The airport is a bad deal, but we left ourselves no choice

A comment from my last post garnered a lot of discussion on facebook.

The OBA needs to stop pretending the airport deal is a “good deal for Bermuda”. The airport project is frankly a bad deal for Bermuda but it’s the only realistic option we have available.

Some have been quick to jump on the fact that I said the airport is “a bad deal” and label me as an OBA supporter who admits it. Sorry to disappoint but I’m not an OBA supporter. The idea is rather amusing as I don’t have any association with the OBA and I’m pretty sure I’m disliked by a few in their circles just as I am likely disliked by a few in the PLP circles. I’m opinionated, tend to call it as I see it and occasionally I’m proven right which usually isn’t well received in larger organizations.

So here’s how I see the airport deal. Frankly, it sucks. I don’t like that we have to give away a 30 year agreement for revenues while we have to raise passenger taxes to pay for it.  We also have to divert existing revenues, have a foreign company run it and still have to maintain an airport while the new one is a built.  An airport that should have been maintained when we had lots of money but wasn’t. Sure its nice that we’ll get some jobs out of it and we’ll get a fancy, perhaps overdone airport that we’ll own in 30 years but it’s a still a raw deal.

Here’s the thing though, I don’t see a better alternative. A good deal would have been if we had money in the bank to pay for one in cash. Enough money to cover putting the project out to tender and paying for the whole project ourselves. Even better if we’d still had enough money left over for covering any cost overruns to cover our inability to both budget and manage infrastructure projects.

The problem is we’re broke and we need to come to terms with that.  Interest rates are starting to climb and we would be incredibly stupid to try to increase our debt load at this point any more than absolutely necessary. The reason being is that when we need to roll over our debt to new bonds we’ll be doing so at higher rates and when that happens our interest payments will jump and we’ll be forced to make some hard decisions. People aren’t simply going to keep handing us money if they don’t think they’ll get it back. Don’t think I know what I’m talking about?  How many other people were raising warning flags about the impact of interest rates on the housing markets and the risks of subprime back in 2007? Certainly I had no idea truly how bad things would end up being but I did point out the warning signs just like with many other things.

So what are the alternatives? I have yet to hear anything credible. The usual suggestion is that the project should be put out to tender to attract bids. Here’s the problem with that. We can’t afford to borrow money to pay for those bids. So, we need to attract people who can not only build the airport but also finance the whole project as well as take on the risks of any overruns. Oh, and we want them to employ Bermudians while doing it and not ship in cheap foreign labour because we desperately need jobs. On top of that, they need to have a decent track record because even if they take on the risks, we don’t want to end up having to maintain the current airport for years longer than expected because the project isn’t finished yet or gets abandoned half way through. Further, the project has to be worthwhile enough for the partner that they want to do it.

I’d love to hear some realistic alternatives but all I keep hearing is pie and the sky “if we put it out to tender people will magically appear because they feel so privileged that Bermuda would do them the favor of giving them such a project.” Let’s be realistic. The only way we’re getting a cheaper airport is if we import foreign labour from somewhere like China or India to build it and take risks on who runs the project. I simply don’t see that as a good option and I highly doubt the unions will like that more than the current deal. We can’t simply keep thinking someone else is going to come and solve our problems for us and magically still put Bermudians first and do it at a cut rate with no profit. If you think that’s possible I’d love to chat with you as I’m sure I can find some some wonderful pyramid scheme’s I’d like to introduce you to.

The sad and very hard truth is that we screwed ourselves. Up until Eugene Cox passed in 2004 we had great budgets and lots of extra money. Then without his guiding hand to control wayward spending, the money went to our heads. Now we’re broke. We have no money to spend on the multitude of much needed infrastructure projects that should have gotten attention over the last 20 years but didn’t. So do I like the airport deal? No, but show me what realistic credible alternatives we actually have before we screw this deal up too. Or perhaps your preference is that we simply skip the whole thing and resort to setting up a large tent at the end of the runway to act as our terminal.

 

Addressing the underlying problems

The union has backed down for the moment, but that is only because the Reverend Tweed issue did not speak to the people. The underlying issues that drove people to demonstrate are still there. Ultimately many perceive that Bermudians don’t come first. This is a perception the OBA needs to address if they want to get reelected.

Bermudians don’t come first. That’s the overarching sentiment fueling demonstrations regardless of their stated cause. Its also the reason why “The President of the BIU” Chris Furbert has backpedaled. Bermudians don’t care to get behind an issue that isn’t focused on solving Bermudian problems.

The OBA needs to focus on providing a vision and a plan of how Bermudians come first. Where the Reverend Genevieve-Tweed issue did resonate with people was the idea that immigration policy doesn’t work well enough. It may be that the OBA aims to have the same rules for everyone, but there are many cases where Bermudians are disadvantaged or discriminated against in favor of expats. The OBA needs to devise credible strategies to ensure this doesn’t happen. It isn’t good enough to say “same rules for everyone” when those rules don’t work.

The OBA needs to devise strategies to fix immigration. Just as it shouldn’t be possible for a work permit to be approved without advertising, it also shouldn’t be possible for one to be approved where qualified Bermudians applied but weren’t interviewed. It also shouldn’t be possible where qualified Bermudians are interviewed but companies find ways to move the goal posts or discredit them in favor of a preferred expat. Relying on complaints is reactive and potentially penalizing to any Bermudian who complains.  We need proactive solutions because what we have doesn’t work and the process needs improvement for Bermudians to have faith in it.

The OBA need to wake up and realize Bermudians don’t have faith in an OBA government as made clear by the bye-election results. An OBA government is a lot like the airport project, it’s lipstick on a pig. The OBA needs to stop pretending the airport deal is a “good deal for Bermuda”. The airport project is frankly a bad deal for Bermuda but it’s the only realistic option we have available. That’s the way many people feel about the OBA. Their only saving grace is that they’re seemingly the best option we have available, though if they don’t improve perceptions of Bermudians coming last, that deal will be opposed too.

 

The Reverend wants to block pathways to status, while inquiring about one for himself

The Reverend is a hypocrite.  He rallied people against the pathways to status initiative while at near the same time, delayed his work permit application on the basis that he was inquiring about a pathway to status for himself.

The Church’s statement admits as much

12. There also needs to be some context around the “late” 2016 application. The background to this is that a general enquiry related to Rev. Tweed’s eligibility for Bermuda status was in train and had been for some time. That enquiry had not reached completion and it was out of an abundance of caution and as advised by the Department of Immigration that the application for a renewal of the work permit was submitted to ensure that time did not run out on the work permit while the concurrent general enquiry remained in train.

Its likely too late to make this about the airport deal

Mr Furbert tells the room: “What’s on the line now is the airport development deal, and if people decide they’re not going to support this protest against the airport redevelopment, let the Government go ahead.

It was already questionable whether the unions could garner support for Reverend Genevieve-Tweed.  Throwing threats regarding America’s Cup into the mix likely didn’t help as it targets anyone who believes the island might benefit from the event.  Many Bermudians feel left behind and it is understandable that people rallied against the airport deal as a means to express frustration.  There was a lot of confusing information about the deal and it was easy to question it.  However, it’s a bit late to be trying to shift the narrative to this being about the airport deal when it clearly started being about the Reverend.

 

 

The unions go all in, is it a bluff?

The unions have thrown down the gauntlet and demonstrated that they’re perfectly willing to disrupt America’s Cup and our islands reputation to achieve their political aims.

“There was a decision taken earlier today at the BIU meeting,” BIU President Chris Furbert said during the 2nd meeting.

 

“The final motion was that the BIU membership had decided not to return to work until this matter with Rev Tweed and the airport project is resolved.”

 

“What they added to that, was that we need to inform the Government that if these two matters are not resolved, then the America’s Cup will be in jeopardy.”

It is absolutely no surprise that it is coming to this. The writing has been on the wall for some time now that the unions and the PLP will disrupt the America’s Cup event to achieve their aims.  It reminds me of the stories of how we destroyed tourism in the 80s.

It’s a strong and early bluff for the unions.  It is widely suggested that the unions finances are not solid and haven’t been properly audited in years.  Many question whether they can afford an extended strike with workers not getting paid.  Four and a half months is a long time to go without pay. The OBA can either kick the can down the road and most certainly deal with strikes during the America’s Cup or they can hold strong and see who flinches first.

The AME should have clarified their position sooner

The AME Church has finally made a statement clarifying their side of things.  It certainly sounds like there has been a lot of confusion but frankly they shouldn’t have waited until the island has been shut down before clarifying it.

Perhaps I’ll go through it point by point as there are a few questions that arise, however the biggest on is their excuse for not advertising the position. It simply is not good enough.

“there is no mechanism within the AME Church to advertise pastorates, receive resumes from applicants, conduct interviews, short list candidates and appoint a successful applicant.”

Put an ad in the paper and post it on the job board like everyone else.  By suggesting you have no process you admit you suspect there is a qualified Bermudian who would apply.

 

Time to call someones bluff

The OBA has a decision to make.  Either make an exception for Reverend Genevieve-Tweed in the case of his work permit or release the details of why his work permit renewal was turned out (beyond having not advertised for Bermudians).

Reverend Genevieve-Tweed was out today claiming that no communications were made during the appeals process.

Today Mr Tweed told his supporters that “during the appeals process, we heard absolutely nothing from any of them — except after a decision had been made”.

To my knowledge, this is the first time he has publicly addressed his application and he has made claims about the process.  Since he has now publicly accused the immigration department of obstruction in violation of their policies then one would think they are now free to defend themselves.  At least, assuming what they claim regarding the application process is true.

Time for the government to put their money where their mouth is and release the details of the application.  It’s time to find out who’s been telling the truth and who’s been bluffing.