The debt story you should consider before you vote
“The borrower is slave to the lender” — Proverbs 22:7
Bermuda, we are quickly heading towards the most significant election we have had in more than two decades. It is important because we are going to the polls to choose which party is going to guide us economically over the next five years.
We were in a significant fiscal downward spiral before Covid-19 touched upon our shores but now we are in a severe nose-dive economically. We must choose the party that has the track record and experience to turn around our economic direction or Third-World status is sure to be our next stop.
In my previous opinion — the Bermudian voters’ dilemma — I summed up the predicament voters have with regards to choosing the best party to move us forward. In this opinion, I will attempt to outline what is at stake as clearly as I can.
Nothing sums up Bermuda’s challenging predicament more than our debt story. When the PLP took office in 1998, Bermuda’s debt profile made us an envy of the world. We had a minimal debt of approximately $160 million and a surplus on current and capital accounts of $15.3 million.
Today, after depleting that surplus on increased politicians’ wages, consultancy fees, government pet projects, etc, we are facing a total debt that is approaching $3.5 billion. Every Bermudian should know that these are numbers with consequences for each of us. Each Bermudian man, woman and child owes approximately $60,000 and climbing.
To put it in simple language, we are being enslaved by debt. Our fear for the future and our present declining standard of living says it all. The story of ruined nations with mass unemployment, rampant crime, dilapidated buildings, eroded roadways and poor government services — begins and ends with irresponsible fiscal management and crushing government debt.
While we are being led to believe that government can just keep borrowing and spending, the burden of repayment is a noose around our necks today and crippling our children’s future tomorrow.
The PLP Government cannot defy simple economic logic. We cannot continue to borrow and spend without Bermudians paying the ultimate price. Civil servants as well as private-sector workers are feeling the direct brunt of this fact. Unfortunately, Bermuda, there is more to come and it will get much worse.
Our paycheques will continue to get smaller because our government will force us to pay more taxes. Payroll tax and custom duties will become higher. Our property taxes will also increase and do not be surprised when we see homeowner rental tax soon with renters having to foot the bill with higher rents. Increased taxes will hit the fuel we put into our cars and will impact our Belco bills.
We will spend more and more at the grocery stores especially after the sugar tax and come home with less food to feed our families. Our homes will continue to lose value in a market with less buyers as a knock-on effect of the declining employment reality — and on and on it goes. We do not print money at will like some countries and may ultimately find ourselves forcefully unpegged from the American dollar with a worthless, devaluing currency.
We are already feeling these effects. When Covid-19 hit, we could not absorb the economic shock better because of our debt situation. The Government has been caught out with its long-term ability to help unemployed workers. The PLP has proposed pay cuts to civil servants and encouraged them to sacrifice their future to get by in the present. You may recall the dire warning of the Premier even before Covid-19, brace yourselves and tighten your seatbelts because the worst is yet to come.
We can trace the escalation of our downward spiral to Ewart Brown’s administration. You will remember he was handing out “freebies” as if there were no tomorrow. We could go to college for free, license our cars for free, we had free bus rides and free daycare. The only problem is that there is nothing for free. The taxpayer has to pay for it and the Government borrows money to make it happen.
At the same time, the PLP government was spending like a drunken sailor. They were spending hundreds of millions more than we were collecting in taxes every year. There were cost overruns on every government capital project. PLP politicians in Cabinet were getting pay raises and they even got a brand-new fleet of government cars for themselves to drive.
Today, and for the foreseeable future, Bermudians will be paying for the gross mismanagement of public funds. After three years of this David Burt-led PLP government, Bermudians have heard nothing but news of the PLP’s continued financial mismanagement. It began with a generous handout of $1.2 million benefiting none other than Dr Brown himself. The explanation for it was dubious at best.
Consultancy jobs have been given to the PLP elite. Most alarmingly, an MP’s wife within the Attorney-General’s Chambers and also a former MP with a job in Brussels.
Others, who have not complied with the PLP and their elite’s agenda have been mercilessly fired. Recently, PLP minister Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch went on a tirade on the floor of Parliament attacking black women and accusing his own government of corruption while shamelessly declaring his personal grievance about his “adopted family member”.
In the meantime, the tourism leg of our economy has been shattered by the pandemic, increasing our economic woes. Taxi and minibus drivers, hotel workers, businesses in Dockyard, Hamilton and St George’s are all suffering from a lack of income.
However, this PLP government, that has been in power for only three years, calls a snap election during the pandemic while offering no solutions. Its only claim to fame is that it followed the pandemic handbook and got us to this point from its initial stages. The pandemic is not even over and our positive numbers are rising with community spread but the Premier is claiming victory.
It is as if Mr Burt is saying to voters, this is not about you and your safety, it is all about me. Let us be honest, have you seen a PLP video commercial with other MPs or Cabinet ministers? Even the flyers that you are receiving on the doorsteps are not all about the person running in the constituency.
This election is all about Burt. He is so confident or believes that we are so foolish and gullible that in spite of the PLP’s failures and clear lack of vision and ability to help you, you will vote for the PLP even if you have to risk your health or even your life to do so. He is riding high on three months of communicating to us about Covid-19 while hoping we forget about three years of abysmal failure after failure.
There is unbridled arrogance in not only the timing of this election but the PLP banking on victory in spite of its track record. As we knock on the doorsteps, it is painfully obvious that it is their core supporters who are feeling it the most. Bob Marley captures it best when he says that “your worst enemy could be your best friend and your best friend your worst enemy”.
Bermuda, I cannot say it any clearer and the choice confronting Bermudians cannot be any more obvious. Vote for the PLP government that you have and you will continue to get what you have been getting. PLP all the way “to an indebted poverty-stricken economically ruined nation”. You cannot now say it was not put to you; you have been voting for PLP politicians against the best interest of your country, yourself and the future of your children. The choice is now yours.
• Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017
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