Tourism ideas and economic concerns feature in MPs’ debate of Throne Speech
MPs in the House of Assembly began a lengthy debate of the Throne Speech yesterday.
Kim Swan, of the United Bermuda Party, suggested that the looming elections had influenced the Throne Speech. “It is because of that very reason why we support fixed term elections, reform to the electoral process and reform to the political system.”
He noted that Bermuda faced trying times and its national debt had increased by a factor of five in less than five years.
And he called on the country to get Bermuda working again. Mr Swan said that community policing is key to public safety and commended the Government for “latching on to Operation Ceasefire”, which was UBP proposal.
He said Government must ensure that more foreign currency is spent in Bermuda. And a “difficult political situation” had been created by the huge numbers of unemployed Bermudians .which “illuminate” the number of foreign workers who were pumping less money into the economy because of their own reduced numbers.
“Our position is to encourage the Government to do what is best for the Bermuda people and in the best interest our country. It is a given that we must grow our economy and strike the right balance that protects our Island for future generations.”
On tourism, Mr Swan said that the UBP wanted to encourage Government to grow hotel visitors as their earning capacity exceeded that of cruise ship passengers. And he called for an independent tourism authority.
“The tourism authority would empower our people, like Captain Dendrick Taylor from St George’s, who for twenty years has had a vision for a fleet of super yachts servicing Bermuda from the eastern seaboard whilst also developing Bermudians to develop in the tourism trade with a view to them becoming future industry entrepreneurs.”
Mr Swan suggested that the Human Rights Department be made independent of Government. ”This move alone would provide protection for persons or groups legitimately aggrieved by the Government who do not have the resources to fight for their rights against the institution of government.”
Michael Scott, MP for Sandys North, said that the Throne Speech had been “crafted in the crucible of a set of punishing world conditions”.
He described the writing of a Throne Speech as a “sacred task”.
“People want to hear the right tone struck. People want to hear practical solutions provided and given plans and policies to which they can relate.”
He responded to questions from the OBA about whether the Throne Speech was a series of empty promises by saying that the PLP had a track record of delivering on promises made in prior Throne Speeches.
“Your assessments must stack up against promises delivered on by this Government in 14 Throne Speeches and Budget Statements,” he said. “This Government has been responsive throughout all of its Throne Speeches,” he said.
“We’re not here to just make more promises. This Throne Speech is bristling with good ideas and they are all doable.”
He said he did not accept criticism that the Government “retreats” to blaming the world economic downturn on the Island’s problems.
And he quoted the latest report by ratings agency Fitch, which characterised the economy as a “small open narrow economy with limited financing flexibility”.
“When conditions in the world on which we depend for our business are impacted by a global downturn it affects this country’s capacity to earn revenue,” the Minister argued. “And this is not a member of the Government retreating to an obvious reality that external factors have impacted the Island. We have not said it. An independent ratings agency has said it.”
The Throne Speech had jobs as its focus, he continued.
“This is a Throne Speech about the positioning of the country for the improved position of the global economy.”
He praised plans to establish a Cisco IT training programme on the Island, saying that the initiative was relevant and “involves being involved with the very stuff that makes countries economies supported and that is Information Technology”.
Minister Scott said that the young people in the programme will be in a community of peers of 1.6 million other people. “They will make friendships, they will exchange knowledge, they will travel to their destinations and they will compete against them. But Bermuda will be the beneficiary of this kind of dynamic, strategic peer mentoring going on.”
He went on to say that there were a number of construction projects facilitated by Government that helped to keep people employed, such as the new hospital and the court building.
And on criticism of Government borrowing, he wondered what the Opposition would do if they had $1 billion unspent in 2011. “I suspect they would have made a policy in 2011 that would have involved spending that money.”
Government had “positioned” the country with its spending, Mr Scott said. “So now cruise line passengers bring our increased revenues through the Dockyard, Heritage Wharf and King’s Wharf. We spent on rest homes at Sylvia Richardson. It was positioning spending. I don’t think anyone can make a credible argument that spending in 2011 rather than spending in 2007 amounts to much of a distinction.
“But I am interested to hear the analysis of what would you have done with the $1 billion today?”
On law and order issues, he specified upcoming legislation such as amendments to the Prisons Act, Electronic Monitoring legislation and Sexual Offenders Act, among others.
He said to defend the Throne Speech was easy when you have good material with which to work. “We have in this Throne Speech good material. And we have had in successive Throne Speech, consistently good material. The only difference today is that madame crafts it in conditions fairly unprecedented and yet the outcome is brilliant.”
OBA Shadow Finance Minister
Bob Richards spent much of his time castigating Government for what he claimed was a consistent tendency for blaming the economic downturn on its own failings. He said the root cause for Bermuda’s problems was leadership failures as Government had focused on feel good factors rather than doing what was right.
Mr Richards said that nowhere in the Throne Speech was there any mention of how the initiatives were going to be paid for. And when told by Speaker
Stanley Lowe to wait for the Budget Speech for that, he said it would be nice to have the information now given the economic conditions. “Paying for things happens every day. You just cannot defer it to March. And the public debt is one of our top worries.”
He warned that the risk of a credit rating downgrade is increasing daily. “These are the bitter fruits of failures in leadership. Failures to do the right thing, instead of the popular, expedient thing.”
Mr Richards quoted from the Throne Speech in which it is stated that there is “no escape from the contagious and harmful effects of the economic downturn in those countries with which Bermuda does business.”
That contrasted starkly with last year’s Throne Speech in which it was stated that Bermuda faced a post recessionary climate.
But Mr Richards said blaming the global downturn was the PLP’s “standard operating procedure.”
And he argued that not all companies and industries are affected by a recession in the same way. Some, like Apple and Caterpillar, both with revenues many times Bermuda’s GDP, actually reported record revenues.
While tourism is sensitive to the global downturn, Mr Richards noted that the industry only contributes five percent of GDP.
But, citing a study on the Economic Impact of Bermuda’s international business sector on the US economy, Mr Richards said that one of the observations of study author Charles Ludolph was that Bermuda insurance sector had grown during the recession showing that it was economically independent from the global financial centres and that our insurance sectors were “not correlated to the global downturn.”
Coverage of the debate continues in Monday’s paper.