December 13, 2013 at 12:37 p.m.

One year on, has the OBA lived up to expectations?

One year on, has the OBA lived up to expectations?
One year on, has the OBA lived up to expectations?

By Amanda [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Jobs, ‘Jetgate’ and nerve-jangling debt — the headlines came thick and fast during the OBA’s inaugural year in power. 

The new party was swept to power on a wave of optimism not too dissimilar to that which greeted the PLP’s historic first win in 1998.

But have they brought home the bacon? Have promises been kept and goals achieved? Are Bermudians better off under the OBA?

Today we take a look ‘under the hood’ — to borrow a phrase — at the governing party’s first year at the reins, and also ask the PLP to reflect on its year in Opposition.

he One Bermuda Alliance swept to power on a wave of optimism and a promise of change, but one year on, how far has Bermuda come and are we better off?

While some observers say the Government has achieved significant success under trying economic circumstances, others say not nearly enough is being done fast enough.

Central to the OBA’s election platform were the concepts of inclusion and “social and economic equity for all”.

But already, the OBA has a dearth of social welfare policies, says former PLP Premier Alex Scott.

“In the early days the OBA branded themselves as a new entity, resisting the notion they were a ‘rebranded UBP’. But a reshuffle has seen OBA members removed so that the Cabinet is now more reflective of the UBP,” Mr Scott said.

“The OBA is also following policies reflective of the former UBP in immigration, and their social policies are few and far between.”

He added: “Decisions such as the closure of the Lamb Foggo clinic began to turn the public against the new government.

“As a result of (Opposition) MP Lovitta Foggo’s robust defence of the clinic, Government did rethink their position, and for that they are to be congratulated.

“In one or two situations they have reconsidered their position in the light of public opinion, which is a sign of Government being aware of its stewardship to the public.” 

But he pointed to the recent polls showing the Opposition ahead of the OBA.

“This should be a word of caution to the OBA, that at the end of one year, they have gone from the party full of promise to one whose promise is now being questioned,” Mr Scott said.

“The SAGE Commission (Report) and OBA are now suggesting that promises may have to be broken. The promise Bermudian jobs would be secure is now being eroded, and that is probably also why the OBA are down in the polls.

“The jury is out on the future of the OBA, and if the honeymoon was a long one then it would appear the divorce papers are being prepared by the public, who now have serious questions about the new government.”

ir John Swan, former UBP premier (1982-95) said the OBA was to be commended on “opening up” the island to more investment.

“We need to embrace people from overseas,” Sir John said. 

“The OBA has been unduly criticized, but I am for lifting term limits, granting additional PRCs, and a limited amount of status for young people born and brought up here.”

But he said he also wanted to see an end to the 60-40 foreign ownership rule.

“They (overseas companies) should be able to run their own businesses.” 

Sir John said the OBA came to power in abnormal circumstances, inheriting a massive debt.

“Quite frankly, Government has a hell of a job on its hands, and you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he said. 

“Government is doing a commendable job with what it has. The situation is something we’ve never had before… economic carnage has taken place in Bermuda. But we are beginning to make progress; we’ve seen more business come back to Bermuda.” 

Kevin Grant, president of the BPSU and 2nd vice-president of the TUC, said the OBA had “a very challenging baptism” but were moving forward in the spirit of collaboration.

“From the beginning of their tenure, the OBA have said there will be some hard decisions to be made, and they will need to be made fast.

“This has maybe been a bit too fast in some situations where there needs to be the inclusion of pertinent stakeholders, but I think Government has realized collaboration is the way forward.They have restored the Tripartite Economic forum (Committee), which is a positive step in the right direction.”

The unions are in talks with Government over proposed cuts to the Civil Service in the SAGE Commission Report.

Mr Grant cautioned: “Government has looked at implementing more of a business approach, in looking at efficiency and performance. 

“But when you look at things from the fiscal perspective you also need to make sure you take the humane perspective into consideration, because you can’t really run Government like a business. There’s more to it than just looking at the bottom line.”

Speaking for the business community, Ronnie Viera, president of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, said the OBA had “a good first year”. 

“They are addressing the critical issues, specifically the government deficits, debt and the economy.

“Establishing the SAGE Commission and successfully having them complete a report of recommendations within six months was probably the most significant achievement. 

“Clearly not all of the recommendations are going to be feasible. However, I think the actions (or any lack of action) arising from SAGE will define how the OBA’s performance is measured in future years.”

Mr Viera said: “Going forward into 2014, it is critical that the Tourism Authority and the Bermuda Business Development Agency get into high gear to bring business and investment to the island.”

Economist Peter Everson said Government had “performed reasonably well”. 

“They have tackled the big issues that have crushed the economy and led to job losses, eg. making businesses feel they are respected; abolishing term limits; funding the national debt in an efficient manner; commissioning SAGE; reducing some of the impediments to the sale of real estate to foreigners.”

Stuart Hayward, chairman of the Bermuda Environment and Sustainability Taskforce, also noted the SAGE Commission as one of Government’s achievements.

He praised progress towards creating Southlands as a national park, the creation of a Tourism Authority and reducing food prices (in grocery stores).

But he added: “The OBA also made some promises they just cannot keep, such as pledging not to make cuts in the Civil Service, which has guaranteed they will get a poor grade on promises.”

Mr Hayward said: “The OBA has been slow in developing a strong political backbone, as was exposed in the strategy and execution of the closure then reopening of the Lamb Foggo Urgent Care Centre. 

“However, the strictly legal handling of the illegal pit bull (Hershey) signalled a stiffening of the spine.”

Overall, he said, the OBA had “matured quickly”.

“They were able to hit the ground running, and perform credibly during their first year as Government.” 


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