Column: Sir John Swan On Economy, Policies

February 5, 2020 | 56 Comments

[Opinion column written by Sir John Swan]

If we in Bermuda have a date with destiny then it does not look too promising now, but it does not have to be that way! There are many external forces that we can do nothing about however, many of our most festering wounds such as economic and immigration policies are self-inflicted.

Entrenched, vested interests by segments of the diverse community are the greatest inhibitors of growth. Out of perhaps fear, and regressive thinking, they get the most attention and therefore policies which are protectionist in nature are implemented holding the rest of the island back.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. With this mentality we run the very great risk of pushing Bermuda into economic annihilation where the country will be unable to support its people, all its people.

Sir John Swan Bermuda February 2019

It is time for the silent majority of Bermudians, black or white, rich or poor, to stand up and speak out. We should no longer tolerate being led by the blind or ignorant and start listening and acting with common sense lest we all be dragged down further into economic and social decline.

The Government, the Opposition, independent agencies and financial institutions need to tell us where we are, without window dressing, so that we can have a constructive, transparent conversation about what we need to do in order to save Bermuda.

We need to recognize the canary in the coal mine is dead and we need to take drastic measures and apply some out of the box creative thinking and innovation to better our conditions.

Bermuda has two fundamental economies: local and international. Tourism only accounts for 16% of the economy. This leaves all the heavy lifting of propping up the local economy to the international business sector which continues to contract through consolidations and outsourcing. Despite the America’s Cup blip, the local economy has been in steady decline since 2008 across most sectors, most notably residential and commercial real estate and virtually all areas of retail.

Our xenophobic antiquated economic policies no longer have a place in today’s technological world. In order to get the economy stimulated, we must create an environment where doing business is beneficial to all. The 60/40 rule has served its purpose. In today’s world why would someone invest their time and resources if they can only own 40% of a business?

Retail businesses are closing every week. Why is the entire City of Hamilton not an economic zone to assist these businesses? Instead of assisting, more taxes are levied which hinder or destroy businesses and yet no one says anything about it. They simply close their doors and walk away.

In addition, depending on whom you are talking to, we have lost between seven and ten thousand foreigners and more Bermudians are leaving the Island than ever before. The video that went viral lamenting the high cost of living is not new news.

Hard working, talented Bermudians are emigrating quietly in droves because they cannot afford to live here and there are better opportunities elsewhere. This mass foreign and local exodus has had a profound effect on our economy. We seem to think that immigration policies have no bearing on our economy, however the two are intertwined.

Our Immigration policies do nothing to encourage more people to settle on our shores. Our basic means of paying our way has been severely impaired yet we stand here with our head in the sand and in fact, we do everything we can to put up barriers or worse turn them away.

We don’t even try to hold onto people who were born here and lived here their whole lives. Just because their parents’ nationality is other than Bermudian, we tell them they cannot live here.

On top of that our birth rate is so low, that our population will not replace itself. In order for a population to replenish itself it requires a 2.1 fertility rate; Bermuda is at 1.6 fertility rate.

Compounding the issue is that we have a 10,000 plus population of age 65 and over. When are we going to wake up and realize that soon there may not be enough people to pay taxes, pay health care, contribute to pensions, pay for education, provide senior services and make charitable donations?

If we do not allow more international people to come to Bermuda and inject some new, fresh capital, our economy and all sectors of our community will continue to suffer and eventually become stalled.

Who is to blame? We are all to blame because we are either in denial or afraid or unwilling to speak the truth. We are living our lives captives to our own folly. I have seen the enemy and he is me.

We all need to start becoming activists, influencing and criticizing our political masters on both sides of the aisle. Quo Fata Ferunt. Wherever the fates lead us. Right now, they are leading us off a cliff. Wake up Bermuda!

- Sir John Swan

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Comments (56)

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  1. aceboy says:

    Where is Curtis Dickinson in all of this? He is a smart guy but sadly has become the Paula Cox of the Finance Ministry….just a cog.

  2. Ronald McDonald says:

    Wow, Thank You Sir John for telling it like it is. And even for showing the way through this mess. Yes, Bermuda needs to come together and get on with it.

    It will be interesting if Mr. Dickinson’s budget offers up some courageous decisions.

    • Things a Gwan says:

      Much respect for Sir John.

      • Vortex says:

        Sir JS, still a voice of reason.

        This is not a party political piece either.

        It just says, Bermuda needs to grow in population to pay for what it has.

        It means Bermuda first can also mean welcome to others.

        Or we don’t pay for what we have, and we lose what we have.

  3. And Morgans Point and The Airport has made a bad situation worst.
    Are you gonna speak on that?

    • lets stop defending failure says:

      OJ–I respect your commitment to your party and its ideology– everyone is entitled to their beliefs and opinions.

      BUT, the fact is that the PLP has not served the country well over the years. The stats and state of the economy prove that.

      Its high time that as a country we come out of denial and work together to fix a problem that is accelerating daily and that will have far reaching impact on our children and grandchildren.

      We owe it to them, not politicians.

    • sandgrownan says:

      *sigh* No they haven’t.

      20 years of PLP financial mismanagement. That’s the legacy, that’s the status quo.

      • Just say how you feel and stop beating round de bush, that you think Black People cant run a country and your affairs unless they are ubp/OBA members.
        Get over it already.

        • sandgrownan says:

          Who mentioned race? I didn’t.

          But it does inform me on your view of the world. I’m merely expressing an opinion based on demonstrable facts and observable evidence. The PLP couldn’t run a piss up in a brewery.

        • wahoo says:

          See how you are? You are pathetic. The plp have not demonstrated any ability to run this island in the last 20 years as a group they are not fit to run this place. The reason people ridicule them is based on their track record and nothing to do with their skin color!

        • Those are your words says:

          OJ–the beauty of our country is that we can have different beliefs but yet still respect one another, I respect your view but I do not agree with it and you don’t have to agree with mine. That’s fine.

          Please note that you used those words not I and I didn’t even think of race when I wrote my comment.

          My comment is about the ineffectiveness of this administration’s economic policies. Personally I think there is a handful of folks in the Gvt that are very intelligent and know exactly what remedial steps need to be taken to begin to change this economic course but they are reluctant to do so as it won’t be a popular action.

          My concern is for my kids and their kids, as adults we should be better than we are in setting them up for a better future–our current trajectory is not doing that.

    • papapapa says:

      stupid inane reply to be expected from a blinders on thing

    • campervan says:

      “Shut De Island down!!!!” LMFAO.
      Its finally happening. You must be a happy puppy ;-)
      See in de UK wiv de rest of us.

  4. MB says:

    SO WELL SAID!!!!
    Head in the sand, hell yes, biggest culprits other than our leaders are certain die hard plp supporters who favor social media. Wake up people!

    We are a world driven by brands today yet none save for a few are here.

    This denies locals access to value for money product and services
    It denies locals quality food – we must endure substandard brands and old produce in markets. Children resort to snacking on soda and chips

    The biggest problem is as Sir John said Our FAILED and failing tourism industry is 16% of economy. Heads MUST roll for that dismal statistic

    Other is exodus of foreigners and also locals – I estimate that’s at least 5000 gone to UK and Canada by now – just look at the continuing decline in Belco customers and income – that tells ya right there
    Houston we have a problem
    Talk to anyone rich or poor and they are all struggling
    Time for Burt to go- I still could support PLP- but they have to start showing us why we should vote them in again

    • circada says:

      Actually at our peak, international business was more dominant, and tourism was only 5% of the economy. Tourism representing 16% now indicates a decline in resilience and economic depth, not improvement.

  5. MB says:

    @onionjuice I will!
    Morgan’s was a disaster but indicative of The divisiveness And poor leadership in our community because They originally wanted to build at southlands and CBC
    Yet we pick and choose our green battles so now we have a monstrosity on st Catherine’s beach and a disaster at Morgan’s
    On your other point
    The airport is what happens when you have a leader who sank us massively into debt to where we had no options to build a desperately needed and required compliant airport

    • And the Airport was given de Most Improved Airport Award after renovations.
      Now we have to fork out $30 Million a year for 30 years.
      So that means if CCC bring in $10 Million on any given year, we have to back de other $20 Million.
      Good thing Canada stopped them from selling it to de Chinese.
      Well done SpongeBob and crew!!!!!!!!!

      • Double S says:

        We also pay out $30mn a year for 30 years for a hospital wing (ie not a whole hospital) that doesn’t have enough beds to cater to the population.

        Yet, just like the real ‘Jetgate’ as noted above, you continue to say nothing about that.

        Sheep.

        • Toodle-oo says:

          He’ll never discuss the ‘Real’ Jetgate because he’s so poorly informed and politically biased.

  6. Haha says:

    I love this guy!!

  7. Watching says:

    While I haven’t always agreed with Sir John politics, I’ve always been interested in his perspective. Two p ppl expletive can watch the same accident from two different perspectives and have a totally different yet honest view of the event. Let me first start by saying I do get uncomfortable when terms like xenophobic start getting tossed around. I think a better term would be overly apprehensive. The immigration is an interesting one as Bermuda is a small country and people like to compare us to the Cayman Islands, but when I talk to the Caymanians that I know many of them are unhappy with the statistics when it comes to the amount of foreigners either in or owning the country. To make it plain, many feel like the country sold itself for a buck. So I’d be interested in hearing Sir John’s opinion on safeguards so that we didn’t end up in a situation where we sold ourselves to survive (and that not what I’m saying he’s suggesting that we do before some keyboard general gets their chest puffed up). I would hate to be in a position where I sell the house only to have to rent a room in the same house from the new owners… any money that I made is going right back to where it came from and eventually I’m homeless and broke because I was looking at the short game without regard to the long term effects. Seeing how the economy is doing, with what the businesses are doing (good and bad ie bending immigration policies), looking at what any of the previous governments have done about things like bending the immigration laws (little to nothing)… what does that me for me presently and my children in the future? How can people not be apprehensive? Everyone wants to push the pedal to the metal, but no one has yet to talk about making sure the brakes work. Let’s face it, the road ahead is not only going to be bumpy, but there will be dips and turns… all gas and no breaking will leave us worse off than when we started.

  8. Real Talk says:

    As usual, people like John Swan like to pontificate about things like the economy without offering any real solutions that will actually benefit Bermudians. What he fails to mention is the true impact of adding thousands and thousands of more people to the Island’s population…it would be devastating for the average Bermudian. Why? Because rents and housing prices would skyrocket, making them even more unaffordable then they are now. It’s simply supply and demand, everyone needs housing.

    Do you want to know the real reason why so many Bermudians left and why they found Bermuda so unafforable? It had nothing to do with sugar tax or health insurance. It’s because rents are too high and people get discouraged when they work and can’t afford to rent a decent place or buy a home in their own country, because they are competing with international business workers who receive generous housing allowances. This is what pushed up housing prices. Now that so many apartments have gone to Airbnbs since America’s Cup, the problem has worsened, causing a reduced stock of available apartments. You would have thousands of international workers looking for housing that simply isn’t on the long-term market anymore, and again, competing with locals for that housing. But if the local workers ask for a living wage to enable them to afford these rents…you get the same uproar from the same muppets yelling about how it’s not right.

    But of course, people like John Swan, who have a vested interest in filling up the many office spaces he owns around Hamilton with IB clients, could care less about the average Bermudian struggling to pay rent. His only answer is to call people “xenophobic” for being concerned about their own interest and livelihood. The hypocrisy is astounding. But keep ignoring the real problems. It’s why his party died and why the OBA got the boot after one term and have no chance of getting back in again soon.

    Immigration is all well and good, but before you open the floodgates, the Government needs to ensure that this tiny island can welcome more residents without displacing or causing hardship for the Bermudians here. Government needs to address the Island’s housing issues FIRST and foremost otherwise any immigration policies will only lead to more social and economic problems.

    • JohnnyB says:

      I see this as an opportunity to develop more housing. More jobs, more money. Don’t be so negative

    • sandgrownan says:

      It’s simple maths. There are not enough people here to generate enough tax returns to support Bermuda.

      What’s your solution?

    • Double S says:

      You are xenophobic. Truth hurts. Deal with it.

  9. puzzled says:

    Well stated Sir John.
    Known you for 55 years.
    Country first.

    Wise man and true Bermudian.

  10. JohnnyB says:

    Can you be premier again? Please? These governments are ruining this country VERY quickly

  11. Trump supporter says:

    Coming from a true gentleman that doesn’t wear or need Armani.
    But egos will get in the way.

  12. Joe Bloggs says:

    Thank you Sir John for speaking truth to ignorance.

  13. Paulo says:

    Agree,agree, agree.

  14. Tony Brannon says:

    Sir John
    Pretty much everything you have said, I have said again again and again.
    I am a proud activist. Robert Stewart, my former A Level economics professor has written much about the bloated government departments.

    One leading restaurateur told me late last year, “I have never seen such a bad season”.
    A butcher at Lindos told me, “Tony every week someone tells me we are leaving”.
    People are selling up, cashing out and moving to other places where the cost of healthcare doesn’t break the bank and where they can safely live their senior years without “running out”!

    Xenophobic rhetoric did untold harm. COL Burch was the vinegar at Immigration back when he imposed Term Limits.
    Business reacted by relocated jobs out of Bermuda. The silent exodus has been ongoing for years and now we see just what a dire situation we are all facing.
    So many Bermudians are stuck.

    We walk the streets of HAMILTON and it feels like a ghost town. Store closures have accelerated.
    Art is closing is car his washing business as there just aren’t enough people around.
    “Getting Even” is a recipe for disaster. Ewart Brown once boasted to me at Gombey House that he was going to change Bermuda as we know it.
    Now we are changing the “Status Quo”.

    When Ewart allowed the cruise lines to run their entertainment in port, he killed so many Local entertainment venues. Bermuda had a policy that whilst in port, you go dark at night, and the passengers went to our venues.

    HAMILTON was a vibrant city Monday – Thursday when we had the smaller ships. Now we have only a few cruise ships in Hamilton during the season.
    We may have mega ships in the Dockyard, but the ships have all the cards, and Bermuda only gets a few nibbles in comparison to yesteryear. Ewart sold us out. I said it then, and I’ll say it again.

    Bermuda needs to open up, increase business start ups. Yes, we need to break the likes of the Licensed Victualers Association. We need competition in the pharmacy world. Protectionist policies need to be shelved.

    We hear mention again and again of how the Cayman Islands are booming. We have also heard how more than 30 countries offer passports in return for Investing or Retiring. We should consider this, no let me restate that, we should DO IT.

    We know Morgan’s Point failed. A huge failure. Perhaps we attach a passport to all Investor’s there and for folks who buy there. Extrapolate that further and we may just get the 10,000 we need to make Bermuda tick…..

    Right now our ship has a Titanic like hole. At least the water is warm.

    • Activist for what?
      Never seen you in any protest concerning Labour.
      LMFAO

      • sandgrownan says:

        So, only labour protests have any value in your world? Got it.

        • No, but only Labour protests gave people benefits like, a lunch hour, sick pay, Holiday pay, maternity leave, a liveable wage etc.
          But those of you who never gace a $#!+ about de Labour Movement STILL benefit.
          Two Bermudas!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • wahoo says:

        Gosh you are simple please stop posting.

    • Oh man!!! says:

      Why don’t you join government? You’re ideas are brilliant ! You will make any country grow!

  15. Retro says:

    Bermuda is a very frustrating place. To be honest there is no valid reason why a compromise between “ pathways to status” ( oba) and “ two Bermuda’s” ( Plp) can’t be discussed let alone reached . In fact, if you know anything about Bermuda’s history you would probably come to the conclusion that Bermuda is in dire need,at minimum, of a “ immigration wave” . It doesn’t have to be “ all or nothing” .Immigration waves are not new concepts nor are they unique to Bermuda. COMPROMISE !

  16. Rhonda says:

    when you see Sir John Swan coming out, you know the UBP renamed OBA is in deep trouble.. They must have done an internal polling and realized, nobody but their base supporters are buying their crap.

    • sandgrownan says:

      The economy is in serious trouble. The PLP own it – how about some solutions rather than attacking the messenger.

    • Joe Bloggs says:

      Are you really trying to peddle the lie that the UBP renamed itself OBA?

      I wonder if Sir John ever joined the OBA.

    • Haribo says:

      Rhonda, even in your wildest moment of bias you must see the comedy in your comments.

      Wise sage Sir John vs short pants Burt and his fintech revolution.

      Form is temporary, class is permanent. (Bill Shankly).

  17. Real Deal says:

    60-40 needs to be in place for when weed is fully legalized or we will lose badly

  18. Eve says:

    In the ‘Comments’ there are only a few where the cost-of-living is mentioned as being the biggest problem Bermuda faces and no one has a suggestion on how to reduce it, not even Sir John. Sir John should have implemented economic policies designed to control the cost-of-living. The cost-of-living is the root cause of many of the problems that are bringing Bermuda down and government’s over the past 40 years have ignored it. Too many believe the Bermuda Dollar is strong enough to carry the burden of the cost-of-living, but it would only take a blip in the World economy for that to change.

    Bermuda tourism continues to decline, the previous government created the BTA dream and the present government has done nothing to stop the dream from becoming a nightmare. The BTA spends more time and money on building their image with stakeholder family & friends than building Bermuda’s image for visitors. Look close too see that BTA has increased the cost for stakeholders in turn increasing the cost of visiting Bermuda. The BTA is not transparent and not accountable!

  19. Bermuda Inc. says:

    Thank you Sir John Swan for your important contributions to our island’s prosperity and this most urgent wake up call.

    My thoughts;

    It is possible that we may need to take a good hard look at all of our political leadership as (PERHAPS) they may not be talented or skillful enough to generate feasible ideas to exact sustainable meaningful change despite their earnest intentions. Basically anyone can run for office and give steering the Bermuda ship their best shot. Should we let anyone fly our Bermuda ship thru this complex, noisy and changing world, I think not. The creation of the Bermuda Tourism Authority is a perfect example of out the box effective solution creation that’s needed now more than ever. Mr. Burt deserves major kudos for Crypto-currency pioneering for the island. I would imagine this space is still evolving and holds a bright future for the island, just maybe not as soon as we had originally hoped.

    Yes home grown leadership is important etc., but I have a feeling these lot are a day late and a dollar short all too often. I command their compassion and gumption don’t get me wrong. We observe how US politics has evolved into a completely new entity with the effects of lobbying etc, which ultimately clouds the people’s work from being carried out as intended. Meanwhile in Bermuda party platforms are produced as little more than a sales tool.

    This state coupled with our habitual (Frog in boiling water that is slowly brought to boil would remain and die.) collective conscience could be a recipe for the unthinkable.

    If we consider global trends which equate to headwinds we have no choice but to figure out a radical growth strategy. I have noticed a substantial change in our surrounding ocean. Does anyone remember the teaming coral life near the Flatt’s bridge from the 90′s vs. today?

    Problems themselves tend to be solutions when seen in the right light. With all that said i’ll just put forward some concepts to maybe spark something along the right vein. (Actually I have no viable ideas at this time.)

  20. Chris Famous says:

    For those who are ignorant of the facts.

    Bermuda is a colony of the UK.

    As such, we cannot “sell citizenship”.

    • CHRIS says:

      UK citizens could be granted Status.
      For Americans/others, it is slightly more cumbersome to get UK first but not impossible especially if its solely based on Bermuda Status.
      If there’s a will there’s a way! We need people to invest in Bermuda and nobody with any amount of serious money will do that with no say on the Island’s tax system.

    • Joe Bloggs says:

      Chris, we cannot sell “citizenship” but we can sell “Bermuda status”.

      Are you trying to knitpick the words used or are you really that ignorant?

  21. imjustsaying says:

    One reason for businesses closing in the city is the ridiculous cost of rent, look at the Washington Mall, it has so many empty spaces, no one can afford the high rents, you cannot turn a profit, you will be basically making money for the mall instead of yourself. SMH!

  22. Bermudian says:

    We need to stop with US vs THEM. It IS simple math. MORE people MORE money. Less taxes EVERYONE has to pay. We are ALL in it together regardless of race or background. When you have a country where its own citizens are leaving for a better life elsewhere that’s a problem. Housing is not going to fix this. The country needs money, government cannot keep raising taxes. Consumers aren’t buying, so there fore the business owner is struggling. Then when the business closes its doors more people unemployed and less money going into the kitty so what will happen raise more taxes so that it will make it even more difficult for people to spend and the cycle will continue. Bottom line is Bermuda needs MORE PEOPLE. STOP with the hate of foreigners and find a solution to make it affordable for locals to be able to live in their own country.

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