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Pathways proposal unsustainable and divisive

Proposal divisive: Cheryl Pooley, who says reasonable term limits are necessary

The proposed “Pathways to Status” giving permanent resident’s certificates to those who have been here for 15 years is environmentally unsustainable, racially divisive and salt in the wound to those who are unemployed. Evidently, this would not have been possible were it not for the labour government repeatedly granting work-permit renewals in contradiction of term-limit policies that it had introduced. It proves that reasonable term limits, of nine years, for example, are necessary. Furthermore, it should be crystal-clear that our public education system must produce high-calibre students that are well positioned to compete in all of Bermuda’s industries, thereby reducing our dependency on imported labour.

Residents who have been in Bermuda for more than 20 years should be able to apply for PRC status similar to the same privileges extended to Bermudians who are long-term residents in foreign countries such as Britain, Canada and the United States. However, granting PRC status to guest workers after only 15 years prioritises them over Bermudians and is simply wrong.

Between 1950 and 1988, tourism in Bermuda flourished and it lived up to the meaning of “paradise”. Hotels employed approximately four non-Bermudians to every 18 Bermudians. However, commencing in the 1990s, there was a significant shift from tourism to international business and, by 2008, there were nine non-Bermudians to 18 Bermudians.

Our population went from 37,403 in 1950 to 65,091 in 2013. This ranks Bermuda as one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 3,097 persons per square mile. We churn out more garbage than the population of Manhattan and we put the most toxic, cancer-causing residue from the Tynes Bay Incinerator into concrete blocks and dump these into Castle Harbour. There are 46,947 registered vehicles on our roads.

Belco has challenges maintaining its existing grid in the summer. We allow sewage to be dumped into our crystal-blue waters off South Shore. Our overbuilding could pose harm (leaching cesspits) to our underwater lens, which we depend on when there is a drought.

Guest workers are needed, but we do not have to sell our nationality to inspire them to work here. They have three significant advantages: less taxes, good weather and a beautiful island.

Undoubtedly, the Government’s proposal to give PRC status to guest workers after 15 years will reduce land and home ownership opportunities for present and future generations of born Bermudians.

Our island has 4,416.82 acres of open space that includes golf courses, nature reserves and recreation. There are 946.23 acres labelled “Other” and 1,162.82 acres as “Rural” that are left undeveloped in our tiny 20.54 square miles. As it stands, the hope for the average Bermudian ever being able to afford a home seems unobtainable to many right now.

Growing the population at the expense of our environment and at the cost of diminishing home ownership for the average Bermudian is not sound governance. It would be more intelligent and pragmatic to not allow guest workers to stay beyond ten years.

The Minister of Finance has put forward a Budget that in effect is a band-aid solution with insufficient long-term goals that lack a visionary and inclusive plan for Bermudians. This is evidenced by the five-year public and private funding in the amount of $1.8 billion for infrastructure projects, yet in this same 2016 Budget there is a slash in education by $2.2 million. In effect, the Government is saying that it does not care about our young people.

The primary focus of the Budget should be public education. The Minister of Education appears to be dedicated, but reform will not be successful unless educators and parents are included at every step of the process. International business needs to be supported by a well-educated workforce and there must be a collaborative, five-year plan to position Bermuda’s public school graduates to enter accredited colleges and universities.

It would be in the best interest of international business to be responsible corporate citizens and contribute towards the island’s infrastructure, which is so heavily affected by its presence, yet unsupported by lack of taxation. Perhaps increased annual company fees tiered in favour of those companies that provide qualified Bermudians with jobs, increased internships and a commitment to train up the local workforce of administrators rather than looking abroad.

Finally, let us be cognisant that building hotels and tirelessly seeking investment interests from this industry will have an economic trickle-down to the working class faster and further than international business ever will. International business is essential to any success had today, but when we stop thinking that it is the holy grail, we will then be able to focus on diversifying our economy for the benefit of our people and our environment.

Cheryl Pooley is a social commentator and three-times former parliamentary candidate