By The Hon. L. Craig Cannonier, JP, MP, Premier of Bermuda,
April 25, 2014
During the Easter weekend, I met with hundreds of Bermudians and visitors enjoying fishcakes, kites and the great weather. Everyone was in good spirits. It’s such a great time of year.
As Premier, it’s my job to be on the job all the time, even under a kite, and I was pleased so many people felt free to let me know what was on their minds. I heard people saying they needed a job, people shouting encouragement, people urging me to do more faster, people saying they were sick of political fighting and many expressing concern about the economy.
If there was one thing underlying all that I heard, it was the hope that Government was getting the job done.
The short answer is “Yes, we are getting the job done.”
But you deserve more than a short answer, so today I thought I’d outline 10 decisions we’ve taken to get Bermuda moving in the right direction.
There are many others, of course, but these are the ones that came to my mind when talking with colleagues about our work to date.
1. Do what it takes to grow jobs.
One of the first things we did to get Bermudians back to work was to form what we call the Economic Development Committee. Its aim is to speed up job-growing activities by reviewing big project applications by all relevant ministers at the same time; to cut red tape and reduce the amount of time it takes to get projects off the ground. The Committee has been instrumental in fast-tracking project developments at the Hamilton Princess, Pink Beach, Morgan’s Point and Grand Atlantic, as well as the bidding for a new St. George’s hotel.
2. Advance fairness and justice.
I am very proud of the fact that we changed the Human Rights Act to outlaw discrimination on the basis sexual orientation and age. It is a change made after years of lip service and empty promises; a change that speaks to the Bermuda we must continue building – free of discrimination, with equality before the law, open opportunity and fair treatment for all. It’s the kind of change that will help bring us closer together as one people.
3. Reduce the cost of living
We promised during the election to do whatever we could to reduce the cost of living for people. No other promise has made me realize how important it is for government to work with the community to get things done. And so we worked closely with grocers to introduce 10% discounted shopping on Wednesdays. We launched the Regulatory Authority to deregulate the telecommunications industry, a move that has led to big reductions in the cost of Internet and cell phone services. And though our talks with Belco continue, the company has submitted a proposal that may well lead to cost reductions for their lower-usage customers. We will continue to push for cost-of-living reductions wherever we can.
4. Use the Budget to further recovery
The Bermuda we were elected to govern was in serious economic trouble. The combination of massive public debt, declining business confidence, a government we could no longer afford and thousands struggling to make ends meet was the reason this year’s Budget declared: “The status quo is the enemy. If we don’t change, there will be no improvement.” The Budget cut the government’s deficit nearly 20% and did so with no new taxes, no tax increases and no lay-offs while expanding support to people in need. It’s a plan that imposes discipline on the public purse, extends compassion to those in need and restores confidence that can lead to job growth. The Budget, in short, has put Bermuda on the road to recovery.
5. Fix bad policy
On taking office, we found analyses held by the previous government that concluded term limits were ineffective and counter-productive; in effect becoming a barrier to jobs for Bermudians. Instead of keeping a bad policy, we ended it and then enacted steps “to protect Bermudians’ jobs while encouraging new job creation” — as promised in our election platform. The decision has played a critical role in restoring long-battered business confidence, leading to a surge in company incorporations, some of which will lead to jobs.
6. Work with people, make our streets safe.
No one decision is responsible for the Island experiencing the lowest crime rate since 2000, but on taking office we were determined to do whatever we could to make Bermuda safer. In January 2013 we introduced Team Street Safe, a gang mediation programme providing support and direction for people involved in, or susceptible to, gang life. We introduced Gang Resistance Education and Training in Primary Schools to help kids make positive life choices. And we increased Police manpower and stabilized their funding support, enabling them to get on with their work.
7. Set up a Tourism Authority to get results – finally.
Bermuda governments for years allowed stagnation and decline to be the story of tourism. A big reason for this is because no one was held responsible for what was happening to the industry. Tourism ministers came and went without consequence. We’re changing that. The new Tourism Authority adopts a private enterprise structure to ensure accountability for the performance of the industry. It puts the industry in the hands of professionals – setting clear objectives and being held accountable for meeting them. It’s a change long over due, a change we promised to make, and a change we believe will turn tourism from a job-shedding industry to a job-growing industry.
8. Help people in need.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t hear from people struggling to survive, because of a job lost, because they can’t find one or because their take home pay is no longer enough. The Government itself is cash-strapped because of the debt and deficits we inherited. But that’s no excuse to not take care of people who need help. In February, we committed an additional $9 million in Financial Assistance to meet people’s needs for the final months of the 2013/14. This year we set aside a record $46.9 million to help families keep food on the table, pay for child day care and support seniors and people with disabilities. I have often said we can be a country that leaves no one behind. These actions demonstrate that.
9. Help people to help themselves.
The Community Driven Development programme is not the biggest programme run by the Government, but it is one that holds out huge promise for the people who pass through it. In short, it provides the opportunity for community groups to develop business skills by giving them control of business projects. Based on results to date, we are expanding the programme to involve more people. I’m very enthusiastic about this programme because it gives people the opportunity to start over, realize new dreams and better support their families.
10. Support St. George’s.
Most people will agree that St. George’s suffered over the last decade from a puzzling level of official indifference that damaged its ability to function, its commercial life and its spirit. The Government, working with local MPs Kenneth Bascome and Nandi Outerbridge, is working to restore the Old Town’s good fortunes. We have focused so far on helping the Corporation stand on its own two feet, with short-term emergency funding to meet operating expenses and facility upgrades. Longer term, we’ve enabled the Corporation to collect wharfage fees to support operations and civic improvements, as well as forming a UNESCO World Heritage Fund to strengthen its attraction as a World Heritage Site. Finally, I’ve made it a government priority to see a shovel in the ground for a new hotel.
There are other important decisions the Government has taken to move the Island in the right direction, but these are the ones that stand out for me.