State of the Union

•June 28, 2011 • 7 Comments

President of the Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU), Chris Furbert, is mistaken when he comments to the press that the issue of the BIU not completing or forwarding its accounts to the Registrar General for almost a decade is “old news” or that it is not any business of Michael Fahy, Chairman of the One Bermuda Alliance, who has been calling attention to the situation. Actually, it is everyone’s business because the BIU plays a critical role in the community when it comes to the protection of employees; and the effect it has on the country when industrial action is taken. The membership of the BIU includes many Bermudian workers and, by extension, their families; so, if things go wrong with the BIU, then many in the community are at risk of being adversely affected. Ensuring that our businesses, organisations, and institutions demonstrate good governance, sound financial responsibility, and ethical behaviour is a huge reflection on the island’s reputation, which  must be safeguarded. Mr. Furbert might not like being questioned about this latest episode with the BIU, but it is a gravely serious matter that is not to be dismissed.

“The records show that BIU officers have not filed any accounts with the Registrar General since 2003, as required by law under the 1965 Trade Union Act. In addition, the accounts filed for the period from 1999 to 2002 were rejected for not meeting the requirements of the law. In other words, union members have not been able to see approved financial statements for the union for approximately 12 years. This is against the law. It also is just plain unacceptable.”

Michael Fahy, quoted in The Royal Gazette on June 27th 2011.

If there was a delay of months due to mitigating circumstances, then it would be reasonable to expect the Registrar General to permit a brief extension, but a decade of non-compliance is beyond appalling. Every BIU member should be concerned by this issue because it is one of governance and the financial management of their money; and they should be asking the BIU leadership questions. How can anyone reasonably know whether the organisation is being operated properly without approved, audited financial statements? What is the financial status of the BIU? Are there sufficient funds to support members if the need arises amid industrial action or other trying circumstances? What is happening with their membership contributions? And are members getting value for money, in terms of financial management, investment decisions, and management performance? It might be that the BIU is in very good financial health and that members are financially protected, but without knowing the status of the BIU accounts, members have no way of confirming this…and not knowing for certain for over a decade is shocking.

Questions also must be asked of the office of the Registrar General. Why have they allowed this to go on for so long? Why has the BIU not been held accountable for non-compliance? When organisations have problems, as indicated, the Registrar General should work with them where this can be reasonably expected; however, delays of this magnitude – the better part of a decade – are inexcusable. Further, this debacle also calls into question whether there are other organisations that the Registrar General has allowed to forgo submission of accounts for lengthy periods; and should serve to put them on notice if they are similarly delinquent.

As for the management of the BIU, where does the buck stop?

The Financial Controller of the BIU must be held accountable. Mr. Furbert bears some responsibility, as well, since this has happened on his watch. As head of the union, he should have some general knowledge about the accounts of the organisation and whether financial and reporting obligations are being met.

Members should be looking more closely at how the union is being run and take a more active role in ensuring that financial information is presented to them regularly and that they clearly understand that information. Does the BIU have Annual General Meetings that include the membership? Is financial information reviewed for the benefit of the members if there are such meetings? Are there regular board or executive meetings, keeping an eye on financial information, reporting, and regulatory obligations? What checks and balances are in place and, moving forward, will accounts be presented to the membership at regular intervals, so all are aware of the financial position of the union and, more specifically, how member contributions are being allocated, invested, or accounted?

For members who are not sure what specific queries they should be making when they do see the financial statements, here are a few basics to get you started:

  1. Is the BIU in the red or the black?  Is it losing money or making money?  Why?
  2. What is the change in its financial position since the last financial reporting period?  Has it improved or deteriorated?  Why?
  3. How much is owed to the BIU and how much does it owe to its creditors?
  4. How does what the BIU owes compare with what it is owed and what is the state of its ability to meet its loan (owed) commitments?
  5. How much in membership dues has been collected for the financial period being reviewed?
  6. How much have membership dues grown or reduced since previous reporting periods?  Why?
  7. How and where are membership dues being invested and is a satisfactory return being made?
  8. What other investment and purchasing decisions have been made by the organisation and what are the implications for such decisions in the current economic climate?

These are only a few general questions and other individuals might suggest further, helpful questions to guide members. Also, these questions should not be solely for the BIU, but should be asked by anyone of any institution when reviewing their financial statements. Certainly, more complex questions will be asked based on a person’s knowledge of Finance and accounting standards and practices. If nothing else, perhaps this dilemma with the BIU’s financial statements can serve as an opportunity to encourage Bermuda residents to take a more active approach to reviewing the finances of organisations and businesses they are involved with. It helps to bring about better governance and accountability on all fronts.

The right thing for Mr. Furbert and his team at the BIU to do is resolve the situation immediately; ensure that the membership has access to up-to-date, accurate financial information on the Union; and to reassess the management of the organisation. The BIU must be held accountable for non-compliance and the Registrar General must similarly be held accountable for lack of enforcement. It would be important to hear from the Ministry of Finance on this matter, as well, so that the public can be confident that it is being appropriately addressed.

The seriousness of the situation is compounded by the fact that the Bermuda Government released the BIU from its significant obligation concerning the Performance Bond re the highly controversial Proactive contract for the building of The Berkeley Institute Senior School a few years ago (see below). This left a bad enough taste in the mouths of many residents of Bermuda who felt the government should never have done this in the first place. Personally, I do not wish to see the downfall or failure of the BIU, but I do believe it must be held accountable for its actions and if that means failure, then that is the consequence it must face. Great lessons can be learned from failure and sometimes it is the only way that some will learn.

Incidentally, I was looking for more information online about the BIU and it appears there are scant details available other than news reports. (A website for the BIU would be a good tool for disseminating information to members and promoting the organisation in ways they best serve its members, by the way. It should be part of a much-needed modernising process for the BIU.) However, I did come across the following video clip on YouTube posted in 2009:

Here, Mr. Furbert is correct when he states that people make mistakes and that they learn from them. However, this is about, what should be, the professional management of an important organisation which demands a high degree of competence, knowledge, and skill. Major errors in judgement or questionable management performance are not befitting analogies to childlike mistakes. It makes one wonder if the BIU leadership has learned anything from their past blunders.

It is time for better governance and management. The BIU members and Bermuda deserve this much…at least.

Head Down

•June 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Just home from an all day lecture – 9am to 7pm! An interesting day discussing start-ups, high tech growth firms, and venture capital.

Will have my head down for the rest of the evening, though. I’m finishing a paper and preparing my case studies for tomorrow’s session…(all while watching Wimbledon, of course…and REALLY hoping Tsonga wins!)

Will be back on Friday…

 

Dealing with Graffiti

•June 21, 2011 • 4 Comments

Bermuda’s latest graffiti problem has reminded me that it’s time to revisit the good ol’ Broken Windows Theory that I’ve mentioned on this blog AGES ago.

As far as I’m concerned, as soon as the graffiti goes up we should move swiftly to scrub it down. Take a page out of Rudy Giuliani’s book, when he was Mayor of New York City, and have the graffiti removed within 24 hours. No matter how much this kind of antisocial behaviour persists, this should be our policy; and we should take this approach with any other vandalism on the island, as well. It will stop.

I don’t think the Works & Engineering staff should be the ones removing it, either. (We need them to do other things, like fixing the roads!) Instead, find out who is doing this nonsense and make sure that part of their punishment is removing the graffitti and performing other community service.

When the guilty parties go unfound, then set the inmates at Westgate Correctional Facility to work removing graffiti – not to mention manual labour and community service that is needed around the island. I don’t know why they are not out doing this kind of work in the first place, but it’s time to implement it as part of their “rehabilitation”.

A Question of Judgement

•June 20, 2011 • 2 Comments

The allegations that have reportedly been made by David Bolden about former Premier, Ewart Brown, certainly raise an eyebrow and beckon a chorus of “here we go again” among many in the community. It is encouraging to know that the police have moved swiftly to investigate the matter and we can only hope that they (and any legal process) will bring the entire matter to light so all are clear about what really happened.

The best we can all do is reserve judgment until the findings are revealed, tempting though it might be to do otherwise. The parties involved deserve this consideration.

However… There is something that caught my eye when reading the article that warrants comment. It concerns lawyer Mark Pettingill’s representation of Dr. Brown.  This was a somewhat surprising revelation and I am wondering just what the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) really think about it. It certainly seems a rather curious move on the part of Mr. Pettingill. He is a politician in the Opposition party (I take it we can safely call the OBA “the” Opposition now), and he is representing Dr. Brown, who has been a key, and sometimes controversial, figure from the ruling Progressive Labour Party (PLP).

Dr. Brown is entitled to choose whatever lawyer he wants to represent him and Mr. Pettingill can, generally, accept whoever he wants as a client. Professionally, there is nothing “wrong” with Mr. Pettingill representing Dr. Brown. Let’s face it, in a small island like Bermuda, where lives are so intertwined, we are often faced with situations like this, where we have to consider whether conducting business with some people or organisations in any way represents a conflict of interest. Some of these situations are relatively benign and others are more glaring and even stir debate as to whether they are, indeed, a conflict of interest or ethics. For some, Mr. Pettingill’s representation of Dr. Brown might well fall within this “debatable” category. It seems a natural dilemma for Bermuda’s part-time politicians who wear two hats – one of professional and one of politician.

The particulars of the allegations concerning Dr. Brown likely make Mr. Pettingill’s choice appear even more questionable in the eyes of his constituents and the public at large. People in Bermuda seem to have had enough of anything that suggests any impropriety or a lack of transparency or good governance – especially where political leaders are concerned. Unfortunately, the allegations made in this situation speak to such concerns. Further, many residents have often perceived Dr. Brown as a divisive or controversial figure during his tenure as Premier and there have been previous questions about the way he chose to govern. Now, with these latest allegations, those negative perceptions are bound to resurface among residents. How does this play out for Mr. Pettingill in his role as a Member of Parliament within the Opposition, OBA? Does it affect his credibility in this regard among residents? It is a slippery slope, perhaps, and the answer, no doubt, rests with the court of public opinion as the people of Bermuda make their own assessment of the situation. Certainly, if the outcome of the investigation is not in Dr. Brown’s favour, then Mr. Pettingill’s representation might be viewed even worse by some.

On a more optimistic note, it could be asserted that Mr. Pettingill’s representation of Dr. Brown is a case of offering the best defence possible to clear an innocent person’s name and to champion truth and fairness. It could be argued that this is in keeping with a philosophy that is committed to transparency, objectivity, and the protection of all people – even those we might disagree with at times. After all, there is no need for politicians on opposing sides to be acrimonious with each other; and I would expect there will be occasions when they do engage in some form of business with each other; but they must be extremely careful about just what this business is and how it fits with their political platforms and leanings. I do not know Mr. Pettingill, so I cannot speak to his character or motives, although I do sense he does care about Bermuda. I certainly applaud him if the philosophy just described is his own, but I would be concerned about whether this professional decision is something that ends up affecting the level of confidence or trust that the Bermuda electorate might have in him; or how it reflects on his party.

Which brings me to the OBA. Whatever the outcome, this situation presents an opportunity for the party to reflect and decide on whether it needs to put in place any guidelines for its representatives to avoid or effectively address such dilemmas. As a fledgling party which is putting itself forward as something new and different – a party which aims to “renew confidence” – it can ill-afford to give the impression that it does not live up to its aims. After all, the party does say on its website that, “We will ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between our public duties and our private interests, financial or otherwise.” Given this, it would be best to not leave any semblance of doubt in the minds of the public; and with part-time politicians, some formal guidelines are surely in order. The OBA must be very careful about its image, as should any other party, given that politics has as much (or more) to do with image, than substance, at times, whether we like it or not. So far, the OBA is looking very professional and progressive, but there are still many who are sitting on the fence and waiting to see just what the OBA is about and whether they really do offer anything new. It is those people who the OBA must be particularly mindful of as they seek to increase their supporters. Ensuring there is little or no doubt about what it stands for in the minds of the public remains critical – even more so at such an early stage of the party’s existence.

As for the investigation, let’s hope there is no truth to the allegations, not just for Dr. Brown’s sake, but for Bermuda. Now, more than ever, it is particularly pertinent that the valuable Bermuda brand is well protected and there is no further damage to the island’s international reputation.

People are watching.

Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Bermuda

•June 9, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Yesterday’s article in The Royal Gazette about the financial challenges faced by Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Bermuda was disappointing, but it is very encouraging to know that the situation is not so severe that the charity will have to shut down – at least, not at this stage.

While I am not familiar with and cannot speak to the finances and operations of this particular organisation, I do believe that charities, in general, should be run more like businesses – i.e. as though they are for-profit entities. This encourages more creative thinking and assertiveness in terms of fundraising, rather than a greater reliance on grants and funding from other sources. This is no small task and even businesses are being forced to find ways of tightening the purse strings and being more innovative in raising capital and turning a profit – let alone a “healthy” profit. However, this cultural shift will serve charities well in the long run and will make them even more vigilant in their decision-making about how resources are allocated.

Still, what struck me most about this story was that there are 100 children on a waiting list to be matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister, with most of the children being young boys. In my view, this provides an excellent opportunity for residents of Bermuda to get involved and make a difference. It would be particularly pleasing if a number of positive male role models contacted the organisation to offer support. If people are so concerned about addressing social issues on the island, surely, this is one way in which they can be part of the solution.

Even though I am in the UK, I will be passing this information on to friends and family to encourage their support. If individuals can’t assist directly, perhaps they know of at least one person who will. Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Bermuda can be reached at: 232-2802.

Going Green

•January 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution, but I am pleased to say I am becoming more conscious of ways that I can be more environmentally friendly. My steps are small, but I am looking for that ripple effect as I encourage my friends and family to join me as I go along. Hopefully, small steps can lead to huge, positive results, as we influence each other to make changes for the better.

I have never given much thought to the amount of overpackaging that comes with the products I purchase. I have just picked up what I’ve wanted and been on my merry way. I haven’t thought too much about my water usage, either, unless I am in Bermuda and simply want to avoid the inconvenience of running out of water and the water truck paying us a visit! However, I’ve been learning a great deal about how the choices we make everyday are having a devastating impact on the environment. In fact, I used to think all this talk of going green and saving the earth was just for the bohemian, tree hugging types who live on nuts and berries. (Sorry, tree-huggers!)

But, it’s serious.

Very serious.

The effects of the high levels of pollution worldwide; the changing and severe global weather patterns we’ve been experiencing; the depletion of natural resources; and the continuous spread of viruses and disease are a serious wake up call for all of us. The other day I tweeted about it snowing in Las Vegas! I couldn’t believe it! Even here in the UK, the weather has been wreaking havoc as November felt like February! Talk about climate change! Still, far too many of us – especially in the western world – are oblivious to it all or just couldn’t be bothered and are continuing to contribute to the problem in major ways.

Many (most?) people I know in Bermuda, do not give much thought to the whole idea of protecting the environment or what it means to build a sustainable society. (Pssst! It’s all about living today in ways that do not damage the prospects of life in the future.) I have even heard some people say that they could care less about the effects of their lifestyle on the environment in the future because they won’t be around; so it doesn’t matter to them. Sadly, it’s actually not too hard to follow that line of thinking, even if not intending it to be as blunt as that. However, the other night I was thinking that perhaps one of the greatest acts of generosity – of selflessness – is to protect the resources and the planet, in general, for future generations, so that they can have the benefit of enjoying life in much the way that we have and to an even greater extent. Something about that seems rather profound when thinking of the depth of selflessness that it requires.

So, what am I doing?

Well, there are two changes I’ve made.

I have started taking my own carry bags to the supermarket. I was a bit resistant to it at first, but then I realised just how many plastic bags I had been accumulating! (I could have started my own business with them; or sold them back to Tesco!!!) There were times when I found myself forgetting the reusable bags when I went food shopping, but now I carry them in my bag, so I don’t forget them. I even keep a spare bag in my purse for those occasions when I pop to the store unexpectedly. I have to admit it has also made me more organised with my grocery shopping, as well. Somehow, I seem to be sticking to my planned shopping days and I have my list with me (on my Blackberry, so I don’t waste post-it notes, even!!!). Since I am only carrying a certain number of bags with me, then I am more economical with the amount of items I purchase. At this point it seems to have become a habit and I am well pleased with myself!

The other thing I have changed has to do with my water usage. I had the bad habit of running the water while brushing my teeth and also letting the water in the shower run for quite a bit, to warm up before I jumped in. It was pretty excessive, to be honest, but now I switch the water off when brushing my teeth and let the water in the shower run for a few seconds before jumping in. Now this is becoming a habit, too!

I have more to do, but this is definitely a good start. I am encouraging my family and friends to do the same. (AND to sort their garbage, by the way. Something many of us had not been doing or doing as consistently as we should.) For now, though, a fantastic start would be the use of the reusable bags at the grocery store!

Also, I came across the Bermuda Government’s Sustainable Development Unit’s website, which I thought was pretty good. They need to do more to raise awareness about reducing our carbon footprint on the island and it would be great if they started a campaign of some sort to educate the public and motivate them to make key changes. Perhaps, it is on it’s way.

For now, I am pleased I am doing my part and I will have to share what my next “green initiative” is and make it a regualr part of my blogging. It’s actually becoming fun.

Somehow, I think Kermit was wrong. It IS easy being green!

Saltus Expulsions

•January 7, 2011 • 1 Comment

Based on the information reported in the press, the headmaster at Saltus, Ted Staunton, did the right thing in expelling the students for the “birthday punches” incident.

Initially, I thought it was a bit of an overreation to teenaged boys simply having a bit of harmless schoolyard play, as they engaged in a popular tradition. After all, I can even remember variations on this “ritual” when I was younger, in which we often gave each other birthday “pinches”, but never anything that caused this level of harm.

However, there are two important points reported in the article that cannot be ignored: the serious injuries that the boy sustained; and the fact that the school had communicated to students the zero tolerance policy toward violence or bullying. Clearly, some might argue that the boys involved were not intending to bully or to be violent, but it also sounds like the situation escalated well beyond rough play – and it certainly had to for the boy to have the injuries that were reported. It sounds like the video clip of the incident confirmed this, as well.

Mr. Staunton’s determination to stick with his decision is important in maintaining standards within the school, which is something many would like to see more of in the public school system. At a time when violence, aggression, and disrespect is at an all time high on the island, holding each other accountable must be a priority, now more than ever. We are far too lenient in Bermuda when it comes to dealing with such things and it has, no doubt, contributed significantly to the state in which the island now finds itself.

Teaching young people, in particular, to deal with the consequences of their actions is one of the best lessons we can give them. I doubt very much that Saltus will have such a problem again, with this firm response; and that is exactly what holding people accountable tends to do.