Sunday, August 24, 2014

Honesty in Surveying

The multitude of issues around PRCs, Bermuda status and the rights of long term residents is both complex and fraught with emotion. One way to ensure sound, fact-based decisions are made is to rely on information that is valid and beyond reproach. It is unfortunate that in making his decision regarding PRCs Minister Fahy relied on a survey conducted by  Global Research & Strategy Group Ltd., headed by two individuals who formerly owned and MindMaps. That survey, as have previous surveys by this group, violates critical tenets of data collection in such a deliberate and unethical way that their results have no reliable scientific value whatsoever. The survey fraudulently misleads the Minister, and by him disclosing it to the public in an attempt to influence residents, also fraudulently misleads the public.

I made this point in an earlier press release but no media outlet would publish my comments as they were no doubt concerned they might face a lawsuit from this company. As a consequence, I am ensuring public disclosure of the critical facts that have moved me to the conclusion that  Global Research & Strategy Group Ltd. is acting in an unethical manner and deliberately deceiving the public in its latest survey. Allowing this to go unchallenged sets a dangerous precedent for all other polling companies.

The main unethical practice with this company is that they do not engage in the random collection of data from the population they are surveying. Randomness in data collection is the critical underpinning in ensuring a representative sample and avoiding distortion or bias. This company does not do this.  On two separate occasions I was approached by data collectors who asked me to fill out forms. when I told the first individual -- a friend of one of my sons -- that this is not the way to conduct a survey, he informed me he was told by the company he could go to people he knew. On the other occasion I was in a room of 12 people and a data collector asked for everyone present to complete the survey so he could get paid. This is not randomness in data collection.

On the most recent survey, I was called by a friend of mine who told me he had given a data collector from  Global Research & Strategy Group Ltd. my number to call for an interview on the PRC issue. Within five minutes I received that call but declined to be surveyed since, again, this was not randomness in data collection.  

For a company to engage in such a fundamental breach they are clearly giving clients data that in no way is reliable on any scientific level. When the issues are as sensitive and so significant to the public as PRCs and Bermuda status, their actions descend to the level of moral repugnance and they must be called out. It is dishonest and dangerous and the public deserves better.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Historic Land Theft Requires Examination

Last Friday, Parliament approved an historic motion calling on the Governor to establish a Commission of Inquiry into the historic theft and dispossession of land from vulnerable Bermudians during the latter half of the last century. We now have an opportunity to commence a process that could bring closure and a sense of justice to scores, if not hundreds, of Bermudian families by correcting some of the wrongs of the bad old days when justice was a fleeting illusion for many and where the rich, powerful and connected acted with impunity. The villains in these actions were oftentimes lawyers, bankers, real estate agents and politicians; the victims were at times the poor and marginalised, but not always. What the victims shared, though, was an inability to secure a just outcome.
One could be forgiven for concluding that claims of property theft and land dispossession were simply “urban legends” — stories that circulate the island, a part of folklore if you will, but with no demonstration of any truth behind them. Such a conclusion would be because no case of any such claim has been successfully brought before the courts. It is, however, precisely this lack of adjudication before the courts for most of these claims that requires explanation.
Lawyers, bankers and real estate agents worked together to deprive unsuspecting land owners of their property through either a series of sham operations camouflaged as legitimate transactions or flagrant violations of the law knowing there were minimal chances of being held to account. And there were politicians involved: a significant number of land grabs have their fingerprints and their signatures on paperwork marked for posterity
Even though the OBA attempted unsuccessfully to minimise the motion into a “take note” motion, each of their members who spoke, along with the PLP, indicated they knew of cases that this motion speaks to.
One major issue involves the 500 acres in Tucker’s Town obtained compulsorily under the Bermuda Development Company Act 1920. While Parliament approved this purchase it required that any subsequent sale of this property be approved by Parliament so that the original owners might be given the first right of refusal. This was based on the principle articulated by the parliamentary member M Wainwright at the time: “It is a question of Bermuda for Bermudians.” That subsequent sales of Tucker’s Town property were conducted illegally was raised in a confidential letter to the Mid-Ocean Club in October 1954 by the Colonial Secretary:
“Former residents of the Tucker’s Town Area were forced to sell their properties and had to seek other homes in the Colony. There have recently been several sales of property in this area to Bermudians and it is doubtful whether this conforms to the original purposes for which the land was compulsorily acquired. Your Executive Committee will appreciate that if there is any change of policy the persons who were forced to sell their properties may well have genuine grounds for complaint.”
This demands closer scrutiny and adjudication.
Another case illustrative of the land theft problem is a long and convoluted matter that involves seven acres of land in Somerset, a depressed alcoholic land owner and a conspiracy by realtors, a prominent law firm and a bank. Mister X owned property that he undertook never to sell, but to pass on to his family members. During the 1950s his will was drawn up by this law firm, which handled all his legal matters. The Bank was his executor. In 1969 there was an alleged sale of Mister X’s property to a real estate agent, sanctioned by the law firm. There was an immediate subsequent sale by this real estate agent to a major real estate company. This real estate company subsequently engaged in 10 conveyances on the same day involving the managing director of the company as the one party common to all transactions. This was a blatant attempt at generating a clear title for stolen property. Not one of these conveyances was actually recorded legally. In a report on this issue prepared by a firm specialising in property matters the conclusion reached was, “there is no record in the Registry in the form of a recital which sets out how this real property came into the possession of the Grantor.”
On the death of Mr X, the title deeds were transferred to the Bank, as Executors. Nevertheless the law firm informed the beneficiaries that Mr X had no real property. The Executors also told the beneficiaries there was no real property, even though the title deeds were later given to the beneficiaries by the bank. The case is highly suggestive of a major law firm involved in the forging of signatures and mortgage documents; of real estate agents blatantly fabricating documents to demonstrate title to property which was the result of illegal activity; and of a bank, as executor, complicit in the concealment of this illegal practice to the detriment of the beneficiaries.
The scale of this practice of depriving people of their land demands closer and independent scrutiny. The Commission needs to be led by an individual who has a sound legal foundation with knowledge about human rights, property issues, and no connection whatsoever to the legal, banking or real estate community in Bermuda. The Commission would take evidence and testimonies from individuals who come forward but can also summon people where necessary. These proceedings would ideally take place in the public. The Commission will also be able to assess the merit of cases on the basis of facts presented and not be constrained by statute of limitation issues, which has often been used to quash actions by marginalised peoples.
The call for this Commission was never meant to be a divisive party issue, as Members of Parliament all accepted that there was substantial injustice around these issues. Those members who voted in favour of this motion helped push this island further along the road to a more just society.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Getting the facts straight

This is the original statement written as a Personal Explanation for delivery 13 June 2014 in Parliament.

At the June 6 2014 Parliamentary session during the debate on the Elections Committee report, the Finance Minister, the Hon Bob Richards made a number of comments regarding contracts I have held with the Bermuda government. In light of his significant misrepresentations in this respect I am compelled to respond to bring clarity where darkness has clearly descended.

The Hon member commented that my company had received a contract from the Bermuda government for $770,000. This does not have one scintilla of truth behind it. When challenged on this, the Hon member Bob Richards retorted, and I quote, “I have access to civil servants…this information is authoritative…I’m not making this stuff up.” Mr Speaker, this clearly was made up since the member later indicated the figure he cited was a sum of a number of contracts over a period of years. I await a formal retraction of his earlier comments as directed by you Mr Speaker to help ensure members do not deliberately or otherwise mislead this honourable chamber.

The Hon member Bob Richards cited my contracts with the Bermuda government as part of his argument about “insiders” during the debate on disclosure of interest by candidates. In describing me as an “insider” during the PLP’s tenure in office the member is inferring unfair if not improper access to government contracts. Mr Speaker, my contractual relationship with the Bermuda government began in 1989, when I was hired as a consultant by the National Alcohol and Drug Agency to re-write an indecipherable report by an American consultant.  You will note, Mr Speaker, this was some nine years before the PLP became the government. My work with the Bermuda government continued under the years of the United Bermuda Party in the 1990s. Not one of these contracts was put out to tender. The Hon member Bob Richards will have this information at his disposal because he has, in his words  “access to civil servants.”  The honourable member will also know that I was clearly not an insider during the UBP years. My relationship with the Bermuda government continued, intermittently, under the PLP government, and even extended to the OBA term of office when I undertook a survey for the Tourism Board. Again, the honourable member will know this.

Mr Speaker, robust debate is the hallmark of the parliamentary system. We have wide latitude, under your guidance, to expound on our arguments and to articulate our positions. What must not be allowed is for members to present false information without consequence and to manipulate such information to denigrate one of our fellow members. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Chewstick is Bermuda

NOTE: This is my first Spoken Word creation, delivered at the 11th anniversary celebration of Chewstick, 3 January 2014. Outside of my comfort zone, to be sure, but done because of the tremendous respect and admiration I have for this movement.

Chewstick is Bermuda, as Bermuda is meant to be. You have grown into a positive, culturally rich and profoundly relevant movement.

In a colonial territory that has not yet rid itself of its divisive isms and schisms, through your own presence and through your activism you have transcended so many barriers. You embrace our differences and turned them into positive energy to make a better Bermuda. Black—white, gay—straight, rich—poor, young—old, religious and those without, you Chewstick, have taken us beyond the patronizing concept of tolerance to a point of embracing and celebrating our differences. This can only makes us stronger.

Chewstick is Bermuda, as Bermuda is meant to be. Chewstick embodies what Gramsci calls an organic movement: you come from the people, you are of the people and you have remained grounded with the people. You are bottom up, not top down and you have helped re-shape our social fabric. You have done this by giving everyone a voice to express themselves. Your door is as wide open as your hearts. If only more of us could follow your lead.

Chewstick is Bermuda, as Bermuda is meant to be. Mired as we are in the invective of talk radio, the callous, cowardly comments of anonymous bloggers, and, yes, the at times petulant, political posturing in parliament, against this backdrop, Chewstick stands apart without pretense and prejudgment.  You give space to people to share their views and it is done so openly and within a zone of mutual respect. Bermuda needs to get to this zone...and Chewstick plays a critical part.

Chewstick is Bermuda, as Bermuda is meant to be. By showcasing local artists you validate the abundance of talent we have on this little rock and provide a foundation on which they can grow. You recognise, you celebrate and you encourage. And as much as you showcase local talent you also embrace a commitment to globalism and show how working with artists beyond our shores can both enrich and enlighten us all. Thank you for this.

Chewstick is Bermuda, as Bermuda is meant to be. The small acts of collaboration with people from every walk of life; the learning sessions; the griot interludes and the tapestry of talent you have nurtured, show us the potential that can be created in Bermuda, on this rock. For this we should all celebrate you. For truly indeed, Chewstick is Bermuda, as Bermuda is meant to be.