Growth? What growth?
I continue to hear this narrative being parroted by Progressive Labour Party MPs and Cabinet ministers about consecutive growth in gross domestic product. It was used by the Premier recently to deflect from my colleague senator Douglas DeCouto’s crucial inquiry about the Fairmont Southampton, and again in his Budget Statement as the Minister of Finance.
If it’s one thing the PLP does very well, it is creating a narrative.
However, usually upon closer examination to its words, you can see what it is attempting to distract people from. It is the job of the Opposition to separate facts from political spin.
There is a saying, “The best lies have a bit of truth to them.”
Let’s take a closer look at our present situation. We have the lowest number of filled jobs in more than six years, our actual GDP numbers are skewed by inflation, so the “growth” is most likely lower or non-existent with inflation calculations included. The Government is touting quarters of growth after a global pandemic, but it does not compare to pre-pandemic, which is what our aim should be. The international business and insurance sector has been experiencing consecutive growth periods on its own, with very minimal help from this government.
This industry is responsible for 60 per cent of our economic activity and is the largest driver of our GDP. What does this say about the state of our island and the PLP’s actual record in office?
It means that the PLP’s actual record of economic growth is non-existent. As our economy continues to be driven by the efforts of international business, our government has been unable to support substantial growth in any other industry.
Capital projects such as the arbitration centre and the Fairmont Southampton continue to stall. Tourism has not recovered to pre-pandemic numbers, despite other comparable destinations experiencing record-high tourism numbers post-pandemic. Fintech is still not a large contributor to the economy and we have a massive dent in our working population to the tune of more than 8,000 people.
How can the PLP celebrate growth when the only industry that is growing is the one it has the least impact on.
It’s like getting an A on a group project and you only provided your house for everyone to complete the assignment but never did any of the work yourself.
How does this translate to Mr and Mrs Bermuda? Why are people leaving the island despite all this supposed economic growth and GDP increases?
The answer is something which most Bermudians know, but which the Government will not acknowledge. All the growth is coming from one sector of our economy that is not the largest employer — meaning, if you are not one of the Bermudians working within that industry, you are not feeling the growth at all, and entry into this industry is competitive because there is a limited number of jobs.
It is true we are all struggling under the rise of inflation and cost-of-living increases. However, those outside of the international business sector are struggling a lot more, as the cost of living eclipses their salaries, but their jobs cannot afford to pay them more. This creates a huge divide in Bermuda when all Bermudians must fight over very selective and competitive jobs to achieve a good standard of living.
Other sectors are struggling to maintain their employment and operating costs because of the lack of growth-based government policy. Bermudians simply cannot afford to work certain jobs because the pay simply doesn’t go far enough, so they opt for industries that can sustain living on this island. This story is very noticeable in the wounded second pillar of our economy — tourism — which continues to bleed out under this government. Which is why Bermudians and non-Bermudians who cannot make the leap into high-paying positions are now looking elsewhere for a better standard of living.
I am grateful to the international business sector and all it does to prop up our economy, but that should not be its responsibility alone. The growth of international business is encouraging and I am happy about the careers it provides for my fellow Bermudians. However, the mark of a truly flourishing economy is when multiple industries can provide a wage that allows you to pay your bills, put food on the table, have a work/life balance and keep a roof over your head.
Far too many Bermudians are working over the standard 40 hours to simply make ends meet, and that is not a sustainable situation for our island. For this to change, Bermuda must experience substantial growth across all our industries so that they can afford to pay wages that reflect the present cost of living. This is what David Burt needed to be talking about in his Budget Statement — real growth, not the superficial growth that he and his colleagues continue to celebrate.
We need to see a growth strategy that runs through all the ministries. Efforts to reignite our trades, to create competitive pay packages in the hospitality industry to make it a viable career option again, an overhaul of our tourism product, immigration reform that allows us to compete globally for talent to increase our working population, explore viable new industries, and innovative economic investments to entice our Bermudians to return home.
Economic growth and paying competitive wages are the only things that can make Bermuda attractive to foreign and Bermudian workers. The PLP has kicked the immigration can down the road long enough; it is time to tackle the issue for Bermuda’s future.
• Dwayne Robinson is the joint deputy chair of the One Bermuda Alliance and the approved candidate for Southampton East Central (Constituency 30)
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