Bryant Trew

A good deal for Bermuda but why the circus act?

  • Putting up defences: police were prepared for any eventuality at the House of Assembly during the airport debate. The Acts have now passed

 (Photograph David Skinner )

“In summary, we have found that this transaction is commercially sound and reasonable, likely to meet Government’s stated objectives of long term sustainability, increased traffic volume and revenue, while effectively providing for the structural needs of the airport. We have also found that its terms are within the parameters for similar P3 Airport projects and in some cases this project exceeds those norms positively.”

— The Blue Ribbon Panel Report, February 2017

With the Senate vote on the airport Acts now completed, most of us will likely retreat to our respective political corners. Some of us will be happy that the deal can move forward with the building of new infrastructure, while others will be furious that a foreign company will be tied to Bermuda for the next 30 years.

But what happens when the next contentious issue comes up? Do we resort to the same behaviours and tactics that lead us to the same confrontational point of no return? Or do we learn from our mistakes and seek alternative methods of conflict resolution?

It is pretty clear to me that the One Bermuda Alliance has had to learn a very hard lesson about the need for timely and effective communications. It is also pretty clear to me that the Progressive Labour Party has had to learn a very hard lesson about what truly constitutes legal, non-violent protests.

Our political parties are not the only organisations that have had to learn the hard way: the Bermuda Police Service have had to learn about dealing with civil disobedience. The Bermuda Industrial Union has had to learn about the consequences of threatening the public good. And both the BIU and the People’s Campaign have had to learn that they are not the voice of Bermuda.

And what about the common voter? What have we learnt? I’m not so sure. The two-year airport campaign has shown quite vividly that far too many voters are willing to accept whatever is proposed by the political party they trust or support. Consequently, far too few are willing fully to contemplate what our political leaders are proposing to us.

Being politically disengaged in this manner makes it very easy for a government to enter a bad deal. Conversely, it is very easy for an opposition to malign a great deal. Thus, the public are treated like pawns in a game of politics, and their real needs are frequently subordinated to the wants of politicians.

In the context of the airport proposal, voters should get far more engaged, even at this late stage, by taking the time to watch the Blue Ribbon Panel’s press conference and reading their report on the airport. The conference addresses a multitude of questions, including the reasons for withholding the remaining schedule.

Additionally, the report seeks to answer 17 critical questions, covering topics such as:

• Poor communications

• Transparency

• Negotiated process v Tendering process

• The true cost of the proposal

• The minimum revenue guarantee

• Concessions

Although the Blue Ribbon Panel has concluded that the proposal is a good deal for Bermudians, the public still should not retroactively accept or dismiss what our politicians said on face value. Likewise, we shouldn’t automatically believe or reject whatever was spoken on talk radio or appeared in the news. Instead, we still need to form views based on the facts before us.

The Blue Ribbon Panel leaves me with the following questions for the OBA:

• What are your thoughts about the panel’s concerns about Bermuda’s debt?

• Why was there so much confusion about how the project actually came together?

• Why did we even need a Blue Ribbon Panel to move this project forward?

For the PLP, I would want the following explained:

• Why was the Blue Ribbon Panel being dismissed before it even started?

• If the Opposition was genuinely concerned about the panel being biased, did it put forward any alternative panellists?

• Why did the Opposition dismiss the Blue Ribbon Report instead of putting forward counter-arguments?

I also noted that the Blue Ribbon Panel did not address PLP MP Lawrence Scott’s claims of political retribution, so I would love to know what the status is of his case against JetBlue. The overarching point here is that, should the public remain disengaged, politicians will be tempted to revert to the same tactics that made the airport project far more divisive and controversial than it needed to be. And should they once again see us as mere pawns in their game, we can blame only ourselves for the conflict that is bound to be repeated.

To reach out to Bryant Trew, e-mail bryanttrew@mac.com