Covid-19 has changed the world for ever
Here in the Atlantic-Caribbean region, we would normally be waving to tourists, selling them different island concoctions, giving them directions to local landmarks or driving them around in our minibuses and taxis.
Yet, here we are in May, with empty airports, empty taxis, empty hotels, empty restaurants and empty Airbnbs.
This all adds up to individuals with empty pockets, businesses with empty cash registers and governments with empty coffers.
Meanwhile, individual, corporate and government expenses have risen exponentially.
The financing of tens of thousands of Covid-19 tests, overtime for essential workers, PPE for all frontline workers and emergency funding for the unemployed, all adds up to tens of millions in unfortunate and unforeseen expenses.
The net result is that every government in the region, including Bermuda, now faces major budget deficits.
In the red
Here in Bermuda, the Minister of Finance, Curtis Dickinson, last week announced that we are facing a shortfall of approximately $300 million.
To put it in context, in February our Budget 2020-21 had us on track to take in $1.1 billion as revenue. Our deficit was projected to be roughly $20 million, which was to be spent on overdue infrastructure repairs.
With revenue from cruise ships, hotel tax and other related payroll tax now almost non-existent, our revenue projections are now nearer to $800 million.
So, in an effort to keep government services and personnel going, the obvious choice is to look to minimise expenses, without cutting the jobs of civil servants.
Bermuda has a total population of roughly 64,000 persons, and a total working population of 33,000, with approximately 5,000 of them being public officers, inclusive of teachers, police, fire and rescue, sanitation, medical staff, marine and ports, public works, administration, legal staff, and Customs and immigration.
There are many more vital job fields filled by these public officers. Each one of these workers has family and/or financial commitments such as rents, school tuitions and mortgages.
So, without them being paid, our economy would face even further turmoil.
Over the past week, the Government, led by the Premier, David Burt, has begun talks with all of the seven unions that represent civil servants.
This is aimed at reaching a workable middle ground, in an effort to trim costs while preserving jobs. A juggling act of biblical proportions.
In a show of leadership and unity, on May 17, a decision was made by both the Government and Opposition to have all parliamentarians take a 12.5 per cent pay cut and a freeze in parliamentary pension contributions.
For reference, here is the gross pay for parliamentarians:
• Senators $30,300
• Members of Parliament $56,000
• Cabinet ministers $156,000
Arguably, there will be those who say this should have happened sooner. There can and will be debates to and fro about this.
However, what is more important is that all who were elected to serve have taken a cut in pay.
In doing so, it sets a template for others to follow suit.
Covid-19 will affect every segment of our economy in a negative way.
Some businesses will not survive. Thousands of jobs in the hospitality industry have vanished overnight and we are now facing an unemployment/ underemployment rate of up 15 per cent of our workforce. That is the unfortunate reality.
However, at the same time, this economic pandemic has allowed us to see the best of who we are as human beings.
Everyone of us will have to sacrifice in different ways. Let us not see it as a sacrifice that affects our pockets. Those of us who are fortunate to be employed should view any cuts in pay as a vital contribution to the survival of our economy
More importantly, let us view it as a contribution to our fellow human beings.
• Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him on WhatsApp at 599-0901 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org