No more sweet talk from the hypocrites ... can’t take your slogans no more.” — Bob Marley
During the 2017 election campaign, the Progressive Labour Party’s slogan was: “it’s time to put Bermudians first”. What may not be recalled, is that the One Bermuda Alliance had very similar language in its own platform. It stated that one of the overriding principles of the OBA was: “we will put Bermuda first”.
Two years later, we are now reaping the results of the decisive election victory of the PLP ideology over the OBA’s. Soberly, we now have an opportunity to revisit the election result to determine the difference between the two positions. We should also determine what course the country is on so that we can be better prepared for when the next election decision confronts us again.
The primary goal of the OBA’s 2012 tenure was to improve an economy on life support after the severe financial crisis it inherited from the PLP. The twofold strategic plan for the betterment of Bermuda was to attract foreign investment and to streamline the expenses of the Government.
Within five years the OBA was able to:
• Create and establish the Bermuda Tourism Authority for the improvement of tourism
• Start and complete the Loren hotel
• Secure cruise ships into the Town of St George and the City of Hamilton
• Lay the groundwork for the development of the St George’s hotel
• Secure financing for our new airport to be built
• Attract the America’s Cup with ongoing stimulus
• Entice the World Triathlon Series to our shores
• Reduce the expense of running the Government
• Stimulate growth to the economy
One can also clearly see how these projects benefited Bermudians by creating meaningful employment. The PLP slogan of putting Bermudians first suggests that the primary issue faced by Bermudians is competition between “Bermudians” and “others” for jobs. The “others” are outcompeting Bermudians for jobs, therefore the Government needs to tip the balance in favour of Bermudians.
You may remember, this is not the first time that the “Bermudians first” ideology has been used by the PLP with devastating effects for Bermuda. During its first tenure, it instituted term limits on expatriate workers. After six years, expatriates would be forced off island and they had to be replaced. This shortsighted move was warned against many times by the international business community, but it fell on deaf ears.
That community explained that its employees build relationships and acquire specific and sensitive information over time, especially those in management and higher positions. Additionally, companies indicated they could not recruit the best employees if they could promise only six years of employment.
It was this lack of understanding that would cause the PLP government to expect companies to fire expatriate workers every six years and jeopardise the company’s relationships with suppliers, customers, clients and strategic partners. More concerning is that after this employee was forced to leave, they could take important clients and strategic information to their new employers.
The international business companies warned they would have to move whole companies or departments out of Bermuda if the PLP continued with its ideology. When the PLP refused to listen, 5,000 expatriate jobs left Bermuda and thousands of Bermudians lost their jobs. As an unintended consequence, many Bermudians lost their homes. The net result was a decline in our International Business sector and a significant loss of Bermudian jobs.
To mask the massive exodus of jobs off the island and the dramatic unemployment at home, the PLP government hired more workers into the Civil Service. This simply worsened the unintended consequences of its poorly thought-out ideology. Government borrowing and our taxes had to increase to fund these schemes. At present, the Bermuda economy is being held together by the very OBA stimulus of the Bermuda-first ideology from its tenure from 2012 to 2017. These are the same projects that the PLP railed and fought while in Opposition.
Projects that not only helped Bermuda as a jurisdiction but also helped Bermudians to secure employment. They are the saving grace of its government today. You may recall their shameless, roof-wetting airport construction ceremony upon taking office, after trying desperately to shut down the project from becoming a reality.
The PLP has also returned to adding hundreds of jobs to the Civil Service, paid for by borrowing and raising taxes on Bermudians and “others”. In a sleight of hand, it has provided pay raises to civil servants, but the taxes imposed on them totally negates any potential benefit. They have accomplished little to stimulate the economy through foreign investment to benefit Bermuda or Bermudians. The question now needs to be asked: who benefits from the slogan of “putting Bermudians first”.
Recently, it was revealed that politicians are being paid twice to do their jobs and the PLP has added vocal party supporters as government consultants. Other than party-connected people, one is hard-pressed to see how Bermudians are benefiting first or at all. One may conclude that with the additional taxes dumped upon us, Bermudians are being put first in reverse.
Our economy is shrinking, with retail stores closing at an alarming rate and home prices heading down. More people are collecting financial assistance. There is a lack of consumer confidence and business confidence has hit record lows. The PLP land tax, sugar tax, foreign currency tax, etc, are zapping the little disposable income that Bermudians have by drastically raising the cost of living. Health insurance rates have risen dramatically. There are escalating problems in the public-education system with no answers in sight 21 years after the historic, 1998 General Election victory.
Schoolchildren were dispersed throughout the island to complete the school term. Prison officers are being forced to work by court order, although serious health and safety concerns exist. New bus schedules are implemented and reversed. Fintech promises have not materialised. Ministers refuse to release reports for public review.
Soon, the PLP is going to exempt from the public’s view records obtained or created by the Financial Policy Council. The PLP refuses to provide advocates for our vulnerable children who are abandoned overseas and then refuse to discuss it. Is this what putting Bermudians first means?
In conclusion, putting Bermudians first is a wonderful slogan. However, we are learning that if there isn’t a plan to put the nation first; the slogan simply stirs emotions and raises false hopes. Putting Bermuda first is another wonderful slogan. However, a lesson for the OBA is that Bermudians are demanding a prosperous country where everyone feels that they are a part of that prosperity.
Time reveals all, so let us remain vigilant and keep our eyes open because the next big election decision will be confronting us soon.
• Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017