Throne Speech Lite revisited
The first Throne Speech of this Progressive Labour Party government, which was delivered in September 2017, made many promises and, while many items have been addressed, much remains to be done in spite of one minister at the time, who was fired or resigned and recently returned to Cabinet, saying: “Everything in this Throne Speech will be completed in the year.”
Yes, this was an exact quote and it has proven to be unfulfilled.
The minister is known for bold and unsubstantiated statements that have proven to be false. However, the boldest statement of the last Throne Speech was this: “The Government's plans will grow the economy.”
In 14 months, we have seen few signs that the economy has grown. In fact, crucial economic indicators, such as retail sales, show the reverse is taking place ... the economy is shrinking.
Jobs for Bermudians are scarce, but one thing that has grown is the size of the Cabinet and associated expense to the taxpayer. The Premier does not wish to talk about this, but many Bermudians find it incredulous that there are two ministers drawing a nice paycheque of $150,000 per year with little ministerial responsibilities and few staff, if any, to help them do whatever they may have to do.
Some would be green with envy! Many question the justification.
While the PLP will attempt to spin that progress is being made, the man in the street, the people who elected the PLP, certainly do not see the progress or feel better about where they are this year as compared with summer of 2017.
Yet the Premier, for whatever reasons, feels it appropriate to have a Minister without Portfolio and a Minister in the Cabinet Office to support a premier who is no longer the Minister of Finance.
As the Throne Speech has been delivered, it is wise that we look at what has not been done from last year. As the Government is keen to tout progress, it is important also to note what was promised but not delivered.
So here is my list:
• There has been no financial assistance reform, which the Government calls “a displaced item”
• No update of pension legislation. Another displaced item
• No word on the commitment or an update regarding the Washington office
However, there is talk about interns at Bermuda offices overseas in three locations.
• No progress on a commitment for a Bermuda Event Authority, a displaced item from last year
Yet the PLP continually bashes the event that highlighted the success of an event authority conceived by the One Bermuda Alliance
• There has been little public update on much needed immigration reform
But a minister has been removed and in this Throne Speech, we read a call for “mature debate on reforming and progressing immigration”.
Let's hope it is not like when the PLP had protesters close down the first meeting on immigration reform at the Anglican Cathedral Hall! However, the Government talks about a “streamlined immigration reform for those that are good corporate citizens”. Well, what does this say about efficiency and best practice?
• Where is the Police Authority? A displaced item
• Where are amendments to the Police Complaints Authority?
• There has been no progress on healthcare costs
In fact, health costs have risen under the PLP and we have seen a $1.2 million payout to a private health firm owned by a former PLP leader and premier.
• Where is the Code of Conduct for Parliamentarians?
We still have at least one Member who has not filed in the Register of Members' Interest.
• Where are the three oversight committees of Parliament?
• Where is the Green Paper on the future of transport in Bermuda?
• Where is mandatory recycling?
In this Throne Speech, there is a charge on single plastics in 2020, but why wait for change? How about starting in April 2019 with a charge on certain plastics and all takeout food packaging? How about putting in place a mandatory recycling system that is run by a private company with a tender put out to bid?
I could go on, as there are many commitments that remain outstanding and, likewise, there is much to be done to deal with the many challenges Bermuda faces.
However, I have clearly highlighted that the Burt government has failed on many promises from Throne Speech 2017 and has delivered Throne Speech 2018, “Throne Speech Lite” as dubbed by the Leader of the Opposition, which is two pages shorter and written in larger print.
While it appears evident that the economy has turned in the wrong direction under the guidance of the PLP, it is also clear that education still has big challenges and both principals and teachers are not happy; healthcare costs have risen under the PLP and we know of the aforementioned $1.2 million payout without accountability and transparency;
The struggle of seniors is increasing; putting Bermudians first has not equated to job opportunities for anyone other than a select few in Cabinet; public transportation issues have deepened under the PLP; once-a-week trash collection seems to have bred a public health hazard with rats running all over the island.
Not a pretty picture and not a good record for the PLP government.
Still painting the picture, it seems that the only capital projects supporting the island started under the One Bermuda Alliance government, and at the time the PLP went to great lengths to impede progress or even stop the project.
The PLP touts 322 more people working. However, it appears the only jobs created have been as a direct result of the OBA leadership at the St Regis project and at the airport redevelopment.
Mr and Mrs Bermuda should not be fooled again by PLP rhetoric: the “big bad OBA” was in fact making our island home a better place, and all the issues some people blamed the OBA for are in fact still on the table and in most cases in worse shape.
I repeat, the “big bad OBA”, as falsely appointed by the PLP, made great progress under difficult conditions and against many manufactured Opposition headwinds.
But, the PLP did pass a sugar tax. A regressive tax, poorly thought out, badly targeted and leaving out many sugar-filled foods, lacking real consultation, which will harm business and jobs, especially small black Bermudian businesses while not having the intended consequences of reduced obesity and a healthier population. I guess they should wish to take credit for a platform item delivered.
Meanwhile, the fridge in the House of Assembly kitchen is still full of soda.
Perhaps, you will recall the PLP in Opposition talked continuously about emigration; people leaving Bermuda.
Now there is little comment from the PLP on this matter, but emigration appears to show more people leaving the island than ever. Because they can, because there is a lack of opportunity here and because there is a lack of confidence in the future by many Bermudians.
Recently, I was approached by a teenage Bermudian lady looking for a job. She wanted to work to earn and to get off the island, as she did not see a future for herself here at this point and because the environment was too toxic.
This view is shared by many young people, it is shared by more and more seniors who find it hard to survive on the island, and it is a sentiment that is growing in our community — one that will not help Bermuda going forward.
Over the past year, many wonder if the PLP has forgotten about putting Bermudians first.
This PLP government is becoming known for higher taxes and more regulation, which is not conducive to fostering confidence or an environment for opportunity, growth and jobs.
So in conclusion, here are some suggestions for the Government:
• Stop sowing division; all people are important and count
• Create an Education Authority similar to the successful Bermuda Tourism Authority
Let's take politics out of education and reinforce accountability. Let's have qualified professionals run education and hold them accountable. Our existing set-up is top-heavy and ineffective. It is not the system we teach; rather, the structure of organisation we have in place.
• Make financial assistance reform happen
One change could be that if a recipient of financial assistance can find a part-time job, empower them to take it while losing only a corresponding part of their monthly payment.
• If we are serious about our environment, we should quickly draft a plan for mandatory recycling run by a private company, with a bid seeking tenders
The taxpayer paid for a recycling facility a few years ago and we have gone backward.
• We must continue to build and revamp the tourism infrastructure
The OBA had success and it must continue, as we need more beds, more quality products, more great experiences, and more opportunities and jobs created for Bermudians.
Building on the tourism success started under the OBA should not consist of more government control of the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
• We must move gaming forward.
To date under the PLP, there has been no visible progress.
Heck, there has been no executive director for more than a year and gaming regulations have only just been laid.
• We must make amendments to Rent Control and look at the housing market
With the introduction of Airbnb, which I support, we have a lack of rentals for Bermudians and the rental costs have increased greatly, meaning Bermudians are being seriously challenged.
• We must actually have immigration reform, including for those who have been in Bermuda for years, are part of our community and have raised families here
• We must also look to grow our population in an appropriate way
With Bermudians leaving and the birthrate lower, our population will slowly continue to decrease.
This is unsustainable on many levels and must change.
We must have more people contributing to our economy, which in turn allows opportunity. Opportunity for Bermudians!
Time is not on our side and in the world of 2018 and beyond, people can travel and live anywhere. Bitcoin is not a third pillar of the economy.
We better be sure to prop up and always pay attention to our first two pillars — in order, international business and tourism — or our problems will be magnified.
• We must be serious about government reform
The Sage Commission and the Commission of Inquiry submission into the Auditor-General's report have provided a clear blueprint for many potential changes.
Under this government, reform appears to have been put on the back burner when there is much work to be done. While we are blessed with many very capable and hard-working civil servants, it is clear our present system can be improved, and it was a high priority of the OBA government.
An effective government system is not possible without 21st-century reform.
• The PLP government should discontinue costly court action fighting same-sex marriage
The Government has no chance of winning and is wasting taxpayer dollars while the world changes.
• Finally, this might seem like a small point to some, but it is not ... we must always be welcoming as the world watches
International business can go anywhere and could do so silently. Holidaymakers can spend their money anywhere. Bermudians have always been known as a warm and friendly people; now, more than ever, it is time to make sure we show that in everything we do.
• Michael Dunkley is the former Premier of Bermuda, an Opposition back bencher and the MP for Smith's North (Constituency 10)