Why America’s Cup and Rims help our reputation
Three-quarters of a century ago, Bermuda found itself at the crux of a landmark agreement between our closest allies, one that catapulted us on to the world stage and set in motion the birth of the modern era. Less than a year into the Second World War, in 1940, the “destroyers for bases” deal between United States president Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, of Britain, enabled a swap of UK colonial territory in Southampton and St David’s in return for American support that the British needed to combat Nazi Germany.
“You have cause to be proud it has fallen to your lot to make this important contribution to a better world,” Churchill told a joint session of our House of Assembly and Senate at the Sessions House two years later. “I am very happy to have found myself here today to express on behalf of the motherland and the British House of Commons my profound gratitude.”
It was a pivotal moment in Bermuda’s history, one that not only changed our landscape, but effectively resulted in our profile morphing from a sleepy island to a strategic global partner.
That identity has served us well ever since — through the birth of modern tourism, through the Cold War and through more recent years as an international financial centre whose companies fuel international commerce and provide risk cover for the world’s worst natural and man-made disasters.
Yet Bermuda today faces challenges that are chipping away at that well-earned reputation: our Bermuda “brand” of partnership, co-operation and respectability.
These challenges are more insidious than submarines or spies. As mainland economies experience disruptive change, and rising tax and regulatory pressures, Bermuda and other offshore centres increasingly are being attacked as “tax havens” and refuges of secrecy and ill-gotten gains.
First, these accusations are not true — at least when it comes to Bermuda. They neglect Bermuda’s contribution to the global economy: hundreds of thousands of jobs through trade and billions of dollars paid by insurers to restore cities, coastlines and communities. As we have seen with the Panama Papers, there may be other offshore domiciles where oversight is seriously lacking, whose governments don’t sign co-operation agreements like ours, whose economies are based on secrets and evasion, but Bermuda’s record on compliance and transparency is extensive, consistent and blue chip.
Second, despite the false image spread by naysayers, their words can damage the good reputation that generations of Bermuda residents and governments have worked so hard to build.
It is in this environment that Bermuda must work hard to tell our story and also to vigorously defend who we are when falsehoods are spoken.
That is why the Premier wrote recently to British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn after he labelled us a tax haven in Britain’s Parliament. The Premier’s letter was important to set the record straight and to invite Mr Corbyn to discuss the situation at any time. By speaking out, Bermuda is not letting misinformation fill the void; we are telling our side of the story. That is also why events such as the Risk and Insurance Management Society annual conference last month and the next several months of Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series events are so important — they give us a global stage on which to project the truth about who we are.
At Rims in San Diego, which attracted more than 10,000 delegates this year, “Team Bermuda” took part in some two dozen interviews over two days, responding to media questions about the Panama Papers scandal, showcasing our elite Solvency II regulatory equivalence and reinforcing the message that Bermuda is different.
What does it say when close to 200 industry experts, regulators, corporate captains and government leaders come out in unison to support and to herald Bermuda’s value? Rims 2016 underscored Bermuda’s status as the “world’s risk capital” and, as well as tapping new business, it allowed us to connect directly with senior executives and top-flight organisations, such as Lloyd’s of London.
Bermuda’s strong participation in this year’s America’s Cup run-up events also gives us an international channel to set the island apart. In yesterday’s New York races, and later in Chicago, then Portsmouth and Toulon, we will be aligning ourselves loud and clear with a brand known for innovation, achievement and quality — the same traits that describe Bermuda itself.
This work, building and defending our blue-chip image, can never stop. The attacks against us can undermine not just our credibility, but also the future of young Bermudians.
The stakes in play are immense: our international financial centre drives almost 50 per cent of Bermuda’s economic activity and makes up nearly a third of the national workforce. Some 60 per cent of its employees are Bermudian.
As a country, this issue demands our best effort — spreading the word about what we’re about and challenging those who, for political purposes, would mislead people to think otherwise.
Just as Bermudians did back in Churchill’s day, we must be prepared to defend the realm. In this case, the battleground is our good name, which belongs to every single resident, and which affects every livelihood.
• Grant Gibbons is the Minister of Economic Development, the acting Minister of Tourism Development and Transport, and the MP for Paget East (Constituency 22)
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