Mixed response: Premier Cannonier’s OBA Government has been urged to do more to stimulate the economy. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Mixed response: Premier Cannonier’s OBA Government has been urged to do more to stimulate the economy. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

The OBA is due to mark its first 100 days in power tomorrow– and the Bermuda Sun canvassed a range of opinion on the party’s performance so far.

Experts said the OBA’s performance on the economy — the party’s biggest challenge alongside gang violence — was mixed.

Peter Everson, who speaks on the economy for the island’s Chamber of Commerce, gave passing marks to the decision to abolish six-year term limits for expatriate workers.

He said: “That’s probably the most significant policy decision the Government will make this year. It makes a huge difference to Bermuda’s economic potential.

“Term limits were eating away at Bermuda’s competitive position. And, rather than protecting Bermudian jobs, it was actually destroying them. Scrapping them has slowed down the pace of destruction.”

Mr Everson also gave the thumbs-up to the decision to set up a Cabinet committee, chaired by the Premier, to cut through red tape and make it easier for overseas companies to set up on the island.

Mr Everson said: “One of the frustrations in the past, particularly with foreign investors looking at bringing capital investment into Bermuda, was that they had to go around seeing half a dozen Ministers who all worked to their own time scale.

“This appears to bring it all together in a coherent strategy, which seems a step in the right direction.”

But he said cutting back on the cost of Government was not moving fast enough.

He added the new SAGE Commission was likely to come up with recommendations for reducing the expense of running the country.

Mr Everson said: “My understanding is it’s looking at what types of things the Government does and how effective they are at doing that.”

Elder statesman Sir John Swan, a former Premier for the UBP, said that the abolition of term limits alone was not enough to restore overseas confidence in Bermuda.

He added: “The Government hasn’t yet gone far enough in policy changes that will bring in foreign capital, foreign intellect and foreign products.”

And he called for a review of the 60/40 rule, which guarantees Bermudian majority ownership of businesses and the
extension of residence rights, although not voting rights, to key people who had made “a significant contribution” to the island’s prosperity.

But Kevin Grant, president of the white-collar BPSU, which represents Civil Servants, argued that the SAGE Commission, made up of members from the private sector, needed trade union input.

Mr Grant said: “Implementation of any initiatives into the public sector must have buy-in from all pertinent stakeholders and the approach of the commission must be adjusted to embrace a more tripartite concept.”

Bermuda College economics lecturer Craig Simmons agreed with the decision to axe term limits – but said Government should concentrate on longer-term economic plans, rather than an annual Budget.

He said that firm announcements on cutting the island’s deficit was needed to improve confidence and stimulate spending.

Mr Simmons also agreed that — because local companies desperately needed injections of capital — the 60/40 rule needed amendment.

He added: “To the extent that the Government can help with the recovery effort, the next 100 days must deliver on both encouraging foreign investment in local companies as well as securing funding to increase the number of beds in the hospitality sector.”

On debt, Sir John said the only way the island’s massive billion dollar-plus overdraft would be paid off was by stimulating the economy.

He added: “You can’t lay off a lot of civil servants without massive unemployment or increase taxes when people are having difficulty in paying existing ones now. The only way to get growth is by encouraging economic activity.”

Sir John added that increasing opportunities and prosperity for Bermudians would go a long way to reducing crime — especially gang and gun crime.

He said: “The country is working very hard to deal with crime and I don’t think these crimes can be solved without cooperation from the public.”

Sir John added that alternatives to prison, as well as education and work programmes for inmates, would help cut re-offending.

But he said: “We need to drive the economy and drive it faster — the more we procrastinate, the more the civil order of society will deteriorate.

“It will help a lot, because if we have the economic activity, people won’t feel so tempted to get involved in crime.”

On tourism, Mr Everson said it was “positive news” that the prime south shore site once occupied by the Sonesta Beach Hotel had been sold to the Green family.

But he added: “We are looking for further activity on the hotel front and throughout the economy generally.”

Sir John, however, said that hotels were only part of the picture and the island needed to “redefine” tourism and look at Bermuda as a destination.

The businessman and political veteran — an advocate of allowing casinos in Bermuda — added: “Until we make Bermuda a destination sufficiently attractive, until we demonstrate we have got the destination right, building hotels won’t work.

“Nobody will build a hotel unless people come here for a reason and want somewhere to stay. If you create demand, you create supply. We’ve been trying to create the supply without the demand and it  doesn’t work.”