During this year’s Budget Debate held in February 2021, the Government unveiled an Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) that was not specific or strategic, but rather six key principles that would provide, according to Minister of Finance Curtis Dickinson, “guard rails through a disciplined approach to spending on targeted initiatives with the highest expected economic impact, highest probability of successful execution and lowest relative costs”.
In April 2021, we learned the ERP had stalled due to the Government’s need to focus on the management of the pandemic. The Premier revealed that a project management team to push through economic plans had been assembled, with support from local accounting firms.
This week we learned from the Minister of Finance that KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting service companies has been selected for the job inside the last two weeks.
Nine months have passed between the Government’s announcement of an ERP and the selection of a sub contractor to manage the project. While I applaud the Government for choosing this financial services company with global reach and international expertise to pilot this endeavour, I encourage this Administration to be far more nimble and decisive in its handling of Bermuda’s economy.
For as much as the coronavirus represents a clear and present danger to the health and safety of its residents, failure to be expeditious in planning for the country’s economic recovery represents an equal risk of present and future economic health and safety. Surely the Government can walk and chew gum at the same time.
What the Minister’s statement also reveals is that there is either inadequate staff to log in the hours to manage this project or that there is insufficient financial expertise within the Finance Ministry to handle this assignment.
It could not be the latter as I know a number of the staff in the Finance Ministry and there is an abundance of talent there, so it leads me to believe it has be the former. And if it is indeed the case to be the former, it puzzles me that in a country that boasts the largest size civil service per capita in the world that so much work (not just in Finance) has to be subcontracted to a private company. Not a criticism, just an observation.
Also, the Minister of Finance has stated that Bermuda is on a glide path to a small budget surplus by 2023-24. As much as that may fill me with hope in addition to his promise that “our strategy is to make sure we live within our means”, I pause to ask the question how can this be stated with such confidence with the managing company of the ERP having been just hired 2 weeks ago?
Additionally, we review the claim made in the Budget Statement that Bermuda will return to a balanced budget in three fiscal years once tourism has fully recovered from the pandemic.
What metric determines that tourism has fully recovered? Pre-pandemic tourist arrival numbers? A return to normalcy of airline lift to the island? A pre-pandemic spending levels by tourists?
Economic development and in this case re-development, is the creation of wealth from which community benefits are realised. It is more than a jobs programme, it’s an investment in growing an economy and enhancing the prosperity and quality of life for all its residents. That is the remit of every Government not to create civil service jobs but to create an environment for an economy to be stimulated for all to enjoy.
I am expecting this year’s Throne Speech to provide more meat to the bones of its proposed ERP. It must also have measurable elements to it so that the Government can objectively determine its success or failure in a timely manner so adjustments to the ERP can be made in real time.