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OBA wants action on ‘flatlining economy’

One Bermuda Alliance leader Craig Cannonier (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The One Bermuda Alliance called yesterday for urgent action to stimulate the “flatlining economy” and stem the flow of cash overseas.

Opposition leader Craig Cannonier said private pension schemes should be made to invest some of their portfolios locally and that all businesses, including exempt companies, must participate in the mandatory private pension scheme in Bermuda.

In his Reply to the Throne Speech, Mr Cannonier also called for further amendments to the 60:40 rule to encourage local investment from the rich and new bankruptcy legislation to reduce risks for start-up businesses.

He suggested privatising delivery of some public services to encourage innovation, with civil servants able to take ownership in the new ventures.

The OBA further proposed a public register on the use of health services to get to the root cause of soaring costs, an independent education authority and a “big conversation” on women’s rights and equality.

In a strongly-worded response, his first as Opposition leader since 2012, Mr Cannonier labelled the Progressive Labour Party a “national disgrace” for a string of controversies.

He accused the PLP of taking credit for the success of OBA policies it previously attacked, flip-flopping on issues including same-sex marriage and minicars, indulging in a “colonial-style high tea” at Tucker’s Point in September, and handing

$1.2 million to former premier Ewart Brown through a “friends and family payment”.

Mr Cannonier also referred to national security minister Wayne Caines asking a young woman server for “titty milk” in a London café and the PLP’s criticism of new Chief Justice Narinder Hargun based on his ethnicity.

He told the House of Assembly: “It all adds up to a national disgrace. It exposes the true feelings of the Burt Administration about anyone who is not part of their elitist clique.”

Mr Cannonier said the OBA had strengthened the economy and created jobs during its 4½-year tenure, thanks in part to the airport redevelopment, America’s Cup and hotel developments, which were heavily criticised by the PLP.

However, he said: “The only positive numbers the Premier can highlight are the OBA’s doing. The economy is now flatlining. Where is our much needed economic stimulus going to come from?

“The legacy of the America’s Cup has been squandered by the PLP. All the capital projects under the OBA will eventually come to an end. The economy seems to be slipping backward, evidenced by the negative trend in retail spending: six months of decline.”

He warned: “If things don’t change, and change fast, Bermuda will be the fallen star of the North Atlantic.

“The fact is, despite the Premier’s cheerleaders lauding his recent policy offerings, we are actually chasing the tail of a recession.”

Mr Cannonier said the Throne Speech had not spelled out any economic stimulus.

He called for more policies to take advantage of the large wealth of international business.

“Although international business captures an incredible amount of foreign capital, not enough of this permeates into the local economy,” he said.

“The highest earners in any economy spend the smallest percentage of their income on consumption. Therefore they can dedicate the highest percentage of their income to investment and savings.

“Private pension schemes now trail personal savings as the largest category of outbound cash flows from our shores.”

He said entrepreneurs were struggling partly because Bermuda’s banks were “shunning local business loans in favour of investment products”.

“The OBA therefore proposes that private pension schemes invest a portion of their portfolios locally,” he said.

“We also propose that all companies that operate in Bermuda, including those in the exempted space, participate in the mandatory private pension scheme.

“This will help mitigate the immediate outflow of capital from our shores and drive the development of our local capital market.”

The 60:40 rule, he said, should be amended again so that “all Bermuda residents may qualify under the 60 per cent ownership portion”.

He explained: “This will allow more of the wealth already on the island to be invested into our economy, which again increases the availability of domestic capital.

“This provides more competition for the banks, which will drive better lending rates for Bermudians.”

New bankruptcy legislation, he said, could help Bermuda become a hub of innovation.

He said: “We must create not only the educational programmes, but also the legal framework, so that when business start-ups encounter risk, this need not be life-ending.”

He added that the Bermuda Monetary Authority should create a specialised economic unit to monitor and regulate bank fees.

On healthcare, Mr Cannonier pointed to the controversial $1.2 million payment to Dr Brown for losses at his two medical clinics after fees for diagnostic imaging scans were slashed last year.

He said: “Does the Premier not understand that the people of Bermuda know exactly what is going on?”

He added: “It is unlikely that there will be any meaningful reductions in healthcare costs until Government is prepared to tackle the main drivers of increasing costs, which are overutilisation and unrestrained provider fees.

“Let me repeat that the real reason health costs are so high is due to overuse of certain services.

“We believe that a public register to track utilisation across the whole system will lead to a more transparent and meaningful conversation about which services are being overutilised.

“This will remove the ability for those with vested interests to divert progress towards a sustainable and affordable healthcare solution for all Bermudians.”

On education, he said the OBA would budget per term for teachers to buy supplies and equipment, establish an independent standards board equivalent to the Auditor-General to monitor student performance and establish a professional development centre for teachers.

The OBA would add learning time by cutting school holidays and extend the school day to allow for more time for the arts, sports and academic support.

On social issues, his suggestions included providing more artistic outlets to at-risk young people, and considering a high school diploma for special education.

To read Craig Cannonier’s Reply to the Throne Speech in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”