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Unsustained development

Blunted into touch: Alex Scott, the former premier, had the right idea in 2006 but successive governments have contributed to Bermuda losing its competitive edge

“Bermuda has seen many changes over the centuries, and has weathered many storms. The decisions made since we were first settled have created the Bermuda we see today. We have much to be proud of, but we need to make some choices now to ensure that our way of life continues.”Alex Scott (Premier of Bermuda, June 2006)

The above quote comes from Paragraph 2 in the foreword to the Draft Sustainable Development Strategy and Implementation Plan. As explained further in the foreword, the 158-page plan was the product of wide consultation carried out by the Sustainable Development Round Table and the Sustainable Development Unit. The primary objective of the plan was to chart our own course, and the public were invited to come to the table to broker a new partnership for the future of Bermuda.

The cornerstone for the plan can be found in “Section 6. Bermuda’s Strengths and Weaknesses”. Here you will find 13 major topics viewed from “both sides of the coin”. Each topic contains multiple sub-points, which are presented in a manner that encourages balanced consideration. For example, on one side of the coin Bermuda’s buoyant economy, high gross domestic product per capita and high levels of employment were identified as strengths. On the other side of the coin, our reliance on currency inflows from overseas, increasing structural unemployment, insufficient supply of affordable housing and economic inequality are identified as weaknesses.

This disclosure of strengths and weaknesses is the prerequisite for the plan’s five leading themes:

Building and maintaining an inclusive strong economy: Bermuda’s economy must remain competitive, and the benefits of a thriving economy must be felt throughout the community

Transforming governance and the public sector: The Government must evolve to a place where the social, economic and environmental impact of public and private-sector actions is fully understood. Ministries and departments need to be integrated more and a common vision must be shared. The Civil Service must become effective and accountable

Protecting and enhancing our natural resources and environment: Both public and private-sector development must be carried out with due consideration given to the long-term impact of development on Bermuda’s natural resources

Sustaining our communities: Government policy needs to ensure that Bermuda’s socioeconomic challenges are addressed. Housing, social services, antisocial behaviour and healthcare are to be addressed proactively

Living within Bermuda’s limits: Bermuda’s population must be managed with careful consideration given to consumption patterns, pollution, infrastructure needs and climate change

Each theme contains an analysis of the main issues, identification of the main objectives and multiple options for action. And for each action you will find what is to be done, why it should be done, who should do it, when it should be done, what the anticipated outcomes are, and what are the possible difficulties. Best of all, the plan does not ignore Bermuda’s racist past or present. It sought to bring people together so that we might all thrive in the future.

After the release of the draft plan in June, further consultation was to take place with the public. Mr Scott wanted our feedback and buy-in before moving ahead. Only four months later, Scott was challenged by Ewart Brown and lost the Progressive Labour Party leadership contest. Bermuda gained a new premier and consequently lost its champion for sustainable development.

Still, over the next two years, further consultation did take place. The Sustainable Development Unit was formed in 2006, and the Sustainable Development Plan was approved by Cabinet in March 2008. When the unit was formed, it had only one staff member. By December 2009, two more were added. A fourth staff member was added in December 2013 by Craig Cannonier, then the Premier. It should also be noted that between 2006 and 2013, the SDU was moved from the Central Policy Unit to the Ministry of Environment and then to the Cabinet Office.

I can’t quite shake the feeling that what was achieved over the years was not what was intended. For example, the draft plan called for rigorous analysis, detailed regular reporting, accountability and transparency. The first report was not finished until 2013 and not shared with the public until 2015.

The report contains very little details about the strategic objectives that the Government set between 2006 and 2013, and how well the Government met them. It does include a sustainability index covering 2007 to 2013, but it is impossible to determine how the various indicators were tallied and whether or not they were scored without political interference. Further, if the index was not shared with the public, the public could not have used it to hold the Government accountable.

By the time the One Bermuda Alliance came into power, Bermuda’s finances were an omnishambles. The new administration sought to save money wherever it could and carried out the Sage initiative. Through this exercise it concluded that the $500,000 spent per year on sustainable development did not yield adequate results. Therefore, it effectively shut down the sustainable development initiative. This was a mistake. Instead, the OBA should have given sustainable development the attention and resources required for it to achieve the original objectives.

The depressing thing about the 2006 plan is that its primary objective was to avoid Bermuda’s economic, social and cultural self-destruction. It foresaw the dangers of Bermuda losing its competitive edge, heightened racial division, and an increase in antisocial behaviour and displacement of Bermuda’s people and culture.

The plan also sought to avoid the degradation of Bermuda’s politics. When the PLP returned to power in 2017, it could have restarted the initiative. But the Burt Administration had grand plans of its own. Just look at where those plans, in all their populist glory, have put us in 2024. How ironic.

Alex Scott may not have been the perfect premier, but if I could turn back the clock, I would run down the path he was pointing us towards in 2006. Yes, it would have been a hard path, but we would’ve been in a far better place than where we find ourselves now.

Bryant Trew can be contacted via e-mail at bryanttrew@mac.com

• For the full reports, see Related Media

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Published April 02, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated April 02, 2024 at 8:49 am)

Unsustained development

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