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Worrying, worrying signs

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End of an era: Bluck’s has closed its doors after 175 years

Monday’s newspaper was quite possibly one of the more depressing reads in the past few months. From an announcement of the closure of Bluck’s, to the departure of the general counsel of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission, to further discussion on the dismantling of the corporations of Hamilton and St George, to the theft of avocados, and closing out with an extensive editorial about the Premier’s extraordinary rant in Friday’s House of Assembly, only a blind person would not be able to see that Bermuda is on a continuing downward spiral.

What is worse, however, is that most Bermudians don’t actually appear to give a damn.

Now some will say that the demise of Bluck’s was inevitable. Times change and Bluck’s did not. There is a lot to be said for that. However, that would be too simple an excuse.

As you will recall, October’s retail sales statistics were released last week indicating an eighth successive month of decline. You don’t need to be a clairvoyant to look into the future to predict that the spiral will continue. And there appears to be little on the Government’s agenda to reverse this trend. It is therefore sadly safe to say that Bluck’s may be the first this year, but it certainly will not be the last to close permanently.

Expect at least one more well-known retailer to close its doors for good. Look for the Minister of Finance to throw retailers a bone in his budget through duty or payroll tax relief to keep the house of cards propped up for another year, all the while ignoring the obvious — lack of population in Bermuda purchasing goods and services.

If the Progressive Labour Party government really wants to help Bermudians, it needs to move now on immigration reform. This remains the most pressing issue. Not subsuming the corporations, not interfering with the Bermuda Tourism Authority or the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission. Until we unlatch and swing open the gates to the outside world and warmly welcome job makers, investors and overseas workers, and give them reasons to remain in Bermuda, we are doomed to a deep, dark depression.

If the PLP government needs an example of how to be welcoming, it needs to look at our cousins to the south in the Cayman Islands.

Cayman is booming. Infrastructure is being constructed. The property market is flourishing. Tourism is on the increase and jobs are plentiful. A new Cayman airport is being built.

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.

Cayman’s economic outlook shows a continued GDP annual growth rate of just under 3 per cent and an unemployment rate of about 5 per cent. In Bermuda, we are on track for a decline in GDP and a rise in unemployment, with the only thing keeping us from a severe decline being active construction projects started under the One Bermuda Alliance — St Regis, the airport and Caroline Bay.

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.

Instead, we could actually be progressive and caring, and move away for our insular attitudes and give real opportunities for all Bermudians. We need to take our blinkers off.

A Bermuda survey in 2018 found a slump in business confidence amid concerns about the shrinking working population and likely tax increases in the pipeline — this does not help growth!

So what can be done? We need to take more Buckley’s — the medicine that tastes like you know what, but it works — and that remains liberalisation of our immigration regime. The PLP ministers know it and say as much in meetings with business leaders. It is high time that the Premier leads on this issue and stands in front of Bermuda and says: “While I believe in Bermuda for Bermudians, we can give more to Bermudians through a permanent residency and status programme.”

He is more than welcome to model it on the progressive Pathways to Status programme and take full credit for the economic success it will inevitably bring.

After all if tourism minister Zane DeSilva can wet the roof of the airport after protesting it and no one bats an eyelid, the Premier could certainly give a national address supporting liberalisation of immigration. Bermuda’s children will thank him for it.

It is time Mr Premier. It is time.

Michael Fahy is a former Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities, and Junior Minister of Finance under the One Bermuda Alliance government

Michael Fahy