Gathering Clouds: How can Bermuda weather this economic climate? Change, according to Finance Minister Bob Richards. *Photo by Scott Stallard
Gathering Clouds: How can Bermuda weather this economic climate? Change, according to Finance Minister Bob Richards. *Photo by Scott Stallard

Finance Minister Bob Richards says he has met with labour unions twice to discuss his recommended structural overhaul to a slew of government entities.

Asked what the unions’ reaction to his proposed privatization, mutualization and outsourcing of various government departments and quangos, Mr Richards chose his words carefully.

“Getting comfortable with something new takes time. We’re committed to talking and getting people comfortable with this process,” he said.

What about labour unrest? How would he avoid strikes like the ones Bermuda has seen in recent weeks while making significant reforms to the way the government operates?

“We’ll talk,” he said.

He then spoke about the importance of communication and building trust.

He added: “The Premier and I told the unions, one of the alternatives is to cut staff. We don’t want to do that… We don’t want to lay off people. It’s not our objective or desire to lay off anyone.”

Mr Richards made the comments at a Global House press conference shortly after making his Budget presentation.

With Premier Craig Cannonier standing over Richards’ shoulder, the Finance Minister was peppered with questions about his newly unveiled budget.

His mantra: status quo is the enemy. He repeated those five words more than once. Change is necessary, he said. The government is tapped out and can’t afford to borrow more money.

He was not so much combative as he was steadfast in his proposals. He spoke matter-of-factly: Bermuda needs to encourage private capital investment from overseas. The 60/40 rule, which guarantees majority Bermudian ownership of many companies based on the island, needs to be relaxed.

“In view of the fact our whole growth strategy depends on capital from abroad,” he said, “the whole notion that you tell these investors what to do is an outmoded notion”.

No, he said, tax increases were not considered to further reduce the deficit, at least not for very long. He deemed the economy too fragile to tolerate tax increases.

He rehashed some of his comments from his budget presentation and made one correction: he misspoke when he said the island’s prospective gaming authority would answer to the Premier. It will be an independent entity, he said, with the government, Opposition and Governor having a say on who serves on the board.

He batted away questions about specific private companies taking over certain government operations.

“That is nonsense; can I be any clearer?”