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All hands on deck

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What privileges: a transparent look at benefits and pitfalls is required

A few years ago, I wrote a number of opinion pieces regarding lack of progress on Bermuda immigration reform and made a number of comparisons with the Cayman Islands. I essentially explained how the Cayman Islands economy was booming compared with Bermuda, despite our advanced infrastructure, natural beauty, human capital and mature international business sector. That piece has been used repeatedly by my critics to suggest that I believe Bermuda should be a carbon copy of our southern neighbour. Have a look at what has caused so much angst.

What I said in February 2019 about the Cayman Islands’ success is, “Some will say it is because of the investments made by Ken Dart, and they would be partly right, but the underlying issue is that Cayman had the foresight to warmly welcome wealthy investors such as Dart. Cayman is surpassing all expectations and its progressive ideals are bringing real economic success. Its warm welcoming of ‘expats’ is a large part of that. If you don’t believe it, watch how much Cayman believes in it at growthmatters.ky.”

I went on and explained that, “Liberal and caring Cayman immigration policies encourage direct foreign investment, which create opportunities for Caymanians and raise their standard of living. In Bermuda, our policies are comparatively anti-foreigner and generally anti-‵real Bermudian’. It is becoming desperately sad.”

I travel to the Cayman Islands and Barbados regularly on business. As a previous government minister, I was fortunate enough to represent Bermuda at a number of conferences including Caricom and International Labour Organisation forums and tourism meetings. From 2009 to present day, I have had numerous trips to the Caribbean region, including Trinidad & Tobago, Bahamas, Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, the Cayman Islands, Aruba — and also Puerto Rico and Guyana. Every single one has been for either private business, conferences or government business. Not one has been for a personal Caribbean beach holiday — save for a 2015 jaunt to Cuba. Rather, they have been for meetings on behalf of my employer, the people of Bermuda and fact-finding missions — both public and private.

In other words, to suggest that I have no interest in engaging with our Caribbean friends is utterly false.

Based on those experiences and interactions with locals and immigrants in the places I have been, I have a decent insight into a number of areas, especially international business growth and tourism opportunities. I am not holding myself out as an expert on the Caribbean region or Caricom; rather, I am offering opinions and thoughts to stimulate conversations and dialogue — which appears to be working, by the way.

What has always struck me is that when I return home to Bermuda we are still, in my view, far more beautiful and safer than most of the countries I have listed above. Of all of the above jurisdictions, the Cayman Islands is booming and is attracting loads of international business and tourists. Despite Bermuda being more beautiful with better infrastructure, why is that the case? My comments above from 2019 remain the same. However, I do not want Bermuda to be the Cayman Islands. I want us to be far better! I am tired of the Cayman Islands stealing our lunch and now seeking to steal our dinner, too!

What is sad, is we act like we do not want the very people who care for our children, cook our food, police our roads, nurse the sick, regulate our financial industry, underwrite and broke insurance, provide accountancy services, teach our students, cut our grass and hedges, build our homes or marry our friends and family to remain in Bermuda over the long term. We essentially say, “Come to Bermuda, pay taxes to support us and leave.”

That is not good enough.

The world has changed and become far more globalised. We cannot afford to be protectionist and insular if we expect to keep pace with desired growth targets and budget needs and wants. Ironically, some of the very reasons the Government says we should join Caricom!

I want Bermuda to be successful. I want to see a skyline with cranes, new buildings and new housing. I want to see all Bermudians benefit from the positive effects of increased immigration and consequential business growth and opportunity. I want all Bermudians’ pension contributions to be secure, our infrastructure improved and our healthcare and education systems to be first-rate. I want all of that for all of us. It cannot happen without discarding our fears of a diluted vote. We need human capital to work, invest and create a long-term home in Bermuda. Without this, we are doomed. As one blogger recently said, “The water is at the handrail.”

For years, the majority of guest workers coming to Bermuda were from North America, the Azores and the British Isles. That has shifted to also include the Philippines, numerous African countries, the Indian sub-continent and the Caribbean. Great! Provided immigrants contribute positively to Bermuda, I couldn’t care less where they come from. All people gracing our shores should be embraced, and I am fortunate to have friends and family from all occupations and backgrounds. Our cultural differences should be celebrated, not used as cheap political weapons of fear. The fabric of our community is strengthened by their presence and contributions, not at the expense of Bermudians; rather, their presence complements us and grows our small-island nation!

Who are we as Bermudians? We are a unique mixture of people from all over the world. We must stop attacking each other, weaponising race and saying that immigration is about stealing jobs from Bermudians. Increasing our tax base through immigration will protect Bermudians and create global opportunities. It really is that simple! Those who agree with this are labelled by some as “anti-Bermudian”. This playbook is now rearing its ugly head in the Caricom debate, where any critique or questioning places you in the bucket of “colonial slave master”. It is school-ground politics at best, Trumpian at worst, and should have no place in a modern democracy. Such behaviour does little to instil confidence in Bermuda and is itself “un-Bermudian”.

I am not going to bore you this time with a table of figures that make my point obvious; rather, I am going to ask you to consider the following:

1, Are you better off now than 15 years ago?

2, Do you think our infrastructure is better than it was 15 years ago?

3, Do you think race relations are better than 15 years ago?

4, Do you think you are getting value for money from our government officials?

5, Do you think weaponising race and the politics of personal attacks is working for you?

Frankly, if you are answering “No” to any of these questions, you know it is time to accept we need a significant shift in our way of thinking.

We must accept and embrace our differences.

We are too small a country in terms of size and population to be constantly picking at each other.

We need to quickly pull our fingers out and deal with immigration once and for all.

We need to look hastily and transparently at the benefits and pitfalls of full Caricom membership, and have a referendum on such an important matter.

We need to amend our planning laws quickly.

We need to encourage hotel growth, rather than criticise it.

We need to tear away the colossal amount of red tape that surrounds just about everything we do, which stymies opportunities.

We need to row in the same direction.

We need to stop being scared.

We need to stop living in the past.

We need all hands on deck.

Our future depends on it.

Michael Fahy was the Government Senate Leader and Cabinet minister in the One Bermuda Alliance government from 2012 to 2017

• Michael Fahy was the Government Senate Leader and Cabinet minister in the One Bermuda Alliance government from 2012 to 2017. Thoughts or comments to opedfahy@gmail.com

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Published November 27, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated November 27, 2023 at 7:12 am)

All hands on deck

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