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There’s too much at stake

In the best of times, the collaboration between the Government and businesses to create a supportive platform for the economy to thrive can be challenging. Given that these are not the best of times, the atmosphere between businesses and the Government is showing itself to be truly compromised. The Premier is dictating to the private sector without assessing the impact of his mandates and, moreover, is sloppy in building business confidence onshore and offshore.

Cole Simons is the Leader of the Opposition and the MP for Smith’s South (Constituency 8)

For example, in the banking sector, when recently introducing the Banks and Deposit Companies Amendment Act 2022 to the Legislature, the Premier gave Bermuda’s banks an ultimatum to provide the Bermuda Monetary Authority with the power to impose codes of conduct on how institutions conduct deposit-taking business.

This caught the bankers by surprise, as the Bermuda Bankers Association members were already looking at the matters at issue, under the guidance of the financial services regulator. They also indicated that discussions were already taking place with the Government and the BMA. So why the heavy-handedness of a mandate?

Upon learning more about this matter with some banking colleagues, I questioned why they were not more forceful with their response, given that they were given an ultimatum by the Premier. One local bank chief executive said, “Cole, do you really think that Bermuda’s bankers association want to pick a fight with the Premier? You know that they cannot win that fight.”

Is this the type of friction that we want our government to have with our international banking institutions, which collectively provide thousands of jobs for Bermuda and our people?

Similarly, this weekend, fuel companies indicated that a freeze on petrol prices at the pump is unsustainable as wholesale fuel prices have “soared and increased by 40 per cent to 43 per cent" this year. How can the Premier unilaterally make decisions that result in a significant financial impact on our business partners? To make matters worse, the Premier stated that the Government was taking the brunt of the cost of the price freeze through customs duty cuts. This, however, does not appear to be the case, as fuel importers confirmed that as far as they know, the customs duty cuts have not occurred yet.

Who is misleading the public and our business leaders? Who can we trust? In an economy that is trying to get back on its feet, does the Premier’s behaviour help to build the confidence required of an offshore financial centre to maintain our blue-chip reputation? I think not.

What about the debacle of the Fairmont Southampton hotel development’s agreement? In May, the Premier indicated that he was going to bring a copy of the development agreement to the House of Assembly in two to three weeks' time. Two months later, the agreement has yet to see the light of day. Can the Premier not consummate an agreement of this nature for the Government and people of Bermuda? What, if any, are the roadblocks and additional financing hurdles which have yet to be addressed? Again, can we place any confidence in the Premier’s commitments?

Finally, the Premier made a commitment to recover the $800,000 three-year loan that he made to Anthony Blakey, of Savvy Entertainment, in April 2018 to purchase recording equipment to create a music studio at the historic Moresby House. More than four years on, Mr Blakely has yet to be found and Bermuda is left with a non-performing loan, which is now valued at $1 million. Characteristically, the Premier has been silent when it comes to the recovery plan for the people’s money.

Do decisions such as those listed above engender confidence in Bermuda’s local and international business sector, and our international partners and clients? Surely not.

Bermuda needs more from its premier. It requires a leader with significantly better business acumen, one who demonstrates transparency and builds trust between the people of Bermuda and her corporate business partners.

If Bermuda is to attract the necessary economic and human capital to support the island, things must change. There is too much at stake.

Cole Simons is the Leader of the Opposition and the MP for Smith’s South (Constituency 8)

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Published July 12, 2022 at 7:45 am (Updated July 12, 2022 at 7:41 am)

There’s too much at stake

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