I can’t say I was particularly impressed with the replies to the Throne Speech by either Opposition Party (see here for the UBP and here for the BDA). Came across largely as whining and political point-scoring than any constructive criticism or alternate positions, at least for the most part. My own thoughts on the Governments Throne Speech are largely positive, although I think they could be more progressive and ambitious, and there were some truly bizarre aspects to it as well. I didn’t see the point in copying the entire speech here and commenting on each indivudual section, but my thoughts on it follow their order in the speech itself.
I support the idea of a national service, although my understanding of a national service seems to be radically different from that put forward in the Throne Speech. The Throne Speech’s conception seems to be some sort of expanded Mirrors or Big Brother programme; it looks like some sort of mentoring program of schoolchildren by schoolchildren, I guess sort of like the Montesorri system, but in an exrtra-curricular capacity within the school system. I am not opposed to that in itself, although I find it a bit odd to refer to it as a ‘national service’ system.
My own idea of a national service would be as a replacement for the Regiment. What I would like to see is a mandatory one year – full time – of service which would incorporate a mix of technical skills training, preparation for post-secondary education, hurricane related operations, defence (with an emphasis on a coast guard) and community service. My vision of this is that it will ensure that all citizens meet a sufficient level of education, capable of pursuing tertiary education if they want to, and even allow youth to skip some first year university courses. Also, all participants should have training in a technical skill (mechanics, masonry, plumbing, etc.) of their choice, benefitting all, and especially allowing for an entry into such careers. Post-hurricane operations should also be mandatory, basically focusing on rescue operations (perhaps including basic fireman training), chainsaw handling and roof repair type skills. As for defence, I am a big supporter of developing a coast guard capacity, as well as boosting enforcement of marine policing. For community service I personally would like to see a system akin to the hustle truck, in a way, with servicepersons basically working in the community, even as roadside gangs clearing up litter, ecological restoration (culling of invasives and planting of native/endemic plants) and even a system of organic farming. These actions would be beneficial from a public health point of view (reducing incidences of mosquito borne diseases for example), tourism (eco-tourism and general aesthetics), hurricane defence (natives/endemics protect us much better from hurricane surges and erosion; they are also less prone to falling and salt-spray damage). Agricultural work helps develop an appreciation both for the land and for food production, as well as increasing our foodstuffs self-sufficiency and could work alongside the Queen Bee Rearing Project (mangrove restoration could also benefit from this national service).
I would still support the continuance of the Regiment, although if the above national service idea is instituted, I would like to see the Regiment made voluntary and focus more on special forces training – with an emphasis on urban warfare and counter-terrorism/narcotics work. Developing a basic anti-aircraft ability would also be useful for at least increasing our defence and deterrence ability.
I don’t have too much to say on the Education issue. The proposals put forward seem fine to me. Education is a mess, and it is a priority for correcting though. I believe that the recommendations in both the Hopkins and Young Black Males studies need to be evaluated and incorporated, although these have to be done with greater transparency and buy-in from all stakeholders, including educators, PTAs and other social institutions. I need to study these documents in greater detail before I can really comment any more on them here. However I would like to see a committment to reduced class sizes and a return to the smaller secondary schools that we had prior to Cedarbridge; I found these were both more manageable and developed a greater sense of community, with students less likely to become alienated. I know high-schools in other countries dwarf our Cedarbridge, but so what? If we can do smaller schools, and if they work better, then lets do it.
I would also like to see the Government draw up a list of top-rated teachers colleges, and fully fund (through a bonded contract system) the training of teachers, with only certificates from these colleges acceptable. This should go a long way to standardising and increasing the quality of our teachers skills.
I’ve been a personal advocate of teaching Portuguese in our school systems for years, so I am extremely happy to see it included in the Throne Speech. Personally, I would like to see it mandatory, starting in primary school, and with other languages (like French or Spanish) being electives only in the last two years of secondary school. Then again, I would also like to see Esperanto taught in the system, but thats another issue altogether right now. The teaching of Portuguese should go a long way to fostering greater social harmony, both with Portuguese embracing their cultural identity, and with all Bermudians being able to communicate with one another more efficiently over time. The language is one of the worlds most popularly spoken ones, accounting for half of the Latin American population, as well as being a major lingua franca in Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Sao Tome), which would be beneficial for business and travel (with many of our African population having been abducted from these African regions).
My only concern is that it doesn’t indicate which dialect of Portuguese will be taught. As most of our Portuguese community hail from the Azores I can understand a focus on Azorean or European Portuguese, however, with the ascendancy of Brazil I personally would advocate a focus on Brazillian Portuguese. The dialects are mutually intelligible though, but it is likely the Brazilian dialect will become the dominant form in this century.
I personally have no experience or knowledge to draw upon here, so I’m hoping my colleagues on this site can expand on this issue for me. The proposal on the issue, relating to special needs children, seems fine to me, although I would like to know more.
I don’t have a problem with the work CURE has been doing, so I’m not sure exactly what the plan is regarding restructuring it. I have only skimmed through the Young Black Male study, but I would have thought its recommendations and findings could be incorporated within CUREs mandate.
I was initially suspicious/skeptical of Mirrors, however I’ve heard alot of good things about it. Again, I’m a bit confused about how this differs from the ‘national service’ idea.
Black Economic Empowerment
The long awaited Study of the Employment and Earnings Gaps between Young Black Men in Bermuda and their Same-Age Peers has been released and, accompanying wide public discussion of the issues canvassed in the Report, the Government will develop a policy framework around addressing the gaps identified and equipping our young black men for success in this economy.
…says to me that the recommendations of the Young Black Male study will be implemented, and that we will see a formal discussion on Black Economic Empowerment in the near future, which I would welcome, especially if it learns from the errors in the South African BEE. I can at least see some sort of expansion of the North Hamilton Development Plan (can’t recall the proper name for it).
Okay, this bit about a Government established art recording studio puzzles me. I personally knew absolutely nothing about the state of our recording studios (or that we even had them), but it has since been widely published that we already have quite a few, most of them run by young Black Bermudians. So I don’t know what to make of this at all. It seems counterproductive and looks like it needs to go back to the drawing board.
Amending the Human Rights Act
This issue is one of the most controversial political topics in Bermuda, but I consider it a no brainer. Amending the HRAct to include sexual orientation to me is quite simply the right thing to do and brings our law into line with international human rights legislation. I don’t know what to make of the confusing words used in subsequent discussion on the topic, namely about getting terminology correct. It seems to me that there is a conflation between ‘gender’ and ‘sexual orientation’ involved here. ‘Sexual orientation’ simply means which sex you are attracted (oriented) to; ‘gender’ refers to the idea personality of masculinity or femininity which is separate from the biological concept of sex which is more about genitalia, secondary sexual characteristics and hormones. Right now the HRAct covers only:
– Ethnic, national origins
– Place of origin
– Colour religion, belief
– Marital status
– Political opinions
– Family status (has or is likely to have a child whether born in lawful wedlock or not)
– Criminal record, except where there are valid reasons relevant to the nature of the particular offence for which he is convicted that would justify the difference in treatment.
I would like to see both ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender’ added to this list, as well as ‘age’ and ‘conscience’ (as ‘religion’ doesn’t cover all of it properly). There may also be a case for adding the category of ‘colour’ to fully account for the nuances of our system.
I would also like to see an amendment similar to that of Section Eight of the South African Bill of Rights (Chapter Two of their Constitution) which states that ‘Discrimination on one or more of the grounds listed in subsection (3) is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair.’ This allows for South Africa to harmonise its Black Economic Empowerment project with its entire legislation, allowing the Government of South Africa to redress the inequalities of Apartheid by giving previously disadvantaged groups economic opportunities and support.
Alot of our Criminal Code is now archaic and could do with both a good pruning and some serious updating, including better sentencing issues. I don’t have any problem with so doing, however I would like to know exactly what the proposed changes will be. Beyond that, I need to read over the relevant legislation before commenting further.
Okay, I have a confession to make here. I’m a mangrove nut. I love mangroves, their biology, ecology and aesthetics. I find them fascinating. I know I usually don’t often talk about biology issues, even though it’s what I’m trained in, but I can’t help it here, so I apologise if I come across a bit like a passionate biology nerd here. When it comes to mangroves, I am guilty as charged.
The ecological restoration and conservation of our mangroves have a lot of potential benefits for Bermuda and this is one of those win-win situations. Some of the primary benefits that this plan can see is in preventing coastal erosion and hurricane damage, increases in fisheries, increased honey production, filtering of heavy metals out of the environment, stabilising Castle Harbour’s suspended sediments and general overall benefits to tourism (particularly from an aesthetic and eco-tourism perspective). Mangroves do an excellent job at mitigating sea level rise, sea surges and wave impacts, all of which are important for Bermuda. Planting them along the side of the Causway (which is doable) and along the southern side of the airport could do alot in the way of reducing storm damage. Mangroves also serve as a key nursery for important food fish and other species that are important for our overall marine health, as well as providing an important source of organic nutrients into the wider marine system. There is also evidence that they are important for sea turtles, especially at night, where they are thought to retire for security reasons, and hawksbills may also feed off the sponges growing on their roots. For honey production, mangroves are the second most important source of food for honey bees in Bermuda (the first being the invasive Brazil Pepper, with Pittisporum also being important), and increasing our mangrove cover could work hand in hand with the Queen Bee Project (below).
Mangroves also serve as a natural water filtration system, removing alot of harmful susbtances from the marine environment, as well as preventing their runoff from the land. They can also help stabilise our aquifer system, slowing down the escape of rainfall into the marine environment, increasing the chance of it being caught in our aquifers. These attributes both benefit our own water needs, as well as reducing our impact on the environment from pollution. Mangroves are very important for stabilising suspended sedimtents and in so doing slowly ‘grow’ land. Castle Harbour used to have a unique and impressive coral reef system (as well as a third of our mangroves), and the dredging involved in constructing the airport led to initial and long-term ecological destruction, with sediments still suspended in the water column there, inhibiting coral regrowth. Mangrove restoration in the area could contribute to greater sediment stabilisation in the area, leading to a knock on effect over time.
From a tourism perspective, mangroves provide both direct and indirect benefits. Indirectly they enhance our aesthetic appeal and add to our exoticness. They can also help by increasing our local fisheries products over time. Their restoration can also benefit eco-tourism, providing attractive habitats for snorkelling and hiking, as well as being biodiversity hotspots, especially beneficial for birds.
One of the best things about mangrove restoration is that, for the most part, they are relatively cheap to restore, at least for Bermuda, so overall, this has the potential for some far-reaching and beneficial impacts.
Enhanced Public Parks
I fully support the idea of enhancing our existing public parks, such as the facilities for children. Whatever we can do to both encourage physical exercise and an appreciation for the outdoors should be encouraged. However I do feel we could do more to enhance our public parks. In particular I would like to see and expansion of our park system, along the lines of the Buy Back Bermuda campaign, increasing our natural environment trust for the future, as well as benefitting our potential for eco-tourism. In this regards I would have liked to see something about the Southlands property. I would also like to see more in the way of ecological restoration of our native and endemic biota, sort of a general Nonsuch Island type policy. The work ongoing at Coopers Island should be expanded to other nature reserves, including the current Regiment hurricane training to cull and replace invasives.
Queen Bee Project
I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of this proposal. I’m a big bee fan and have long harboured an ambition to become an amateur beekeeper. Not only do I find them fascinating, but I have a slight sweet tooth, and one of my favourite deserts is Bermuda honey on vanilla ice cream, while my favourite breakfast is crumbled cornbread with honey and milk. Great stuff.
This project also has the potential for far-reaching impacts, in particular in the realms of encouraging domestic container plants and gardening, at least for herbs like thyme, sage, basil, oregano and lemon balm, all great bee plants (and tasty too!). This could also be expanded into community and school gardening, concievably even community composting. I would also like to see all farming in Bermuda to be made organic, which should be relatively easy to do, and would also have potential benefits for the health of our bee populations. I am not sure how much potential there is for exporting, but it is something we should investigate all the same.
Other Environmental Issues
I would have liked to see a proposal for phasing out incandesent lightbulbs and subsidising compact flourescents and LEDs in their place. Another idea would have been a plastic bag tax to reduce our pollution of these, which are particularly damaging to sea turtles. I would also like to see a green paper on a bottle bill initiated, especially as this is relevant to public health (mosquitoes and lacerations) and ecological restoration (bottles being particularly detrimental to our skinks).
I am generally supportive of the White Paper on Energy, but need to study it in greater detail. I would also like to see a committment to phasing out traditional internal combustion engine based private vehicles, seeing them replaced by fuel cell and electric cars instead.
Telecommunications & E-technology
I do see this sector as a potential new business area to diversify our economy with, so I welcome the proposals in this area.
Handicap Access Issues
I know that the Government is moving ahead on this area, but I would like to see access made retroactive for all public areas, as this is not the case at the moment as far as I can tell.
I remain sceptical of what I see as an overly American approach to healthcare here, based on private insurance and the like. I would like to see a basic public universal healthcare system like the NHS put into place, including dentistry. To me healthcare is a basic human right, although I do not include purely cosmetic surgery in this.
The Stop List
Well, all I can say on this is that it should be reciprocal, in that we should have access to US databases and ban US citizens who have the same convictions from coming to Bermuda. Beyond that I believe we should have a green paper on drugs, in particular on decriminalising marijuana, initiated. As I see it, decriminalising marijuana would go a long way to reducing the number of Bermudians placed on the US stop list, as well as benefitting the country as a whole.
The Throne Speech makes reference to reforming our legislature and political system, although it is largely ambiguous what in particular this entails. Basically it calls for a parliamentary conference to ‘craft a modernised Legislature and to equip Bermuda with an efficient and effective model of legislative democracy, fashioned through an inclusive, participatory process.‘ At the very least I hope this means that the agenda and minutes of parliament are readily accessible, and that we sweep away some meaningless colonial traditions.
However, I would like to see the Government institute a far more ambitious program of far-reaching political reform. I would like to see a series of public meetings and a project like the Bermuda Independence Commission with the end goal of calling a Constitutional Convention to rewrite the Constitution, with a look at fixed term elections, elected and strengthened parish council local governments, proportional voting, the Senate, set limits on political funding, and a clarification of roles and powers.
I personally am strongly opposed to gambling and any reforms relating to it I am however eagerly awaiting the release of the report by the gambling task force, even though I seriously question the credibility (or, rather, impartiality) of the Innovations Group advisors.
I find the bit on the economy a bit overly pro-business for my liking, and despite the criticisms of the Opposition parties about not incorporating the Bermuda First report, I am confident that some elements of it will be introduced over the year, although some of them may not be palpable. Having said that, I certainly welcome the bit about modernising the legislation on credit unions.
Additionally, I would like to see a minimum wage introduced, as well as a 35 hour week. I feel the PLP has been dragging its feet on these two topics since 1998 but have been cowering in the face of the Chamber of Commerce. Both the Labour Relations Act 1975 and the Trade Unions Act 1965 are in dire need of modernisation; in particular I feel that the 21 day strike notice should be reduced to seven days at a maximum, and the laws restricting the numbers of picketers and demonstrators need changed. The Trade Union Freedom Bill designed by the UK Trade Union Congress for reforming British labour law should be studied for additional ideas. I would also like to see the Government actively assisting in the formation and support of workers cooperatives, like they currently do for small businesses.
On tourism I feel that we are focusing too much on mass tourism and conventional models and too little on cultural and eco-tourism; additionally I feel we need to focus on smaller hotel properties. These smaller hotel properties tend to allow for more local capital accumulation; big hotels may produce more absolute capital, but the small ones produce more relatively and have less of a leakage effect. And there is always the problem of overpriced air travel, especially from Europe, with BA having a monopoly on these routes, and, while there is limited scope action on this, it should certainly be pursued further.
Well, the above are my initial thoughts on the Throne Speech. It is a bit long, and I hope that others are able to add to it. I look forward to hearing more input on this.