It’s been 29 months since this Government won a hard fought election. In that time, we have accomplished much, but there is much more to do.
We are taking the steps necessary to turn around the economy, grow jobs and build a safe, secure future for you and your families. Along the way we’ve made some tough decisions, while making sure each one helps move the Island toward a more inclusive and fair way of life.
This past Parliamentary year was a busy one, with some notable highlights, such as the passage of America’s Cup legislation and the Casino Gaming Act to facilitate hotel development. Both these initiatives are part of an economic development strategy to stimulate the economy and rebuild tourism.
We also brought forward legislation allowing for the use of approved cannabis-based pharmaceuticals, providing patients with new treatment options. Despite some criticism, this was a good first step in our phased approach toward reform of cannabis laws.
April 1st saw the Public Access to Information or PATI come into effect. This landmark legislation is the latest example of the Government’s commitment to making Bermuda more transparent, more accountable and more open.
Public Service reform remains a priority, with the goal of providing Bermuda with a government it can afford while delivering the services Bermudians need and want.
In Education, we have been working steadily to improve the classroom environment where knowledge, understanding and abilities develop. We are strengthening teacher skills and qualifications, expanding career pathways and developing employability skills – all to help our children move forward in the world.
Earlier this year, the Minister of Finance Bob Richards delivered a responsible and measured Budget. Our effort to control and reduce government spending is taking hold. By the end of this fiscal year, we will have reduced government’s annual deficit by approximately $110 million. And we will have moved the Current Account, before debt service payments, to a surplus position – the first time in more than seven years.
The steps we’ve taken so far are steps to grow the economy – cutting red tape, passing legislation, adjusting regulations and reaching beyond our shores to create new channels of investment in Bermuda; investment that builds hotels, creates new businesses and sets the stage for making the America’s Cup in Bermuda one of the greatest sporting spectacles of all time.
Our focus on the economy has been matched by concentrated efforts in other areas to achieve positive social results. The success of the Bermuda Police Service in the fight against guns, gangs, drugs and violence continues, with the community playing a more helpful role.
In spite of the progress made, the work must continue.
Government has reinstituted the GREAT programme, which enables young Bermudians to see alternatives to the gang life. Every time I have attended one of the completion ceremonies, I am reminded of just how much work is being done to protect and care for our young people.
The care and concern extends to our prisons. Bermuda is too small and our people too important to disregard those who, through poor choices, find themselves behind bars. The success of GED and other outreach programmes within the Department of Corrections supports our faith in people to want to do better and get that fresh start.
I am particularly pleased with the work being done with prison inmates through programmes to help them live free of crime after release – with the rate of recidivism at relatively low levels. More broadly, the number of people held in prison has dropped to new lows. These encouraging results are a testament to the good work being done in prisons and the community.
I want to commend the Police Commissioner, the Commissioner of Corrections and their officers for their hard work to make Bermuda safer and more secure.
Bermuda, our focus is clear and our commitment steadfast.
We are creating conditions that people need to grow and prosper – our goal is to create a new era of prosperity and participation, where all Bermudians feel they are part of something special.
We’re not there yet, but we’re making progress.
With several hundred million dollars in projects lined up over the next three years I am very optimistic about our future.
These projects reflect rising confidence in Bermuda – confidence that translates into jobs, career and business opportunities for Bermudians. The America’s Cup will generate fantastic levels of activity and excitement, making Bermuda one of the hot spots on the planet when the racing gets underway.
Already Dockyard is bustling with construction activity as dozens of Bermudians prepare the site for the America’s Cup Village and team bases. It is exciting to see – workers on the job, fully committed, helping the America’s Cup become a physical reality.
On the international front, Bermuda continues to nurture and strengthen our relationships with our overseas partners.
Recently Minister Richards participated in key meetings with European Union authorities on economic issues that affect us… carrying the flag for the Island in an international climate that can be hostile to small jurisdictions like Bermuda.
At our next Joint Ministerial Council meeting, being held in Bermuda this summer, I will be joined by other Overseas Territories leaders to discuss issues of mutual interest.
As a follow-on from Government’s meetings in Washington DC earlier this year, Minister Richards, Minister Gibbons and I are leading a 200-strong Bermudian delegation to the annual RIMS conference in New Orleans, where we will carry forward the message that Bermuda is open for business.
Bermuda, since we were elected, this Government has taken pains to make clear the very serious challenges we face as a people – with unsustainable Government finances, with a shrinking economy that has cost thousands their livelihoods and with social support programmes straining to meet demand.
We’re doing all we can to get Bermuda moving in the right direction. We are confident the recovery is taking hold, but we cannot do it alone. So I appeal to you to think about what you can do to help your Island home. It could be mentoring a child, donating to a charity or helping people in need.
Once you decide what you can do, then commit to doing it, commit to the life of the community, extend a helping hand wherever possible.
Bermuda, we are a good people being tested in big ways. Let’s use this time to come together, to work together, exercising tolerance and respect.
Let’s use these testing times as an opportunity to make Bermuda better, to make it more open, fair and inclusive.
As your Premier, I am committed to working day and day and night to make it happen.
And you have my word that I will do so with an open door, with faith in the future and with pride in who we are – Bermudians one and all.
Thank you for your time.