The OBA have stumbled again in announcing the elimination of term limits without having demonstrated that they’ve seriously considered the issue as promised in their election campaign. Term limits definitely need to be eliminated but there also needs to be a clear solution to the problem term limits was perceived as solving. Many Bermudians mistakenly believed the goal of term limits was to create opportunity for Bermudians. The OBA needs to address this perception with a solution, and fast.
The work permit process is deeply flawed and needs serious revision. We need a better solution. Both Bermudians and Expats feel disadvantaged under our current environment and it has turned us into adversaries rather than partners. Term limits did not solve the problem. It created the dangerous perception of a solution while damaging our symbiotic relationship with guest workers. We need a solution which clearly addresses the issue of creating opportunities for Bermudians while not damaging our relationship with guest workers.
The number one issue facing our island is that our cost of living is too high such that the average Bermudian struggles for afford a reasonable living. The solution isn’t to turn every Bermudian into a high paid international business worker. Instead serious efforts need to be made to reduce our cost of living. One way would be to allow Hamilton to become a city by eliminating the cathedral height restriction.
Long time readers of this blog will know that I attribute the bulk of the island’s problems to a lack of adequate housing built to accommodate the population growth due to expats. Due to policy restrictions we’ve never been allowed to build up and instead we’ve built out. It has led to a great many problems. We need to fix this errant policy: Allow “Town” to become a city.
Why? Here’s the breakdown:
- Bermudians can’t all be employed in high salary white collar jobs (and don’t want to be)
- Low salary and blue collar jobs are unattractive because they don’t earn enough due to our cost of living is too high.
- Our cost of living is too high primarily because of the significant rise of housing costs over the years
- Housing costs have risen because demand far outstripped supply.
- Demand outstripped supply because we had a flood of international workers and we didn’t adjust policy accordingly
- Bermuda has limited available land mass, the only answer is to go up to support our population. Instead we restricted this both in town and on the rest of the island.
- People built housing in every nook and corner, often at very high cost because the cost of land, materials and construction could not be distributed over many different units.
- Building residential in town was not much of an option because it was far too expensive vs. the alternative of building commercial space.
- Commercial space is far cheaper to build than residential and thus that has been the preference (empty re-configurable floors with a single set of bathrooms and kitchen out compete the heavy requirements for residential including fire walls and bathroom/kitchen per floor)
- Residential was rarely built because the costs such as land, construction, design and materials need to be distributed over many floors to make it cost effective.
- “Town” (Hamilton) has a building height restriction according to the height of the cathedral
- The height restriction artificially limits the market and preferences development of properties which can yield a better return, eg high end residential space and commercial space
- Thus there’s limited residential, especially reasonably affordable, real estate in town and an abundance of commercial real estate from the last boom.
- Many ex-pats can and would live in town, especially young single professionals and couples. Some Bermudians would too
- Instead many opt to rent or share a house / apartment / condo, often further from the city
- Rather than staying in the city, they live elsewhere, often leaving the city to not return in the evenings because of the commute involved.
- This makes expats more likely to want a car, and less likely to spend their money in shops, restaurants and nightlife
- 2-3 expats sharing a house can typically easily out-compete two working Bermudians with a family, even if they’re at the upper income levels
- The average Bermudian can’t compete
- Bermudians can no longer afford a decent living because housing is a heavy tax on cost of living, especially blue collar workers.
- Working hard is no longer an answer to getting ahead, the cost of living far outstretches what most Bermudians can afford despite multiple jobs
- Bermudians are then competing against foreigners who can work for cheaper, live under mediocre conditions because they’re able to save money and move back home where cost of living is far cheaper.
- Bermudians feel like our home is no longer affordable or accessible, like we’re second class citizens in our own country
- Social problems develop, etc…
- Shall I go on?
A great many of our problems would be positively impacted if Hamilton is allowed to become a city.
Many expats would be happy to live in the city. They really only want access to a handful of things, the city, shops, the beaches and the airport. More people living in the city means more life, vibrancy, commerce and ultimately jobs, nightlife and a better prospect for tourists. It also means less people on our roads and consuming our infrastructure. Most of all, it means more jobs for Bermudians and it means that more of Bermuda is freed up for Bermudians.
The introduction of term limits was done with the well meaning intention of protecting Bermuda for Bermudians. Unfortunately the policy did far more damage than good and a review and possible elimination of the policy is a welcome move.
Term limits was ultimately a very flawed policy, as evidenced to the very high percentage of exemptions. A core part of the problem is that many simply don’t understand the distinction between term limits and work permits which leads to a great deal of confusion. The work permit process, if implemented properly would already have managed most of what the term limit policy was trying to achieve. In the end it meant little more than a great deal more bureaucracy, a lot of loss and almost no gain.
Term limits did not achieve their aim of providing more opportunity for Bermudians. Instead they achieved the opposite. The real problem with a lack of opportunity for Bermudians lies with flawed and inconsistent enforcement of the work permit process which needs to both be streamlined as well as reviewed to ensure it works in the best interests if our business partners as well as Bermudians.
The OBA has followed up one misstep with a strong foot forwards. Here’s hoping they can find a balance between encouraging growth, making business feel welcome while still ensuring Bermudians play on a level playing field, especially on their home turf. It won’t be easy.
Premier Cannonier is off to attend the U.S. Inauguration of President Barack Obama and by doing so, he and his government may be sending the wrong message. The OBA fought and campaigned heavily on the notion that symbolic spending cuts make a difference and this writer agrees, it does. Just as every vote counts, so does every dollar.
When it comes down to it, it becomes much harder to ask sacrifices of your people and its unions when you are unwilling to make sacrifices yourself. The inauguration is a wonderful event and we should be thrilled to have our Premier invited, but the question is, is it absolutely necessary that he attends? Does accepting the invite and spending taxpayer money to send him there send the wrong message when we’re asking people to make hard cuts and considerable sacrifice?