Government silent on progress on economic recovery plan
The Government refused yesterday to discuss progress on a flagship series of measures designed to get the economy under way in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.
Curtis Dickinson, the Minister for Finance, unveiled the economic recovery plan last March and claimed that the Government would “continue to take timely and decisive action to restore consumer and business confidence, to stimulate our economy, which in turn will create a clear path to growth, employment, and greater equity”.
A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office minister declined to answer specific questions on what progress had been made on a selection of proposals to boost the economy.
She said: “As the public is aware, the Government has commenced implementation of its Economic Recovery Plan.
“The ERP is focused on a strategy of economic diversification, reducing socio-economic disparities and leveraging its natural resources and geographic advantages.
“This approach will gradually help solidify the country's economic future. Steps have been taken to align the initiatives set out in the ERP to accelerate the economic outcomes.”
The spokeswoman added: “Simply put, while work will continue on all of the initiatives, those initiatives designed to generate a significant socio-economic impact in the short and medium term will feature as the Government’s priorities.
“It’s anticipated that Premier David Burt will provide a broader update to the public regarding the ERP in a statement to the House of Assembly during the current Budget session.”
Among the 29 initiatives of the ERP is the extension of an Economic Empowerment Zone in Hamilton.
The Government website said that it was “envisioned that the extension of the zone will be formally completed by February 2022”.
Other measures included the creation of a vertical farm to grow produce.
The website said the project was “well advanced” – a claim first made by Wayne Furbert, the Cabinet Office minister, in November 2020.
The website added that a feasibility study on medical tourism was being carried out “to determine its potential to create jobs” and that the implementation of a national jobs strategy was “now under way”.
The website also said that a national space strategy policy had been “developed and is currently being reviewed”, as was a business plan for a national digital bank.
David Burt, the Premier, claimed last November that nine of the projects were “substantially complete” – but there has been no update since then.
The Royal Gazette e-mailed questions on some of the projects to the Government more than two weeks ago.
Follow-up questions were sent last week and asked for progress reports on 15 of the 29 schemes in the Economic Recovery Plan.
The Opposition One Bermuda Alliance claimed that the Government’s launch of so many schemes at once was “unrealistic”.
Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition and shadow finance minister, said the programme “over-promised” and was doomed to failure.
The Royal Gazette sent questions on 15 planks of the Economic Recovery Plan to the Government’s communications department last week.
The questions referred to the status of these initiatives as posted on the government’s website. Questions included:
Lower interest rates to reduce mortgage costs:“It is anticipated that in this parliamentary term, legislation will be advanced to set a framework for the establishment of a Bermuda base rate.”
Is this still the case? Can we expect to see legislation brought to the House this term?
Shoreside fishing facility:“A business plan for a Fisheries Development Centre is currently being developed.”
Is there a timeline for when this plan will be completed?
Increase affordable housing:“The Bermuda Housing Corporation currently has a number of housing initiatives under way, with recently completed upgrades to the former Police Barracks providing ten studio apartments in the Eastern end of the island, two more units recently completed in the West end, and multiple projects ongoing to increase housing inventory. The Government made an additional $1.6 Million funding available to the Bermuda Housing Corporation provide 17 additional affordable housing units.”
Can you say how many units have been produced to date? And how many more are in the pipeline?
National reemployment (Jobs) strategy: “The implementation of a national jobs strategy is now under way.”
Can you say how many jobs this strategy has created?
Residential developments in the EEZs:“Guidelines for submitting applications for approved residential schemes within the economic empowerment zones have been developed by the BEDC, with information for EEZ stakeholders, potential investors, and the general public to be published in late November 2021.”
Has this information been sent out? If so, has the BEDC received any applications? If it hasn’t been set up, do you know when it will be?
Green energy fund:“The development of a policy to support a green energy fund is currently under way.”
Any update on this? When will the policy be ready?
Cheaper food through financial assistance:“The Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) is working with both the fishing and farming industries, with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), on key economic development initiatives aimed at facilitating economic growth for the individual businesses and for Bermuda. This work involves exposing these entrepreneurs to new business models, helping them to identify and implement innovative operating techniques, and identifying opportunity gaps within Bermuda’s food supply process to fill.”
Do you know how many entrepreneurs have signed up to this programme?
Mr Simons added: “The PLP has been in government for 19 of the past 24 years and it has not addressed the socio-economic disparities which exist in employment, education, healthcare, housing and economic security for the average Bermudian.
“The Government is unrealistic if it thinks it can execute all of these initiatives which read more like an aspirational wish list as opposed to achievable objectives.
“If it could not do it before Covid, it is unlikely that these economic initiatives can be executed post-pandemic.”
Mr Simons said: “The Government has done very little to close the economic divide between the haves and have nots in our Island home and continues not address the socio-economic divide.”
“Instead of trying to over-promise, why doesn’t it instead choose to prioritise these initiatives and work on one or two, attain measurable results and then work its way down the list?
“At this juncture, trying to do too much will inevitably lead to very little being achieved and the island will continue to suffer economic disparity.”