Our very independence is at risk - Richards
Bermuda seems to be in the early stages of an economic recovery, according to Minister of Finance Bob Richards
“There seems to a nascent, fragile, embryonic recovery in Bermuda,” Mr Richards told hundreds of business people at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess for the annual Chamber of Commerce Budget Breakfast. “The recovery can be easily derailed by us,” he said. “I mean all of us — not just the Government.
“This fragile recovery cannot stand any blunders on our part.”
The event had to be moved from the smaller Gazebo Room to the Harbourview Ballroom to accommodate the numbers, with Chamber officials estimating 350 people in attendance, up from roughly 300 last year, and representing a broad range of sectors including real estate, retail, accountancy, utilities and advertising.
Mr Richards added there is “ ... an awful lot at stake if we fail to get done what we want to get done,” noting that Bermuda is proud of its system, but the Island’s independence “is at risk if we don’t get this done.
“I said on Friday that if we don’t manage this I guarantee someone else will — that someone else will be from somewhere else overseas and it won’t be nice.
“It’s important for all of us to pull together — if we don’t all pull in the same direction we are going to go nowhere.
“We recognise that everyone has a part to play. If we follow our individual agendas we won’t be pulling in the same direction.”
He said the Government will continue to prosecute a two-track strategy for moving the country forward. The first track is to encourage growth, while the second is to control and cut Government expenses. “We have to do both at the same time,” he said.
The audience also heard that amending citizenship categories was not the Government’s focus at present, although the Finance Minister did express the view that Bermuda needed an increase in population to fuel growth.
Chief executive officer of event sponsor PricewaterhouseCooopers Darren Johnston raised the topic of a potential “amalgamation of Permanent Residents’ Certificate (PRC) holders into the community as a whole.” Mr Richards joked in response, saying: “It’s above my pay scale!” and added that Bermuda had lost thousands of residents during the recession and the numbers need to be brought back up.
“Some of that will require expatriates,” he said. “We have to implement policies to get people to come.”
“It’s an important question because the Government has made a firm decision in this area — there is a direct correlation between the number of people who live here, and economic growth.
“The economic reality is that we can’t have economic growth if this doesn’t happen. We have to implement policies to get people to come and live in Bermuda, but in general we have to get the population up.”
The Finance Minister pointed to healthcare as one consequence of the reduced numbers. “It’s one of the reasons for the huge costs of healthcare, because most of the people who come here are young, healthy people. If you have fewer people and who make claims, costs go up,” he said.
“Our focus is to create new jobs for Bermudians.”
Mr Richards also said the Government could not borrow further funds from overseas lenders as the Island was now ‘tapped out,’ and money to fund projects that would stimulate the economy would have to come from overseas private investors.
In addition, he said the top members of the civil service are to be made accountable for keeping within the Budget’s constraints, and would suffer consequences if they did not.
• For more stories on the Budget Breakfast, see today’s Business Section.
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