[Written by Bob Richards, Shadow Finance Minister] A founding principle of the One Bermuda Alliance is opportunity. We believe that if you work hard and play by the rules then you should have the opportunity to succeed.
Opportunity depends on a strong economy which today is weak, with job losses and shrinking paycheques pressuring thousands of families.
We can turn this situation around. It will not happen overnight, but we can start today doing things that will strengthen our ability to attract and hold business.
On Friday, I put forward a motion in the House of Assembly noting the Government had no real plan to get the economy back on track.
The following summarizes some of the ideas I put forward in that motion – part of our plan to grow jobs and paycheques and expand opportunity. They focus largely on changing the way we conduct business as a government and the way we work with the outside world.
Become a more welcoming society
There can be no meaningful, sustainable economic recovery without Bermudians understanding we are in the service business. To be better at it, we need to change the official attitude toward the people who come here to work and live – our customers.
Government must lead the change in attitude. In key areas of government, the culture is rigidly bureaucratic and cold. This must change to a culture that is service-oriented. The mantra up and down the line should be to provide better service to our customers.
The Government has been slow to understand this. Its inward-looking, xenophobic immigration policies have been a major factor in our faltering economic performance.
We have to change the way we greet people. We have to encourage them, not alienate them.
The whole idea of guest workers as customers, instead of interlopers, is the most crucial first step in getting the economy back on track.
Immigration must radically remake itself into part of Bermuda’s welcome wagon for our customers.
Cut red tape
There is an urgent need to cut red tape to facilitate economic growth. Red tape inhibits the inflow of foreign exchange – the lifeblood of our economy – and irritates our customers. The time is long past due to get rid of it.
Government can start the process by setting up a Spending and Government Efficiency Commission to streamline government processes, improve delivery of services, make government more efficient, more cost-effective, more transparent and more user-friendly.
Cutting red tape will reduce the cost of doing business helping us to become more competitive
Welcome the very wealthy
Another part of the attitude change is how we treat wealthy individuals whose presence here creates jobs for Bermudians on a variety of levels.
It has been estimated that 50 such individuals could generate about $100 million to our economy each year.
Government needs to review its policy toward such job-generating, income-creating people. Let’s find the right set of conditions where they can be granted PRC status. They want to belong. Let’s help them help us.
Repeal discriminatory regulations
Licenses for non-Bermudian spouses for purchase of real estate is obscenely discriminatory to Bermudians married to non-Bermudians. Repealing this procedure will promote more property purchases and development.
Cut the cost of doing business
Bermuda needs to cut the cost of government – one of the key reasons we are losing our competitive edge as a place to do business. We can start by freezing civil service hiring, freezing salaries and, for better leadership, a pay cut for ministers. We cannot call for sacrifice without sharing sacrifice.
Help small business
Government can do a lot to promote economic activity without spending more money.
Many businesses large and small fail due to poor cash management, rather than lack of revenue. Cash flow is vital. We would issue directives to ensure:
Vendors are paid within 30 days
Planning is fast-tracked to get jobs-producing projects off the ground, and
At least 20% of Government spending on goods and services is directed to small businesses. That’s tens of millions of dollars going to businesses that can use the work and money to hire workers and grow their operations.
Each of these steps can generate and support a significant amount of activity that can help Bermudians get through tough times.
My colleagues and I have a plan to get the economy back on track. We will continue to put forward ideas in the days and weeks to come. Like you, we want Bermuda to succeed but it will require a commitment to change – change in the way we conduct business and change in the Island’s leadership.
- Bob Richards