When Bermuda’s voters gave a landslide electoral victory to the notoriously protectionist Progressive Labour Party in July 2017, we wrote that the election could well prove “the final mis-steerage that drives the country’s economy off the proverbial cliff.”
We are not motivated by schadenfreude – on the contrary, it is with great displeasure that we note the sufferings of our colonial cousin. The reason that we are taking the time, and the editorial space, to discuss this topic is to present the lessons the Cayman Islands can learn from the road not taken.
On Wednesday, The Royal Gazette, Bermuda’s newspaper of record, published a column penned by Michael Fahy, a former Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities, and Junior Minister of Finance under the One Bermuda Alliance government. In it, he paints a bleak picture of that island’s current condition, describing a stalling economy, business uncertainty and a PLP government distracted by trivial issues while leaving critical shortcomings (namely, immigration policy) unaddressed.
He concludes, “only a blind person would not be able to see that Bermuda is on a continuing downward spiral.”
It is not surprising to see that the PLP’s “Bermudians first” policies and mindset are apparently leading the country in the wrong direction, nor that when Premier David Burt scans the horizons, he reports seeing more scapegoats than solutions. In the course of a 13-minute rant in the House of Assembly, Bermuda’s premier targeted the Royal Gazette, which he blamed for spooking a small U.K. company that had intended to set up shop on the territory. (Take heart, Royal Gazette – the Compass, too, has been similarly singled out for disapprobation on the floor of Parliament.)
But as Mr. Fahy and others in Bermuda clearly argue, Bermuda’s problems cannot be assigned to journalists. Rather, it is the elected PLP government that bears responsibility – both for failures and successes.
“If the PLP government needs an example of how to be welcoming, it needs to look at our cousins to the south in the Cayman Islands,” Mr. Fahy wrote.
“Cayman’s economic outlook shows a continued GDP annual growth rate of just under 3 percent and an unemployment rate of about 5 percent. In Bermuda, we are on track for a decline in GDP and a rise in unemployment, with the only thing keeping us from a severe decline being active construction projects started under the One Bermuda Alliance – St. Regis, the airport and Caroline Bay.”
He added, “Liberal and caring Cayman immigration policies encourage direct foreign investment, which create opportunities for Caymanians and raise their standard of living. In Bermuda, our policies are comparatively anti-foreigner and generally anti-‘real Bermudian.’ It is becoming desperately sad.”
The lesson here for Cayman is not that our islands are perfect – nor that we should allow ourselves to become complacent. We have our own leaders and community members who employ harmful rhetoric to stoke discontent, while peddling regressive protectionist policies. (For proof, just tune to the talk radio shows in the morning.)
This sort of verbal divisiveness goes beyond mere pandering; it potentially endangers the future of our country. As we know from Cayman, Bermuda and elsewhere, when local public figures speak, it is not only local ears that are listening.