OBA Budget Reply
OBA pledges to raise work permit fees
Work permit costs could be hiked as part of a move to encourage greater Bermudian employment, the One Bermuda Alliance proposed yesterday.
Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the shadow finance minister, added that an OBA government would lay the groundwork for an education authority and recommended funding for an independent inquiry into the care of children referred for treatment overseas by the Department of Child and Family Services.
Delivering the Opposition’s Budget Reply in the House of Assembly, she said: “The cost of work permits could be significantly increased across the board and a tax-neutralising reduction benefit for payroll tax could be offered for employers.
“The higher cost of permits would encourage companies to hire and train Bermudians, and this can be reflected in opportunities for Bermudians abroad to consider returning home.
“This approach could also fulfil the aim of reducing payroll tax burden on employers while incentivising them to hire Bermudians; growing the economy; enhancing our talent pool; encouraging the efficient processing of permits; creating a separate revenue centre for government and creating a shift for companies to manage expat employees as a separate cost centre rather than their entire employee base, and could discourage employers from unfairly selecting foreign workers over qualified and or trainable Bermudians.”
Ms Gordon-Pamplin said the OBA recommended the establishment of a Cabinet sub-committee to include the Premier as well as ministers responsible for education, finance, health, social services, works and engineering.
She added: “One of the committee’s immediate priorities would be to lay the foundation for the exploration and development of an educational authority, which will remove the politics from education and provide consistent professional and accountable leadership to our public education system.”
Ms Gordon-Pamplin told the House: “Teachers have for far too long been required to use their personal resources to fund basic supplies within their classrooms.
“To support and supplement the basic classroom requirements and supplies, this cabinet sub-committee would approve an annual $1,000 budget for each schoolteacher, to alleviate the practice of teachers being required to personally fund extras for their classes.”
She added that the committee would find ways to ease the cost demands for items like uniforms on families and “source a dedicated public transportation allocation of school buses”.
The shadow minister said that the DCFS was recently “subjected to intense public examination” and unanswered questions remained.
She said: “We would recommend that there be sufficient funds to enable a thorough external inquiry into the operations, effectiveness, care and concern underlying the choices made on behalf of our children for overseas care.”
But she added: “We are fully supportive of the government’s budget allocation commitment to look out for our vulnerable young people who have aged out of the DCFS system through the proposed residential and transitional living facilities.
Ms Gordon-Pamplin told MPs that the recently-published Retail Sales Index, which included figures up to November 2019, showed “that the monthly retail sales have contracted for 19 out of the last 21 months”.
She added: “Excuses offered that the retail sector GDP isn’t that bad, or that retailers must reinvent themselves to compete with Amazon gives little comfort to the employees who wait with bated breath in their stores hoping for patrons, all the while having the underlying fear for the security of their jobs.
“It is also inexcusable that the release of numbers was repeatedly delayed, an attempt to hide from the ugly truth.”
Ms Gordon-Pamplin said that most of the sector’s workers were Bermudian, “so any negative fallout from stagnant or negative growth directly impacts Bermudian workers and their ability to feed their families”.
She added: “Government has blamed local retailers’ results on a failure to innovate and employ technology to remain competitive against online shopping.
“The ‘lesson’ offered to retailers is pure hypocrisy as government has failed in leveraging technological solutions to deliver its own services more efficiently to the taxpayer.
“Spending targets have yet again been missed and the taxpayer is paying more money for less public services.”
Ms Gordon-Pamplin suggested the implementation of the recommendations of the Fiscal Responsibility Panel and the Future State report by Bermuda First regarding universal healthcare, immigration reform and long-term payroll tax planning.
Under healthcare, Ms Gordon-Pamplin said: “This Budget reveals a tacit admission that the sugar tax was nothing more than a cash grab from our community and has resulted in an across the board increase in the costs of food.” She explained: “We would recommend that the government set the level of acceptability of sugar content based on international health established norms, and tax items that exceed that level.”
Ms Gordon-Pamplin noted that the Government had undertaken “the most significant reform in healthcare”.
But she added that its Budget Statement “barely mentions the public dissension or the appeals to share further information”.
She said: “We in the Opposition agree that we must find viable solutions to reduce healthcare costs and protect the underinsured.
“We believe in a universal healthcare plan, not a unified, single payer healthcare system.”
Ms Gordon-Pamplin said: “The Opposition recommendation is that the government should work through the intended programme for a more equitable solution, listen to the stakeholders and recognise that those who provide healthcare services know better than politicians what is needed to ensure optimum patient care. “It also does not serve Bermuda for the Premier and his ministers to misrepresent the advocacy proponents as being greedy and uncaring, or advancing the conspiracy theory that those advocates are driven by the insurance companies.”
While Ms Gordon-Pamplin welcomed the change in the 60:40 rule, she said: “It does not appear to be a workable solution to require that the boards of directors of such blended companies be 60 per cent Bermudian.
“It is possible for the majority foreign investor to appoint Bermudian directors as would be required by the proposed change.
“We question what investor would invest most of the capital of an entity and be satisfied with having a restriction on how many of his preferred directors could be appointed to the board.” She added: “This approach does not make sound investment sense and could serve to create an impediment for this possible area of growth by requiring unrealistic conditions.
“We invite the government to rethink this restriction.”
Jamahl Simmons, the Minister without Portfolio, said: “We notice that the solutions offered by the OBA were meagre when it came to healthcare reform and they are meagre because they’re not interested in truly fixing the problem.”
Mr Simmons added: “This is a clear delineation between their party and our party, it’s a clear delineation on the issue of healthcare reform.
“You are either for driving down the healthcare costs for Bermudian families, or you are against driving down the cost of healthcare for Bermudian families.
“There is no middle ground on this issue.”
He told MPs that the topic was “going to be a major fight in this society … because we’re dealing with entities that want to keep things the way they are because of the money involved”.
Mr Simmons added that it was important to look at priorities and differences.
He said: “You have an Opposition whose Reply had no solutions for seniors and no solutions for the youth.
“You had an OBA government that showed no humility, so therefore could show no good leadership.”
Mr Simmons added the Government was “dealing with a mess that was left with us to clean up, that we are doing pretty well with, all things considered”.
• To read the One Bermuda Alliance Reply to the Budget in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”
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