Ready to serve: Terry Lister formerly announced his leadership bid to the media at Alaska Hall this week. *Photo by James Whittaker
Ready to serve: Terry Lister formerly announced his leadership bid to the media at Alaska Hall this week. *Photo by James Whittaker

Terry Lister this week became the first PLP MP to announce his candidacy for the leadership of the party.

He is expected to battle it out for the job — which will be vacated by Premier Dr. Ewart Brown in October — with backbencher Dale Butler and current Deputy Premier Paula Cox.

He accepted that Ms Cox was likely to be the frontrunner. But Mr Lister, who has held almost every Cabinet post in a long political career, believes he is the right man for the job.

He will set out his agenda in full in the coming months and seek a ‘mandate’ from the public through a series of town hall meetings.

James Whittaker asked him how he would deal with some of the key issues facing Bermuda.

National debt

Getting spiralling national debt under control would be Mr Lister’s first priority on the economy.

He warned Bermuda will soon be paying as much as $90 million each year in interest on debt repayments — enough to fund the annual budget for an entire department.

He said Bermuda had maintained a steady annual national debt of between $100 million and $200 million up until 2006 when it had started to rise steadily.

Current Government figures suggest that Bermuda now owes just over $1billion.

That would require an estimated $90million annual repayment just to cover the interest and mandatory annual repayment.

“The first thing we need to do is stop it from growing,” Mr Lister said.

“We can’t make inroads right away. It is going to take time to turn this around but we have to stop the growth.”

He said improving the fortunes of international business, attracting new companies and reviewing Bermuda’s taxation policies would all help increase revenue.

He ruled out income tax but warned some service cuts may be required.

“We have to look at programmes, evaluate them and decide what we can cut.”

Gang violence and fear of crime

Mr. Lister would consider trials without juries in a bid to address the fear factor that may be preventing gangsters from being punished for their crimes.

He said the intimidation factor that prevented witnesses from coming forward, in some cases, was also a consideration for juries. And he will look at the possibility of ‘judge only’ trials in certain circumstances.

He said he was confident that the police were starting to make inroads with a string of suspects before the courts on firearms charges.

But he believes the real solutions to the gang problem are social.

He said Bermuda had done enough studies and it was now time to start implementing some of the recommendations contained in documents like the Mincy Report.

“We have to get to grips with what is going on with our young men – socialize them and get them to commit to going to work every day and earning a living just like the rest of us rather than earning a living in an underground industry with crime slashed all the way through it.”

The disappearing tourists

Refocusing resources on Bermuda’s main market in the north-east corridor of the U.S. would be Mr Lister’s priority.

He said the latest tourism campaign — focusing on the eastern seaboard — was the way to go.

“We have to get back to the roadshows, work closely with the travel agents, get a good looking ad campaign going in the national media.

“We have to appeal to the people who work hard all week and let them know they can leave the office, jump on a plane and slip to Bermuda in a matter of hours. And when they get here we all have to do our part.”

The struggle in the schools

Improving reading levels among Primary School children would be a key goal for a Lister administration.

He said literacy influenced every aspect of a child’s education and those students that fell behind in reading at Primary level where the ones that struggled later in their academic life.

“Our reading recovery programmes for children at P2 level are pretty successful, at P4 and P6 the results are not so good.”

He is also recommending that the testing of two-year-olds, carried out by the Child Development Unit, becomes mandatory.

He said identifying potential learning difficulties early was the key to preventing them from affecting a child’s education later in life.

Race relations

Mr. Lister hinted that his administration would look to dial down the racial rhetoric a notch.

He said he was committed to ensuring equality of opportunity for everyone in Bermuda.

But he said it was time for Bermuda to move beyond black and white and “move confidently into a future where each of us is measured by effort put in rather than race”.

He added: “We have spent a lot of time discussing it, trying to get people to think about it and that has served its purpose. I want us to move on a stage.”