Perceptions can be deceiving

The following is an alternative version of my thoughts on the recent term limits meeting which I was considering for submission to the Bermuda Sun.

In some cases
perceptions are poor; in others they’re downright
inaccurate.  Immigration Minister Burch’s meeting with Bermudians in
International Business is a good example where perceptions can at times be
deceiving.  Work permit term limits came to being as a result of community
perceptions that granting of long term residency to non-Bermudians risks adding
to our social ills.  3 years in, perceptions suggest the Minister
isn’t interested in non-Bermudian views.  Perceptions lead our guests
to believe they’re not welcome just like international business isn’t
interested in investing in Bermudians.  If we learn anything from
this recent meeting it is that perceptions can be misleading and we need to
work hard to change perceptions if we hope to make Bermuda better.

According to the 2001 white
paper on long term residency Bermudians believed granting residency to
non-Bermudians would negatively impact the ability of Bermudians to own land,
find good jobs and attain affordable housing.  It would risk damaging
our culture while potentially incurring negative social and economic
costs.  Years into the term limit policy and a ways since non-Bermudians
were granted residency many of these things have happened anyway.  Perceptions
were that long term residents were the cause of these problems when in reality
our perceptions have been skewed.  How long should we invest in a
policy that isn’t achieving the goals it was set out to and may well be doing
more to damage our community than better it?

While the means for garnering
feedback from Bermudians in International Business may have been unsavory, does
the Minister care to hear non-Bermudian opinions?  Minister Burch
claims he has met and worked hard with individuals and businesses to make the
policy as reasonable as possible.  Claims supported by Bermudians standing
to say his efforts were evident.  Further for a policy created to
address Bermudian perceptions is there considerable value in collating the
views of Bermudians closest to the policy?  Are these individuals not
the best resource for views on whether the term limit policy works in the best
interests of Bermudians?

Perceptions have led
many non-Bermudians to feel unwelcome and that the value they add and could be
adding is underappreciated.  We place expectations on our guests to plan
their lives based upon mere months’ notice on whether their contracts will be
extended.  Seemingly treating them like replaceable tools as a means
to an end rather than as partners in helping make Bermuda better.  Does
this create a transient workforce discouraged from investing in Bermuda?  Do far more leave voluntarily long before being
term limited?  Does this hurt businesses
and hurt Bermuda?  Not only because we
discourage these individuals from becoming invested and involved in our
community but also in trading the well integrated for the un-integrated.  Could
anything be more damaging to our culture than this?

            Perceptions
are that Bermudians are being short-changed.  That job adverts are
tailor made for non-Bermudians, that opportunities are not made available and
barriers are put in place.  The Minister himself contends that this is
a minority occurrence, that in most cases international business companies go
above and beyond expectations to ensure Bermudians are given opportunities and
that companies are duly recognized and rewarded for it.  That Bermudians
who put in hard work and effort are usually recognized and rewarded and that
companies are desperate to find capable individuals to join their
team.  Unfortunately we just aren’t providing enough.

There’s little doubt
perceptions are poor and yet perceptions tend to control beliefs and override
reality.  There isn’t clear evidence that
long term residency is the cause of our social ills.  Despite perceptions the Minister appears to
be working hard to incorporate a variety of views and there’s value in gathering
Bermudian specific ones.  Most welcome
our guests and value their contribution but our policies and practices give
different impressions.   Many Bermudians believe
we’re being left behind and yet in many cases great efforts are being made to
ensure we’re not only brought along but encouraged to eventually lead the way.  Perceptions are not reality.  If there’s any take away from this meeting
it’s that we need to work hard on all fronts to change perceptions if we hope
to make Bermuda better.

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What can we learn from term limits?

The following was printed in today’s Bermuda Sun opinion section.

Controversy aside, can
we learn from Immigration Minister Burch’s recent meeting with Bermudians in
International Business?  It is suggested that the term limit policy
arose to address fears of continued granting of long term residency rights to non-Bermudians.  3
years into the policy, the Minister has garnered feedback from many and
although controversial, aimed specifically to gain insight from Bermudians
closest to the issue.  Many raised questions of the policy, perceptions
created and whether it represents Bermudian best interests.  These
discussions proved a valuable review of the policy’s effectiveness and
hopefully will catalyze larger discussions within the community.

According to the
Minister, the sole purpose of the term limit policy is to reduce claims on
permanent residency rights of non-Bermudians.  According to the
“Community for a New Millennium” white paper of 2001, Bermudians feared that
continued granting of residency would impact Bermudian ability to own land,
find good jobs, attain affordable housing, while risk damaging our culture and
potentially incur negative social and economic costs. 

3 years in, meetings
like this are an opportunity to gain valuable feedback.  To the
Minister’s credit despite the cosmopolitan makeup of the crowd no Bermudian
stood to bear witness to difficulties seen in the granting of exemptions or
extensions and most believed the Ministry had been cordial in working with business
in its implementation.  However, questions were raised about
perceptions created by the policy and whether it adds value for Bermudians.  Minister
Burch fairly suggests his job is to implement policy, garner and provide
feedback and that the decision of continuation ultimately rests with
Bermudians.  

While the means for
garnering feedback may have been unsavory, is it valuable to gain insight from
Bermudians most exposed to the workings of the policy? Are Bermudian views
valued in establishing whether it addresses concerns initially raised by
Bermudians?  Further are opinions more likely to be heard and
consumed by the larger community if they come from Bermudians? 

            Many
spoke; more attended, applauded and agreed.  Unwelcome perceptions are
created among our guests and a misunderstanding of not only the value added by our
guests but also how we discourage them from contributing further are concerns.  Many
wondered how reducing permanent residents benefits Bermudians vs. encouraging
highly valued guests to contribute even more. 
Does maintaining a near endless state of limbo for our guests discourage
them from investing in Bermuda?  For every work permit job created, is
it recognized how many Bermudian jobs are created and how much money is spent
in Bermuda?  Many were left wondering if this policy adequately meets
the needs and concerns of Bermudians.

Concerns related to
Bermudian wellbeing surprisingly did not revolve around those discovered in the
2001 but instead other issues.  Companies
being good corporate citizens, whether in undertaking practices of tailor
making job adverts, attempts to disfavor adequately qualified Bermudians and creating
disparities between income and benefits were concerns of note.  The Minister
countered that these occurrences are a minority and most are good corporate
citizens.  Still, is it concerning that
the perception still exists?  This paralleled
concerns regarding whether Bermudians are doing enough to play our part in
adequately eliminating unnecessary barriers to entry such as inadequate
education.  This including whether Bermudians adequately recognize
that in the majority of cases hard work and commitment are recognized,
appreciated and rewarded.  Ultimately advancement of our industry
requires a greater partnership between Bermudians and our guests to ensure that
everyone wins.

Despite the controversy
the meeting was widely seen as valuable, especially for the opportunity to gain
insights from Bermudians closest to the policy. 
From reviews given it does not appear that the term limit policy is an
effective solution to the concerns raised by those in attendance nor those of
2001.  Thus whether reducing claims on long term residency is in the
best interests of Bermudians is left in question given the downsides that accompany
it.  These discussions provided not only a valuable review on the
policy’s effectiveness but also raised questions of whether much larger
discussions are needed.  Discussions not
only on the term limit policy but how Bermudians such as those in International
Business can have a greater role in shaping the policy, implementation and
development of our industry.

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Bermudians In International Business

Those interested in knowing what happened at Minister Burch’s meeting with Bermudians In International Business can check out the 21Square twitter feed (on the right of this site) for notes I took during the meeting.

I’d like to extend my thanks to Minister Burch and his staff for hosting the meeting, it was very informative and I greatly appreciate his willingness to not only listen to and hear the views of Bermudians in International Business but also take notes and genuinely respond to every question and comment, sometimes even in a lighthearted and entertaining manner.

Personally I hope a number of things come from this meeting.  One recommendation was extending the term limit to 10 or 15 years with perhaps an extension halved once that is up.  I believe this would be a positive move.  Another was to hold a similar meeting for non-Bermudians, I wholly believe that this would do a great deal to help improve perceptions among the expat community.  I also believe it is worthwhile for Bermudians to deeply question our desire for no further long term residency grants given it’s impact on the contributions of long standing key non-Bermudians.

Finally I hope that more meetings like this occur and that we’ll see the rise of an association representing Bermudians In International Business as this style of gathering and voices of Bermudians working in the industry should have been formed long ago and has considerable value in helping our leadership understand how they can represent the interests of Bermudians in industry.

Edit:  I’d like to add that while I was not fond of the approach taken to the meeting regarding “Bermudians Only” and the requirement of wristbands I decided to reserve judgment until the end.  My thoughts now are that despite this rather controversial means of going about things there was considerable value in having only Bermudians attend.  Hopefully to quell the negative PR that has occurred Minister Burch will follow up with a similar meeting for non-Bermudians for I believe it would go a long way towards changing perceptions for the better.

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Recovering our Bermuda

It is certainly not too late for us to recover our Bermuda, to take it back to the place it once was.  The issue is that we need to act to change things and get back on course.  We can no longer sit idly by as our island deteriorates any further as we are getting too close to losing our grip on the incredibly place that our island could be.  We need to put aside our differences and work together to develop ideas and strategies that can hopefully put our island back on the right track.

While some may be wildly surprised by these recent acts of extreme violence, unfortunately this has been an expected turn of events for quite some time.  It is a  natural progression of the current state of our economy and social system, the product of having a large unskilled and poorly educated proportion of our workforce.  With the local recession, the erosion of jobs and the ever increasing divide between rich and poor it was simply a matter of time before things got worse and unfortunately still will.

In the heat of the moment we’re left feeling like we need to react swiftly to these kinds of events by cracking down on offenders.  We sometimes forget that this isn’t a new issue and is one which has been brewing for quite some time.  Cracking down and increased penalties can do much to make us feel like we’re accomplishing great things but in the end we’re simply putting a band aid over the problem when what we really need is to cure the infection.  Quite simply in our present economic and social climate we are facing an abundance of new people willing to step up and get involved in this kind of crime, for each one we imprison another waits to step into his/her shoes.  Thus would we gain more in the long run through a focus the bulk of our energies on coming up with proactive strategies that can address the root of our problems rather than reactive quick fixes? 

A number of things have been presented lately as ideas worth trying and they are not only worth being rebroadcast here, but certainly anywhere and everywhere they can be heard.

  • Parish constables – Bring back the concept of parish constables responsible for relations within a certain area or parish.  Their duties would specifically include regularly patrolling the area on foot, going door to door for community presence and feedback as well as assisting in the creation and organization of neighbourhood watch groups and other means to promote increased community involvement in policing.  The core task for each parish constable would be to work to develop a relationship with their community and act as a liaison between it and the greater police force.
  • Zero tolerance to crime from known gang associated individuals – The Bermuda Sun recently highlighted efforts of Birmingham in the UK to tackle gang activity.  Namely it involved a crack down on known offenders and gang activity by stepping up the pursuit of every possible offense by suspected gang individuals in order to get them off the streets and hammer into them that crime will not be tolerated.   The article notes that the local police force is investigating this as a possible solution and hopefully they continue to do so and even get expedited support to follow through.
  • Ceasefire, getting early offenders back on the right path – Proposed numerous times by the Royal Gazette, the CeaseFire program compiles cases against new offenders but puts them on hold based upon a community intervention and non-public probation as a means to put them on notice and hopefully encourage them to stay away from the path they’re walking down.  Government should assist the police force with any legislation and resources necessary to implement this program.
  • Attack gang profitability – Very simply, guns aren’t cheap.  Many people have risen of late to suggest their belief that the drug trade fuels gang profitability and enables gangs to sustain themselves and afford these rather risky acts.  As per various individuals calls we need an open, non-partisan and proper debate on our drug laws to determine if there is a means that we can take to reduce profitability through alternatives to the ‘war on drugs’.
  • Promote positive role models – Our single parent society has left many without positive role models and we’ve done little to attempt to boost the visibility of those worth modeling.  We need to significantly step up visibility of positive role models and encourage their involvement in promoting that success is possible via traditional routes.  We need to document and promote the stories of people that have achieved success from the very same situations that face may of our youth.  We need to put them everywhere we can that they’ll reach an audience.  On buses, bus shelters, park benches, grocery carts, grocery bags, milk cartons, elevators.  Anywhere and everywhere that people may be that we can catch their attention we need to promote that it is possible to achieve success and even the first steps to take or who to call to get help.
  • Tackle the visible divide between the haves and the have-not’s – Everywhere you look the divide between the rich and the poor has grown larger and larger.  We haven’t helped things by allowing large fancy SUVs, hummers, BMWs, Mercedes and other means to flash wealth and accentuate the divide.  Can we move to reduce these kinds of displays of extravagant wealth by repealing the larger cars acts and increasing taxes on luxury goods to reduce opulence?
  • Rising tide programs – It is said that a rising tide lifts all boats.  We too need a rising tide amongst our people.  Too many people don’t even have the very basic things you need to find a job such as a bank account, an id card, a phone, basic reading/writing skills.  As much as we can talk about fixing education that is a long term solution.  People who are poorly educated with limited options and a limited vision or comprehension of how to see their way out of poverty will chose the most viable option: crime and gangs. Can we institute "Rising tide" social programs that focuses on raising the skills of all people, starting with those at the bottom and the most basic of skills to survive?  
  • Job stimulus – The downturn in construction, tourism and even international business has eliminated jobs turning more towards crime and gangs.  Can we institute programs to boost jobs such that people are less inclined to turn towards crime?  Can we repeal tax hikes to boost job growth at a time when it’s most needed and start looking at how we can reduce unnecessary spending (government car sharing for example).

Are there other things we can be doing?  Of course.  If you have ideas, share them, tell people, hopefully those with the ability to make a difference are listening because it is at this time that we need them to listen most.  Let us hope that we have reached a turning point in the downfall of our society and that together all Bermudians, permanent residents and guest workers put aside any differences we may have to focus on turning Bermuda back into the incredible and safe place it is meant to be.

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Going bust

“Economic woes deepen”  and “From boom to bust” read headlines to articles discussing the the collapse of our construction sector.   It’s nothing short of downright saddening given the large percentage of Bermudians who rely on construction for income.  Equally depressing is having seen the iceberg in advance and not been able to convince anyone to change course.  Things were too good and we were overheating but people just didn’t want to hear it, it simply couldn’t happen to us

It’s enough to ask what’s the point?  Is it best to simply take a seat near a lifeboat, enjoy the entertainment and be the first to save oneself when it all goes down?  Is it worth the struggle trying to convince mere cogs in the wheel to jump up and heave on the reigns rather than casually give in as we race towards a cliff?  How does one do it if you’re largely an irrelevant nobody?  How does one convince those with the power to do something to actually do something? 

How does one really make a difference?  Writing clearly accomplishes nothing when you lack the ability to not only be heard but be listened to.  Sure you could race to join one party over another but does that guarantee irrelevance if you choose the wrong one?  Even if you manage to join the right one doesn’t it still mean jumping through pointless hoops and climbing the ladder before your voice actually matters.  What if conforming as a cog in the wheel robs you of your ability to actually see the oncoming cliff?  What if there isn’t time?  What can you do?

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