Finance Minister Curtis Dickinson hit back at claims by Craig Cannonier, the Opposition Leader who labelled Morgan’s Point as an example of success.
Speaking at a joint news conference with the Minister of Labour earlier this week, the Minister said he was “astounded” by the One Bermuda Alliance leader’s claim.
“Anyone can issue a guarantee to a failed project, and have the taxpayers pick up the bill, like we have had to do,” said Mr Dickinson.
“But that is not success, it is a bad deal that all taxpayers are paying for,” he added.
“Persons in the opposition have said they would do the same thing if they had to do it again, is that really who you want in charge of the country’s Finances?
“This Government has taken a different approach; working with industry and the regulators to ensure our International Business sector remains strong and is growing.
“We have worked to diversify our economy and our Fintech Industry which is less than two years old has created 60 jobs in Bermuda.
“We continue to attract investment with companies relocating to Bermuda under our economic substance regime. So I am confident that our focus on building on what we have, diversifying the economy, making the government more efficient, and reducing red tape will ensure that our economy recovers and grows, as it did before the pandemic.”
Speaking directly “to those who preach nothing but doom and gloom about the Bermuda economy, both before the pandemic and now,” he also laid out the facts.
“Independent International observers have praised this Government handling of the country’s finances before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and after the pandemic.
Regarding our economic performance, he listed the following:
- Reduced the Bermudian unemployment rate from 8.2% in May 2016 to 4.4% in November 2019 according to the Labour Force survey;
- The 2019 Employment Report showed that between 2017 and 2019 719 jobs were created in Bermuda;
- In 2017 the PLP inherited a Budget Deficit of $134 million in 2017, and we have reduced that deficit to $20 million in the last fiscal year, the lowest deficit in 18 years!
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Mr Dickinson. “We have soundly managed the country’s finances, and the confidence of international markets, reflect that assessment.
“Additionally, the Ministry of Finance has recognized an uptick in development and construction projects presented to the Department of Planning. This is an encouraging indicator of economy activity.
“During May and June 2020, a total of 53 planning applications were received and 81 were approved [for non-residential, residential and solar projects] – resulting in a total estimated construction value of $46 million; while a total of 154 building permit applications were received and 114 building permits were issued [for non-residential, residential and solar projects] – resulting in a total estimated construction value of $68 million.
“To further assist key stakeholders in the industry the Government has also made efforts to better streamline the application process reducing the approval period from 10 weeks to four to five weeks.
“This Government will continue to search and identify to improve efficiency and put the necessary measures in place to ensure we assist Bermudians in getting back to work.”
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 Economic Advisory Committee (EAC) continues to play a vital role in our economic recovery, the Minister added.
“The Committee has been meeting regularly, and they have prioritized ideas for the retention of existing business, growing existing sectors, and attracting new industries. As noted in previous updates, the Phase 1 focus was on “quick wins” to assist persons and entities in surviving through the early stages of the pandemic and taking actions to mitigate the impact of the economic and financial challenges.
There have been over 50 short-term ideas, prioritized by industry, and their focus areas included taxes, jobs, immigration, tourism, technology, and new-sector growth. All ideas have been submitted to the Government for evaluation and a number of them have already been successfully addressed. Some of the short-term ideas from the EAC which the Government has already executed on include the following:
- Prepare checklists and protocols for business traveler approval, such as pre-testing, antibody testing, travel and visit protocols, to reopen the economy;
- Amend long-stay business traveler regulations;
- Amend the Employment Act in reference to redundancies;
- Expedite the buyer process for foreign real estate purchases;
- Extend the unemployment benefits program;
- Establish a sustainability fund for small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs];
- Continue payroll and duty deferments at least through year end;
- Support entrepreneurs on the island through programs like Ignite;
- Further economic substance strategy with the Bermuda Business Development Agency [BDA] and the Registrar of Companies;
- Enhance the infrastructure to collect back-taxes; and
- Provide Government digitization projects for small and medium-sized enterprise tech companies
At this point in time, the Minister noted that “the Committee is currently developing medium–term strategies which can be implemented over the next one-to-three years in order to stabilize and grow our economy”.
“The strategies are being refined and assessed for impact before final submission to the Government.
“I want to take this opportunity to again thank the members of the Economic Advisory Committee for their hard work as we look to expand upon some of their ideas in the near future.”
The establishment a sub-committee of the EAC was announced in June at a COVID-19 briefing “where young people would be invited to present their ideas for stimulating economic growth, job growth, and increasing government efficiency”.
After six weeks of work, he said: “The Junior Economic Advisory Committee presented their recommendations to the Cabinet.
“Their recommendations covered suggestions on banking, reducing mortgage interest rates, ideas on better supporting entrepreneurs, and their view on turning Bermuda College into a four-year institution of higher learning; everyone was thoroughly impressed.”
Moving forward, he said: “I remain confident that Bermuda and her people will emerge from this crisis stronger”.
“Together we have already successfully navigated through a wide range of challenges brought on by this pandemic, we appropriately addressed them, and so far, as a country, we’ve done a remarkable job.
“We must continue to follow the rules and do our part to stay safe. We must ensure that our COVID-19 numbers do not rise. This pandemic is not over.
“I urge everyone to continue to be vigilant and maintain a healthy routine. It is important that we do our part and help and support one another and our country to weather this health and economic challenge.
“As I have said previously, our progress is due to the hard work and dedication of our many frontline workers, other persons in the community as well as many earnest and hardworking public officers.”
In closing, he thanked all of the individuals involved, including “the team at the Ministry of Finance, and our industry partners and stakeholders for their tremendous assistance and support as we continue strengthening our economy”.