Simons: Attitudes, ideas must change
Bermuda needs to change its ideas and attitudes in order to capitalise on opportunities in the future, according to the Argus Group president Gerald Simons.
Mr Simons, who was part of a panel discussion led by think tanks Bermuda First and Sanctum at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Bermuda Annual General Meeting held at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess yesterday, said that the Island had enjoyed increasing economic prosperity over the past 60 to 70 years but now faced a new set of challenges from rising unemployment to mounting financial pressure on individuals and families.
Joined by Rees Fletcher, division president of Ace Bermuda, and Gladwyn Simmons, supporting manager of Sanctum, on the panel which was moderated by Kerry Judd, owner/consultant of New Beginnings Inc, he said that while tourism had had its heyday in the 1950s to 1980s and international business had experienced significant success in the past 20 to 30 years, a number of issues had to be tackled to ensure Bermuda’s growth going forward.
“The greatest single threat to our long-term prosperity is the ability of Bermuda to change ideas and attitudes in order to take advantage of the opportunities in the future,” he said.
“We have the challenge of moving the economy forward but also becoming more inclusive in terms of who benefits and participates in an improving economy.”
Mr Simons said that there were a whole host of young men who were not part of the mainstream economy and whose needs had to be addressed, as did the attitude of Bermudians towards non-Bermudians for their own well-being.
He also warned that Bermudians had to realise they had no implicit right to the high standard of living many of them enjoy without earning it. And he urged them to embrace the guest workers and international investment which had helped to build the Country in the form of funding hotel infrastructure and exempt companies setting up on its shores.
Pointing out that the reality of an ageing population and a lower birth rate, Mr Simons said the role of the guest worker was key for fulfilling some of the jobs where Bermudians weren’t available.
“Bermudians have traditionally understood that we need to treat tourists well,” he said. “We need to take a more positive attitude to these ‘permanent’ tourists who run the international and exempt companies here because they are the ones that make the recommendations to their board whether to stay in Bermuda.”
Mr Simons, who was a previous Education Minister, said that education was another big challenge that needed to be met head on when balancing the needs of the Bermudians who aspire to be teachers and those of the Bermudian students.
He said that a long hard look needed to be taken at where the educators were being recruited from and some tough decisions had to be made in the long-term interests of the students.
Mr Fletcher said that there were a series of old and new threats including crime and social problems and new investment, but education remained the number one issue.
“Education is an area that I think we all recognise needs significant improvement,” he told the audience. “As a Country we actually have a blueprint for reforming education that spans the next five years.
“But one thing that we all need to do is sit up and focus on and help those people behind it to implement that plan to make it come to fruition.”
He said that every member of the community had a role to play in order to be part of the solution in achieving international recognition for the curriculum, improving the quality of teaching and strengthening the school system’s leadership.
“The threats to us right now of anyone of those not being achieved are huge,” he said.
Reiterating Mr Simons’ points about job creators, Mr Fletcher said that Bermuda had to focus on creating a welcoming environment for those who brought employment to the Island and do away with some of the red tape and bureaucracy that stood in the way.
He said that everyone needed to focus on their main interest in order to make an meaningful contribution to society going forward.
Mr Simmons said that some of the challenges Bermuda faced had been creeping up steadily on the Country over a period of time and that Bermudians shouldn’t be surprised with a lot of the issues that they confronted now.
But he added that Bermuda had the talent to address the problems with a strong educational infrastructure and its greatest natural resource of human capital.
Recognising those who had become disenfranchised in society, Mr Simmons said the community as a whole needed to broaden its relationships and networks to cure such ills.
“What we may be missing is the right approach to catching the interest of all of our students,” he suggested.
“For example, arts and entertainment is underrated in terms of capturing the imagination and teaching of these people.
“We just need to become that much more creative in how we approach those people that show this tendency of having a hard time in learning.”
Mr Simmons said that Bermudians had become “spoilt” in the past and took a lot of things for granted, creating an element of laziness as the younger generation looked down on the more menial jobs their parents did and the whole social dynamic and attitudes had shifted.
“Now that we are in a crisis I think we are challenged to look beyond those traditional places where we have made money,” he said. “I think there are a whole lot of new opportunities to make money now.”