PLP delegates, seen here enjoying refreshments at last night’s conference. On new leader Paula Cox’s menu today is a long and growing list of major issues to tackle. *Photo by Ras Mykkal
PLP delegates, seen here enjoying refreshments at last night’s conference. On new leader Paula Cox’s menu today is a long and growing list of major issues to tackle. *Photo by Ras Mykkal
With unemployment rising, gang violence rife and the economy struggling, Bermuda’s new Premier has a difficult road ahead.

After a long campaign it would be easy to see last night’s ballot as the finish line. But it’s really just the starting post.

Based on feedback from politicians, commentators and some of the candidates own campaign promises, James Whittaker compiled a ‘to do’ list of priorities for the new Premier to pin on the bulletin board first thing Monday morning.

Heal the divide

After a hard-fought leadership battle there are inevitably divisions within the PLP. One of the first steps for the new leader will be to bring the party together. Backbenchers, ostracized by Dr. Ewart Brown’s regime, could come back into the reckoning for Cabinet positions.

Walton Brown believes Paula Cox will seek to lead by consensus.

“She’ll look to build a team and heal some of the tensions that do come about during a leadership battle,” he said.

The Cabinet appointments will be the first chance for the new leader to show they will be inclusive and can form a ‘team of rivals’.

Key Cabinet roles for people like Terry Lister and Dale Butler would show there are ‘no grudges’, said one analyst. A return to the fold for people like Randy Horton and Wayne Perinchief, who fell foul of the Brown regime, would also demonstrate renewed solidarity.

Fix the education system

A longer and more challenging goal, for sure.

But it will be important for the new leader to immediately show that this is a priority of the new regime.

“We have to demonstrate that education is a priority not by saying it’s a priority but by making some tough decisions in our schools,” says Walton Brown. “We have to demonstrate that we have principals who are performing, teachers who get results and students who want to be there.”

Jonathan Starling, a pro PLP blogger, agrees.

“We know what needs to be done. We don’t need any more fancy expert reports.  What we do need is to act.”

Demonstrate transparency and accountability

Addressing concerns over the handling of public funds will be a big ‘confidence’ issue for the new Premier.

A series of Auditor General reports detailing mismanagement and lack of oversight on major building projects dogged the previous administration.

Walton Brown said the first order of business for the new leader would be to “restore a greater level of confidence in matters relating to governance… We need to demonstrate transparency, accountability, integrity. We need to demonstrate to people that we can address those issues,” he said,

Mr. Starling would like to see a more formal, transparent approach to “affirmative action” on Government contracts.

Get Bermudians back to work

The oft-quoted figure of 1,600 unemployed is believed to be a low-ball estimate of the number of people out of work.

The picture isn’t likely to get better quickly as the consequences of the global recession continue to dog Bermuda.

PLP veteran Alvin Williams would like to see immediate reassurances over Government jobs and a clear plan to get people back in employment.

Economist Craig Simmons has suggested the idea of a “working class tax cut” to incentivize job creation in the private sector.

Get to grips with gangs

There has been plenty of crime-fighting legislation over the past few months as the Government attempts to get to grips with the explosion of gun violence in the country.

But public safety, amid spiralling violence on the streets, remains the number one issue of concern for most Bermudians.

Pastor Leroy Bean, of gang intervention group CARTEL, believes the new administration will be judged on its ability to get the problem under control.

He says Government needs to show it has more than Mirrors in its armoury. Direct intervention and mediation programmes, he says, need support.

“They need to deal with the gang situation, fund intervention and start to relate with these young men going through these problems.”

Mr. Starling hopes the new administration will focus on rehabilitation and parole services in a big way.

Start implementing the Mincy Report

Is it time for a little less conversation, a little more action on race?

Some within the party think so. Even advocates of the Big Conversation say it may now have served its purpose and could be a casualty of the leadership change.

But the issues of black empowerment and a social and educational agenda for young black males remain crucial to the PLP and the country.

At his campaign launch last month, Dale Butler indicated that putting the Mincy Report into action should be a primary goal.

He said Bermuda needed “an action plan to ensure its implementation no matter if it is one or two or 100 steps each year”.

Deal with debt

Debt rises much quicker than it falls, Terry Lister acknowledged in an interview with the Bermuda Sun last week.

It is unlikely that the new Premier will be able to do anything to decrease the debt straight off the bat.

But they will have to come up with a plan to check the rising overdraft.

In a recent paper, Economist Craig Simmons believes the new leader has to do something drastic — in the same way Governments all over the world have done.

He said the two options were “stimulus” (increasing the debt further for initiatives to boost the economy in the hope of increasing Government revenues and then bringing down spending once the recession is over) or “austerity” (cuts now to try to prevent revenue from outstripping spending).

Ultimately, cuts will be necessary at some stage, he said.

“Because debt has increased so dramatically of late, the new government will not have much wriggle room. The ability to borrow and tax has been comprised. That leaves cuts in spending as the only medium-term option.”

Reassure international business

The International Business boom has levelled off for the first time in more than a decade and jobs are starting to disappear.

The new administration will need to work with the International Business sector to consolidate and expand its presence in Bermuda at a time when threats to the industry (from U.S. tax legislation and global economic trends) are numerous.

David Ezekiel, chairman of the Association of Bermuda International Companies, said repealing the payroll tax increase and “progress on term limits” would be positive steps the new Premier could take to shore up the industry.

And restaurant boss and business chief Phil Barnett urged the new Government to change its rhetoric on foreign workers and remember they funded the island’s economy.

“We need to do anything and everything we can to make them feel comfortable. We need to be saying ‘please come to Bermuda – rent your house from a Bermudian for $20,000, get your boat at PWs, eat at the Island Restaurant chain, entertain your guests at the Hamilton Princess’.”

Viewpoint: What do you think the new Premier's priorities should be?