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Throne Speech 2021: action needed now, not fine words

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David Burt, the Premier, shows the Throne Speech before it was delivered yesterday (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Speech from the Throne brought to mind the comment from Mario Cuomo, the first member of that family to govern New York, that politicians “campaign in poetry, but govern in prose”.

Throne speeches are often filled with grand phrasemaking and affirmations of the exceptionalism of the era. This speech is no exception, although these are indeed unique times. The speech rightly notes the harm the Covid-19 pandemic has caused Bermuda and the world, and states: “Changes that were deferred have now become imperative for survival.”

The 2021 Throne Speech: Rena Lalgie, the Governor. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Yet the speech itself focuses mostly on incremental change. For all of the talk of this decade being a “definitive” one, bringing to mind eras such as those of the Great Depression or the postwar era, there is no call here for a New Deal or the introduction of a welfare state. Indeed, this speech pales when set aside the great reforms that took place in the 1960s in Bermuda with the introduction of modern democracy and the ending of racial segregation.

In its defence, the Government points to the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, which has mutated and changed in the past 18 months in ways no could anticipate. Simply surviving is an accomplishment. It rightly states: “The global pandemic has created a ʽmission interrupted’ scenario for most governments, and in Bermuda the same can be said.”

Even with that concession and the recognition that no one can say what will happen in the future, people of different political persuasions will be disappointed with the lack of ambition in the speech.

For pro-business advocates looking for tangible signs of economic recovery, there was little meat on the bone. There were exhortations to revive tourism, but little indication of how this would be done.

Similarly, as one of the initiatives for economic recovery is to increase the population, then immigration reform must play a part in this. Yet the only sign of immigration reform this year comes from the long-overdue digitisation of immigration applications. This is welcome, but hardly the step change the island needs.

At the other end of the spectrum, the slow pace of change on healthcare reform will disappoint many.

Having eloquently made the case for universal healthcare, the Government promises this, in a bit of Civil Service-ese worthy of Yes, Minister’s Sir Humphrey: “The Ministry of Health will accelerate the ongoing stakeholder engagement in the transition to an integrated healthcare model to increase the speed at which affordable essential healthcare is delivered”.

While the speech goes on to outline some areas where efficiencies will be made, the statement above simply means that there will be more consultation to try to figure out how to move faster. This will not engender hope for those without health insurance now.

There is better news on the environment, where, perhaps inspired by COP26, the Government promises to move forward on alternative-energy initiatives and “blue economy” ideas. One proposal, to make Bermuda into a testing ground for alternative-energy technology, is intriguing but not risk-free — the problems of adopting unproven technologies that fail can be very expensive in all senses of the word in such a small community.

With Bermuda facing a surge in violent crime, highlighted by the shootings and double murder at the Robin Hood pub just two weeks ago, the Government is right to want to tackle the causes of crime.

It said: “There is multigenerational trauma and dysfunction that manifests itself as the social dysfunction we see in our island. The root of these issues is a lack of opportunity, so Bermuda’s youth must be returned to full employment and will be provided with the support to train for jobs in the economy.”

That may be so. But a youth employment scheme is not adequate on its own. The Government missed an opportunity to, at the very least, launch a comprehensive programme to tackle this complex and multifaceted problem.

At the same time, solving a problem generations in the making will not happen overnight.

In the meantime, the need to ensure that people feel safe in their own homes and while out relaxing is critical. Going out for a beer should not be a life-threatening experience.

The Government may well respond that this responsibility fall more with the police and outside of its remit, but the lack of any action beyond a jobs scheme is simply not good enough.

It is striking to note that the Governor, in her personal remarks at the end of the speech, said a great deal in a very few words. She did indeed promise to work with the Government to reduce crime. She also pointedly promised to ensure the independence of appointed officials, suggesting there may have been interference there. Why raise it otherwise?

Finally, with an appropriate acknowledgement, she said her still young children challenged her on what Bermuda was doing to protect the environment — a timely reminder, echoed elsewhere in the speech, that today’s adults are merely stewards of this planet, which they have “borrowed” from their children.

To date, previous generations have not, on the whole, been very good stewards of this earth. This generation and this government have the opportunity to show they can move forward from fine words to real action.

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Published November 06, 2021 at 7:41 am (Updated November 06, 2021 at 7:38 am)

Throne Speech 2021: action needed now, not fine words

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