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As Throne Speech looms, business community has plenty of wishes

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The business community is calling on Government to move quickly to establish a tripartite economic advisory group, suspend work permit term limits and reduce taxes.

With the convening of Parliament looming,

The Royal Gazette asked the Bermuda Employers’ Council and the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce what they hoped the One Bermuda Alliance Government would announce in its first Throne Speech.

BEC president Keith Jensen said that his organisation was looking for “high-speed time frames” on a number of issues affecting business.

A tripartite economic advisory group would “assist in solutions for the Island’s lengthy economic recession and declining real income”, he said.

“Working together is stronger than working apart. Trade unions and business organisations advocated a tripartite approach to the former Government to no avail. Part of the economic reality is the need for timely economic performance indicators and gross domestic product information.”

Chamber of Commerce president Ronnie Viera also listed an economic advisory group as a top priority, saying the group endorses the “creation of a council of senior industry professionals and economists to advise Government on matters of national economic concern”.

But at the very top of its wish list is action to reduce the national debt and control Government spending. “It is hoped that the 2013 Budget will be the first positive indicator of Government’s intention to reduce spending and address the Island's spiralling debt,” Mr Viera said.

Finance Minister Bob Richards has already indicated that the statutory debt ceiling would have to be raised. His 2013/2014 Budget will likely be inherited from the previous administration as the budget preparation cycle ended in October last year. Former Finance Minister Paula Cox had planned to cap spending at 2012/13 levels through 2015/16.

The Chamber is also hoping that Government will address the underfunded pension liability, announce an extension of payroll tax relief beyond March 31, and an action plan to stimulate the economy and create jobs. It also supports the creation of a tourism authority an election promise of the One Bermuda Alliance.

It sees immigration reform as a key strategy to achieving the goal of “ensuring job opportunities for Bermudians and making it easier to operate a business in the Island”.

Business has long advocated the removal of term limits, and the OBA is moving ahead with its election promise to suspend term limits and may move on to eliminating them altogether, according to Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy.

Mr Jensen called on Government to implement the term limit decision, “strengthen the pursuit of work permit violators” and continue a review of work permit policies “within the tripartite consultation process with stakeholders”.

The BEC would also like to see a reduction of taxes or payroll tax exemptions for businesses which are new or expanding their workforce, plans to expand tourism and international business and get cruise ships for Hamilton and St George.

The BEC will be looking for commitments to control healthcare costs, deal with the Island’s debt and reduce spending, Mr Jensen added.

In the social arena, the BEC wants Government to develop “plans with evaluation milestones to eradicate gang-related crimes” and “plans to enhance the education system and training in conjunction with stakeholders”.

Mr Viera said that the Chamber was hoping the Throne Speech would commit to “bold actions” to improve the quality of public education.

“This is critical to the Island’s future success in terms of attracting business to set up and operate from here, drawing from a qualified pool of people,” he stated.

Chamber of Commerce’s Ronnie Viera
Keith Jensen (far right)

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Published January 28, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 27, 2013 at 9:58 pm)

As Throne Speech looms, business community has plenty of wishes

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