A climate of division and deflection
“The forest was shrinking, but the trees kept voting for the axe because its handle was made of wood and they thought it was one of them.” — Unknown
Bermuda, we are three years into the landslide Progressive Labour Party victory to run our government. The defeat of the One Bermuda Alliance on July 18, 2017 resulted in the PLP having a 24-12 majority in the House of Assembly.
The PLP picked up a further seat during a by-election providing it with a 25-11 parliament majority. It would do Bermudians well to reflect that, other than the tenure of the OBA between 2012 and 2017, the PLP has ruled our country for nearly two decades since 1998.
During the PLP’s first 14 years of governing our island from 1998 to 2012, Bermuda was a proud, optimistic country ranking among the top of the world’s most prosperous nations.
In 1998, there was seemingly limitless potential to our growth. By the end of the PLP’s tenure in 2012, Bermuda was declining in opportunities and optimism. That period ended with increased pessimism and hopelessness about our future. The period marked the beginning of joblessness, declining real estate values, persistent gang-related, violent crime and crippling foreign debt.
By the time the new OBA party had been elected to govern in 2012, Bermuda was in economic free fall. The OBA had to borrow money in its first couple weeks just to make payroll for government employees. Our gross domestic product was at an all-time low.
The international business sector was shedding jobs at an unprecedented rate. Tourism was at a standstill at best, with successive years of decline. Banking was also shedding employment after the PLP allowed HSBC to buy the Bank of Bermuda. The retail sector, construction industry and other local businesses were reporting their worst years in living memory.
In fact, many may recall that the OBA came to power at a time when a sizeable portion of the electorate decided that it no longer believed in the euphoria and lofty promises that the PLP had continually failed to meet since their historic 1998 victory.
Since returning to power in 2017, the PLP has focused its efforts on failed economic experimentation and attempting to divide Bermudians against each other. The Premier’s pet projects, fintech and cryptocurrency, have to date proved abysmal failures with nothing to gain from the resources thrown away at them.
In the lead-up to the 2017 election, there was constant talk of “Two Bermudas”.
It appears that the PLP used that term to exacerbate and exploit one group for votes and political gain, and then behave like the other group by throwing lavish parties unto themselves. Have you noticed a narrowing of the class and racial divide within the country over the past three years?
However, we all notice PLP MPs obtaining additional pay for sitting on boards and committees. In addition, disturbing evidence has surfaced about questionable employment consultancy contracts being provided to the PLP elite.
Ironically, there are now signs that that divisiveness has taken root within the PLP itself. Intimidating attacks have been launched against the free press by the Premier and government ministers.
In his now famous, or maybe even infamous, 2019 “throne speech”, the Premier ramped up the divisive rhetoric to an unprecedented level.
Instead of offering needed plans to improve our economy, home values and the education of our children, he used the bully pulpit for an “us against them”, “with me or against me” and “the rest of you be damned” stance.
Bermuda’s politics has descended and sunk to the point of where merely questioning the Government risks vitriolic radio and social-media reprisal the likes of which we have never seen before. We have witnessed high-ranking public servants forcibly removed or forced to resign from their positions at the impulse of our political leadership for having differing ideals.
Fast-forward to March 2020, Covid-19 has shifted our focus. Many people believe that the Government has done a good job of protecting the island from the health hazards and keeping them safe while more than 10,000 people are unemployed. Many others believe it was economical with the truth about aggressive testing, failed to keep the seniors homes safe and has exerted unnecessary, heavy-handed control over our population.
Regardless of the differing thoughts, we should not allow this to skew our assessment of where we are economically. In some ways, its diversionary effects are saving the PLP from being confronted by its abysmal failures.
There was no plan to move Bermuda forward before the pandemic and there are no plans to date to move us forward from where we are. At best, the Government’s plans are of forming a committee and burying its head in the sand and hoping for the best.
The speed of misery and hardship of the very working class that labour is supposed to represent continues at an increasing and alarming rate. The taxes raised by the PLP government are making the cost of living unbearable for the very people that can least afford it.
Earth to the PLP: the economic tsunami has already crashed upon Bermuda.
Our economy requires a salvage mission. We require a sound economic plan that limits the amount of hardship that is being felt and will be felt even more when mortgages, credit cards, rents and all manner of bills are required to be paid.
Jobs are shrinking quickly. Expatriates are beginning to make their way back home and we are expecting a $315 million deficit this year. It is no longer time to procrastinate. What is the plan?
Before the pandemic, our hopes have always been attached to America’s economic wellbeing. Other than Bermuda’s economic increase from 2016 to 2018 from OBA-led projects that started to bear economic fruit, the trickle-down effects from the booming US economy over the past decade never did reach our shores.
Since that blip, we continue with a depressed housing market, fewer and lower-paying jobs and a crushing national debt. Now that Covid-19 has appeared on the scene and the US economy has diminished, these hopes are obviously dashed.
It was recently hinted that the Government would follow the lead of Barbados to invite foreign workers to domicile here and work remotely as a result of Covid-19. As usual, the devil is in the details of that idea.
The irony is that Cayman Islands, St Kitts, Barbados and other countries, including Britain, are all in full swing trying to rescue their governments’ finances, while four months later, Bermuda’s government is still in committee.
It should also be noted that this grand idea is a poor substitute for the promised comprehensive immigration reforms that have never materialised after trashing the ideas of the OBA.
Bermuda, we are now being confronted with the harsh reality of a political climate of division and deflection. This reality is compounded by the shock change in the world economic order. Unless we can quickly move to politics of inclusion and come up with bold ideas to grow our economy, we will continue to move backwards.
All the clever politicking, sensationally divisive speeches, deflection and the forming of committees will not stop the erosion of our standard of living that all of us will directly or indirectly continue to feel.
• Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017
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