Disruptive and disrespectful

  • Minister of Finance Bob Richards addresses a town hall meeting. (Photo by Nicola Muirhead)

    Minister of Finance Bob Richards addresses a town hall meeting. (Photo by Nicola Muirhead)


October 12, 2014

Dear Sir,

I attended the Government town hall meeting last week to hear the Finance Minister ET “Bob” Richards give us an update on the Island’s financial situation. Not only was his message ugly, but so was the behaviour of some in the audience, largely union members and their leaders.

I was embarrassed by their rants, boos, heckling and general poor decorum. Perhaps if they listened more they would learn something. You know, there is a reason the good Lord gave us just one mouth, but two ears!

For those of us who could hear Bob the picture he painted is not pretty and surely we all know this, even the noisy among us.

The Government’s overspending each year is around $250 million, and to balance the books the Finance Minister on behalf of the Government has gone out and borrowed money. The Island’s National Debt is now around $2 billion, not including the large unfunded liabilities within the Government’s pension plans.

I think the majority of us are grateful that the Island finally has a Finance Minister who plans to address this growing debt problem, and we must all remember that Bob inherited $1.5 billion of this mess from the previous PLP Administration.

Kinda makes you wonder where were the protests back then from the union members and their leaders about the growing mountain of debt the Island was undertaking. How convenient for some that they enjoy short memories.

Bob also told us that over $160 million each year is paid by the Government for the interest cost on our existing debt, so when we go out and borrow $250 million per year we are actually borrowing money to pay our interest costs. Sadly, the principle remains the same because we don’t have the financial resources to make any payments towards it.

The Island faces some difficult decisions and I applaud Bob and Cabinet for the strength in their convictions to tackle our debt mountain so the Island can avoid going broke.

As Bob noted, the Island has to ‘right size’ its Public Sector and ensure services provided by Government to the public are ‘priced right’.

I think the BIG issue with regards to ‘right sizing’ and ‘right pricing’ is how we get there. The Unions believe such re-structuring will cause job losses and reduced benefits. Well, maybe that will occur for some, but for many the re-structuring could mean new job opportunities, new career paths and increased wealth.

Government’s plans to outsource, privatise and mutualise certain services can readily provide existing workers within the public sector an opportunity to operate, manage, work in and even own a business.

Initially these entities should be supported by having Government as a client, but going forward Government should be able to seek submissions from every business for work needed to ensure the taxpayer gets the best value for money spent.

If we as individuals have the right to seek bids for work we need done in order to obtain the best deal, why shouldn’t taxpayers be offered the same rights?

Are we, as taxpayers, getting the best value for money for work provided in the public sector such as road cleaning, wall building, painting, hedge trimming, road asphalting, beach cleaning, parks maintenance, immigration processing, IT, accounting, health care, education, planning, environment protection, water delivery, waste treatment, sewage treatment, fleet maintenance, bus services, ferry services etc? Probably not.

I wonder sometimes whether the union brass is more concerned about their own jobs versus the jobs of their members.

If indeed many of their membership leave behind the apron strings of their unions as they enter the private or mutualisation sector, I would imagine many in the union executive will have to take salary cuts or find other employment. Such is the way of economics – it brings into view the real world.

When one considers that the administration costs of the various union executives eat up around 90% of the fees paid by its members, it’s no wonder that the leadership see any forms of re-structuring as an assault on their own salaries and lifestyles.

I think the majority of us Bermudians and Residents understand that Reform of the Public Sector must take place, but we also want the Government to execute their plans in partnership with their employees.

The plans should be laid out carefully and methodically and executed over a period of time to ensure continuity of service.

It may take up to 10 years to complete the Reforms in full, but at least we can begin the process now.

The Government should also provide new skills and training resources to those workers who may be displaced or those who feel they wish to pursue new career paths to ensure their future success in the job marketplace.

If we consider these reforms logically and not emotionally Bermuda could have a bright future ahead.

The revenue growth opportunities being pursued by the Bermuda Tourism Authority and the Bermuda Business Development Agency are gaining traction. Typically this side of the balance sheet takes a lot longer to deliver due to the competitive nature of capital deployment and allocation, but we have begun to witness positive movement such as development work at Pink Beach, new works planned at the Sonesta site, new ownership of the Belmont and Newstead hotels and a new tourism concept at the Warwick Villas on the South Shore.

With the future development of Morgan;s Point and the Americas Cup Regatta also coming ashore Bermuda has a lot to look forward to. What we need NOW are visionaries in our Union hierarchy who also see the same bright future, for only then will the unions have the right leadership that will help lead the Island to success.

Being disruptive and disrespectful gets us nowhere and scares away that vital inward investment the Island needs and which Bob talked about last week.

ALLAN D MARSHALL JP

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