EDITORIAL-Bermuda: An island in troubled waters

For hundreds of years, a key part of the Cayman Islands economy was salvaging the remains of ships that wrecked upon our reefs. It may have been a grim business, but we provided a necessary service to people in their misfortune.

In the wake of Bermuda’s election this week, Cayman may be called upon to salvage economic opportunities squandered by the fiscally irresponsible and protectionist policies espoused by the country’s victorious Progressive Labour Party. We can’t delight in our sister colony’s misfortune, but we will readily help ourselves to dishes that Bermuda (or anyone) leaves unattended at the economic banquet.

In many ways, Bermuda’s struggles and opportunities mirror our own, but – through a confluence of factors such as vision in leadership, historical circumstances and, sure, pure luck – Cayman’s responses in recent decades have consistently yielded more desirable results.

We do not hope, but we fear, that the results of Bermuda’s election may be the final mis-steerage that drives the country’s economy off the proverbial cliff … or into a coral reef.

In Tuesday’s landslide election, voters overwhelmingly returned the PLP to power, rebuffing the One Bermuda Alliance government despite its forward progress on issues of fiscal responsibility, business-friendly policies and sensible immigration.

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Did voters believe (or care if) the PLP’s modus operandi has changed since the party last was in power – indebtedness, divisiveness and short-sighted “us vs. them” political rhetoric? Even as an opposition party, the PLP attempted to obstruct progress at every turn by flexing their union muscle. They certainly shouldn’t be expected to govern any differently.

Whatever the motivations of individuals, as a whole Bermuda’s voters rewarded political candidates who aspired to power by highlighting divisions between black and white, rich and poor, “native” and “expatriate.” As Bermuda’s newspaper of record, The Royal Gazette, editorialized on Wednesday, “It is not too often that a political party can leave the public purse in such a state of disrepair and then return to government at the first time of asking. That the Progressive Labour Party has managed to pull it off says more about who the people want in power than it does for how that authority is to be exercised.”

Thankfully, to date, Cayman has not been so polarized – although our own experiences with divisive rhetoric, including in the 2017 election campaign, is evidence that we are not immune from attempts to tear our community apart. As U.S. President Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (The biblical passage that inspired President Lincoln’s quote, from the Book of Matthew, is even more explicit: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.”

Even as he took office (in what may have been intended to be a declaration of inclusiveness), Bermuda’s Premier David Burt drew on the divisiveness that carried him into office, pledging, “We will be a government that will put Bermudians first and make sure we work to advance the interests of every single Bermudian in this country.”

For a country whose economy is even more dependent than ours on international business and foreign investors, Premier Burt’s remark is obviously missing something … or some people. (Hint: non-Bermudians).

It is eerily reminiscent of the Bahamas’ 1967 election of Lynden Pindling, which released a storm that foundered that country’s once-thriving financial sector. Then, too, investors sought out calmer waters elsewhere – specifically, here – igniting the “Cayman Miracle” that we all benefit from today.

If we are called to salvage the economic wreckage that may lie in Bermuda’s future, Cayman is ready to lend a willing, and welcoming, hand.

But we must remember that our reputation of offering “calmer waters” is not guaranteed. It must continue to be earned through respect for private property, sensible immigration policies and rational regulations that give businesses the freedom to flourish.

So long as we work together for a stronger Cayman, business and skilled labor who find themselves stranded by more myopic jurisdictions always will find safe harbor here, to the benefit of us all.

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