Bermuda’s way out of this economic morass must be by way of a strong and genuine partnership between government and business. While government provides the framework and infrastructure for business to develop and companies provide the capital and employment to generate wealth, there are roadblocks along the way that must be cleared. Given the present circumstances, we must demonstrate a level of urgency in doing so.
It is true that Government consults widely, and often, with key business stakeholders to better discern their concerns and challenges. On the basis of these discussions, Government assesses current policy and reflects on what if any changes need to be introduced. Sounds like the perfect working relationship. The problem here is that industry does not consistently share with government the totality of its concerns; business leaders, however, do share their candid views with their peers and this information eventually gets into the public domain. The main reason business leaders are reticent about some of their deep concern on issues when their position conflicts with Government is that they want to be seen to be working with Government and not opposing policy. The unfortunate consequence is that some companies have quietly left the island and taken much needed jobs and expenditures. We need to clear this roadblock.
Another roadblock is the inevitable inertia spawned in government bureaucracies. How this comes about is simple enough to understand. Firstly, every department created in every Ministry has its own mandate and set of rules, policies and procedures. Secondly, unlike the private sector, there is no reward system for efficiency or productivity. The lazy worker is paid the same as the diligent and efficient government employee. This has created a set of conditions where many simple and routine decisions are unnecessarily delayed by months, in some cases years. Every month’s delay for a business creates more frustrated owners; it necessarily forces them to consider other options in other jurisdictions. When we have businesses ready to invest and to create jobs, we must ensure work permits, building permits, landing permits, occupation permits, fire permits and all the other permits needed are approved within a timeframe that values the importance of that business to the country. Some of us need to be reminded that it is the private sector and not Government that creates value and grows the GDP.
As companies seek new opportunities we need to assure them we value their business. There are a few things we can do in this respect. If a company is bringing a minimum size investment to the island (say $10 million) we should have a process in place a one-stop shop, if you will, where all of their requests from government can be handled by a single entity and processed expeditiously. Bermuda was once at a competitive disadvantage because of the time it took to incorporate a company. That was addressed by a sound working relationship between Government and the private sector. Let us apply this same approach with renewed vigour. A company, having invested millions of dollars, should not be told they cannot pick their own executive team. And if we do not allow them to, there are many other jurisdictions which will allow them. Preemptively, let me say there is no conflict between a policy ensuring qualified Bermudians be employed in their areas of competence and a company having an entitlement to select its key executive team.
We are at a crossroads. Bermuda’s business model once embraced our passive motto, “Whither the fates lead” but it is ill-suited for the present. We need to actively pursue strategies to bring back growth because with that growth will come renewed strength and greater opportunities for all of us.