WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7: In November 1998’s switchover, Bermuda’s black majority population finally won political control of Bermuda’s machinery of Government. I was part of the PLP team that helped achieve that. However, much has happened since, even more before.
One of the oft-heard refrains from hard-core PLP supporters is that they are ‘doing what the UBP did’. Another chorus is that the PLP is ‘doing it better’.
Fact and truth lie elsewhere.
Bermuda 1620 to 1994
From Bermuda’s first Parliament in 1620 through to 1923, successive Bermuda Governments had to manage a poor isolated agrarian society. For a long while, Bermudians grew onions and potatoes and fished for an almost subsistence standard living. Later, Great Britain’s Imperial Government helped by providing foreign aid in the form of Royal Navy and British Army bases that pumped UK tax money into Bermuda’s isolated economy.
From 1923, successive Bermuda Governments had to manage a Bermuda that began earning an independent and higher standard of living as a mid-Atlantic Tourist Resort. Between 1941 and 1947, this process was interrupted when Tourist became Wartime Bermuda with UK and US forces based in Bermuda.
In 1947, underwritten by US taxpayer dollars that paid for Kindley Field USAF base, Bermuda re-entered the business of being a mid-Atlantic Tourist Resort. From 1947 through to 1994, Bermuda’s primary business was what it had been between 1923 and 1939, hosting tourists.
In 1963, party politics arrived. From 1963, the PLP, and from 1964 the PLP and the UBP, quarreled over the governance of a country whose primary business was Tourism. It stayed like that until 1994.
In 1994, invisibly, absolutely, quietly, Bermuda exited the business of Tourism and entered the new business of International Business. This statement, made in March 1994, demonstrates how invisible and unknown this massive change really was: “While international business has been growing, it cannot replace tourism.”(*)
Until 1994, the UBP was governing Tourist Bermuda. But in 1994, invisibly, absolutely, quietly, Tourist Bermuda metamorphosed (**)into Business Bermuda - right under the noses and hands of the then ruling UBP.
Governing after 1994
In 1998, four years after this 1994 metamorphosis, the PLP won the Government and took over the task of governing Bermuda.
However, no one in the PLP hierarchy of that day, no one in the upper echelons of the Civil Service of that day, and no one in Bermuda’s business community, was aware of 1994’s tectonic shift. No one knew or realized that the new political regime now had to govern and manage the new Business Bermuda and that, like an old soldier, Tourist Bermuda had not died, but it had faded away.
Beginning with their 10th November 1998 takeover, the PLP’s real task was to govern Business Bermuda. This new PLP governing task was completely different from the old UBP governing task. Governing Business Bermuda was a completely different operation than that of governing Tourist Bermuda.
Bermuda began changing from Tourist Bermuda into Business Bermuda in 1987. By 1997, that process of change — that metamorphosis — was complete. From 1997, all that happened was that Business Bermuda grew and Tourism continued fading to second place. There were three critical changes.
• IB’s contribution to GDP passed Tourism’s. By 2010, Tourism was down to 5 per cent of GDP.
• IB replaced Tourism as the major employer of labour resources. In 2010, IB employed 12,000 people while Tourism employed 4,800. Five people in IB for every one person in Tourism.
• IB’s foreign exchange earnings roared past the foreign exchange earned by Tourism. In 2010, IB brought in $1,964m while Tourism brought in $384m. $5 IB dollars for every Tourist $1.
Business Bermuda’s jobs and job opportunities, supporting essentials and necessities, education and skill-set requirements, national infrastructure and administrative demands, environmental and social needs and impacts; all these were light years away from and different to the needs of Tourist Bermuda.
Bermuda after 1994
Bermuda changed in 1994. That change is not reversible. It matters not whether you like it or approve.
However, Tourism needs to be re-invigorated, re-grown, and then sustained at a much higher level than now. Leisure visitor Air Arrivals must double and get back up to the 325,000 level (last seen in 2000) and overall income from Tourism must get above $500m and stay there.
Grab the future, let go of the past.
The cries of ‘they did it’ and ‘we’re doing what they used to do’ are like petulant cries from a toddler. Worse, these petulant cries confirm that still, eighteen years after, in 2012, the massive change in the national governing task is still not recognized; that still, no one has learned.
Today’s Bermudians must adjust and learn to live with the absolute change that has happened. The Government-of-today and the Government-of-tomorrow must grab the life-preserver of reality, facts, and the future — not desperately clutch at sinking dreams and straws of the past. Or this Government or the next Government will drown all of us Bermudians by clutching at straws of the past.
*Statement published in March 1994 in the Final Report of the Commission on Competitiveness — Strategic Plan for the Bermuda Tourism Industry.
**Metamorphosis: The kind of change that happens when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. In this case, it might be that Bermuda changed from the beautiful fluttering butterfly of Tourism into the less glamorous leaf-crunching caterpillar.