The Progressive Labour Party has levelled many accusations at the One Bermuda Alliance. Chief among them was that it did not put Bermudians first.
Before the last election, the PLP played its oppositional role to the maximum. It criticised at every opportunity any and everything the OBA did, decrying how what the ruling party was doing would result in the doom of “real Bermudians”.
Let’s remember the stance on the 35th America’s Cup and comments such as the event was a “waste of resources” and it was “providing concessions to accommodate rich, white, wealthy foreigners”, and that it would do nothing for Bermudians.
The St George’s hotel project was met with a deluge of disinformation on “reasonable access to the beach” and again providing “concessions to rich, white wealthy foreigners”.
The infamous airport project was met with a barrage of condemnation, stoking a popular uprising that resulted in a Parliament blockade.
Again, the cry was that the OBA was “giving away” a national resource — our airport — and making “concessions for the benefit of rich, white foreigners”.
However, nine months after winning the July 2017 election, the Premier is beaming about how well his government is doing regarding our economy. He has been boosted by ratings agency Standard & Poor’s 2017-18 report increasing Bermuda’s outlook from A+ Stable to A+ Positive. But we need to pay attention carefully to the basis of the S&P’s rating. They “view the continuation of prudent fiscal policy by the new Progressive Labour Party government as positive”.
If we look closer, still, we will see that Bermuda regained A+ status back in 2016 under the OBA government. The economic turnaround of which the Premier now boasts began under the stewardship of former finance minister Bob Richards, who was able to rescue us from the downturn inherited from the former PLP government. Further, when looking at the S&P report even deeper, the date that the report was released was April 26, 2018. The PLP budget began only on April 1, 2018. So there is no way that the PLP budget had anything to do with the positive report provided by S&P.
Taking another step deeper into the S&P report, we find that its positive rating highlights further its reasons for why Bermuda’s economy is doing better than it has done in close to a decade. It attributes the positivity to “real growth largely from revived tourism demand following the America’s Cup in 2017, and the effects of several large-scale construction projects”.
It turns out that AC35 has brought more than $336 million to our economy as compared with the fraction of what was used to stage the event.
In essence, the economy of Bermuda has improved because of the America’s Cup, the St George’s hotel, the airport project, Morgan’s Point and other economic stimuli by the OBA that is now bearing fruit.
Does the Premier remember the commentary from the PLP as the Opposition on just about every one of these projects? In fact, S&P cautions: “We also expect the newly elected PLP government to continue with prudent fiscal policies, enabling it to reduce its fiscal deficit to near-balance by 2020-2021.”
We all need to hold the PLP to this and we should constantly remind them and the nation that by stalling economic growth in the way they did only hurts the people they claim to care about. The PLP must also be reminded that to hinder economic growth for its own personal desire for power is not “Putting Bermudians First”.
So it is with even more interest that the first real stamp of the PLP into improving and diversifying our economy is into cryptocurrency. It is even more interesting when we look at the two agreements that have been signed by the PLP that it says will produce “60” Bermudian jobs. I want it to be known that I am happy for every Bermudian job created to offer the chance of improving our livelihood. However, for these Bermudian jobs to become available, the PLP will be providing huge concessions, including the fast-tracking of work permits. It is highly likely that the concessions and work permits will go to rich, white foreigners to invest in our economy.
Let’s change gears and take a look at history and do an assessment of the recent development of politics in Bermuda. The PLP initially came to power on a wave of popularity in 1998. At that time, it inherited a robust, growing economy. There was little to no unemployment. There was minimal government debt. The international business sector was strong and growing. Tourism was stable and the country’s fundamentals were strong, and the outlook was positive.
Fourteen years later in 2012, after three terms in office, the bottom had fallen out of the economy. The international business sector was in free fall. Four thousand of its taxpaying workers had returned home. The tourism sector was in severe decline. A welfare scheme had to be set up to rescue thousands of people from abject poverty. The country had accumulated more than a billion dollars in debt with no end in sight. Gang culture became entrenched and Bermuda witnessed a series of violent crimes, including broad-daylight murders for the first time.
It was in that context that the people elected the OBA to power. During its one term in office, the OBA made unpopular decisions to rescue the economy from free fall. Popular protests were staged at most decisions. Nevertheless, the OBA persisted and investment started returning to the country. Capital projects got under way. The direction of the country began to change.
However, there was a sense that the pace of change was not fast enough and that it was not as broad-based as the people were demanding, and the PLP was voted back into power.
So has Bermuda entered a new era of PLP “caretaker governance” where it can win elections but cannot meet the expectations of the electorate in moving the country forward in a broad sense?
Granted, the OBA has to connect much better with the aspirations of the broader-based community. But, for the time being, the onus is on the PLP to break out of the mould of political posturing and empty rhetoric without substance, and to move the country forward with sound, proven economic policies.
At present, it is riding the coat-tails of the OBA economic stimulus, and the reality is the PLP fought against all of it.
Just how was any of that “Putting Bermudians First”?
Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017