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A Statement by Ben Smith, Opposition Senate leader of the One Bermuda Alliance

By February 4, 2021February 17th, 2021No Comments

It was with a mix of surprise and frustration that I saw the headline on January 26th that Minister Hayward was warning that we need immigration reform or fall off a fiscal cliff.

It has taken forever for the PLP to come to this position. The fact that the delays have been caused by the reform being long resisted by the PLP, has meant that they have already driven us off the cliff.

The OBA has been pushing for an overhaul of our immigration policies, especially as it relates to those living here for years on end.

It is unbelievable, now that the PLP has Bermuda in a financial hole, that it now wishes to call in aid when they have been hesitating for so long.

But this is what happens when you think short term in your party’s interest and take spurious, opportunistic positions for narrow immediate advantage and political gain rather than having productive dialogue and constructing policies in the interest of the country.

I sat on the Bi-partisan committee on Immigration Reform for more than two years. It was evident from the beginning that the PLP was not interested in really making changes but more in keeping the holding pattern that existed and still exists.

That is what makes the position of Minister Hayward seem strange at this time. It isn’t that the previous PLP Ministers did not want to change they just didn’t have the support to get them over the line.

If only our input and recommendations were taken seriously, our country could have been positioned some time ago to do the right thing for long resident workers and avail itself of all the benefits of embracing our fellow residents fully into living in Bermuda.

After over two years of sitting on the committee, we were only able to get a part of mixed status family legislation over the line.

It remains frustrating that after such a long period of time we only made that progress on an issue that was considered low hanging fruit when we started the process.

For the people who have benefitted from that legislation that was delayed several times, I am happy but for all the others that were not covered or helped, we should do right by them.

For the mother of two Bermudian children who has been on island for over 21 years but who now still must have permission to stay here with those children, something must be done.

Something should have been done a long time ago.

There are people who have been in Bermuda for 15, 20, 25 years and been a part of our community, paying our taxes, volunteering their time, becoming friends and colleagues, helping employees to be employed by purchasing items, using services, and employing people —– but, according to the PLP, not enough for them to be Bermudian.

The OBA believes we as a country must take steps that aid the proper development of our country and because they are right and not simply because we are driven to do so by economic imperatives. These long term residents are not all wealthy but have still contributed greatly to Bermuda.

Over the two years on that committee, we discussed the fact that we were going off the fiscal cliff – and that that was well before the pandemic came to our shores.

There was no interest from the PLP to discuss these changes during that period and no appetite to tackle these real issues.

Has the appetite changed because now the government will need to put its hand out and ask for more from the group they were unwilling to embrace?

Is it because we have taken 50% from charities and given it to the unions, so now they need to ask for more help from people that are not made to feel like they are Bermudian?

At a time when the food lines are getting longer, and the budget will have to cut out even more services that are needed, is this why the PLP is putting out a message to give those living here for years hope that a change in policy is coming?

We have heard the general message from the Minister of Finance that we must grow the population to get out of this financial hole.

If we are only going to focus on attracting people and capital from outside of the country without keeping the people and capital that is on the island already, it is like trying to fill a bucket that you know has a huge hole in the bottom.

The people we have on island now are our new version of visitors that have now stayed here, grown up here and embraced Bermuda as home. Have we given them the welcoming feeling that has them singing our praises and encouraging their contacts to come to Bermuda?

Or are they telling people that it is difficult to set up business, expensive to live here and the locals don’t want us here?

Will the Minister’s comments mean a real change in policy or is this just a message in the hope of relieving the pressure of the long-term residents that are fed-up and have their bags packed to find a welcoming competitive jurisdiction?

Will we now hear the Minister talk of lotteries for people to have status, asking for a big pay-out to get status, making someone who has been here for 20 years wait in a queue indefinitely with the hope that the PLP will embrace them and their family at some time in the distant future?

Has the Minister changed the PLP to finally embrace the real reform needed quickly and what will be his answer to the PLP campaign that was so strong against any of these changes?

Because the PLP cannot feel it can just enact legislation and that alone will endear itself to people. There must also be a change in its divisive and dismissive attitude to keep people here, especially when there are now so many other alternatives around the world.

We need more people to pay into the system or it will be up to the shrinking population to continue to pay more.

The people await the transformation – and the new actions, for Bermuda’s sake.