Senators pass economic Bill
A new Bill designed to boost the economy could displace Bermuda residents, an Opposition senator warned today.
Nick Kempe, with the One Bermuda Alliance, said that all the Economic Development Amendment Act 2019 seemed to do was “shift the shells around”.
He added: “What this Bill seems to do is gentrify the economic empowerment zones.”
Mr Kempe was speaking as senators debated the Bill in the Senate.
The Bill provides for amendments to the Economic Development Act 1968, the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956 and the Companies Act 1981.
Among its measures is a provision for local and exempted companies with a physical presence on the island — with the consent of the Minister of Finance — to acquire or hold residential valuation units in approved schemes for no longer than 131 years through lease or tenancy agreements.
Changes to the Immigration Act would allow non-Bermudians and other “restricted persons” to buy residential units in an approved scheme “without restriction”, which is applied at present to freehold property, condominiums, tourist accommodation and rental homes.
The amendments would allow the minister responsible for economic development to approve a scheme for economic development in any part of Bermuda, including the EEZs, subject to certain criteria. That approval would be published in the Government’s Official Gazette.
Mr Kempe said the exemptions in the Bill were geared towards landholding by permit companies and international business, and “lowers the threshold for purchase” by guest workers.
He added: “So we’ve got on the one hand — and this is a little bit where the irony is — a Government that is stalling the most basic of immigration reform, but on the other hand saying your money is good enough.”
Mr Kempe said that the island’s EEZs in North East Hamilton, Somerset and St George’s “should be about empowerment, not displacement”.
He added: “Whilst I commend the idea to allow guest workers to further cement their connection to Bermuda financially, it seems at odds with the absolute stagnation on the comprehensive immigration reform front, and it also seems somewhat at odds with the spirit and philosophy of the EEZs when they were set up.”
James Jardine, an Independent senator, said that he viewed the Bill differently.
He explained: “I see this an opportunity, perhaps, to see some development.”
But he said the Bill was “somewhat at odds” with the island’s current immigration policy.
Mr Jardine added: “I am ever hopeful that the current Government will look at the current immigration policy which they have said they will do, and we’ll see some changes there, so we can encourage more development in Bermuda, more people coming to Bermuda bringing business with them and jobs with them, in particular.
“So I see this as a step forward as opposed to a step back.”
Marcus Jones, an OBA senator, said that he worried small businesses in the EEZs would be forced to compete with “deep pockets — companies with sophisticated expertise”.
He added: “My concern is that we don’t want to displace or push out those that have been there all this time.”
Vance Campbell, a Progressive Labour Party senator, said the intent of Bill was “to facilitate property owners access to investment and capital to improve and expand what they have”.
He added: “The intent is to create new opportunities and not take away from what exists — new businesses, new residents, new activities, more visitors, greater opportunities.
“And that cycle can continue indefinitely with all benefiting.”
Jason Hayward, of the PLP, accused Opposition senators of “scaremongering” instead of focusing on the positive benefits to the EEZs.
He said that investment was needed in the North East Hamilton area.
Mr Hayward: “I fully support this piece of legislation, and I’m sure that the businesses that will have increased residential traffic in the area will also support this legislation.”
The Bill was passed without objection.
Senators also debated four other Bills.
The Digital Asset Business Amendment Act 2019, the Employment (Maternity Leave Extension and Paternity Leave) Amendment Act 2019, the Merchant Shipping Amendment Act 2019, and the Tourism Investment Amendment Act 2019 were also passed without objection.
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