The long and winding road to recovery
So goes the economy, so goes the Government. You think? I do, Mr Editor, I do. Economic conditions feature large in elections and Bermuda is no exception. Too early to be thinking about the next election? Maybe. But there again, maybe not.
The One Bermuda Alliance is almost three years into its five-year term with only two years remaining to turn around the economy; assuming, of course, that the OBA is going to take those two years and keep to a promise of fixed-term elections. But more on that promise in a future column.
Speaking of promises, the OBA came to power, albeit narrowly, on the expectation, if not the promise, that it would turn things around: trim government spending, get us back to balanced budgets and renew investor confidence in Bermuda.
Oh, yes, there was also the promise to civil servants that there would be no layoffs and to the rest of us the creation of 2,000 new jobs.
Three years in and that is turning out to be a tall order.
There are some promising signs, though, that we may be on a road to some recovery. There are those green shoots that are drawn to our attention as often as they appear. Some of the more recent are:
• Improved retail sales
• New builds as tracked by planning applications
• A bump in property sales
• More incorporations
• Increased government revenue
• The recent reported climb in GDP
• Yesterday's news of a 2 per cent drop in unemployment These, of course, have to be balanced against the increase in government debt, a slumping construction industry, a reported loss of some 800 jobs in 2014 and the recent dip in value of imported goods. It's not all roses. The road to recovery is replete with plenty of twists and turns, and some very wide turns at that.
But there are those big projects that appear to be taking shape: Pink Beach, Ariel Sands and Morgan's Point. I make no mention of the “poster” project, the Hamilton waterfront. Deliberately.
There is also the promise (that word again) of better days ahead with:
• The America's Cup
• A new St George's resort hotel
• Casino gambling
The America's Cup is, of course, already off and running, and the subject of clear sailing, notwithstanding BEST's recent objection to the overarching plans for the South Basin in Dockyard. The hope is that all yachts, and the people they bring, will make for a rising tide. It is only a pleasant coincidence, I am sure, that the America's Cup will runneth over and come to a conclusion in late 2017 around or about the time of the next election.
That should help at the polls.
So, too, will construction of a new airport and new resort hotel in St George's. Both will help give the appearance of forward momentum and the promise (again that word) of more jobs. Things will appear to be looking up once more. This is good. But this does not mean that these projects, and any others, should not be subject to close scrutiny.
This is where our Legislature comes in — or is meant to.
The proposed airport has already come under fire, er, close examination. Entrustment letters aside, it must continue. The Deloitte Report made it clear that there are “gaps” (Deloitte's word), significant and substantive (my words), which need to be addressed. The report also underscored the apparent lack of any independent analysis on whether the proposed PPP offered better value for money. Give the 200-page report a good read (and that's a challenge) and make up your own minds.
But our MPs must do more than just read the report. They need to follow up and make sure that our interests are being protected, that these reported “gaps”, and any others that come to light, are in fact being addressed, not just plugged or papered over; and that we, the taxpayers, are getting value for our money.
This should be the focus of PAC, the Public Accounts Committee. Ditto, too, the America's Cup. This is the committee's job.
Meanwhile, the St George's resort hotel comes up for debate in a special sitting of the House on Monday.
MPs on the back benches on both sides of the House should be asking searching questions and setting down markers on what is promised and by when. The hype people have heard before. We all understand why in this case, only seeing will be believing. In the meantime, full transparency should be the order of the day.
Our MPs' job does not end there, either. Follow-up must follow like night follows day whether on the floor of the House or through PAC, or both.
I know, I know, it sounds like a lot of work. Too much? I do not think so. It is what we need more of if the Government is to be held to account on its promises.
Final thought on promises, Mr Editor, and a note of caution: for those out of work and for those having to make do with less with less money, any “recovery” continues to look like something that is happening for someone else, but not for them — and that hurts, too, possibly even more.