OLD PROTOCOLS MUST GO

A November 2002 Bermuda Sun poll said that 39% of respondents thought that the previous government issued contracts based on political connections. Sir John Swan commented, in 1995, that there were no ‘black businesses on Front Street’. Until 1960, Bermuda was a segregated society in which the lion’s share of economic activity was controlled by whites and in which almost all the ‘profit’ flowed into Bermuda’s white community. It had been like that since the first blacks, donors of free labour, arrived in Bermuda.

            Fast forward to 1979 to the years when Sir David Gibbons was Premier. In the book “Partners in Peace & Prosperity[*]” there’s this insight: “Premier Gibbons had cabinet members handle other issues with similar expediency and result. Another example of government working…was with discrimination in the tendering of government contracts. Black contractors complained that all government contracts were allocated among a select group of white, mainly UBP-supporting contractors; none of the contractors that won bids was black. …Then, in January 1979, [Ralph] Marshall [at the time a Cabinet Minister] announced an amendment to the Tendering Procedure for Public Works [now Works and Engineering]: Bermuda’s largest contractors would no longer be permitted to bid on projects worth less than $350,000. In addition, all bids on government projects…would be opened in public, thereby eliminating any appearances of underhanded favouritism.”

            Fast forward again to October 2002 to the freshly issued Auditor’s Report [**] on the Berkeley Institute project. Auditor Larry Dennis highlighted two paragraphs. Neither of these highlighted paragraphs has elicited any public response. But both paragraphs are extremely pertinent to now and the future.

            On page three, Dennis highlights this: “Based on purely technical and objective criteria and the minimization of Government’s exposure to risk, we would recommend that bidding could be restricted [my bold] to BCM McAlpine, Somers Construction and the Bermuda Tech/Ellis-Don alliance.”            Go to page four where Dennis highlights: “However we appreciate that it may be politically desirable to allow [my bold] Pro-Active and Tristar, with their associated firms, with an opportunity [my bold] to bid on the project. If Government is prepared to assume the additional risk then we would suggest that bidding be solicited from all five firms…”

            Now sit down…put your feet up…count to 20…and start thinking!

            Look at what Larry Dennis highlighted. Recall Sir John Swan’s 1995 comment. Consider what Sir David Gibbons admitted in his book. Think about the whole history of this island. Think, particularly, of the post Emancipation history of black business and businesses and general economic endeavours, by blacks, on this island. Think of the disappeared Quality Bakery, the defunct Recorder, the vanished Bermuda Times, the swallowed up ZFB… think!

            Think of Ralph Marshall’s 1979 protocol which left the already established ‘big boys’ – none of whom were black – to take on the multi-million dollar projects; while the ‘small boys’ – some of whom were black – were allowed the privilege of bidding on the small jobs. Think!

            The essence of government is that a government is not a business. Government isn’t in the business of making widgets or anything else. The assumption of risk is a government concern and is the responsibility of Ministers of Government. These Ministers are elected by the people. Thus the ultimate risk takers are the people.

            Do the people of Bermuda want to take what some people may call a risk?  Think about it. Think.

            I believe that the men and women who ‘look like me’ are as bright and as intelligent as any others. Clearly, others disagree. I and those who ‘look like me’ came down one stream of history. Others who ‘don’t look like me’ came down a different stream of history. Those ‘who look like me’ have a different perspective, sometimes different values, and certainly some different aims and objectives, than those who ‘don’t look like me’.

            The perspective on the Berkeley Project is that this is a multi-million dollar project. According to the 1979 protocol, it wasn’t a project for the ‘small boys’. It was supposed to be reserved for the ‘big boys’. Larry Dennis has just pointed out that this hoary [whore-y?] old protocol, or its ethos, was still being invoked 22 years later in the year of our Lord 2001. But the change in 1998 was a change in values.

            The changed values affecting decisions on the Berkeley Project are that men and women who were once lowly valued and who were once openly and deliberately barred from some economic activity, were going to be accorded the right – not privilege, not permission – the RIGHT, to bid on all projects.

            One of the changes desired and demanded by the majority of Bermudians is that there should be a re-balancing and a freeing-up of our economy. Re-balancing should result in all those who were once excluded being granted the right and being given the opportunity to take part – equally and fairly – in every economic endeavour or activity.

            Further, where a new endeavour needed a ‘hand-up’, there was an expectation that it would receive some help. Thus where a new endeavour lacked the 45 year business track record of a favoured BCM or BCM McAlpine; and lacked the 45 year track record of a credit liaison with Bermuda’s two banks; and lacked an administrative infrastructure that had acquired 45 years of organizational experience; it was reasonable to expect that a new Government, in following a new open-door policy, would work with new organizations in the pursuit of its broader aim.

            And what’s that broader aim? A freer and more open society.

            If Bermuda is to be a freer and more open society, some past practices and old protocols must be thrown out. Some, indeed, may need to be smashed. What some may call risk is, for others, the price of change. With any change or new initiative, there’s risk. But change. Change. Above all else, change and progress.

Progression from that 1979 protocol. Change from that 1995 statement. I’m prepared to accept all the reasonable costs – which others may call risk – of making that change. Others must adjust to change.
([*]Pages 97-98 – Partners in Peace & Prosperity. A Premier and a Governor in Bermuda 1977-1981. Allison Moir with Sir Peter Ramsbotham and Sir David Gibbons.)

            ([**] The Auditor’s Report is free and is available to any member of the public who asks for it.)

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