Part II of II

The primary narrative in the PLP’s Budget Reply is that if the OBA were focused on revenues instead of cutting expenses, Bermuda could avoid the “evils” of privatization and save Government jobs.

“Diversify the economy!” is what we’re told. It’s the OBA that is, as Chris Famous put it, “a party full of rich people”, that will, “sell off the Bermuda Government, piece by piece, to other rich people”. 

Has the PLP forgotten the 2010 Special Report of the Auditor General on the Motor Vehicle Safety and Emissions Testing Programme so soon?

“During the course of the audit of the 2009 Consolidated Fund, I found serious internal control deficiencies in the management and oversight of various capital development projects. One of the projects in question was the development of the Motor Vehicle Safety and Emissions Testing Programme, which had an initial budget of $5.3 million and a final cost of $15.23 million. A subsequent audit of the project, which culminated in this special report, confirmed that the project lacked the necessary oversight and project management processes to ensure value for money.”

Wonders never cease…  Maybe I’m just missing something, but I’d like an explanation of three simple things:  First, an explanation for the PLP’s vitriolic opposition to privatization, considering that they practised it when they were in power; second, an explanation of what the removal of term limits, setting up a Tourism Authority, introducing casino legislation, hosting hotel development conferences and eliminating IB red tape, are about if not revenue generation; third, an explanation for why after 14 years in power and one-and-a-half years in Opposition, their top three solutions to our over-dependence on international business are Online Gambling, Blue Economy and Taxing Cannabis.  

Consider this simple question: If the PLP were sincere about these three alternatives, wouldn’t they have presented estimates of timing, revenue and expenditure for them?  

What about research?  The Reply doesn’t contain any details on: How many millions we would require just to explore Blue Economy (let alone develop it); Potential revenue from taxing cannabis or its ability to earn foreign revenue;  The UK’s disdain for offshore, online gaming and their planned introduction of Place of Consumption Tax on jurisdictions like Gibraltar; The fact that online gambling is successful offshore primarily because it’s illegal or highly-regulated onshore.  Hmm... If Google is a problem for Bermuda’s headlines, then surely offshore gambling would be too, wouldn’t it?

It continues to bewilder me that the PLP would even embrace online gambling and fixed-odds betting terminals. Last year, the UK’s Guardian newspaper “found that northern, urban cities and London boroughs with high levels of unemployment bet four times more on gambling machines than richer rural areas in southern England where jobless numbers are low”.... A recent report, produced by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, “appears to show that bookmakers have targeted the poorest areas with the highest unemployment, lowest income levels and higher crime rates”.  

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out why online gambling is still objectionable or illegal in most countries. 

The online gambling industry is one that looks forward to the day when every mobile phone carrying person in the poorest of nations can gamble their hearts away one dollar at a time. Ironically, the UK labour party is leading the charge against “predatory capitalism”, while Bermuda’s labour party is the chief proponent of it. Perhaps the PLP is also “at war with itself and with its core values”. If it’s not, it should be.

These three, poorly-conceived alternatives didn’t trouble me anywhere as much as the PLP’s recommendation to reduce tax incentives in the retail and hospitality sectors.  Tourists come here for restaurants, hotels and entertainment.  

Any moves to stymie entrepreneurship in this area stands to cripple our tourism product, which consequently leads to our earning less money to fund the social programmes that everyone wants to protect. 

At a time when we need to give tourists more reasons to come here, the PLP is recommending a policy that would certainly lead to their going elsewhere. Especially given our current debt, such a move would be committing economic suicide.

Talk is cheap, no? The big lesson from both the OBA’s Budget and the PLP’s Reply is that political parties shouldn’t be judged by the content of their speeches, but by their ability to plan and execute their ideas.  Isn’t it high time for the PLP to quit fear-mongering and concede that we have no choice but to focus on tourism and international business?