Updated: October 26, 2021 at 8:49 AM
As the smart old saw says: If you want to kill an idea, even a good one, send it to a committee for study and recommendation.
The tactic came to my mind when the issue surfaced very recently at one of those televised Covid press conferences about whether the government would consider appointing a commission to review how we had handled the pandemic.
Although perhaps premature, at this time it is not a bad idea. The Prime Minister probably agrees. He said he thought a parliamentary committee including members of the legislature might be just the vehicle and that he would talk about it in meetings with the president.
You can be forgiven for wondering how effective this will be. Parliamentary committees do not have a particularly strong record in Bermuda. There have been a few notable ones over the years, but they have been the exception, not the rule. They should be the rule.
Important work needs to be done in the form of executive oversight, that is, cabinet. That is the role that backbenchers on both sides of the House should play. There are enough of them in a Chamber of 35 deputies – the President excluded. Senators would be a bonus.
There is a standing committee which is supposed to lead the way, but which does not: the Public Accounts Committee. It is intended to continuously monitor public spending and investigate matters of concern raised in the Auditor General’s annual and special reports.
The problem is, you don’t hear much. The meetings could be public hearings, but they seem to be rare. Like the number of meetings themselves. The legislature’s website tells us that there have only been four this year – all behind closed doors, meaning private – and the last reported meeting was in May.
That alone tells a story; not promising.
Also bear in mind that the PAC is led by the opposition finance spokesperson, who presumably has the added political interest and motivation to keep the government’s feet firmly on the ground when it comes to the way our money is spent, or wasted, as the case may be. You would think?
How much more effective, however, if the PCB and all parliamentary committees performed their work at the same time, i.e. in real time, thus providing more timely oversight and thus bringing accountability for decisions as they go. that they are implemented.
Do you remember the Sage Commission? – was on it. I remember that they thought that three committees could do the job, dividing the various government ministries and departments into three groups. Ambitious backbenchers on both sides could also cut their teeth, questioning and probing.
But so far, nada on this front.
The will just doesn’t seem to be there no matter who’s in power. I agree that there may also be a question of resources. The committees will need at least a secretariat, in the form of transcription services. But, for my money, it must be worth the small investment.
In fact, it is high time to change the parliamentary culture on the Hill – and working in a bipartisan committee would be a good start.
Aristotle had the reputation of having said that we are what we do over and over and that therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit. I’m sure Flora Duffy would agree with that. She is living proof of that – and, as fellow Bermudans, we are all rightly proud.
Is the reverse also true? We are what we don’t repeatedly do, which is far from achievable excellence.
BTW, I think a study on how the government handled the Covid crisis would be in order. It should also be more clinical than political – which, in my books, means it should be conducted by professionals who are outside the political process. A small team of three would be ideal – and with opportunities for public presentations as well.
Everything speaks for now: the odds that Dennis Lister, the Speaker of the House and David Burt, the Prime Minister, will form a parliamentary committee to review the government’s handling of the pandemic? (File photo by Blaire Simmons)
The importance of having a review and a plan for future reference was emphasized for me in a very good read, Premonition by Michael Lewis, the bestselling author of The big court and Silver ball Fame. If only the plan that was there in the United States had been followed when Covid first emerged.
The book also provides a very good explanation of why protocols, quarantines, and vaccinations together are the most effective answer. Think of each one as layers of Swiss cheese and that, layer after layer, they have the prospect of covering the holes through which the virulent disease can creep and creep. Food for thought?