The massive risk of jumping straight to tabling the immigration bill

In absence of the availability of the actual proposed “Bermuda Immigration [No. 2] Act 2017” one can only speculate as to what is being proposed. We’ll have to wait until it is publicly available to make a more concrete judgement.

However, the optics are plain terrible. Why rush straight to proposing a bill with no prior warning, announcement or “bi-partisan immigration reform” consultation?

Let’s be honest. The PLP have a mandate to fix the loophole regarding discrimination based upon place of origin. That’s wholly understandable and it isn’t a surprise if their aim is to fix it. The problem is if we mess up the approach such that we send a message that we’re promoting discrimination against non-Bermudians. This would be a massive misstep and could be terribly damaging.

Why in the world is this going straight to a bill? Why the rush? There are many 100 day pledges unfulfilled, this wasn’t specifically listed as one nor listed as part of the platform. Why do we urgently need to table a bill on this?

The risk here is massive and I don’t think that should be understated. It doesn’t matter what the underlying intentions are, the problem is that if you don’t manage perceptions it can blow up in your face. This was the OBA’s biggest failing and frankly, the PLP have shown a few times now that they didn’t learn from the OBA’s mistakes.

By contrast – take a moment to review how Col. Burch outlines the mail processing facility situation. The way he’s outlined the problems, how we got here, the options and the reason why an urgent solution was chosen is impressive. That’s an example of how an urgent situation should be handled, and minus a urgent solution, it’s also an example of how non-urgent situation should be handled.  Why risk controversy unnecessarily when we’re already in such a fragile position as an island?

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Opportunities for Bermudians to replace non-Bermudians

These sorts of comments are interesting:

“With jobs for non-Bermudians continuing to grow while Bermudian jobs are lost in the tourism industry, it is clear that a new approach is needed to ensure that Bermudians come first in jobs and opportunities in our own country,” the Minister continued.

“The Government, working in tandem with the Department of Immigration, the Department of Workforce Development and stakeholders, will conduct an industry-wide skills and needs assessment of the tourism industry to identify areas where unemployed or underemployed Bermudians can be trained to fill or be promoted into jobs currently held by non-Bermudians.

“For Bermuda to realize its fullest potential we must have a well-trained, highly-qualified Bermudian work force where the only limit to growth and advancement is the ones that individuals put on themselves. To achieve this goal, we must ensure full alignment between the worker skill sets, industry demands, and the education and training being offered. (emphasis added)

Sometimes these things are made out to be big projects when really they can take just a few minutes of data analysis.

For example.  If we look at the Employment Surveys over the last few years, “Service Workers, Shop and Market Sales Workers” category is most fitting of the majority of “tourism” jobs.  We can look at the numbers filled by non-Bermudians to determine where there is demand that we could be providing improved training.

Here are the top 10 jobs filled by non-Bermudians in the category.  Note that the largest categories saw massive declines in the recession and are only starting to recover.

Looking at these numbers, the biggest areas of growth are inside kitchens in the form of chefs, cooks and kitchen assistants as part of wait staff and as cleaners/nannies.

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Blaming the OBA won’t balance the budget

The PLP are hiring for a raft of new positions, announcing spending initiatives and solving pressing issues by increasing spending. They say they are spending money that was already budgeted for and are blaming the OBA for un-budgeted spending. This is all fine and nice if you ignore the bottom line. Will we see a reduction in the deficit this year and a balanced budget next year as promised?

In opposition, the PLP liked to highlight the growth in the debt under the OBA.

PLP: ‘OBA Doubled Debt, Lost 2,000 Jobs’

This was politically convenient as it ignored the rather sizable deficit the PLP left behind from their last time in government.  It ignored how impossible it is to prevent the debt from increasing when you have a considerable deficit.  It ignored that in order to quickly reverse the trend, massive cuts would have had to have been made.  The PLP held the OBA to account for all increases in debt regardless of the cause and this could come back to haunt them.  Not only do we have more interest payments to make but if we can’t manage to balance the budget, the problem will only get worse.

The PLP blamed the OBA for our increases in debt.  The PLP are blaming the OBA for un-budgeted expenses.  However using this to excuse budget overruns and an inability to reduce the deficit may seem convenient, but it won’t change the bottom line.  The OBA didn’t win 2/3rds of parliament and they aren’t the ones now holding the purse strings.  The OBA aren’t the ones in the position of having to make the hard decisions of where not to spend money in order to reduce the fiscal burden  The OBA also didn’t convince the population that any increases in debt are unacceptable.  Blaming the OBA is all fine and good, but it won’t balance the budget.

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Political communications in the pull-refresh era

One of the big criticisms of the OBA’s period of governance was poor communications. They simply failed to keep the people informed of what they were planning and what they were doing. Two months into the new PLP government and people are starting to make the same complaints. The problem likely is that the internet has vastly changed the people’s expectations for levels of communication and governments haven’t yet managed to adjust.

The always enjoyable to watch local video commentators “It’s That Type of Party” laid out pretty well what the problem is.  A lack of trust and transparency.

“The government needs to treat Bermuda like an emotionally damaged girlfriend or boyfriend. We need to be reassured that in choosing you, our needs will be met. We need to be updated with what is going on. We need progress reports. We need a call at 3 O’Clock in the morning to know ‘hey this is what I’m doing, I’m just letting you know whats going on'”

 

“We need to know whats going on because if we’re left in the dark we’re going to be like, ok, umm… what’s going on, I don’t hear anything. I put my trust in you but I don’t see where my trust is going. Whether or not my trust is being put right. Whether or not I made the right decision in voting for you. Whether or not you are going through with the policies that you are trying to put forward. We don’t know what you’re doing.”

 

In the new age of the internet where much of the world is at your fingertips and new information is a google search or a pull-refresh update away, the people are restless. We have seen years of governments who haven’t delivered.  We simply don’t trust our politicians to deliver anymore.  The government needs to take a modern approach that makes progress a living thing that is regularly updated and the people are kept informed.

It is incredibly difficult to stay on top of what the government is doing.  The OBA loved press conferences.  It seemed like everything was a video press conference with a long winded statement.  It is simply too much.  One shouldn’t have to sift through endless video or text to figure out the status of initiative.  It should be clear and concise.  We need simple transparency with clear references of what the status of each initiative is.

What does that mean?  The government needs to create pages like this that clearly illustrate the status of every initiative undertaken pledged by the party as well as initiatives by government departments.  We need to know and be reassured that the our government is focused and delivering on what they set out to achieve.  Simple bullet point lists and summaries are enough.  Easy to access pages that can readily be referenced and referred to but link to further information.  Something like this:

So, in absence of the PLP and the government creating such pages, there is a new link in the menu of this site that links to a page dedicated to the PLP’s 100 days plan.

The aim is to track the progress and status on each initiative so we can ensure that the government is delivering on their all of their pledges in time for the celebration of their first 100 days in office.

 

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The problem with Casinogate

In Bob Richard’s last public interview he suggested that the public doesn’t know the full story behind the Jetgate scandal.

Mr Cannonier sensationally resigned in May 2014, to be replaced by Michael Dunkley, after being involved in the Jetgate controversy along with Cabinet colleagues Mark Pettingill and Shawn Crockwell.

 

Mr Richards would not divulge the full story behind the scandal, but told The Royal Gazette: “The public doesn’t know what happened. Craig was made to be the fall guy.”

This is a problem for the OBA that they simply just don’t get.  They don’t have the trust of the public.  They gain nothing trying to point fingers at the PLP for Casinogate while they have no actual evidence of any wrongdoing. If anything, it damages their cause.

The optics of trying to make a huge deal out of “Casinogate” are at the moment terrible and unlikely winning them any support.  Was there a trip?  It certainly looks like there wasn’t. Was one planned? Possibly. Is there any evidence that money or bribes were taken in exchange for future concessions?  At the moment, no.  Is there any evidence of any unsavory actions?  At the moment, no.  There is seemingly no evidence that it was anything more than a trip.  Is there more to it, there sure could be, but at the moment there is no evidence.

Many OBA supporters are up in arms suggesting the OBA should attack the PLP with the same fervor as the PLP attacked the OBA with regards to Jetgate.  The problem with that reasoning is that when the former Deputy Premier and Finance Minister comes out and says that there was more to their own scandal that hasn’t been revealed then it leaves people with a bad taste in their mouth.  The OBA needs to clean out their own skeletons before focusing on the PLP’s.

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Let’s talk about the state of the economy

The economy is not as good as some would have you believe.

The OBA’s “recovery” was largely stimulus driven. In layman’s terms this means it was mostly temporary.  Growth was driven by the projects like the America’s Cup, hotel construction, the airport and other temporary projects.  This means that as America’s Cup ended, so did the stimulus it brought.  The airport and hotel projects are helping keep things going, but we haven’t seen a real recovery in terms of job growth in industries that drive the foreign income we are desperately reliant on.

Seriously, let’s look at the state of job creation over the last few years.

Let’s filter this down to the core areas that have shown growth over the last couple years:

The only industries that supply much needed foreign income and economic growth locally are under represented.  International business has barely seen a bump, same with financial intermediation.  Business services is the only area that has seen reasonable growth.  The rest of the areas showing growth are local services like restaurants that could suffer as the temporary stimulus eases off.  Other sectors are flat-lining or in decline.

The problem we face is that we haven’t seen real growth.  The America’s Cup brought a whole bunch of long term tourists to the island who have now left, taking their on island spending with them.  Hotel projects provide a temporary boost to construction but likely won’t result in tremendous amounts of jobs.  The airport project will help, however the fate of it is uncertain.  We’re still waiting to see the full details of the deal released so we can find out truly how bad of a deal it was and what will be done about it.

We’re not in a good position right now.  There’s lots of talk of creating new industries, diversification and creating tech hubs.  This is great in theory, however we’re competing with the rest of the world on these things.  Trust me, competing on global scale is incredibly difficult, especially when your competitors have far better resources and a much larger market than you do. Nearly every place on the planet is trying to create tech hubs.  So how can we possibly be competitive as an extremely high cost destination that is a difficult and painful place to do business?  That needs to change and unfortunately change is incredibly difficult.  In order to be successful we need all hands on deck, the entire island united behind making ourselves competitive to attract new industries and create new jobs.

This is why distracting ourselves with independence or trying to force through discrimination against gay marriage are so risky and get people worked up.  Right now it is the absolute worst thing we can do as we are in such a fragile state we need to be incredibly focused on the task at hand.  Any risk of disrupting business confidence in the stability of our island can have devastating impacts on our ability to grow and could put us into further decline.  No business will want to come here to help us diversify if they have doubts about our stability.  Worse, we’ll continue to be divided as an island fighting against each other rather than united in progressing ourselves back towards prosperity. Thus it is incredibly important that our new government takes swift action to immediately put to rest any concerns that arise like independence and resolve issues like gay marriage in an amicable fashion.  Our economy is simply too fragile.  It is likely quite a bit worse off than you’ve been led to believe and we need to do everything we can to avoid the risk of making it a lot worse.

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Quick thoughts on the Bernews interview with the Premier

Interesting interview with the Premier. Very articulate and composed responses to good interviewing. It seemed like he avoided providing personal opinions in most cases and deferred decisions to the appropriate committees and bodies that will be setup. I look positively on this as it suggests his intent to lead by enabling decision making rather than dictating specific decisions.

Good that he pledges to stick to the OBA’s budget. Also good that he suggests any unbudgeted spending will need approval and will be publicized. Interesting that he avoids admitting what areas will see cuts. Encouraging remarks regarding commitments to balancing the budget.

I think growth will be alot harder of a task than is being suggested. As Jeremy Deacon suggests, there will likely be a time lag and no clear answer was given of how it will be achieved within the timeframe, only that they will live up to their commitment to balance the budget without details on how.

Encouraging answer on independence. Wish he’d come out immediately after Senator Hayward’s speech and said exactly that.

I tend to agree that the OBA did not take a position on same sex marriage. They abstained from challenging the rulings but did not take a firm position.

Very interesting remarks regarding the company formed with ties to AECON, will be interested in hearing more as it becomes available.

It will be very important that the government is transparent as possible when it comes to any contract reviews and changes.

Great question with regards to the definition of a living wage. Can’t say I’m surprised with the response as I don’t think it has really been defined and the Premier is best avoiding the definition and letting their committee determine the most feasible solution given our circumstances. Such as what Craig Simmons had to say regarding it.  I would rather see us take a pragmatic approach than force through an unrealistic one.

Unfortunately much of the commentary in the Bernews live feed was disappointing in that they attacked the interviewer vs. evaluated what was being said and the responses provided.

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Would the PLP intentionally trigger a constitutional crisis and use it to further the cause of independence?

Today’s Royal Gazette has a great editorial on the present conundrum we face regarding same sex marriage.  We risk the government causing a constitutional crisis by trying to push through a law that could violate the UK’s responsibilities to uphold human rights.  If the UK denies the law royal assent, that could be used as a basis to argue for independence.  Would it?  No one is certain, but it is a possibility.

There is a lot of speculation regarding this issue however it does align with what I’ve been wondering over the last few days.  Triggering a constitutional crisis with the UK alone could be disastrous for economic confidence and rapidly tank our economy. Using that as an argument for independence could make things even worse.  The thing I really don’t get is whether this issue is wholly avoidable?

It would seem to me that the fix is to

  1. Adjust the law along what the PLP pledged in their platform to allow for civil unions and protect against discrimination
  2. Adjust the law to remove the right to marriage

What am I missing here?  It would seem that going straight to #2 would cause a constitutional crisis but going to step #1 then step #2 would not.

I’m certainly no expert in law or constitutional matters so I assume it can’t be that easy. Perhaps someone more informed can explain why this route is not an option?  At the moment it seems to make a whole lot more sense than unnecessarily causing a constitutional crisis and risking tanking our economy.

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Independence? Why now? What about critical issues like education, crime and jobs?

Senator Hayward represents and speaks for the government when he calls for independence.  As a union leader he didn’t, however as a senator he most certainly does.  By calling for independence in his labour day speech he has effectively put independence on the table for the government, at least unless the government immediately provides clarification.  The timing couldn’t be worse as it risks stalling and disrupting our recovery.  Why bring up independence now when we’ve got quite a few more pressing issues to deal with?  The PLP have all the power they need to tackle our islands problems. Why are they now suggesting that it isn’t enough?

Contrary to what many may believe, Bermuda’s economy hasn’t recovered.  It has been propped up by “stimulus”, temporary projects that create jobs and encourage spending. Yes, new hotels are being developed, the airport project is underway (for now) and America’s Cup happened.  These are all temporary and provide limited lasting effect in terms of jobs and growth.  We haven’t seen signs of sustained real growth, especially since our core driver, international business, has not been adding jobs in significant numbers.  We honestly haven’t properly recovered from our recession and too few really understand this.

Now is a horrible time to bring up independence.  It creates uncertainty about our political future.  Businesses hate uncertainty and they’re unlikely to grow if there’s uncertainty.  Businesses don’t really care who is in government, they care about how government actions affect them or could affect them. Independence raises a tremendous unknown on top of a significant number of existing concerns.  It creates uncertainty and instability that can cause potential inventors to reconsider investing in our island and businesses, rethink plans to continue investing or worse, make plans to remove investments. All one needs to do is look at what Brexit is doing to the UK in order to have an idea of the damage that can be done by political uncertainty.

The PLP are not in a position to offer a credible outlook for a successful post independent Bermuda. To be frank, they have a terrible track record in government from a financial perspective and there are many unresolved allegations of unsavory actions and evidence of poor governance.  The early steps of the government are suggesting that they don’t seem very interested in acknowledging their mistakes, holding people accountable and showcasing that they are a new and different party that has learned from their actions.  Nothing of this establishes confidence that an independent PLP governed Bermuda will be a more successful and business friendly Bermuda.

Touting independence as a means to “remove ourselves from colonial rule” and “set our own agenda” when we are already predominantly self governing and control most aspects of our agenda is short sighted.  Yes, there are valid cases at which we should consider independence, such as if our economic well being is threatened by remaining a part of the UK.  However, independence for sentimental value will not offer improvements and will come at considerable cost.  Really, the core things we gain are control over foreign affairs, the military, police and judiciary.  Why do we need direct control over any of these things?  Why do we want our government, no matter who is in power, to be given that much power? There may be a time to have that discussion and pursue independence however now is not a good time.

Let’s remember the issues at hand.  Independence won’t fix education.  Independence won’t solve crime or eliminate gangs.  Independence won’t fix our economy.  Independence won’t eliminate our debt or NANCI.  Independence won’t create jobs.  So, with all these urgent issues needing attention, why would we distract ourselves with independence?  Yes, it may remove the final vestige of colonial rule but will it really change any of our urgent issues? The PLP need to be focused on getting our house in order and delivering on their election promises long before considering independence.

Needing independence “so we can set our own agenda, so we can create our own system and so we can see our people get ahead” when the PLP already have full control over all of these things reads like an excuse.  There are critical issues that need to be addressed.  We need to get our economy back on track.  We need to fix education.  We need to address crime, gangs and violence.  We need to balance our budget.  We need to create jobs.  These are all very immense and challenging tasks that won’t be easy.  Raising the prospect of independence now with the reasoning that the PLP doesn’t have enough control sounds a lot like the PLP are lining up excuses for not being able to deliver on their promises.

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The OBA’s failure to communicate on Pathways to Status

Former Finance Minister Bob Richards had to say in yesterday’s paper.

“It was clear to me as the economics guy that what we were proposing for immigration was very sound economics.

Here’s the problem.  The OBA completely and utterly failed to explain how their immigration proposals were sound economically and how they would benefit the average Bermudian.  They had tunnel vision and were only capable of viewing and explaining issues from their own perspective.  This versus trying to put themselves in the shoes of the average Bermudian to better understand and explain how this would benefit them.  This was one of the fundamental flaws of the OBA’s communication strategy and why they were consistently described as out of touch.

The OBA was wholly accepted as very strong economically.  The problem was, few people really understood how or why and they didn’t help themselves by explaining it. For example, nowhere in the former government’s communications regarding pathways to status did I see a coherent explanation of it’s economic benefits.  The following was closest and it wasn’t very compelling:

New applications will represent a revenue-enhancing opportunity as applicants pay the substantial fees involved under the legislation. New Bermudians, with their newfound security, could seek to purchase real estate or inject capital into Bermuda companies as directors and shareholders. Assets which will be earmarked to leave Bermuda will be more readily available for investments in the local economy. These contribute to an economic multiplier effect and feeds back into positive movement in Bermuda balance of payments and increased Government revenue.

It reads like we were putting status up for sale.  How does this benefit the average Bermudian?  Why would we want to openly sell Bermudian status?  It wasn’t encouraging from most any perspective.  Looking at the rest of the argument for pathways to status it wasn’t much more encouraging.  It was “the right thing to do”. Our policy wasn’t not consistent with international human rights and Bermuda is the only country not to have it.

Here’s the problem.  The framing was all wrong.  How you present an idea is very important as it steers the perceptions and how people feel about that idea. How people feel about an idea can often be more important than the idea itself. People, especially in a time of recession, care more about their own basic needs long before they care about ‘the right thing to do’ for non-Bermudians.  If you can’t explain how Bermudians will benefit, people will not only reject the idea, they’ll get annoyed that this is your focus vs things that are perceived to actually benefit Bermudians.  Thus, that is what we saw happen.

Worrying about basics like how you’ll buy food, how you’ll pay rent, the health and welfare of your loved ones are far more important priorities than whether or not we’re doing the right thing on behalf of our expat community.  People ask themselves “why should I care?”, “what will this do to benefit me and my family?”. The big problem with the OBA’s communication was that they failed to provide good answers to these question on most issues.

Certainly there were valid economic reasons to be made, however they simply weren’t elevated enough.  For example, one of the big issues we face is that jobs in international business, the core driver of foreign income for our island, have not really grown over the last few years.  This is a huge problem that far too few people really understand and hasn’t been explained very well.

Policies like term limits and the global recession contributed to a decline in IB jobs that simply haven’t recovered.  We aren’t growing jobs and risk losing more.  One of the big problems we face are situations where long term residents such as senior IB staff and Executives consider relocating off island and taking jobs with them.  I’ve met numerous senior IB individuals who lament that their children cannot work on island at age 16, may have been born and raised here and really only know the island.  It is just as easy to say “well, you knew that coming here” as it is “well, I’m going to relocate somewhere else and take my entire department of Bermudian and non-Bermudian jobs with me”. This is the crux of it.  We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

Everyone agrees we need jobs and yet nowhere in the entire Pathways to Status saga did I hear arguments of how it would held protect and help create jobs.  There were no explanations of how it would benefit the average Bermudian to support it so why would anyone have done so.  “The right thing to do” is a completely different argument than “it will protect and create jobs”.  Yet, the OBA never took the time to frame things properly from the context of the average Bermudian and as such allowed the issue to be framed as manipulation of the populace to boost their voter base.  It is a perfect example of why the OBA was seen as out of touch.  They did not take the time to view and explain their proposals from the perspective of the average Bermudian.

 

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