Column: Pearman On Timing, Laws, Decisions

January 10, 2021

[Opinion column written by Shadow Legal Affairs Minister Scott Pearman]

Have you ever noticed how you can find a cliché for almost every occasion?

Two came to mind during 2020’s last session of the House of Assembly, when MPs gathered [virtually] to pass laws affecting all of us.

One cliché was ‘something’s better than nothing’. The second: ‘do it well or not at all’.

The first cliché, I regret to say, is too often the approach of our current Government.

When a policy is rushed, ill-conceived, or has unintended consequences [like when the May 24th holiday was changed to never actually fall on the 24th of May], the response from the Government is too often: Hey, we are doing something, so don’t be critical if it could – or should – be better. Something’s better than nothing.

This approach strikes me as flawed.

Why is action, merely for the sake of action, a good thing? Sure, it gives an impression of activity. But doing the wrong thing is often worse than doing nothing. Consider the medical adage: ‘first, do no harm’ [Is that a cliché too? Doctors probably call it ‘received wisdom’.]

Hence the second cliché: Do it well or not at all. This is sound guidance, although not always possible. Our actions are invariably constrained, whether by time, resources, or even ability. Yet do it well or not at all seems a better approach to life than activity for the sake of it…

Nothing Like A Deadline To Focus The Mind

Otto von Bismarck, the former German Chancellor, once said: “laws are like sausages, it’s better not to see them being made”. Odd but true. When I was first elected, the process of law-making struck me as strange [even though as a barrister I am used to arcane court procedures].

The current Government is keen on passing laws. The Premier has even boasted how many laws have been enacted [Is more law really a good thing?]. But Premier Burt also reduced the frequency of Parliament. And if you only meet every other week, then this doubles the legislation on the day.

The December 11th sitting saw MPs scramble to complete some 11 Bills and Regulations. This is a heavy task to complete in one day. And, remember, the goal should be to do it well. The House continues through the night into the next morning until business is concluded. Hence Bismarck’s quote about sausages and laws [a friend once visited a sausage factory in Chicago - never ate one again].

Is it really sensible when laws affecting all of us are passed after Midnight?

Behind Closed Doors

Most of us are blissfully unaware how laws are made. And unaware when new laws are on their way. There is a bizarre time-lag between the Government’s announcement and the Public’s reaction [even when your Loyal Opposition highlights the issue].

This disconnect weakens democracy. Informed citizens can scrutinize what is done in our name. Potential laws benefit from being poked and prodded. Negative outcomes are sometimes identified and fixed. Transparency, consultation, and public input all contribute to better legislation.

So it was surprising when Christopher Famous MP [during the December 11th debate on the new Labour Bill] suggested the PLP: “go behind closed doors and sort our business out”.

There are at least two problems with his approach: one philosophical; the other practical.

His instinct for backroom political decisions – taken without public scrutiny – makes for poor outcomes. Practically, there are serious flaws with the PLP’s Labour Bill. Some have been ventilated in the media. Let me mention two:

Although the Labour Bill passed the House in December, the OBA has tabled Senate amendments to cure the Bill’s flaws. These amendments caused the Government in December to adjourn Senate business until Wednesday, 13 January 2021.

Now you know. As an informed citizen, it’s time to poke and prod. Let your Senators know you support the proposed amendments to the Labour Bill. Do it well or not at all…

- Scott Pearman


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Comments (7)

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  1. clearasmud says:

    This is a weak article from an MP who gets to raise issues in a place where they can be addressed. It is intentionally misleading for him to suggest that he does not know why the holiday was changed since it was publicly stated by Mr. Weeks that the intent was to move the celebration to a Friday so as to create a holiday weekend to attract more tourist. One only has to listen to the poor state of debate in the house to know that every MP up there is failing the people. Problems at the Docks have existed all my life so how come no party has moved to make them essential service?

    • Question says:

      Moving Bermuda Day was nothing to do with attracting tourists. The point is, it was botched.

      Scrambling and rushing to pass laws is not the best way to operate.

      • Joe Bloggs says:

        Moving the 24th of May holiday was not botched. It is (or was) viewed by the PLP Government as being a holdover from “British rule”. By moving it to another day we still have a day off but we do not recognise the hated British.

  2. What's new says:

    Unfortunately, the only Party that can rein the BIU is the PLP. If you try to restrict or limit the role of the BIU you are in for trouble. We have seen this on many an issue. It is sad that the PLP which has the influence and ear of the BIU continues to cow tow to the BIU. What happened to the new bus schedule? What about the implementation of the GPS system in taxis. CO-OP taxi(BIU) did not implement it and to close down Radio Cabs it would mean that Co-op Taxi would have to be shut down too. What about the audits of the BIU credit Union? Are its books up to date.

    I have been a union member all my adult working life. Unions are essential to the well being of the country and labour. However that does not mean that the Unions should be able to dictate how the country functions.

    Then there is the influence of the PLP in decision making in parliament. Through racial barbs and inflammatory media and other actions the PLP always had the UBP/OBA on the back foot. One fatal error was the implementation of the UBP’s introduction of both the BSSC and the Muddle School certificate. If the PLP had kept its mouth shut and let the UBP do its job we might have had a better system in place. The PLP promoted and demanded both of thee systems.

  3. Fisherman says:

    It was moved to enable school children, workers to get to where they have to be on the Monday. As many children and workers were not to school or work. To allow visitors to come in for long holiday and stores to be open.

    • Hmmmmm says:

      Please dont tell them the truth. The ubpoba crew is a complete joke and the last election just showed how foolish they looked to the voters.