Economic recovery plan stalls as focus turns to containing Covid - Premier
The Government’s Covid-19 economic recovery plan has stalled due to an “all-out effort” to contain the recent surge in coronavirus cases, the Premier revealed yesterday.
David Burt told The Royal Gazette: “I will be completely honest: for the last month, Government’s whole efforts have not been able to advance anything on economic recovery.
“We’ve been focused on an all-out effort with all ministries on the issues of managing the pandemic.”
However, the Premier did point to continued growth in fintech, saying “more and more companies” will be setting up operation in Bermuda and hiring Bermudians.
Economic recovery plans outlined in the Budget debate by Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, ranged from satellite-related business to sub-sea communications, vertical farming, medical tourism and investment in infrastructure.
In an interview yesterday, Mr Burt said that “unfortunately, our efforts have had to be shifted”.
He did say that a project management team to push through economic plans has been assembled, with support from local accounting firms.
Mr Burt said: “Projects such as medical tourism have been able to advance. But the truth is that nothing has been able to have the full attention of the Government over the past six weeks.”
He said all efforts had focused on reining in the island’s soaring cases of the virus that saw “a significant number of people in the hospital and, unfortunately, a doubling of our death toll in a month”.
Mr Burt said “moving beyond the pandemic” was critical for the Government to deal with economic recovery and stop the “merry-go-round” of opening for business only to pull back in the face of rising numbers of infections.
The Premier said the island had built “an excellent platform for economic recovery” with the digital nomad programme, and additional fintech and insurance companies attracted to Bermuda.
He added: “Insurance is doing incredibly well, real estate and construction are doing well, and fintech is absolutely paying the dividends inside this country.
“You’re going to see more and more companies moving to Bermuda, setting up operation, hiring Bermudians and expanding … I think there’s huge promise for the future.”
Cost-saving moves such as the 10 per cent pay cut and suspension of pension contributions for government workers are off the table despite a setback in the island’s progress with the coronavirus pandemic.
David Burt, the Premier, said the island had taken a financial hit from a fresh round of health restrictions with payouts and benefits to businesses forced to close and people put out of work.
But he added: “I know it will be far less than last year – there’s no question about that.”
Mr Burt also ruled out any need for the Government to return to the market to raise further capital.
“There was a contingency amount set aside in the Budget for Covid. Certainly that money will likely be exceeded this year. But with our sustainable strategy, that’s the view – we don’t have to go back.”
But Mr Burt said his “biggest fear and worry” was for small businesses and entrepreneurs that were “struggling prior to this most recent set of restrictions”.
He said he wanted “nothing more than to just open up businesses” and that moving back into restrictions was “a decision I never want to have to make again”.
“I do not want to tell business owners they cannot open their businesses. It’s never a place we ever want to be.”
Mr Burt responded to a plea for help from restaurant owners, with several stating this week that businesses were on the brink of closure.
“The concern for us is not just restaurants, but all businesses that are challenged, that had to either close or restrict their activities.
“Recent experience has taught us only a fool doesn’t learn from recent experience.
“We need to move past the pandemic so that we do not need to ask restaurants to close again.”
Mr Burt said he planned to find time in his schedule to speak with restaurateurs.
“I’m going to join Minister Wayne Furbert, who assists me with economic development matters, to see what form of assistance can be lent.
“I want to make sure we support them. They’re important employers in this country.”