Good turnout: Cathedral Hall was full for the afternoon session of the forum. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Good turnout: Cathedral Hall was full for the afternoon session of the forum. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

FRIDAY, SEPT. 14: Former Premier Sir John Swan yesterday called for party politics to take a back seat in a bid to cure Bermuda’s economic woes.

He said success and complacency had allowed us to become “spoilt brats”, largely oblivious to the grave economic threats facing the island.

Sir John — Bermuda’s longest-serving Premier and one of our most successful businessmen — was speaking as he and Bermuda Sun columnist Larry Burchall shared their blueprint for recovery.

He noted that politicians from all parties had turned out for a lunchtime public meeting at the Anglican Cathedral’s Hall, which was crowded with more than 200 people.

Sir John said talk shows suggested people were living in “two separate worlds” and some had little idea of the scale of the crisis facing the island: “It’s a disconnect and it’s a disconnect because we been spoilt for the past 25 years. Spoilt brats — and that includes me.

“I was spoilt by an economy that kept growing and growing. What we said to people was ‘just stand there, look good and get paid’. We have destroyed our economy by lack of initiative, lack of creativity and lack of participation.”

Referring to his blueprint, Sir John said: “Maybe what we need is to take this piece of paper here, both parties look at it and agree on a mandate neither party can back away from that is going to move this country forward.”

Sir John said that the six-year limit on work permits was not only unnecessary, but hindered the economic growth of the country.

Mr Burchall said that Bermuda was unique in that it had never experienced a major depression before. He added: “What we are asking people to do today is to deal an economic fact that no Bermudian understands. What’s coming at us now is something that can turn us into the kind of thing you see overseas — and we’re not very far off it.”

One man in the audience admitted: “I’m scared on several counts — one of them seems to be that the government doesn’t understand what’s going on. I worry that Bermudians aren’t going to get it until something hits them.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be a slow death or devaluation, but something has to happen.”

One woman in the audience said she was aware of an expatriate woman, who had employed 20 people on the island, who relocated to Switzerland because her children’s nanny had fallen foul of the six-year limit.

The woman added: “Term limits do not create jobs, they dry up jobs.”

Mr Burchall added that Bermuda’s falling birthrate and emigration meant that gaps in the workplace had to be filled with workers from overseas.

He said: “Term limits don’t work and they are not necessary.”

Among the audience were Bob Richards, the OBA shadow finance minister, the UBP’s Kim Swan, PLP MP Dale Butler, as well as prospective parliamentary candidates.

Marcus Jones, who is standing for the PLP in Pembroke South West, said: “I’m out there on the doorsteps and I’m hearing a lot about term limits.”

He added he was aware that “qualified Bermudians had been pushed out” of posts. But he said: “I’m almost persuaded to have a second look at these term limits, but what do we have as a safety net?”

Sir John said: “At the end of the day, we control immigration policy — if we remove term limits, we still have checks and balances through the immigration department.”

And he added: “We can’t, in this day and age, hold a gun to people’s heads.”

He added that one private school had lost more than 100 students last year as overseas residents relocated to other jurisdictions.

Among the recommendations made by Sir John and Mr Burchall to boost Bermuda’s flagging economy are the redevelopment of Hamilton’s waterfront, including a casino.

They also suggested consideration be given to allowing shops to be managed, financed and owned by non-Bermudians.

Sir John and Mr Burchall added that Hamilton city limits should be expanded, with the right to buy high-rise condos in town extended to key overseas employees, permanent resident certificate holders and employees of “high net worth individuals.”

They said: “Most foreigners are used to living in a city environment and this would keep the outlying country areas available to Bermudians and their families.”

Other parts of the island, like Dockyard and Ireland Island and Southside, should join an extended Hamilton as special economic zones.

The blueprint also recommends that major ventures like the Hamilton waterfront and the airport could be privatized, with majority ownership by non-Bermudians allowed, or be private/public partnerships.

On international business, the document said: “Make it easier, more efficient and welcoming to do business in Bermuda.

“Bermuda has to realise the competitive environment is different and cannot do business on its own terms – we have to adjust to our customers’ needs and wants.”

The pair added that tourism could get a shot in the arm with payroll tax breaks, import duty relief and free licencing fees for new developments.