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Farewell 2021, welcome 2022

Symbol of decline: the Botanical Gardens (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

2021 ends tomorrow at midnight, and even if there were not a curfew in place, it is likely that farewell celebrations would have been muted. Most people will have had better years than this one.

The trouble is it is also hard to muster up much enthusiasm for 2022. Certainly there will be hopes for a better and more prosperous year, and most people will resolve to do better, but this year is ending on an inauspicious note.

After several years of relative calm on the crime scene, there has been a resurgence in violent crime and gang warfare and no sense of an end in sight, or even much of a will to end it.

Similarly, Bermuda now has matched recent highs in road fatalities, again after several years of relatively low death tolls. Should the unthinkable happen and one more person dies before midnight, Bermuda will have had the highest death toll since 1976, a time when there were no mandatory crash helmets or seatbelts or breathalysers.

Bermuda is also grappling with the latest wave of Covid-19 as the Omicron variant sweeps across the island. While it is still too early to be certain, there are signs that the symptoms of this variant are less severe than its predecessors, but the news that two people have died recently of the coronavirus and a further two were also added to the list of fatalities was sobering.

As David Burt, the Premier, and others have noted, Bermuda and the world will have to learn to live with Covid-19. While its effects can be mitigated by social distancing, vaccines and other measures, it is not going to go away, at least not any time soon.

On the economic front, the tourism and retail sectors, both major employers, continue to reel. International business, fortunately, is performing better, but has the spectre of the global minimum tax hanging over it.

As Royal Gazette columnist and MP Christopher Famous notes on this page, Budget shortfalls brought on at least in part by Covid mean that some normal repairs and maintenance will not get done, which presumably means the death traps that have replaced Bermuda’s roads will continue to wreak havoc.

At the same time though, there is a feeling of general decline, symbolised by the shocking state of the Botanical Gardens but replicated elsewhere in other parks and public buildings. Those that are not shuttered for mould are falling apart quite nicely on their own, the Cabinet Office notwithstanding.

This neglect preceded Covid-19. It reflects a general carelessness in the elected Government and the public service, and a confused approach to public assets. The previous Government, with some success, began selling government buildings such as post offices that were surplus to requirements and had no obvious public use.

This was fairly successful. Government raised some money from the sale while maintenance obligations were reduced. Private individuals were able to gain assets and give them a use. The current Government reflexively dislikes the idea of selling assets, but seems to be perfectly content to let these same properties turn to dust. This makes no sense.

It reflects a lack of imagination that seems to permeate Bermuda’s current leadership. There seems to be an inability to think big or to take risks, perhaps because of fear of failure. But that same fear has condemned Bermuda to slow decline and the relentless pursuit of mediocrity.

It need not be so. 2021 saw Flora Duffy, Bermuda born and bred, triumph at the Tokyo Olympics, adding Bermuda’s first gold medal to an already impressive gallery of triathlon world championships.

Ms Duffy dared to dream and was also willing to put the work in. When things went wrong — and they did — she did not blame others or give up. She learnt from her mistakes and she went back and worked harder.

Too often, that Flora Spirit is lacking in Bermuda. We are too quick to say no or to explain why an idea will not work rather than seek a solution. We revel in negativity instead of embracing risk and taking a chance on new ideas.

Not all of them will work. But all will be teachable experiences that will make Bermuda better.

That is not to say that Bermuda should attempt all things or embark on ventures that are clearly doomed. But with planning and due diligence, Bermuda can do better. We must do better. That should be the island’s resolution for 2022.

Happy new year!

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Published December 31, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated December 30, 2021 at 8:16 pm)

Farewell 2021, welcome 2022

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