Opposition Leader, the Hon, N. Cole Simons, JP, MP, offers the following comments on the recently perceived inequity from the Premier towards the local community.
Premier Burt, the people of Bermuda want fairness and accountable leadership, as there is real tension in the community due to the perceived treatment of Bermudians during this pandemic.
What they want is real equity from Government during this very stressful and difficult time. They want principled, honest and transparent leadership, with no more evasive behaviour or evasive responses.
It is not good enough to throw one of our Ministers under the bus after you both authorized the issuance of an exemption certificate to the ST. REGIS HOTEL GROUP developers, and then withdraw it after you receive some blowback from a few members of the community.
A true leader would have said that the hotel plays a vital role in Bermuda’s tourism strategy, that it will create jobs for Bermudians, and that it will support more capital investment and hence the difficult decision was made to issue the Certificate of Exemption.
When the Minister said that the decision to rescind the issuance of the Certificate was issued in error due to an overload of applications, it does not bode well for the Minister of Security and her team.
As a principled leader, the Premier should have owned the problem. He should have stated the rationale for the decision, that he was responsible for making it, and that the buck ultimately stops at his doorstep. That is the mark of a true leader. Instead, he started up the ‘Don’t Blame Me’ bus and he rolled right over one of his own Ministers and her team.
A similar scenario played out for our farmers and fishermen, who initially were not allowed to set up stands or sell their produce and fish on the streets.
Another example of the unbalanced treatment took place with our local athletes and Bermudian elite athletes, who initially were not allowed to train for the upcoming Olympics, that will take place in Tokyo, this summer. Yet, there was no question about restricting SailGP competitors from training for next week’s Grand Prix sailing event.
To be clear, the OBA supports this prestigious sailing event, but our local athletes and our international athletic guests should be treated with the same level of importance and fairness. Having one rule for Bermudian athletes and another rule for the international Sail GP athletes was flawed from the start, and the Premier should have identified and addressed this inequity quickly when the Covid-19 protocols were being crafted.
Where were the checks and balances? Who provided procedural oversight? Where is the accountability?
Our essential bus drivers who place themselves at risk daily, by providing this important service to islanders, also experienced an unnecessary degree of anxiety resulting from poor leadership and decision-making. It was unconscionable that this Government considered deducting the operator’s salary if they did not return to work immediately after their Covid tests were taken. It makes no logical sense, as the test is taken in the best interest of the employee, the Department of Transportation employees, and the travelling public. We support these bus operators in that they should have been paid for the time that they left to take the test until the results were presented to the relevant operators.
How can the government be so callous towards a key sector of our frontline Covid defence team? Again, where is the equity, as we are prepared to provide guarantees and certificates of exemptions to large businesses and international sporting events, and then penalize our locals when they go for a Covid 19 screening, by stating that they may not get paid from the time that they take the test, until the time that it takes to secure their test results?
What if the operator’s test result is positive and he/she returned to work immediately after their Covid test? The team at the bus depot, the bus passengers and the public would all have been put at risk, because of finances, which in the bigger scheme of things is a negligible amount. Again, who is making these operational decisions? Who is accountable, where does the buck stop?
The Premier must do a better job and manage for all and not play favourites. He must govern and provide protection for all of Bermuda, and not the selected few. He must treat small and large businesses with the same degree of importance. He must look at the big picture and provide solutions that will deliver equitable benefits to all sectors of our community.
Governance by politics does not work, especially during this stressful time. Leadership based on political dogma and political priorities is divisive and does nothing to support national unity or to help sustain Bermuda’s long term social and economic growth.
As Opposition Leader, I raise these concerns because the country is looking for principled leadership from its government. They want equity, accountability and transparency. If we continue down this path, we run the risk of people losing confidence and respect for the Premier, who may then begin to question the Premier’s credibility, and as a result, may no longer respect the Covid-19 protocols.