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Time to get down to work

David Burt, the Premier, was entitled to some time off after his massive election victory last week.

But soon enough, he needs to get back to work. The first order of business is to appoint a Cabinet, which he has promised by Thursday. Mr Burt is spoilt for choice in this case — the challenge is less who to include and more who to leave out.

In fact, it makes sense for him to keep much of the team he had before the election. It is the team that landed him 30 seats, after all.

Some positions will remain unchanged. Curtis Dickinson will certainly stay in place, having been declared the best finance minister in Bermuda's history by Mr Burt. Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, will no doubt remain, too, having won a seat in the House of Assembly. There is very little choice in this as there is a worryingly low number of lawyers — not a phrase anyone expects to write very often — in Parliament now. Ms Simmons, whom the Premier seems to hold in high regard, almost has the job by default.

In fact, if Ms Simmons does remain as AG, at least one sitting Cabinet minister must go because a maximum of 11 MPs can sit in the Cabinet and Ms Simmons makes 12 after coming from the Senate.

It would seem odd if Mr Burt moved Kim Wilson, a former attorney-general, from the health ministry since she is doing sterling work on the Covid-19 crisis, which has not yet run its course, and because she still needs to complete health reform.

Similarly, it is unlikely that Diallo Rabain will move from education, where school restructuring is barely launched and where the first signature school is promised in a scant 11 months. Changing horses in midstream is never good politics or management.

Public works minister Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch also seems likely to stay. He is a highly effective minister and his recent verbal assault on black female civil servants apparently did no electoral harm. Nor would it make much sense to remove national security minister Renée Ming, since she barely has her feet under her desk after replacing Wayne Caines in the wake of the Blu debacle. Neville Tyrrell, the transport minister, is probably safe for the same reason.

After that same scandal, Mr Burt took on tourism, but he should make this portfolio available, both as a sop to a backbencher and because there is a consensus that premiers should focus on being chief executive and should not become immersed in a ministry as well.

Jason Hayward is also relatively new at labour while Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier, must be in Cabinet and has a good record at home affairs, which is now essentially environment.

That leaves Lovitta Foggo, the Minister of Community Affairs and Sport, and Wayne Furbert, the Cabinet Office minister, as being potentially expendable or available for a move.

It is not clear if Mr Caines has done enough penance for Blu. It would seem impolitic to restore Zane DeSilva, also dropped after the Blu scandal, given his recent notoriety, although if Mr Burt is as aggrieved over this as he seemed to be, he may decide to do just that as an assertion of the Government's independence.

Who among the back bench might be promoted? Anthony Richardson would bring some financial heft as a former accountant-general and as a reward for capturing Hamilton South, while Christopher Famous's success in extending his majority in Devonshire East would also seem deserving of a reward. Michael Weeks is a former minister who bring grassroots connectedness to the table, while Lawrence Scott has been a firm ally of Mr Burt. Tinée Furbert also extended the PLP's control of St George's South and would improve the Cabinet's gender imbalance.

Mr Burt will also need to appoint five new senators after his Upper House team swept into the House; at least one Cabinet minister must come from the Senate as Senate leader.

After getting his Cabinet straight, the Government will have to get to work. The island faces the most serious economic challenge since the Great Depression, with the certainty of thousands of tourism employees being out of work for much of the winter, and in the case of Fairmont Southampton staff, for two years.

The retail and restaurant sectors face similar problems, and over time, the lack of employment income will seep through the rest of the economy. Only international business seems stable and there is also the prospect of reinsurance rates finally hardening, but it is far from clear whether that will lead to more jobs.

The Government laid out a range of economic diversification strategies, but these will take time to get into place and the Savvy scandal again demonstrates the dangers of governments choosing winners and losers in business, rather than focusing on ensuring that the conditions for economic growth are optimal. Invariably the Government will have to tackle immigration reform. With a big majority, it can afford to be bold and there may never be a better time to buck the status quo.

Balancing economic stimulus with the need to manage government finances will be critical. The Government has to borrow more, but this debt can be used on infrastructure and capital investments that will create jobs and create the foundations for economic success.

While some money will be inevitably spent on assisting the unemployed, these expenditures should be offset where possible by reductions in other government spending. Mr Dickinson must be focused like a laser on eliminating waste and inefficiency. It would do no harm for him to dust off both the Bermuda First report and the Sage report in doing so. Both contain many valuable ideas and have been shamefully neglected.

In the meantime, the Government must get on with reforming education and health. In the latter case, there seems to have been a shift in emphasis and Ms Wilson or her successor need to explain what this means. Mr Rabain, too, needs to explain exactly how the signature schools will work now since the idea of a pure technical school or a pure “Fame” school seems to have been abandoned as well.

Mr Burt has alluded to the need for tough decisions. He would be wise to make them early while rising on the wave of his tsunami of a victory. The decisions will only become harder if he delays.

Numbers game: David Burt, the Premier, has a decision to make, with Kathy Lynn Simmons giving him one more than the maximum amount of MPs who can sit in the Cabinet. All will be revealed on Thursday (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published October 06, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated October 06, 2020 at 8:57 am)

Time to get down to work

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