They still don’t get it
Under normal conditions I would not write successive opinions on the same subject, but I feel it necessary at this time. Last Wednesday, I threw a “small stone” in an effort to draw attention to the Economic Substance Act 2018, which was recently passed by the Progressive Labour Party government, and what its implications are for Bermuda and Bermudians.
I was hoping to make it clear to all of us that this is not just another piece of legislation; it is much, much more than that.
This is a real-game changer for the economic model that Bermuda has been built upon since the 1940s. Because of this Act and the forces behind it, Bermuda will no longer be the same, one way or the other. By this time next year, rapid change will be upon us.
My chief criticism continues to be how our political leadership has handled the matter. While they have been travelling coast to coast trying to breathe life into cryptocurrencies and paying our tax dollars to Ewart Brown, no one saw fit to lead this challenge for the whole of 2018.
In fact, the first piece of legislation provided to the House of Assembly in December for debate had to be redone because the European Union wasn’t happy with it.
So what exactly have our political leaders been doing and why are Bermudians not prepared for what is now upon us?
The fate of Bermuda and its place in the 21st century’s global economic order is at stake. The Premier and our political leadership have dropped the ball. There has been little, if any, leadership at a time when it is most needed.
Sadly, there is no promise of it on the horizon, either. At best there has been some management, but even that is debatable.
When faced with this monumental challenge, simply meeting with foreign powers and being told what to do and then being told to do it over at the last minute is no way to run a country.
Shamelessly, this is what appears to have been done.
It would appear this view is correct when observing the finance minister’s press conference last Thursday, coincidently one day after the publication of my opinion piece titled “No substance: can you hear the silence?”
The photograph of the press conference includes Wayne Furbert and business leaders who appear to be hastily assembled. Missing and tellingly absent from the line-up was the Premier.
There is nothing going on as important as this and Bermuda can ill afford its leader to be absent from the picture. The thousand words of that picture is screaming to us — they still don’t get it.
After analysing the content of the press conference, or lack thereof, the minister concedes that the Act leaves more questions than answers and the Registrar of Companies will have to fill in the blanks.
To my surprise, he admitted that he had not contemplated what to do if the EU doesn’t find our compliance measures acceptable.
Also, the chief policy to govern this new and unprecedented situation is the One Bermuda Alliance’s business work-permit policy, which is six years old, and a payroll tax concession for companies that create a substantive presence here.
I will digress quickly, but did you notice that the Progressive Labour Party is offering concessions to foreign rich business owners and taxing their core supporters at home?
In essence, enabling money to stay with the rich and taking it from us poor and middle-class Bermudians with ever-increasing taxes. Didn’t they tell us this was anti-Bermudian for the 4˝ years of the OBA government?
Back to the story, we are dealing with this issue in reverse. It appears the Government is very naive as to how high the stakes are. The big players in international business don’t care about nickel-and-dime payroll tax concessions.
They also know for certain that the immigration department will grant them additional work permits, no matter the political rhetoric.
What international business does care about is that there’s a certainty in the market with this new arrangement. It wants assurances that the goalposts will not change again by those dictating to us.
Uncertainty is the greatest enemy to a stable international business market.
Do we have this stable starting point so that we can build for our benefit? The reality is that we are late out of the starting blocks with this great opportunity to add more bodies to our workforce, to stimulate the economy and to provide good jobs for Bermudians.
There should be no further delay and proper leadership from the Premier, who has been the junior finance minister, shadow finance minister and finance minister, is warranted.
Here is a perfect opportunity for him to erase his proven track record on his mishandling of the country’s finances during his political career to date.
In an effort to not only hold the Government to account and be critical without offering solutions, I will provide a few because I am Bermudian first and I am invested in the financial wellbeing of my island:
1, Bermudians need to be educated as to the great potential this Act has afforded us, with increasing the population and the amount of economic stimulation that would occur from this opportunity and how it will benefit us all. We need to be engaged and know what the plan is to take advantage of this opportunity
2, We need to engage the international business sector and companies that are already here, and roll out the red carpet so that they stay and set up a substantive presence.
Frankly, they have been treated all to often as if we are doing them a favour by being here. Political leadership must lead from the front to stop that rhetoric now and for ever more
3, With our links with Britain, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and other Overseas Territories, we need to pin down exactly what is required to be compliant with the EU.
Our combined, clear and concise concerns should be articulated and forcefully put to them to pin down that certainty
4, Co-ordinate a strategy with other OTs and jurisdictions.
Bermuda could lead and set an example on the way forward and with proper engagement, they could be receptive, as our futures are mutually intertwined. A co-ordinated strategy would help us all and Bermuda could be seen to take the lead on this.
5, This gift of an opportunity presented by this legislation should be made a priority with its potential to provide a new pillar to the economy or at least significantly strengthen what we have.
There should be no more foot-dragging and indecisiveness. This is a goose that has the potential to lay many golden eggs for Bermuda
6, This is a Bermuda-first issue and politics should be removed and subordinated for our national interest. So far, the OBA has been supportive and we look forward to the unions and others working together in the interest of Bermuda
I am sure many others have ideas and solutions, and they should all be welcomed and offered to the Government.
I sincerely hope that we all rise to the occasion and contribute to the Government to harvest the best ideas and resources to make this opportunity a positive economic game-changer for a stronger Bermuda.
My hope is that Bermudians will cease with the “deer in the headlights” thing and demand that the Government step up and be proactive for our collective future. Failure to do so would likely provide us with an economic and social future we do not want.
• Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017