Column: Are We Full Hot Or Just Fullish?

May 31, 2016

[Opinion column written by Larry Burchall]

Fact is often stranger than fiction. Started happening in Bermuda in 2004. Thirteen years later, in 2016, still happening.

Here’s a simple explanatory scenario.

You’re at a bar drinking Heinekens with a drunk sailor beside you. He is also drinking ‘Heinies’.

Every time the sailor’s glass empties, he slides his hand into your pocket, removes your wallet, extracts a wad of your dollars, and orders and pays for another beer for himself. Occasionally, he orders a ‘round for the house’ as well, and he pays for that with your money.

Once the bartender has been paid, the sailor asks you to put your wallet back in your pocket. You do that. Your wallet stays in your pocket until the next time the sailor’s hand slides in.

In between drinking sessions, you go to work and earn more dollars to put in your wallet. Then you return to that bar. You again stand next to that drunk sailor, who repeats the slide, take, extract, order booze, and payment process.

This goes on for days, weeks, months, years. You never tell that drunken ‘matelot’ to stop. You just go on letting it happen.

You notice that you are earning less per week than you had been earning. So you work harder so you can earn more. But that drunken ‘matelot’ takes even more dollars, until his new ‘take’ almost matches your new ‘earn’.

Years pass. You do nothing about it. Nothing at all.

That’s the fiction. It’s completely unbelievable isn’t it? You’ll say that any writer would be a fool to write such a story.

Now here are the facts.

Between 1st April 2004 and 31st July 2015, two Bermudian individuals – politicians both – created a $2,905 million Debt obligation. The Seventh Minister slid her hand in our pockets eleven times and borrowed a total $1,905 million.

The Eighth Minister slid his hand in twice and borrowed another $1,000 million. He tells us – tells us – that will slide his hand in a third time and borrow an additional $150 million.

Neither of these two politicians – Ministers both – needed our agreement before they committed us, our children, and our grandchildren to repay the billions that they borrowed. They did not have to ask because Bermuda’s legislation does not require them to ask.

Under existing legislation, any Bermuda Minister for Finance is free to borrow any amount without first having to get any kind of permission at all. Just go out there and borrow.

That is a factual and accurate description of exactly how Bermuda’s Ministers for Finance really do operate. It is exactly the same as the drunken sailor’s slide, take, extract, order booze, and payment process.

It’s been like that since Bermuda began operating under the Bermuda Constitutional Order, 1968. However, between 1968 and March 2004, that sailor was always sober. That matelot was fully aware of his need to consider your cash position and your need to care for your own personal and family needs. That sailor was conservative and careful.

However, on 1st April 2004 the sailor got hot. Thirteen years later, in May 2016 the sailor is still full hot. You are still letting him slide, take, extract, order, and pay [with your money] again, and again, and again…

Out here, on our 13,000 acre mid-Atlantic coral atoll at 32n64w, we need a real world, real time fix. At the very least we should make that so-and-so ask before he slides, takes, extracts, etc…

How? Simple! Amend one law.

In paragraph two of the Government Loans Act, 1978, insert these 27 words: “Before borrowing such sums, the Minister shall inform the Legislature and shall get the approval of the Legislature before entering into any agreement to borrow such sums.”

Since 1968, right up to today, Bermuda legislation only requires the Minister for Finance to tell us afterwards. So that drunken sailor only has to ‘tell us’ – afterwards – what he has done.

That’s fact. Not fiction.

That’s why the total that Bermuda has borrowed since April 2004 will soon exceed $3,055,000,000 [$3.055 billion]. That’s why Bermuda’s daily Nanci is currently at $513,356 [over half a million a day].

Without those 27 words embedded in Bermuda’s legislation, Bermudians will continue living in what Maggie Thatcher called Cloud Cuckooland; with Bermuda’s pockets being raided by a shipload of ‘full hot’ sailors.

In 2016, for Bermuda’s national financial affairs, fact is stranger than fiction.

- Larry Burchall

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Comments (10)

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  1. Jeremy Deacon says:

    Well said Larry. Totally agree about the 27 words – the only snag is that any party with a majority will give the borrowing the go-ahead so it is unlikely, barring a backbench revolt, that the debt would not have been accrued anyway.
    Is there a better way? To follow the Cayman model would, I suspect, cause uproar. Proportional representation? It might work in this particular case, but do we want to deal with what in all probability would be a coalition government … mmmm, actually maybe?

  2. Toodle-oo says:

    To make it more factually accurate the story ought to say that there are 2 drunk sailors . When the 2nd one came along he inherited the debt created by the first one and even though he hated reaching into the pocket of the innocent patron next to him the only way to avoid it would have been to clear all the liquor from the shelves , fire the bartender and make everyone else in the bar jobless.

    • Sickofantz says:

      Your story is absolutely true! What exactly would Larry have done in mr Richards place? He never says?

    • steve says:

      Good analogy larry,with some refinement by Toodle-do

  3. Frank says:

    $500,000. per day

    Is anyone listening out there in Bermuda????

    When you go out and Vote i hope you all remember.

  4. Frank says:

    Change the Law. Why was this not put in way back when the PLP started the big spending spree???

    • smh says:

      Even more importantly why wasn’t this put o place right after the SAGE report came out to ensure that this can never happen again?

      • Anon Ymous says:

        Because there wouldn’t be enough cash to pay the civil servants and we can’t have that now, can we?

  5. Larry, What you did not say, what everyone in Bermuda knows , is that we all have a heavy dependency on alcohol. We can talk about the sailor all day long, but no one dare tell him to stop drinking. What he knows , and what no one wants to admit is, ” BERMUDIANS LOVE TO DRINK .” The hard decisions , will hurt everyone, so no one wants to be responsible for that . The life of the party in Bermuda is ALCOHOL. Stop that, and you will stop the party. So , Let the sailor drink up, and by the way, ” HAVE ONE ON THE HOUSE.” We are such kind people. Everyone just loves Bermudians.

  6. BA Stovell says:

    @Sickofanz …. I think Larry has said a number of times what he would have done in Richard’s shoes. He would have cut civil service pay with larger cuts to higher paid personnel, he would have submitted a a balanced budget each fiscal year, i.e. no deficit spending, and done everything possible to immediately raise Bermuda’s residential population. And he would have started immediately in OBA’s tenure to avoid electioneering pressures.