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Throne Speech

The term election budget is pretty well known, signifying a budget that gives out a great deal and even reduces taxes, all in the name of re-election.

Friday’s Throne Speech might be described as an election Throne Speech, and may well turn out to be the Progressive Labour Party’s election platform, if Premier Paula Cox calls an election in time for Christmas, as she still might.

Certainly Ms Cox would probably like this to be seen as her first Throne Speech, as the last one was written in the short time between her being elected PLP leader and the return of Parliament last year.

On the face of it, it seems quite impressive, and there are several proposals and plans that are welcome. But dig a little deeper, and what is promised in words is less impressive in terms of action.

Still, there are measures that are welcome. Ms Cox and her colleagues have been reluctant to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation unlawful, but now it has been promised. The decision to end the ridiculous property ownership restrictions on Bermudians married to non-Bermudians is long overdue, but welcome all the same. Plans to introduce shared parenting will also help stop division in broken families and may also reduce youth alienation. Strengthening the Police Complaints Authority is also needed and overdue.

On the economy, the plans to expand the space sector and Islamic finance are also beneficial, although they are not a panacea for the Island’s economic problems. But to the degree they expand and diversify the economy, even in a small way, they are welcome.

Ms Cox identified the economy and jobs as the primary focus of the Throne Speech, and a great deal of it is devoted to the subject. But the details of the Jobs Corps remain unclear, and it will not come into effect until the middle of next year. In the meantime, there is little immediate relief in terms of jobs creation.

Apart from space and Islamic finance, there is little on how the economy will rebound either. The Speech rightly acknowledges that Government’s main role should be to establish a framework within which private enterprise can flourish, but more thought on areas of expansion and how Bermuda can compete with other financial centres would have been welcome.

Plans for ten-year work permits have already been announced. It is not entirely clear how Government plans to remove the incentives for hiring Bermudians over non-Bermudians; what is certain is that neither pensions nor the fact social insurance is not payable by people on short-term work permits is a deciding factor on whether to hire a Bermudian or not. What is a disincentive to hiring overall is the overall personnel cost, whether for Bermudians or non-Bermudians. But there is no recognition of this in the speech.

Ms Cox does promise yet another effort to reduce the bureaucracy surrounding forming businesses and hiring, but this has been heard before.

There are some big ideas in the Throne Speech. One is the previously shelved redevelopment of Front Street, another is the review of the 60/40 ownership rule and a third is consideration of a referendum on gambling.

All, in one form or another, are welcome. But none will bring immediate help to the economy. The last redevelopment plans for Front Street were phenomenally expensive and would have taken years. This newspaper hopes that in the short term, plans will be carried out to stop using the south side of Front Street as a parking lot and to turn it into an area where visitors and residents can walk, shop, eat and play.

The review of the 60/40 rule is timely. This is not a simple decision and many will reserve judgment on it. But a genuine discussion of the ramifications of ending it is needed. Again, this is not a decision that is likely to be taken in 12 months. Nonetheless, for the PLP to even agree to discuss it is a big step.

And the referendum on gaming is an interesting idea, and it is perhaps an issue where the public should have their say. The challenge will be in framing the question.

In the meantime, Bermuda needs answers now to its current dilemma. The Throne Speech approvingly quoted Winston Churchill’s statement that he only worried about inaction, not action, but while this is a more ambitious speech than last year’s there is still too much talk and not enough action.

Premeir Paula Cox shakes hands with Governnor Sir Richard Gozney following the delivery of the Speech from the Throne during the Re-Convening of the Legislature on the cabinet grounds yesterday. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

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Published November 07, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 07, 2011 at 8:36 am)

Throne Speech

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