The political hypocrisy is staggering

  • Economic Empowerment Zone: the park on the corner of Court Street and Dundonald Street in Hamilton (File photograph)

    Economic Empowerment Zone: the park on the corner of Court Street and Dundonald Street in Hamilton (File photograph)

The Progressive Labour Party government recently passed three Acts in the House and Senate that allow for increased investment in our Economic Empowerment Zones in Somerset, St George’s and North East Hamilton. The three Acts are the Economic Development Act, the Companies Act and the Immigration and Protection Act. The intent of changing these Acts is to allow for increased investment in our EEZs.

It was done during a special sitting of the House and without warning or notification. Everyone was of the belief that this special sitting was to put forward the immigration Bill specifically dealing with mixed-status families, which was mysteriously delayed. Instead, these three Bills were brought forward, apparently to the shock of their own backbenchers and the Speaker of the House.

It should be kept in mind that the EEZs consist mainly of locally owned commercial and residential properties. They are in depressed areas such as Court Street in North East Hamilton, which has suffered from no significant economic growth for years. Few would argue against the need for an upgrade and economic stimulus in this area.

Special sittings of the House are usually reserved for issues of national importance, as the Premier successfully argued when the Bills were tabled. Essentially, he argued that allowing foreigners and foreign companies to purchase real estate in typically low-income areas is of the highest importance to our national welfare.

This legislation tabled and passed in the House allows “without restriction” foreigners and foreign companies to purchase residential valuation units in approved residential schemes in the EEZ for up to 131 years.

This may be shocking to most. This is the same PLP that while in opposition was responsible for vehemently blocking Parliament to stop the airport project and for the confrontations that occurred because they opposed foreign ownership.

We should also keep in mind that the airport project, by comparison, is for only 30 years.

Bermuda needs significant direct inward investment. There are few among us who believe otherwise. If this move by the Government can attract significant investment, this has the potential to be good for the country because it will create jobs and the spin-off effects that these investments are bound to have.

However, according to the Premier and PLP government, there is no need to be concerned that this investment in the EEZs will begin the process of gentrification, which would displace poor people living in these zones.

Let’s think soberly about this for a moment. First, to improve or renovate a building, existing businesses and residential tenants would be required to move. Second, once these buildings have been renovated, the investors would be looking to profit by demanding higher rents to match the appreciated value and amenities in the new or renovated properties. Third, there is the real possibility that the former tenants would not be able to afford the new increased rents. Lastly, if the housing schemes and investments are successful, the businesses and tenants would be changed — ie, gentrification.

This is a repeated story globally wherever improvements are made to residential and commercial areas. Gentrification of Tucker’s Town is an historical bone of contention that is being revived by this same PLP government. The usual pattern of gentrified areas is an increase in more affluent people who can afford the increased rents and prices once the investments have been made.

How are the residents of the EEZs and the rest of us supposed to reconcile the massive contradictions between this scheme and the PLP government, which ran on the platform of putting Bermudians first?

Does this legislation reveal a desperate government willing to literally “sell out” the back of town to increase direct inward investment after the failure of its ill-conceived cryptocurrency and fintech plan? Is this desperation mounting because the One Bermuda Alliance’s airport project will be finished next year, ending the direct economic stimulus that accompanied it without anything to replace it?

Can you imagine the outcry from the PLP, the People’s Campaign and talk radio if an OBA minister had proposed this scheme and brought it to the House in the same covert manner?

There would be allegations of a conspiracy, the scheme would be called anti-Bermudian and it would be said that the back of town is being sold out to foreign interest for at least four generations. The PLP would not have missed the opportunity to seize our emotions and stoke racial fires to express tremendous concern for the future of the residents and businesses that are in these areas at present.

However, being a government facing stark economic realities while devoid of any other ideas, here we are. At least the MP Rolfe Commissiong admitted in Parliament that the threat of gentrification should be taken seriously. However, in a shocking case of having blinders on, he stated that he has confidence that his party will protect existing stakeholders in these communities and that they will be the first in line to benefit.

What is most puzzling is why his party did not implement a plan to ensure the present stakeholders are protected, as opposed to sailing us down the road of foreign ownership in the EEZs. There is no reason why the PLP could not have provided an urban improvement plan whereby the Government takes the lead in bringing together local investors, local contractors, financial institutions and property holders to partner to improve the area. If there is the need for improvement and the development can be positive, surely with proper leadership the parties mentioned could have been incentivised to collaborate and make this successful.

However, the PLP government continues to speak out of both sides of its mouth. This is not only a case of blatant political hypocrisy, it is also one of a bankruptcy of leadership to organise local resources and strategies to successfully address the economic challenges confronting us.

It should concern every citizen, especially the PLP voter, that our government would create a Bill that would disenfranchise the already disenfranchised. However, when you consider the sugar tax, land tax, foreign currency exchange tax, healthcare increases, the mess with the proposed Bermuda Health Plan, education in crisis, immigration in crisis, 17 months of decline in retail sales, stalled fintech, a minister’s secret customer cruise, $1.2 million to a former premier and the Game Theory debacle, a pattern emerges.

To be continued.

Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017

UPDATE: this article has been amended to make clear that foreigners and foreign companies can purchase residential valuation units in only approved residential schemes within the Economic Empowerment Zone

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Published Oct 14, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 15, 2019 at 9:34 pm)

The political hypocrisy is staggering

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