Hayward vague on progress of economic recovery plan
Jason Hayward, the Minister for the Economy, had little to report when asked for an update on the Government’s Economic Recovery Plan.
The plan, unveiled in the summer of 2020, consists of 31 initiatives devised to kick-start the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which had forced the island to shut down for three months.
During a press conference yesterday, Mr Hayward was asked for an update on the four cornerstones of the plan – casinos, the development of the Tynes Bay waste treatment facility, vertical farming, and the creation of an East Hamilton economic empowerment zone.
Asked what impact the Tynes Bay redevelopment was currently having on the economy, Mr Hayward replied: “I believe that the Minister of Works indicated that there was significant capital funds set aside for work to be done on the current facility but then there is also a future plan for complete redevelopment.
“That work that is done and that injection of capital in that facility comes as gross capital formation and investment and as a result it will have a positive impact on global investment.”
However, Mr Hayward said he was still unable to say when the island’s first casino will open – despite a licence being granted to the St Regis resort almost two months ago.
He said: “On casinos, we have no real movement since the last update. We have no further update on the date when the first casino will open.”
He was equally vague about what was happening with the vertical farming initiative – a scheme that had been on the drawing board since 2019.
Last week it was revealed that Kalera, a Florida-based company that was to spearhead the project in partnership with the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, was pulling the plug on its overseas expansion plans. The BEDC later confirmed that the local initiative was “paused”.
Yesterday, Mr Hayward claimed that he was unfamiliar with both the details of the project and its current status.
He said: “I’m not fully cognisant of what is happening in Kalera. I’m not intimately involved or knowledgable of the operation.
“Kalera is in discussion with BEDC who is slated to be their partner and the Ministry of the Economy and Labour does not have direct communication with Kalera.
“The BEDC is attached to the project and I take reports from the BEDC. I do not deal with Kalera personally.”
Asked if he was “passing the buck”, Mr Hayward replied: “I don’t want to get caught up with who the buck stops with. Ultimately as the minister accountable for the Ministry of the Economy and Labour I assume all responsibility for approvals that I actually give.”
Mr Hayward also refused to answer questions on the creation of a fish processing plant, claiming that the BEDC would respond to media queries on that initiative.
Mr Hayward dodged further questions, saying that he would provide answers at a later date.
He told a Royal Gazette reporter: “I do not have those answers at this particular time. We are not saying that we are not prepared to answer the questions and I indicated to you is that I will provide you with responses.
“What you wanted is responses here and now, and that’s something that I cannot provide to you at this time.
“I don’t believe that the Government work on the whims of The Royal Gazette. I have committed to providing you with the answers.
“I think what is in the best interests of the public is that the public get transparency on what the Government is actually doing and I’m committed to providing that transparency and I commit to providing it in a timely basis.
“The appropriate answer will come from the relevant area within the Government that is actually handling the process and I’m committed to providing you with clarity.
“You want the clarity right now in this particular press conference and I am happy to provide you with that information. We are committed to providing you with that information and that’s what we will do.”
Mr Hayward also said that progress reports on all 31 ERP initiatives could be found on the government website.
When it was pointed out that the website had not been updated in months, he said: “We will populate the website so that the entire public is aware of the progress that we’re making on the ERP.
“What I will do is ensure that the website is appropriately updated so that all the updates on each of those projects can be disseminated to the public.”
Last Thursday The Royal Gazette sent a series of questions about the vertical farming initiative to Mr Hayward through the Government’s department of communications.
Mr Hayward has yet to respond to those questions.