With their natty shorts, tony blazers and long socks, the people of Bermuda project an aura of respectability and British sensibility. Lying just beneath that veneer (which, like the islands’ pink sand and turquoise water, is showcased for tourists), however, are serious fiscal, political and social problems.
Amid a toxic atmosphere of racial discord, Bermuda’s conflicts of power and identity intersected Friday morning, culminating in a confrontation between protesters attempting to bar legislators from entering Parliament, and police who responded with considerable (but non-lethal) force, including the deployment of pepper spray.
As the editorial board of the Bermuda Royal Gazette lamented the next day, “We brought yesterday on ourselves and have descended rather predictably into a lawless abyss of incivility as a result.”
Ostensibly, the protesters had assembled to prevent lawmakers from approving a controversial airport redevelopment project (which, by the way, is similar to an arrangement that had been previously considered, then dismissed, here in the Cayman Islands).
However, the truth is the issue could have been anything – that is, anything supported by the ruling One Bermuda Alliance government that the opposition Progressive Labour Party could use to foment unrest among its allies in the country’s various unions. Back in March, the opposition had employed a similar tactic, with success, to stymie the ruling government’s plan to implement changes to Bermuda’s immigration system.
According to the Royal Gazette, “The protesters were given a pass in March, but this cannot be allowed to go on whenever the OBA and the Progressive Labour Party do not see eye to eye in the legislature.”
Quite right. Not only is representative democracy not identical to mob rule, it is the prescription intended to prevent that disease from taking hold.
But leaving our North Atlantic cousins to sort out their own problems, the sentiments we are seeing displayed in the streets of Bermuda are emblematic of civil services, governments and unions-in-wedlock-with-politicians everywhere.
Their common cause is resistance to “privatization of public services” – at least, that’s what the right-thinking segments of the world call it; to governments and their entrenched bureaucracies, it’s interpreted as a “threat to territory and power.”
Take, for example, the Progressives’ promising, but ultimately utterly disappointing, attempt to “rationalize” significant swaths of Cayman’s public sector: “Project Future” also known as the “EY Report.”
More than two years after the consultants’ report was published, to great fanfare from this newspaper, there have been nearly zero results – apart from bureaucratic posturing, the eternal consideration of potential options (including, of course, “do nothing”), the decision to merge some independent oversight bodies, and other marginal miscellany – but nothing that significantly impacts the bottom line of the government budget.
We admit, we find ourselves yawning a bit as we ask this, but is not it about time for an update from former Education Chief Officer Mary Rodrigues and her “strategic reforms implementation unit” about what they’ve been doing and how much money has been spent doing it?
Yes, a “progress report” would be good. But actual progress would be even better.