Column: The Challenges Bermuda Faces

February 4, 2019 | 4 Comments

[Written by Michael Dunkley, adapted from a speech]

When I was invited to speak to your organization I was pleased that I was able to choose the topic for the day.

Sports

It was thus very tempting to speak about my love for sports and how it is so important to building strong communities and providing opportunity for our young people as they mature and partake in competition, fellowship, ability to travel and represent at any level.

After all, much of what I have done in my life is due to the fact that at a young age I was kept active and played every sport I could get my hand in; football and cricket for many years, and in the premier league at the end of both careers; squash, golf, until politics tempered my game; basketball, tennis and less competitive sports thrown in for fun.

To this day I still work out every morning.

Sadly as both my grandfather and father passed while I was young, and they were both young when they passed, I believe, like your organization, that if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Challenges In Bermuda

This leads me onto my topic for today……some of the challenges, and opportunities, we face here in Bermuda.

However before I dive in, let me clearly state, that like you, I love my Bermuda and I have an enormous amount of energy and passion to make a better future for all. So, even at times if I appear to be critical, it is with the view that you must identify a problem and then offer solutions to fix it.

So having said that here are some of the critical challenges and opportunities we face.

Cost of Healthcare

Health and the cost of health care, and this is why I started talking about sports.

I believe if you are raised to be active it is likely that good habit will continue in life and help with your health throughout your life.

Our challenges with healthcare are a result of a variety of reasons; one is we are living longer; and here is a telling fact, in 1980 the percentage of population 45 and over was 27.6 %. In 2016 it had risen to 48.4%.

Couple this with other facts like we are out here in a small community and we expect the best of health care.

Factor in the reality that many of us do not do enough to take care of ourselves, partake in adequate exercise or eat a balanced diet.

Then, when we consider there is abuse generally of some goods and services offered in the health care system; this all adds up to our present day situation where we are all struggling with some of the highest healthcare costs in the world.

The sugar tax is not the answer.

When the OBA was the government we worked hard to contain and then reduce the cost of health care and slow progress was being made.

I also took it personally as the Premier and consequently formed the Premiers Youth Fitness Council as it was clear to me that there was not near enough activity in our schools. One school had no PE classes….

Amongst the solutions that can have a tremendous improvement in health care….

  • We must promote physical activity and ingrain it in our children when they are young.
  • We must educate our young people on healthy lifestyles and good choices.
  • We should focus on prevention a great deal more.
  • We must control the use and misuse of our health care system.
  • We must manage and where appropriate we must regulate insurers and providers.

Finally we must offer incentives on health insurance for healthy living.

Moving on to another challenge and opportunity…

Education

Education, do I need to say much about the challenges we face and the critical need to fix it?

I am not here today to point fingers as many well-meaning people have been involved but the problem is not getting any better. There are also many great educators in public education. They are not the problem.

My friends, in my humble view it is not the system; and the stated intent by the current government to eliminate middle schools will not solve the problem.

The problem is one of accountability and standards.

I am sure that we can all agree that you cannot have success without accountability and standards.

Everyone must bear the responsibility to do their job and when problems arise fix them!

Currently in education we pass the buck too often.

A child is disciplined in school and the parents call the department to say the school is wrong and then the department calls the school and directs them to not be so tough on the child.

In the past we have promoted our children to the next year when they have not passed the current year.

Then the following year we do it again.

We change May 24th as some say our children need a long weekend to recover after a holiday!

The cycle will continue without accountability and standards.

My friends we must create an Education Authority, similar to the successful Bermuda Tourism Authority, take the politics out education and hold them responsible and accountable for their mandate.

Economy

The Economy is also another tremendous challenge;

We are in recession again my friends and we are under attack by alphabet organizations and some countries around the world who simply want a name for themselves or to take business from us.

For the record, I support Fintech, and it was an active initiative of the OBA, but I do not support the unbridled attraction to our shores of those who promulgate crypto currency and initial coin offerings.

Did you know that it is reported that 80% of CC’s are scams and over 90% of ICO’s fail? Thus we should consider how this type of business will impact our reputation? How many sustainable jobs will this create for Bermudians?

The government is fixated on an opportunity that will not be a third pillar of our economy and could stain our reputation.

I suggest we need to get back to basics by protecting and building on what we have in International Business, we need to attract more tourism investment which will lead to more opportunity, jobs and visitors to our island, we must make immigration reform happen and we must stick to our hard earned reputation of a first class business jurisdiction with ease to market in the businesses we have on island.

Here is sobering fact…in 2007 there were 39,849 jobs in Bermuda and in 2017 that number had dropped to 33,653, a decline of 6,196 jobs. In 2007 there were 18,131 work permit holders in Bermuda and in 2017 there were 9,634, a decline of 8,469. These figures alone identify the scope of the problem as well as the root of it.

At this moment in time all we have going for us is the airport redevelopment and the St. Regis project, both initiatives of the OBA. They have created jobs for Bermudians and investment for Bermuda. They should result, when completed, in more opportunity for Bermuda and Bermudians.

Finally, on this point of our economy, we need to stand up and be proud of who we are as Bermudians and fight for what we do and why!

We must use every opportunity to promote Bermuda to the world so we are seen through our lens and not those who work against us for whatever reason.

Government Spending

Moving on to another challenge, Government spending.

The OBA was on a solid glide path to a balanced budget after inheriting from the PLP a budget deficit of $330 million in 2012-13. In addition, in the first 30 days of being Government we had to borrow money to pay the civil service!

Under the current PLP Government, the reality of a balanced budget has been pushed back.

In addition, in my view, accountability to the taxpayer has disappeared out the window with actions like over a million dollars paid to the company of a doctor who was a former Premier without transparency and contrary to the advice of the professional body, two Ministers with little or no responsibility, many Ministers having aides approved by the Premier, the firing of the Chief Executive of the Bermuda Health Council without substance or explanation, and another Government Office opened in Brussels in spite of no budget allocation in this year’s budget!

I could go on, this year alone, Government will pay $124 million in interest on our debt…interest…not principal.

My friends with a shrinking tax base, high government and private debt levels, a high cost of living and an economy in recession we cannot afford to increase government spending and raise taxes on a stressed tax base. The SAGE Report should still be a guiding factor. The next budget will be very interesting and if not prudently crafted it could be economic suicide.

Crime

Another critical challenge, Gangs, Guns and the Carnage of our Youth.

Since 2009 we have had 56 murders; 38 of which were firearm fatalities. All 38 gunned down were black males. Since 2009 we have had 115 fatal road traffic crashes. These are numbing facts.

When it happens we all want action. We talk a lot about each death. And for one moment my friends; do not think we are not all connected. I was the Minister of National Security for four years and, in the first week with the responsibility, I was called on Christmas Day, early in the am, by the ACOP to inform me of a murder that night…… the mother of the man murdered worked for me. I saw his picture on his mother’s desk many a day at work.

I visited the house later that day… celebrating Christmas Day bringing comfort to a family crushed overnight. I have visited too many shattered families in their homes, grieved at the hospital too many times, comforted too many gunshot victims and been part of too many home going services.

Yet this trend will not stop. No it will not. It will not stop until we firmly commit to enough is enough.

There is literally no excuse that 171 people have died by being murdered or by road fatality in the last ten years.

We need to take a deep inward look at ourselves and ask why we have let this happen.

Why did we allow Johnny to be unemployed for so many years but bring home a new fridge for granny one month and then a new car at Christmas? Why did we allow Mikey to drive like a maniac daily when we know it would end in disaster?

Why my friends, as a community, have we become so critical of others but we will not take responsibility for our own family and friends?

The answer is within us.

We must not rely on the BPS bail us out, but instead we must provide the tough love every day to our families and friends.

Now the final two challenges and opportunities….

Dividing Ourselves

First, division and divide.

We need to stop dividing ourselves with every issue that arises, whether it be immigration reform when a current PLP Minister, while in Opposition, helped to orchestrate protests such as at the Senate, followed by a protest of the first immigration consultative meeting at the Cathedral Hall and also a road block of east Broadway. The silent majority said little.

Or division sewn by the PLP over the airport redevelopment and blockage of the House of Assembly during which people were used as pawns by the demonstrators.

Yet recently the PLP was all smiles at the airport roof wetting and not a word was said about any dissatisfaction of the deal. I will refrain from saying more on this matter as there is a Joint Select Committee looking into it and I do not wish to prejudice that report, however, be assured once it is delivered, I will have more to say.

We need to stop dividing people for personal or political gain as it creates scars that cannot be healed easily.

We can and must debate issues in a mature fashion for progress…without such there will be a lack of substantive progress. As I draw to close, the biggest challenge [and opportunity] of all, race. Race is the number one impediment holding us back. Just about every subject, every issue turns into a race conversation and while we argue, or withdraw, our competitors eat our breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Race is an ugly scar on our past; it has left wounds that have taken decades to heal and continues to be a division that encumbers our future. My friends we must move forward together and, if there those amongst us who want to bear the burden by an evil of the past or are not genuine in moving forward together, then we must not allow them to hold us back.

Bullish On Bermuda

As I conclude, be assured I will always be bullish on Bermuda.

However with the experience I have, and the energy and passion that still flows through my body, I will not shy away from calling it like I see it and to work with those who are genuine and want to see a brighter day tomorrow.

- Michael Dunkley is the former Premier and current MP for Smith’s North

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Comments (4)

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  1. Every Bermudian should look in the mirror says:

    and ask WHY–Why has Bermuda sunk so low and to this level.

    As per below–Cayman has rebounded and Bermuda continues to wither on the vine..embarassing…

    Come on folks–time to get over ourselves and rebuild this country.

    https://www.caymancompass.com/2019/02/03/foreclosures-down-as-economy-rebounds/

  2. Avg Bda Male says:

    Easier said than done Dunk. Until we know more about ourselves we will always have this division.

    Most Bermudians do not even know what ship is on our flag! They will all say its the Sea Venture which is a clear distinction that we the populace don’t know jack!

  3. watching says:

    LOL.
    So we are suppose to believe that these challenges have only been facing us since July 18 2017.
    Mr Dunkley was the Premier for 3 years and many of the challenges that are facing Bermuda now were not addressed in any wholistic manner. He has spent the better part of the last 2 years criticizing and commenting on social media negatively about any and every decision made by this government. He says we all need to work together but his actions prove otherwise.

  4. 2 Bermudas says:

    Ewart Brown runs this country, let nobody fool you!!

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