OBA shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards said: "In spite of all that money that has been spent, there are fewer Bermudians in the workforce than before." *File photo
OBA shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards said: "In spite of all that money that has been spent, there are fewer Bermudians in the workforce than before." *File photo

FRIDAY, AUGUST 12: Bermuda’s budget was out of control long before the global recession hit, OBA shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards has claimed.

Mr Richards said that the only way forward was to trim costs and the Civil Service and to introduce policies designed to make the island more attractive for international business and tourists.

And — in a swipe at Premier and Finance Minister Paula Cox — he added: “This is what happens when you’re a cog in the wheel instead of behind the wheel and in control.”

Mr Richards said Government had said that much of the expenditure was on large-scale public works.

But he added: “Our roads are in the worst state I have seen in my entire life – there’s been extravagant overspending on major capital projects.”

And he said that figures showed that the number of Bermudians in work had shown “a steady decline” over the last decade.

Mr Richards said: “In spite of all that money that has been spent, there are fewer Bermudians in the workforce than before.

“This is how we got here – the PLP has done a terrible damage to the economic fortunes of Bermuda. They’ve spent us into debtors’ prison and that has the potential to encumber our ability to act for generations to come and it just took six years of runaway spending.”

Mr Richards was speaking at the first of a series of OBA town hall-style meetings, held in Warwick on Thursday night, which focused on the economy and featured Mr Richards, OBA Economy, Trade and Industry shadow Minister Sen. Craig Cannonier and Business Development, Tourism and Transport spokeswoman Patricia Gordon-Pamplin.

He said “ill-conceived” policies” like term limits on work permits had damaged the primary foreign exchange earner of international business.

But Mr Richards added: “The situation is grim – but all is not lost. I truly believe that we can this around if we do the right things.

“Our objective as a Government would be to grow the economy to get people back to work, to cut or control government spending and reduce the debt.

“To reduce Government debt, we must first stop living beyond our means. To do that, we have to run rein in expenses and we also have to try and grow revenues.”

Mr Richards said an OBA administration would end term limits for job categories, which “get extensions 90 per cent of the time” in any case.

He added: “We’re not saying we would eliminate work permit applications – they just wouldn’t have to go through this nonsense of term limits where people have to go and be replaced by another foreigner.”

The OBA would also establish a Spending and Government Efficiency Commission — to be run by a partnership of the public service and private sector.

Mr Richards added: “We need to freeze the size of the Civil Service — there’s a lot of lip service being given, but we have to just say no more.

“Over time, the Civil Service will reduce in size as people retire or leave — that’s called attrition. We’re not looking to fire anybody because the Government’s broke. We’d cut consultants by a huge amount and we’d also cut frequent and lavish travel that has been indulged in by Government Ministers and senior Civil Servants.”

Mr Richards said that the size of Cabinet would also be cut, along with a pay reduction of “at least 10 per cent” for serving Ministers.

He added that a report had found that just 50 wealthy new residents in Bermuda would pump $100 million a year into the economy and create and protect Bermudian jobs.

He added: “These are job creators who would love to live here without going through all this immigration nonsense. We could give these people a sense of belonging so they’d continue to spend their money here.”

Mr Richards also said that a revamped planning process would speed up the rate of construction and boost a sector hard-hit by the recession.

Ms Gordon-Pamplin said that tourist air arrivals had hit “almost a crisis situation” over the last few years and said the OBA’s plan for a Tourism Authority with members drawn from the industry would help turn around the sector, while niche areas like sports and medical tourism and gaming should all be considered as ways of boosting visitor numbers.