Butterfield calls for government push for change
Phil Butterfield is “disappointed” by the lack of impetus in the government response to recommendations made by the BermudaFirst advisory group that he chairs.
The non-political group was commissioned by David Burt, the Premier, to put forward ideas on transformational change to help Bermuda to address its largest socio-economic challenges.
BermudaFirst delivered its Future State report to Mr Burt in August and unveiled it to the public the following month. Its recommendations included an independent education authority, outcome-focused healthcare reform and talent-focused immigration policy aimed at economic growth.
Reaction from the community had been supportive, Mr Butterfield said, and there had been dialogue between the group and the ministers of education, national security and health.
“I think there’s a positive vibe about the work,” Mr Butterfield said in an interview. “What I’m disappointed in is that I’ve yet to see a concerted government push behind what we’re doing.
“We recognise that we haven’t been elected. But the work that we have done needs to be respected. I think it can serve as the foundation for a broader discussion.
“We have to get people over the barrier of seeing our work as an opportunity to disenfranchise and instead see it as an opportunity to make Bermuda better.”
He added: “I recognise that change does not occur instantaneously, so I’m happy that BermudaFirst has worked to bring attention to issues that now have some attention and I’m hopeful that the dialogues we’re going to have moving forward will accelerate the change we ought to be embracing.”
Mr Butterfield was speaking after delivering the keynote speech at the Association of Bermuda International Companies’ annual meeting at O’Hara House in which he urged business leaders to be more proactive in volunteering their views and expertise to help Government make necessary changes, and made clear the urgency for the island to bring in more workers to sustain the economy.
During the speech, Mr Butterfield’s voice cracked with emotion when he addressed public education, particularly when he said he owed his success to the tutoring he received in a one-room school in Happy Valley, the Central School and the Berkeley Institute.
“I learnt confidence, I learnt purpose, and I learnt that I too could be different,” Mr Butterfield said. “My experience and success should not be an exception. It should be the common occurrence of everybody in this community. That is not where we are today.”
He added that he was “quite enthusiastic” about conversations with Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, on the idea of creating an independent education authority.
Mr Butterfield told The Royal Gazette: “I think the Minister of Education and the Premier understand that we can’t do what we have done in the past — change one or two people and talk about some policy changes — and expect a real difference. I think they recognise that will not work and they have to do something radically different.
“The big issue is the extent to which they won’t have ‘control’. If they’re doing the funding, as I anticipate they will, they will have a meaningful role.
“If we have the managerial expertise to run a large group, to create efficiency, to make financially sound decisions, and you combine that with the pedagogical expertise that exists with the Commissioner of Education and her team, then I think you get the best of all worlds, combined judgements that allow us to have a well-oiled machine that we don’t have today.”
In his speech, Mr Butterfield addressed the impact of demographics on the economy.
“We’re faced with a shrinking birth rate and an ageing population,” Mr Butterfield said. “In my judgement, those are both clarion calls for additional workers in our economy. We have to prioritise programmes that attract job-creators to our community. This will move our economy forward.
“Postponing or negating actions that will lead to an expansion of our workforce ensures that we will have a community of slower growth, less opportunity and it limits the overall competitiveness of our community.
“We need to do these things while, at the same time, ensuring that Bermudians have the access to the quality education and professional development that they need to be competitive in the job market.”
Progress on administrative issues, such as work permit processing, was happening, he added, with the Government working with consultants from KPMG to tackle the bottlenecks.
Mr Butterfield said later: “The work they’re doing with KPMG will result in more effective and streamlined process. The larger issues around immigration are political issues.
“We shouldn’t be shy about talking about the issues and I think the national security minister [Wayne Caines] is open to speaking on that kind of dialogue.
“Immigration’s not an easy issue to address, particularly with the negative impact of immigration policies of the past, particularly on people of my generation.”
In his speech, he called for the discourse on the complex problem of healthcare reform to be broadened to include more subject-matter experts, including those in the island’s re/insurance market and expert bodies overseas.
“To think that we, in this 21 square miles, will have all the knowledge and all the data to make informed choices on the future of healthcare is ridiculous,” he said.
Mr Butterfield added that Mr Burt had told him last week that he had been “in touch with an overseas resource to secure advice and counsel for the development of an integrated healthcare solution for the island”. BermudaFirst regarded this is a move in the right direction, he added.
Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, had also indicated that her ministry had taken many of the BermudaFirst working-group recommendations under consideration, he said, as had Mr Caines with regard to recommendations on immigration.
BermudaFirst intended to repeatedly meet with ministers to ensure the group’s proposals were getting properly considered, Mr Butterfield said. He added: “We’re not doubting promises, but I know that real work can only be determined when you inspect, not expect.”
The group intends to start a “road map” phase, to help track progress of recommendations through to implementation.
Essential for transformation change was an “adult conversation” throughout the community, Mr Butterfield said. “There’s too much dialogue about little things that won’t produce large results and we have to shift the discourse to focus on truly important things,” he said.
Having urged his international business audience to become more pro-active in helping Bermuda achieve the changes it needed, he added: “I think we’ve had too much debate on the sidelines and I think it’s time to put that aside and say, ‘I’m here, I want to make a difference and this is how I propose to do so’.”
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