Column: “What Would The 23 Percent Think?”

August 18, 2015

[Opinion column written by Jeremy Deacon]

I had hoped to get away from commenting on politics and to concentrate on something much more positive and worthwhile instead.

Alas, I cannot. There are plenty of positives, but they are being drowned out by the noise from the playground on the Hill which seems to be reaching a crescendo.

We have calls for a Commission of Inquiry, we have the Speaker giving a statement in the House denying allegations of corruption and we have Government saying that Government will fund a defamation case against the leader of the BPSU.

Then there are the tit-for-tat arguments and the use of misinformation and disinformation by the PLP which serves only to play dangerously, and in my opinion deliberately, with people’s emotions.

There was also a lot of social media fallout from the recent court case against PLP leader Marc Bean. It’s been non-stop in your face politics.

In December 2006, I thought politics had reached a low when former Premier Ewart Brown dubbed then UBP Shadow Minister Grant Gibbons a ‘racist dog’. It was ugly, but, in my opinion it was also a lot to do with grandstanding.

Now I think politics is entering a new low. It is anything but grandstanding, it is ugly and is fast becoming the politics of the gutter – accusation and counter-accusation with each accusation demeaning the level of debate.

Let me take each of the issues I have highlighted in turn.

If I were Wayne Furbert I would one, keep quiet until the court case was over. Justice has to run its course and until then everyone is innocent until or if proven guilty. Two, those who live in glass houses [and especially those who have flipped flopped between parties] should stay quiet.

Is it unprecedented that the Speaker of the House should have to make a statement denying allegations of corruption?

I sardonically asked the question on the website version of the story: For how long now has Bermuda heard of allegations of corruption among its elected representatives? One equally sardonic reply was: “Since Jesus walked on water”, ie forever.

Another reply said: “What is going on today, is unprecedented in Bermuda. In the past, we have experienced some wild scenes in Parliament but the exchanges were never based on malice.

It’s as though some people think they are participants in a video game – zapping opponents at will and the more mayhem the better. What happens when the game is over? And, do the ‘players’ know that they are merely the ‘pawns’?”

Good point indeed.

To me it is unconscionable that the Government – read taxpayer – should fund legal action taken by a Minister to protect his reputation. I have been consistent about this – asking questions some time ago in a Bermuda Blue bog posting, but have still to receive any answers.

And while Cabinet might think that it is OK, have they forgotten that in February 2014, then Premier Craig Cannonier, responding to queries over who was paying, said that he would be paying the legal bills after he filed defamation writs against PLP leader Marc Bean and PLP deputy leader David Burt.

[Note to Bob and Cabinet: he reversed a decision to have the taxpayer foot the bill.]

There are other principles involved here – why should someone who pays his/her tax on time, who works hard in order to generate income for the tax to be paid, be expected to fund a personal vanity project? In PR terms it is real faux pas.

I understand that there are those within the OBA who are sick and tired of a continuous misinformation and disinformation campaign – and I for one cannot blame them – and who want to stop it by suing.

As well as the issue of ‘who pays’ it does come across as a draconian measure that seems aimed at stifling any opposition – the cost of a defamation case is prohibitive [about $900 an hour for the lawyer alone] with no guarantee of success, it is why only rich people sue newspapers.

There were/are other ways to counter it: challenge the person publicly to come up with proof, set a deadline and then when that is not met, call them out publicly. I have been defamed, and a simple lawyer’s letter to the culprit sufficed to stop it in its tracks.

Put them on a ‘three strikes and you are out’ public warning, talk privately to the media about the issue as well. The law states that the ‘publisher’ of defamatory comments can be sued as well.

In December 2011, the Auditor General published a report, part of which looked at ‘Inappropriate Use of Public Funds For Payment of Personal Legal Expenses’. It was in relation to legal action taken by former Premier Ewart Brown and then Works and Engineering Minister Derrick Burgess into checks that had been forged in their name.

In her report, Heather Jacobs said that Financial Instruction 3.5 provides that “Government  funds or property should only be used for Government purposes and must not be used for personal reasons”.

She recommended: “Government financial support for the private legal action on behalf of the former Premier and the current Deputy Premier should be terminated immediately and the Auditor General should be advised when this is done. 2.  Appropriate steps should be taken to recover monies already paid to the firm with respect to the action. If necessary, the surcharging mechanisms provided for in the Public Treasury [Administration and Payments] Act 1969 should be applied to hold the Accounting Officer accountable for the payment of  moneys out of the public purse. In addition, the offending individual should be required to appear before the Public Accounts Committee.”

The issue was subsequently the subject of a report by the Parliamentary Committee which recommended: “PAC recommends that the Government examine amending Financial Instructions to allow for the Cabinet to support a civil action taken on behalf of a Minister against anyone who defames and damages the reputation or credibility of the Minister when he or she is carrying out his or her duties. The PAC also recommends that any amendment to Financial Instructions make it clear that any proceeds from any such action revert to the Government of Bermuda.”

I cannot find whether Financial Instructions were amended, but regardless, I still think it is wrong that a Minister, allegedly defamed while conducting Ministerial duties, can use public funds for a court case.

While it is tempting to enter into a tit-for-tat argument, I do wonder whether you are then lowering yourself to their level and therefore playing right into their hands in a game you cannot win. While it is useful as a way of getting frustrations off your chest, there are other, more effective ways, of dealing with it.

While all this politricking has been going on, it’s been largely overlooked that unemployment among Bermuda’s youth stands at 23 percent, down from 29 percent last year.

There is a song by the British reggae band UB40 called I Am A One in Ten. UB40 was the name of the form you had to complete in the UK when you wanted financial assistance [dole money]. Released in 1981 when Margaret Thatcher was in power, the lyrics can be found here.

Although I am referring to the one in four [an astonishing number] in Bermuda the words of this song are still very relevant today. Imagine if we put as much energy into helping them as the politicians to on politricking.

Next week, I promise not to talk politics.

Last week I wrote that is littering was an illness then Bermuda would have an epidemic on its hands. I got a lot of reaction, including this email.

Your column on littering hit home with me today.  I have been getting increasingly annoyed every day as I pick up litter when I walk my dog and every day it seems to get worse.  I stand behind the bottle bill and the bag tax 100%.  I remember when I was growing up and the main incentive my parents had for my sister and I to clean out the garage was to give us the bottles to cash in at the store!

I now try to get my kids [3yo and 6yo] to learn about littering and how horrible it is by doing weekly rubbish walks where they each get a bowl of ice cream from Wahoo’s at the end and the size of the bowl depends on how many pieces of rubbish we collect [we usually collect 2-5 bags worth!].  I wonder why we can’t ask the same of the hustle truck workers and the inmates at the farm but instead of ice cream they are earning their way back into society by picking up litter?

I have a few thoughts as well on ways to decrease littering.  One thing I have noticed [at least in St George’s] is the lack of rubbish bins around the beaches/forts/benches.  I also notice this in other areas as well.  Of course, on the other side of the coin, the other problem is that where there are rubbish bins, they may not be frequently emptied and thus are overflowing with litter strewn around.

Or as I have noticed, the rubbish bin has been placed 2 feet too far from a bench at a bus stop and thus have not been used unfortunately due to laziness – which is one of the main culprits of littering.

I realise that in today’s society, we have so many problems in Bermuda and most of these stem from lack of respect. Unfortunately, our island has become another victim and I personally don’t want it to get more scarred.

What do you think? Leave a comment or email jdeacon@northrock.bm

- Jeremy Deacon is a 30-year veteran of the media industry and currently runs public relations company Deep Blue Communications, www.deepbluecommunications.bm. He also freelances for publications in Bermuda and overseas.

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Comments (12)

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  1. Ringmaster says:

    I'll ignore the political part of your column if I may.

    Regarding litter. I remember clearly a situation in Hamilton many years ago when a child dropped a wrapper on the ground and stopped to pick it up. The Mother grabbed the child and said leave it, we pay people to pick up trash. That was a moment when I realized there is a different mindset at work. The same mindset that throws bottles out of cars. They don't care and it is not worth saying anything. Abuse is the least of your concerns.

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    • Jeremy Deacon says:

      ignore as you please ...:)

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      • Zevon says:

        Why haven't you found out whether the Financial Instructions were amended? The PAC was pretty clear about what it thought. Frankly, they know more about the issue than you do.

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        • Jeremy Deacon says:

          I agree, it is a fault of mine, but i could find no record any my time did not allow. I had originally hoped to write about a different subject. However, i believe my point stands regardless

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        • Jeremy Deacon says:

          seems they were not updated: http://bernews.com/2015/09/plp-comments/

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      • Ringmaster says:

        Jeremy - wrong choice of word! I should have said forego comment on....:)

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    • Toodle-oo says:

      *The Mother grabbed the child and said leave it, we pay people to pick up trash.*

      Echoing exactly what I said in the original column that Jeremy put up last week .

      A different mindset at work indeed . 2 different Bermudas , but in so many ways that people don't want to think about .

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  2. Zevon says:

    Honestly, I don't get this.
    You are perplexed by the low standard of rhetoric. You don't like the mudslinging and gutter politics. Yet you seem annoyed that, for example, the Speaker denied the allegations made against him. What else is he supposed to do?
    On the MacLean allegations, you want Furbert to wait until the court case is over, and you are irritated by calls, from Furbert, for a Commission of Inquiry.
    Yet you're also critical of the government Minister for asserting his rights under the law which can limit the spreading of false allegations, and the disinformation that you seem not to like. A bipartisan committee, Chaired by the Opposition Finance spokesman, recommended that government funds are used in this exact type of situation. Yet you are annoyed by this as well.
    Sending a 'lawyer's letter' has no effect unless there is a credible threat of legal action. And in the case of defamation, the damage has already been done; a fact which you overlook.

    So you don't like the mudslinging, but you don't want a solution. Your article reads more like a list of complaints.

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  3. Progressive says:

    I feel I have to disagree with you on your instinctive disagreement with politicians using public funds to fight defamation cases. Not having a mechanism that allows for this is discriminatory, plain and simple.

    Politicians are put into the public eye as targets of scorn like no others. This inevitably leads to accusations, both justified and unjustified. If only those politicians (regardless of party) who came from wealthy backgrounds could fund the fight to protect themselves against defamation, our political system would be stratafied. Only the rich would able to govern the country without fear of their reputations being destroyed by malicious misinformation from their opponents.

    It is crucial that we as a society hold those making these serious accusations responsible. If you make an accusation, regardless whether it is true or not, there must be proof. Otherwise, how can you really know your accusation is true yourself? It is no better than a rumour in the schoolyard.

    However, I do think there should be a more rigourous, transparent process regarding how the decision is made to use public funds (i.e. a transparent vote by MPs), and a public explanation of their point of view.

    Opponents of this action should note that both parties have in the past decade endorsed this kind of funding's legitimacy.

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  4. It's embarrassing really...they sound like guttersnipes harping each others indiscretion...and it is bad form....

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  5. Neil says:

    jeremy, Probably it's time to move on. Step back a bit and recall that prior to the last election, international business voted with its feet to withdraw or outsource. You represent the solution to the problem: encourage some of the business that left Bermuda, to return, and encourage new IB entrants. Discard the politics - leave that to the political parties and the registered voters! Best wishes

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  6. Jeremy Deacon says:

    Statement from
    Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance, the Hon. E.T. Richards JP MP

    “I have been grateful for the Cabinet’s support of the principle of financially backing a Minister of the Government when he is defending himself against defamatory comments in connection with the carrying out his of duties as Minister.
    “This is an important principle because if a Minister did not have the means to pay legal costs to defend himself and the government did not support him, then it may become open season on that or any such Minister.
    “However, in my case, the government’s financial support is becoming a distraction from the real issues surrounding the case. Let it be known, therefore, that while I will continue to seek legal redress through the courts, I will not be seeking reimbursement of legal costs from the government in my legal action for defamation.
    “Any financial damages awarded to me by the courts will be donated to charity.”

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