Bermuda National Service Draft Plan


Dr Brown today released the PLP’s plan for the proposed National Service in Bermuda – coverage is here and here… the plan can be viewed and downloaded here.

The proposal raises a lot of interesting questions, in terms of nature, purpose and implementation – at least for me.

In the first place, is this program mandatory or voluntary? I think that the language of the Plan is needlessly ambiguous on this point. One example will do, from paragraph 7:

All persons who choose to commit to this programme must complete a requirement of 16 hours of service per month for a total period of two years in order to qualify for the benefits.

Does someone “choose to commit” (voluntary), or “must [they] complete a requirement” (mandatory)? There’s similar language throughout the plan, suggesting a voluntary plan one minute and a mandatory plan the next.

I think it’s clear that the plan is voluntary, if you read closely. The apparent “mandatory” references are the requirements to be recognized as having completed the program and collect whatever benefits go along with that. But IMO that just raises more questions.

The most obvious question is, why? Why does a national service need to be created to monitor volunteering? I have nothing but anecdotal evidence and experience to go on, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone who has done the research told me that volunteering in Bermuda is already high. But even if it isn’t, surely the goal of increased volunteering is better served by directly helping volunteer organizations in promotion and advertising than adding to the critical mass of the government bureaucracy with another department? I don’t see the value added of the government getting involved, unless maybe it has to do with the incentives.

A significant number of the proposed incentives would require buy-in from the private sector, such as breaks on bank loans, discounts with various retailers, etc. One possible benefit to a national scheme might be that the backing of the government could provide an incentive to the private sector to get on board with working with volunteers and volunteer organizations in a way that wouldn’t happen without some government intervention. I acknowledge the possibility, but I think it’s a stretch. Mainly because it’s unclear to me what is in it for the retailers and banks.

And then, what is the rationale for the specified age limits? For that matter, what are the age limits? Paragraph 4(a) says a register will be kept of volunteers aged 24-30; paragraph 6 says that anyone up to the age of 30 is eligible.

Assuming paragraph 6 is just badly written – or I just don’t get it – and the age is meant to be 24-30… again, why? I somewhat understand the upper limit, in that by the time you’re 30, you’re starting to get on with family and career (then again, if it’s a voluntary plan, why should this matter?); but why are 18-23 year-olds not eligible? I won’t go any further with the implications of this question, since I’m not even sure of these limits, but once again, more clarity is needed.

Then there is the question of incentivizing work done on a voluntary basis. This starts to get really semantical and theoretical, so I’ll just drop this in the form of a question without further comment: If one of the stated goals of the program is to “counter the feeling of entitlement” among Bermuda’s youth, what are the implications of offering incentives for doing what was once done without incentives?

And since we’re thinking about stated goals, what about the anti-social behavior side of the coin? What mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that the resources of this program will be focused in a direction to impact at-risk youth? I don’t know of many volunteer organizations working with 42nd and Parkside.

Clearly, there are a lot of perplexing questions. Unfortunately this is made worse by the unclear language and intent of the plan, in several areas. These are my thoughts just on an initial reading. I look forward to hearing more detail in the coming days. The PLP has called for public submissions on the draft plan by 31 March (nationalservice@gov.bm). Hopefully this will generate some meaningful discussion.

Dr Brown and the PLP are to be applauded for recognizing the magnitude of the social issues facing Bermuda from the rising tide of gunplay and violence in the island. The need for volunteers to step into the lives of the young men and women involved, as well as their families, is tremendous. I hope that this is recognized by the pious as well as the political. The government and the church need to own responsibility for this problem.

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