Documents released could also be made readily accessible for others through a publication in departmental offices and on a PATI specific or departmental websites to prevent our civil servants from being potentially bombarded with requests for the same information.

Finally in the interests of promoting transparency and greater democracy it would be appreciated if regulations are subject to a vote in the legislature rather than a negative resolution procedure.  Our interests should be to make access to information easier to achieve than the restriction of it.  A negative resolution procedure would make it far too easy to make information difficult to achieve while there are many places where we could be doing more to make information more accessible.  It is thus desirable to aim to make information easier and not more difficult to attain as to do otherwise would be inconsistent with the aims of encouraging the open and transparent government that Bermuda deserves.

Thank you kindly for the opportunity to submit my thoughts on the proposed Public Access to Information legislation and I hope that you shall strongly consider my comments and feedback.

Sincerely,

Denis Pitcher

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Still swingin

The Royal Gazette reports on comments made by the Assistant Police Commissioner regarding this weekend's shootings:

[Assistant Police Commissioner Paul Wright] told the media that a small number of “well-known violent offenders intent on attacking each other” were to blame.

He said Police had identified 211 prolific offenders on the Island, some of whom have been arrested as many as 30 times in the last four years.

It sure is a good thing we didn't implement that archaic and draconian 3 strike rule the UBP were calling for last election.

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Hating Microsoft

There are times when I truly regret having bought Microsoft software and this is one of them.  Continuing with my PC issues I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m sorry I bought Windows 7.  After replacing everything in my main pc short of the case and the dvd drive I’ve concluded the motherboard must have been fried.  So, I’m essentially left with a mostly new PC that most of the hardware has changed so I might as well upgrade the OS.  Seeing as I took advantage of the preorder for windows 7 upgrade I went ahead and loaded it onto the machine.  Turns out despite having provided a ‘clean install’ option, you’re not actually supposed to choose this option if you bought an upgrade.  Thus, once you’ve wiped your harddrive for the clean install, you’re not able to upgrade unless you go back and reinstall your previous OS.  Of course attempts to reinstall my copy of XP on my new hardware simply isn’t working.  Excellent.

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For your convenience your order has been split into multiple shipments

As we’ve noted in the past sometimes shopping in Bermuda can be a harrowing experience.  There are times you simply can’t get certain items on island and it is in these cases where the Internet can prove to be a tremendous resource.  The only problem?  Many businesses in the US won’t ship to Bermuda, don’t accept Bermudian credit cards and worst of all, will sometimes split your order into multiple shipments ‘for your convenience’.  Local forwarding firms go a long way in helping make this situation less painful and yet there is nothing like ordering a bunch of specially sized shoes from Shoebuy.com only to watch in horror as each item is shipped individually.  You’re forced to suffer through paying at least the minimum fee for each item while you wonder why these firms don’t offer some sort of package consolidation option.  Why?

In the last year ZipX’s forwarding service has proven excellent when it comes to shipping items to the island, especially if you need them quickly.  They have a pretty quick turn around and they handle the customs hassles for you which saves many headaches.  As great as the service can be, it falls apart when it comes to being overcharged duty on a misinterpreted item or having an order split up into many small packages and being charged at least the minimum for each.  Really, who wants to end up with staggering unexpected costs?  On top of that, who wants to pay state taxes for items being shipped to Bermuda?  Quite unfortunately while the rest of their service is outstanding, they stumble with these difficulties and attempts at contacting them to suggest services such as consolidation go unanswered.  Thus we find ourselves seeking alternatives when service doesn’t need to be so speedy and we’re most concerned about cost.

While there are other forwarding services on island, none seem to have stepped up to provide the level of service that takes away all the hassles.  While no firms provide the ultimate hassle free solution, numerous US based forwarding companies provide baskets of alternative services.  As such it seemed like a good idea to give one a shot and after some research Shipito.com was decided as a worthy trial candidate.

Shipito is a forwarding company based in California which offers full service forwarding.  This includes a virtual mailbox with forwarding address for a small monthly fee of $10 or an annual fee of $50, a variety of services and most desirable of all, a convenient web site in which you can fully manage your account, packages and shipments.  You ship your items to Shipito where they weigh it, measure it and send you an email that it’s been received.  If you’re a virtual mailbox subscriber they’ll even hold your package for you for up to 45 days.

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You can select your shipping options of airmail, USPS or FEDEX, each of which have discounted rates and take different durations.  You can fill out your customs details, though you’ll still require invoices when picking it up from the post office having used USPS and you can make special requests.  Special requests include the ability to have them take photos of the contents of your package and send them to you or any other request you may have.   You can even pre-configure these settings so packages are resent out as fast as possible.

Certainly the most useful of all is the small fee charged for consolidating packages of which you can select multiple packages and request that they repack it into one.  Shipping estimates and timelines for delivery are provided to make this helpful and easy.  Further they offer an added service that goes above and beyond: the virtual shopper.  In the case that you can’t purchase something with your Bermudian credit/debit card, Shipito will make purchases for you online and in the case of a select number of stores, will make purchases in person as well.  This is the kind of service we’re lacking with local forwarding firms.

While ZipX has proven to be a great and useful service where it falls short is going that extra mile to remain competitive and offer the best service possible.  Indeed, if you need to get something quickly or don’t want to deal with customs hassles then ZipX can be your best option as their turnaround is fantastic.  In contrast however if you need to order multiple things and fear the wrath of split shipments, ZipX can prove to be a nightmare. Other firms like Shipito rise up to fill these gaps with their helpful online management systems and services.  While services like Shipito don’t make things completely hassle free such as having to deal with customs yourself and perhaps jump through a few hoops when it comes to verifying your identity, they do give a pretty good idea of where our local forwarding services should be striving to be.  Best of all, they give us one more alternative for those times when you need to order big shoes and don’t want to face the horror of split shipments ‘for your convenience’.

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Interesting day for a party

Hmm, interesting day to 'launch' a party.  

  • The UBP is holding a leadership election
  • It is days following the launch of two substancial reports
  • It is the day before the throne speech.  
  • Oh, and happy Guy Fawkes day

Does anyone suspect the new party, whatever they're being called these days, is due to get much press/momentum out of this launch?  One would think the object would be to build hope/excitement/momentum from a launch but that doesn't seem overly likely considering the timing.  But hey, who wouldn't want their party anniversary to be on Guy Fawkes day?  One can only wonder of the reasons.

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The Benevolent Dictator’s Association

According to a new group created on facebook the newBP is set to officially launch itself Thursday at 1pm with the attempt to refer to itself as “the Alliance”, or Bermuda Democratic Alliance for long.  For those wondering, yes that was the name of the party that was trying to be formed back about 4.5 years ago on my original wiki/blog/forum site www.bermudawiki.com and no I’m in no way associated with the newBP.  

For those interested I thought I’d share a bit of a history of 21Square.com and where the name Bermuda Democratic Alliance originally came from.  Be warned, it’s the kind of rare narcissistic rant that I’ve focused on avoiding and yet after 3 years of this blog with nearly 500 posts and some 5+ years of blogging in general I figure I’ve earned it.

It began not long after I returned to the island after a post school stint working abroad.  I was young and idealistic, disappointed with where our island was headed and did not see much hope in either of the existing parties after having met with both and shared my ideas to no avail.  I’d been following Bermuda politics online throughout school and my time after and had submitted articles/LTEs to the local papers as well as having been a guest blogger on LimeyInBermuda.com.  I was under the belief that the internet could fundamentally change the way the people communicate with their leaders.  Given the lack of traction on the part of government or the opposition I thought the most reasonable action for change for Bermuda wasn’t to join an existing party but to work outside them leveraging the internet.  Thus I formed BermudaWiki.com, which started as a wiki and morphed into a wiki/blog/forum site that migrated from trying to leverage good ideas to realizing that neither the government nor opposition were interested in ideas and that a new party was needed.

It was exiting the offices of the Bermuda Sun, following a meeting with the deputy editor regarding submitting guest columns that I met an individual and got to chatting about the need for a new party.  He seemed to think the idea was rather idealistic but told me he had a great name for it, the ‘Benevolent Dictator’s Association’ with the acronym BDA.  It drew a laugh as I considered how well it reflects out present parties and the structure of our democracy as it does seem like we elect benevolent dictators, at least for the most part.  None the less, I was struck by the acronym BDA, which seemed like the perfect one for a party.

Later I pitched the idea for the party name on the BermudaWiki forum, suggesting obviously benevolent dictator’s association wouldn’t be a fitting name, but asked for ideas for a name with BDA as the acronym.  It was Graeme Outerbridge, a frequent visitor to my site and an individual eager to see a new party who suggested Bermuda Democratic Alliance, at which point there was a resolve to actively try to form a party.  He even made whispers of it here and there back then, though mostly on LimeyInBermuda.  The issue, forming new political parties in Bermuda isn’t easy when people don’t want you to. 

One of the first ventures into attempting to form the party came in the form of trying to register www.bda.bm.  It proved an interesting saga as I was made to jump through endless hoops in what was a clear attempt to find every means to not give me the domain.  I was told I couldn’t have the domain name unless I was a registered company or charity. So I went to the registrars office and looked up the requirements as well as the listings of the existing UBP and PLP.  Turns out, they weren’t registered.  So I took this evidence back to plead my case only to be told I had to have a request printed on the letterhead and logo of the party.  So I went off, composed this and returned only to then be told that I needed to have a party constitution.  So I threw his together and returned only to be told that I needed to identify who the officers of my party was, who the treasurers were and that I needed to prove an established presence before I could get the domain name.  I tried to plead my case that the foundation of the party I was trying to form was to be solidly based upon the website and that I couldn’t possibly have directors and an established presence without attracting more individuals via a website.  The manager/director there wouldn’t budge and it became obvious that no matter what I did, the bar would be raised ever higher to prevent me. 

The handful of visitors to my site and I continued over time to try to build a following, though the reality that idealism doesn’t work in politics was setting in.  It was tough to get the word out there.  Discouraged and disappointed by the whims of government to place unnecessary barriers in what reeked of not truly caring about freedom and what is best for Bermuda’s future I lost hope and began to let go of my idealism.  If there are individuals out there who wonder what happened to the idealistic youth who only cared about bettering our future perhaps this provides some insight.  It is sad lesson to learn that for many politics and government isn’t about a better future for all Bermudians and instead is about using bureaucracy and power to your advantage to get your friends ahead and place a glass ceiling over your enemies.  No wonder I’m less of an idealist and more of a cynic and critic these days.

Ultimately things slowly evolved.  Bermudawiki went from an website about nonpartisan idea generation to one about forming a party.  Subsequently that didn’t gain the traction necessary and was stifled so things slowly evolved into the formation of a proper blog, this one to be precise.  Today, while things have changed they seemingly remain the same.  Interestingly the scope of politics has changed a bit.  The PLP might finally be gearing itself to actually address real issues with some manner of preplanning with their launch of the recent reports on black youth and Bermuda First, though it seems anything related to admitting they were wrong may well be condemned to not succeed.  We’ll see what happens, the prospects of what could happen are encouraging, though I wouldn’t hold my breath.

On the other side of the pond and new party is forming under the Bermuda Democratic Alliance name.  Too bad it’s under the context of the newBP having split off of the UBP, ruined their launch momentum and ultimately having hijacked the name I’d helped develop and hoped to use to form a party.  Meh, politics, who’s surprised?  Maybe they will bring the kind of change Bermuda so badly needs, though again, hope isn’t high.

It’s been an interesting few years to say the least.  Too bad more hasn’t happened.  There are times I wish the idealist had succeeded and that people genuinely did care about bettering Bermuda before all else.  Then I remember that politics isn’t ideal and instead is more about the benevolent dictators trying to reach the top of the bureaucracy so they can steer the path in their favour.  Ah politics, how I wish that things worked so well and ran so smoothly that I never had to worry and could be content having nothing to do with it. Oh right, there’s the idealist again.

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