Richards: we hauled island ‘back from brink’

  • New book: former Minister of Finance Bob Richards (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    New book: former Minister of Finance Bob Richards (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda’s financial crisis and the battle to pull the island back from the brink of disaster has been chronicled in a book by Bob Richards, the former Minister of Finance.

Mr Richards left political life after he lost his seat to Christopher Famous in the One Bermuda Alliance’s defeat in the July polls.

Now he has written about “how we got into the mess” and “how we got out”.

Mr Richards said: “The important thing is that we don’t do it again.”

He warned that Bermuda Back from the Brink “stayed away from personalities and political groups — if people think my book will be about politics, it’s not”.

Mr Richards said the book was an overview of the long-running economic crisis that gripped the island.

He added: “I stayed at a cruising altitude rather than getting down in the weeds.”

The former minister said the 190-page paperback was “specifically written for the lay person — I’ve used various and sundry analyses to make points, and used context that the average person will get, while steering away from technical jargon”.

Bermuda’s economic tailspin — like other countries — began with the global recession that hit in 2008.

But Mr Richards said a “key question” in the book was: “How did the six-quarter recession in the United States turn into the six-year depression in Bermuda?”

Mr Richards said it was “a story that had to be told”, but did not herald a return to politics.

He added: “My innings is over and I’m back in the pavilion having a nice couple of libations.

“I’ve been getting healthier, losing weight and getting rid of that stress.”

The book was edited with help from a number of sources, including his sister, the novelist and lecturer Angela Barry.

Mr Richards will sign copies of the book at 7pm on Friday at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute.

He said he had no intention of becoming “an armchair quarterback” over the new Progressive Labour Party’s stewardship of the island’s finances,

But Mr Richards added the island’s surging debt was “the most troubling” factor that confronted the new government at the end of 2012.

He said: “It was out of control — it was going up more than $200 million a year.”

Mr Richards added that in an island without natural resources “you can get to a tipping point — and once you get past that, it’s virtually non-stop down to Third-World status”.

He said: “We were teetering on that point when the OBA took over in 2012.

“There had been a loss of confidence in Bermuda — and we depend on foreign capital and foreigners and their money to maintain our prosperity and standard of living.

“Without that, Bermuda could have — and still can — revert to something very different from what it is today.

“Politically, we’re more vulnerable than we were 30 years ago. Our principal industry is financial services and insurance. In addition, a decision by a small number of people can make a really big difference in Bermuda, as opposed to tourism, where hundreds of thousands of people had to change their minds.

“The Government was not in control of itself, but most important is the confidence that was lost in Bermuda by those that provide us with money. We had to start correcting that.”

Mr Richards traced the island’s tough times back to the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 — which “created a bonanza in Bermuda that it had never seen before”.

He said: “All the ills of the world turned into bonanzas. As somebody once said, nothing exceeds like excess. It was a bubble economy, and it burst at the end of 2008.”

The book also examines recovery efforts, including the successful bid to host the America’s Cup and Bermuda’s continued battle against “tax haven issues”.

Mr Richards said that external threats still existed.

He added that media storms like the Paradise Papers, millions of documents hacked from Bermudian-founded law firm Appleby, were “all part of the narrative that it’s got to be somebody else’s fault”.

But Mr Richards said: “We’re in much better shape than we were in 2012, which is why the book is so-named.

“We hauled Bermuda back from the brink of failure. We had to make unpopular and tough decisions. We made them, and I think Bermuda is the better for it.”

Mr Richards explained he had been “prepared for it to be tough” and confident he could avert disaster when he took over as finance minister.

He added he was “pleased” with the Progressive Labour Party’s economic performance so far — but that time would tell.

Mr Richards said he had enjoyed his time in the political limelight — but had no qualms in handing over the reins.

He added: “I’ve been on both sides. I’ve won and lost elections. Some people who haven’t might have found it devastating.

“I was surprised — but I think I’m quite lucky. I would not have wanted to be an Opposition Member of Parliament.”

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Published Dec 12, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 12, 2017 at 5:56 am)

Richards: we hauled island ‘back from brink’

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