Demonstrators claim govt. ‘refuses to listen’

      Demonstrators claim  govt. ‘refuses to listen’

Some of those protesting government’s failure to listen.

HAMILTON, Bermuda--Scores of people across multiple industries protested on Kindley Field Road on Wednesday morning, united against a government they claim refuses to listen.

Almost 100 vehicles lined the road as representatives from the taxi, farming and fishing industries, as well as some individuals concerned with the public education system, took a stand against policies and proposals they said were damaging to the island.

The majority of those present were from the taxi industry, which has been in long-term talks with the government about issues including the need to increase rates that have remained stagnant for 10 years.

A taxi driver, who has been operating for nearly 20 years, said: “I want to see some of the rules and regulations for the taxi industry changed to make it better for everybody ― the drivers and the passengers.

“The rates definitely need to be adjusted. Even when we come out and make a stand, nothing changes, the government is going to do what it wants to do.”

Shari-Lynn Pringle, of the Bermuda Taxi Owners and Operators Association, confirmed that her organisation had reached out to farmers, fishermen and those calling for a better education for children, with the idea of uniting for a protest.

She said more protests were planned around the island as soon as next week.

The taxi industry has also been calling for a centralised dispatch system to help facilitate a more efficient service.

Samuel Dickinson, the son of former Finance Minister Curtis Dickinson, is a young taxi driver who said he wanted to see change. He said: “Credit card services should be a requirement in our taxis and there should be a central dispatch to make the industry more efficient.”

He said the industry in Bermuda was “behind the eight ball” in terms of technology. “There can be tutorials that can help the older generation to create a more technologically advanced industry,” he added. “We don’t have an app that works as efficiently as Uber in the US ― we have Hitch and Ride Bermuda but they are not as comprehensive, they might crash, you might spend an hour finding a ride.”

Allen Bean, President of the Fishermen's Association Bermuda (FAB), said his industry was fed up with not being heard by the government. “We have been trying to reach a compromise with government but as it is, the government isn't flexible to changing its position.”

Bean said the main area of conflict was with the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme's (BOPP’s) proposal to protect 20% of Bermuda's waters from fishing. Bean said in January that the premier had given the industry until the end of this month to create an alternative plan, but Bean said they were unlikely to be able to complete it until early in the new year.

“Remember, the BOPP plan took three years to produce with experts who were are all on the payroll working on this non-stop. We are producing a plan from a fishing industry and we only get paid when we go to sea. It is difficult to formulate a plan in a timely fashion. We have had a number of meetings getting input from the fishermen ― it is an ongoing process.

“The premier requested we produce the plan so we will address a letter to him on why we need an extension. If not we, the FAB executive, will sit down and discuss it and then give our reply to the premier.”

Jamie Walsh, Secretary for the FAB, said the common problem across the industry was lack of consultation. “That is the common problem, so it is systemic. The government says it is listening but then disregards what the industries have said. They are just checking a box.”

Tom Wadson, a farmer and farm owner, said the government needed to “get out of the way” and let the professionals inform their own industry. He said red tape was strangling the industry, not least with restrictions on the import of plant materials.

“It is practically impossible to import plant material. We have a case about concerns about potatoes ― they want this test and that test, which most of these guys will not do up north ― why should they? They can sell a million bags to Cuba, no problem.”

Rajai Denbrook, Parent Teachers Association (PTA) President of St. George's Preparatory School, which is to close as part of government's education reform plans, agreed that lack of meaningful consultation was the unifying issue among the protesters.

He said that the government's education reform plan had appeared to be a done deal before consultation even began. West End Primary School and St. George’s Preparatory School were chosen among eight primary schools to close and representatives from both schools were at the protest.

Concerns have been raised about the criteria for the closures, which were largely based on the school properties and the ability for them to be transformed into schools suitable for “21st-century learning”.

“The plan wasn’t even made public until 2020 but they had been working on it since 2017,” Denbrook said. “We don't feel heard. We question the integrity of consultation ― there is no trust. It has tainted the process.

“The policy had been developed to such an extent that the selection criteria had been designed, the scoring had been done ― things had gotten to a point that people felt like we don’t really have any sort of a say in this.“

He added: “We have to remember that establishing one primary school per parish, or even closing any primary schools, was not included in the Progressive Labour Party’s 2020 platform or its 2017 platform.”

The government has been contacted for comment. ~ The Royal Gazette ~

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