WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 12: The head of Bermuda’s international business association yesterday backed a bid to suspend work permit term limits to boost the island’s attractiveness to investors.

Business Bermuda chief executive Cheryl Packwood said: “We were in a different economic situation when term limits were first introduced.

“These conditions no longer exist on the island and we as a community — business, Government and regulators — need to look at our policies and legislation to ensure they foster the right environment for international business to grow and flourish.

“Term limits are one of those policies which, by their very name, are limiting.

“We all need to focus on economic growth, which leads to the creation of real jobs for Bermudians.

“Given those considerations, we should remove term limits to provide certainty, encourage investment and foster new business formation in Bermuda.”

The Opposition OBA said last week that suspending term limits would make the island more attractive and give time for a new and better policy on permits to be drawn up.

Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards said that rival jurisdiction the Caymans had suspended their term limit policy — and called on Bermuda to follow suit.

The OBA announcement sparked a row between the OBA and PLP.

A PLP spokesman said ending term limits would be “disastrous” for Bermudian workers.

The PLP spokesman added that the move would mean “more unemployed Bermudians” and mean more firms would overlook Bermudians in favour of overseas employees.

And he quoted Independent Caymans Member of the Legislative Assembly Ezzard Miller, who said several amendments to immigration policy had failed to help business — and added that business chiefs in the Caymans went to “significant lengths” to avoid putting Caymanians in key roles.

OBA leader Senator Craig Cannonier waded into the row and said the ruling PLP had “deliberately distorted” the party’s position.

Sen. Cannonier added that the OBA had recommended suspending term limits for two years to allow time for a better policy was worked out — while the PLP had accused the party of wanting to end term limits.

He said: “It was a simple, straightforward recommendation our economic team had made among a raft of others to get Bermuda back on track, where we are once again producing jobs, not job losses.

“Bermuda’s economy is in crisis with unprecedented and growing unemployment, cost of living hardships for thousands of families and real doubt about Government leadership.

Open to ideas

“The situation is serious and we need to be at our best — open to ideas and honest dialogue for solutions that work for people.

“Without batting an eye, the PLP immediately subverted this effort, trying to twist it into a political fight based on a lie.”

Sen. Cannonier added: “The distortion is desperate and pathetic, showing us they are more concerned about politics than policies to make Bermuda work better for Bermudians.”

Sen. Cannonier said that the number of Bermudians in the workforce had “steadily declined” since 2000, while the percentage of non-Bermudians had grown.

He added that the then-Home Affairs Minister David Burch had written to employers in 2006 to explain that term limits were introduced to dispel expectations among long-term overseas workers that they could expect to acquire permanent residence — not to make more jobs available for Bermudians.

Sen. Cannonier said: “The PLP today is ignoring its own rationale for the term limits policy and distorting our position in order to pick a fight.

“They’re willing to say anything to distract people from thinking about new approaches and new ideas that can get this island back on track.”

Caymans United Democratic Party Premier McKeeva Bush said that work permits terms — known as the “roll-over” policy — had to be looked at to turn the economy around.

Mr Bush added: “When there were more overseas people in our workforce and more international businesses operating in the Cayman Islands, very few of our people were unemployed.

“It’s important that we re-examine the roll-over policy now to ensure that the Cayman Islands remain a competitive international financial centre and that Caymanians continue to have the opportunity to be employed in good jobs.