Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Walking away from the old ways

When Hubert Smith penned “Bermuda is Another World” he told a story of our beauty and charm and the allure that brought hundreds of thousands of tourists to our shores. I don’t think he meant Bermuda is to be treated as if it is so unique that universally accepted standards and measures do not apply. But this is precisely what a vocal minority would have you believe.

This little group of agitators belies their political agenda when they argue for Bermuda exceptionality, when convenient. We saw this ad nauseam when discussing our debt level. While our level is very low in comparison to the vast majority of countries, and quite manageable, has raised no alarm bells by the ratings agencies, with our administering power the UK, or the IMF, the agitators argue that international measures do not apply because Bermuda is “different.”  This same cabal, walking down the misinformation highway, asserts that government is too large and needs to be cut back. A key universal standard for assessing government size is to look at government expenditure as a percentage of GDP: the global average is about 45%, ours is 22%. This fact seems to matter not to people who know better.

The latest manifestation of the “Bermuda is another world, when convenient” thinking surrounds the vote in the Corporation of Hamilton elections. For hundreds of years the vote was restricted to business owners and a limited number of residents within the city limits. Meetings were held in secret. Elected members of the corporation received no salary but no doubt found their reward elsewhere. It was truly the last bastion of institutionalized privilege. 

Government abolished the discriminatory laws governing elections for both Hamilton and St Georges corporations and granted the vote to each adult resident on the same terms and conditions as applies for parliamentary elections.  Simple. Clear. Democratic. This is the norm for cities all around the world, despite the few exceptions where business interests, having wrestled control of local governments, have granted themselves the vote. 

It bemuses and amuses me that the agitators can argue with a straight face that businesses should get a vote in these elections because they pay taxes. Taking up the slogan advanced by British colonists in the 1760s in the 13 colonies in North America, “No taxation without representation” the agitators effectively assert that the rights of businesses have been suppressed. The fact of the matter is that businesses pay most of the taxes to the national government as well. The logical extension of the argument is that businesses should also be granted the right to have votes in parliamentary elections. Of course this is ridiculous—but so too is the argument they are entitled to a city vote.

It is important, however, to provide avenues of communication and access to businesses to help shape corporation policy. We already have examples of successful models of business and government working together to develop both policy and legislation: Business Bermuda, ABIR, ABIC, the Insurance Advisory Committee, etc.  It would make sense for the corporation to develop similar relevant committees where they do not already exist. The company need not have a vote to have influence. 

The vote is sacrosanct. It belongs to the people. It is one constant, at least now, that grants people a measure of equality in the decision making process; and it should neither be contaminated nor diluted by adding a retrograde company vote. We are not an island on its own but rather a participant in the global community. Let us embrace the emerging standards for democracy and participation and walk firmly away from the old ways of doing business.

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