Committed to helping people in many ways
The Bermuda Government is responsible for many things that affect our daily lives. Think of health standards, garbage collection, taxation, education, firefighting, child services, libraries, parks ...
The list goes on, but if you boiled it down to three things that define the purpose of government, they would be to improve the quality of life for all its citizens, to keep them safe and to provide equal opportunity to achieve their dreams.
That's the way I see it, and that's what we consider when issues come before the Cabinet: is it going to help people? Make lives better? Create opportunity? Protect them?
I'm proud of the progress that the Government has made in advancing these goals during the recent parliamentary session, and today I would like to highlight initiatives we took to help people in their daily lives.
We have been able to help seniors this month with the day-to-day cost of living through a 5 per cent rise in their pensions — the first increase since 2011. At the same time, contributions by employers and employees will increase by 7.5 per cent to support the long-term viability of the contributory pension fund.
We are going to work for a further increase in the year to come because cost-of-living pressures continue to be a significant concern for seniors.
We are pushing hard to help Bermudian families with policies that create jobs and new business opportunities. But until good times fully replace hard times, we need to help people still paying the price for the recession.
At the end of June, we postponed reductions to the benefits of able-bodied, unemployed people on financial assistance until April 1, 2017. This will ease financial stress and give people time to find a job.
One of my favourite programmes in all of government is Cash Back to Communities. This is where we channel money seized from criminal activities into programmes that help children and strengthen community life.
In June, $140,000 was donated to nine groups. These included the Care Learning Centre to help students with GED preparations, and three community clubs — Western Stars, North Village and PHC.
To date, more than half a million dollars has been distributed to community groups.
We outlawed discrimination on grounds of mental illness, protecting a segment of our population that has long been vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace and in daily life.
This was followed by the creation of a court-run mental health programme for people who commit minor offences because of their mental illness. This is a big issue across the island, with police recording more than 500 such “encounters” each year. The aim is to treat mental illness and to help people to escape the revolving door of recidivism for a better life.
We set the stage for the police to issue formal cautions for first-time minor offences.
The new policy will help people to avoid criminalisation for wrongdoings that would otherwise lead to prosecution in court — an outcome that could seriously affect their lives, from employability to the United States “stop list”.
This is a change that will give people the chance to avoid time-consuming prosecution and allow the courts to focus on high-level matters. The new caution policy will come into force once the Department of Public Prosecutions lists the offences for which cautions can be given.
CCTV cameras are a proven tool of modern policing and criminal deterrence. Cabinet in late June approved the extension of CCTV coverage to St George and Dockyard. The cameras should be operational within the next two months, helping us to achieve a safer Bermuda. We passed a law to protect your personal information from misuse by organisations, which is a growing danger in our ever-connected world.
The law is designed to ensure that information disclosed in private will not be disclosed to third parties without your permission, giving people peace of mind that the use of their personal information is “limited and secure”. Implementation is expected to take about two years, but passage of the Bill was the critical first step to protecting an important aspect of people's lives.
No one wants grease balls on South Shore beaches. When the Government was alerted to the problem in 2014, we took steps to clean up the situation once and for all.
The result? Hamilton restaurants installed grease interceptors in early 2015 and legislation last month made them mandatory for all food establishments. Clear water, clean beaches: that's a win-win.
These highlights reflect the good work that is being done by all parliamentarians. I am looking forward to the next parliamentary session when we will continue our work to improve and to protect our lives together as Bermudians.
• Michael Dunkley is the Premier of Bermuda and the MP for Smith's North (Constituency 10)