Overseas Territory Consultation – Challenges

Following on from my previous post on the Overseas Territories Consultation process currently being conducted by the FCO, in preparation for a new White Paper on the Overseas Territories, I am going to try and give my thoughts on the questions that they pose. They have six main categories of questions, each with various subcategories. The first section is simply titled ‘Challenges’ and has three subcategories on Economic Development, Everyday Life and Politics and Government. I will attempt to give my thoughts on these here; I will first give my ‘long’ response, followed by bullet-points:

1) What are the main challenges facing your Territory/the Territories?

I think our main challenges are primarily economic due to limited resources on island and competition from other jurisdictions, in particular the City of London and Cayman (as regards international business), and the Caribbean (as concerns Tourism). While there are some actions we can take domestically (namely the development of human capital in terms of education) our limited size and natural resources restrict our options to a large extent.

1a) What are the main challenges facing your Territory/the Territories in relation to economic development?

As noted above, I think that our main challenge at the moment is economic. While this is particularly the case in light of the current global economic crisis, the crisis itself only serves to highlight the systemic economic challenges that Bermuda has. Quite frankly we have limited diversity in terms of our economic options, as in possible industries. We have very little in terms of natural resources. We do have limestone (but exploiting it as a material for export is prohibitive and extremely unsustainable), natural beauty (beaches, lush subtropical vegetation, coral reefs), some marine resources (fish, shellfish, potential – but currently prohibitive in terms of exploiting – mineral deposits on the sea bed) and our location in the mid-Atlantic. We do not really have the resources or size for exporting natural resources (such as timber, food, minerals) or for industrial manufacturing. We also have a relatively well-developed built environment and infrastructure (electricity, telecommunications, computers) and some significant human capital (namely in corporate legal matters and in finance – accounting, actuaries, etc.).

As a result of the above we have been restricted to a number of industries over time. In the early years of colonisation salt-raking, whaling, piracy and various agricultural endeavors (chiefly onion, arrowroot and lilies) were viable, but with our limited size and new technological developments (such as refrigeration and transport) these are no longer competitive. Tourism and our role in servicing imperial militaries (mainly the UK and US navies and airforces) were prominent throughout the 20th Century, but changes in technology (reducing refuelling and deployment needs for militaries) and the development of the Caribbean for mass tourism (with greater land-masses and labour pools) these have become increasingly less viable. Tourism remains an element of our economy, but at a much reduced level and it is unlikely to regain it’s former glory. International business developed in the late 20th Century, but technological changes and cheaper costs of living elsewhere threaten its viability today.

I think we need to identify and have support on the global stage in developing new economic pillars. From my perspective it seems as if the UK Government is often actively competing against Bermuda in siding with the City of London in many cases, being protectionist for them at our expense. I’m not sure what can be done about that, but perhaps greater consultation and the UK defending our interests in IB (and not slamming us as a tax haven on the global stage) would help. Support in helping tourism by facilitating cheaper flights between Bermuda and the UK would be useful. Right now British Airways has a monopoly and prices reflect this. If we could get additional European tourists, this could help our tourism industry somewhat.

Due to our limited resources we must rely heavily on developing our human capital. While we have significant domestic challenges here which we need to sort out, the UK has (since granting home-fees status to OTs citizens in the last decade) increasingly become important for our higher education issues. With the fee increases though this has become less viable. It would be good if the UK expands home-fees status to cover all higher education (right now it seems mostly restricted to undergraduate education) as well as help with subsidising OTs citizens studies further. Domestic UK citizens have a support network in the UK and do not have to travel as far; if this is recognised, then OTs citizens should be eligible for additional support in order to ameliorate the additional challenges faced by OTs citizens. Providing a number of scholarships for OTs students to study at quality teacher’s colleges in the UK could help with standardisation and general improvement of our domestic education system.

One of our key challenges is the cost of living here. As we need to import most foodstuffs and fuel, there is an increase in our overall costs. I think the UK could help us with developing greater self-reliance in terms of food and energy, through sharing UK expertise and technologies with us. If we can become more self-reliant in terms of food, energy and fuel (I’m thinking aquaculture, agriculture in general – as in helping develop more appropriate seeds for our climate – renewable energy sources and public transportation) then our overall costs will reduce and make us more viable, as in reducing our high cost of living. Additionally, due to our limited resources and the need to focus on areas such as IB, we often neglect (or have limited funds) to invest in other areas which, in the long-term, could actually enhance our competitiveness or develop new industrial spheres. In particular here I am thinking of issues relating to planning and biodiversity (both in terms of conservation and ecological restoration). The UK has experience in both urban planning and biodiversity issues, and I think more could be done to assist us. While there is the Overseas Territories Challenge Fund, as part of the Darwin Initiative run by Defra, Bermuda is often handicapped here as our high costs of living are not generally considered in evaluating the costs of conservation and ecological restoration work in Bermuda versus other jurisdictions (and thus we lose out in competition for these funds).

So, in summary, the more concrete areas I think the UK can assist us in terms of economic challenges are:

1 – Identify where UK (City of London) interests are contrary to Bermudian interests and seek to reduce these contradictions;
2 – Help facilitate additional UK/EU to Bermuda flight options;
3 – Extend UK home fees status for higher education to both undergraduate and postgraduate levels;
4 – Provide an OTs subsidy on fees for Overseas Territory citizens to ameliorate the additional challenges of travel and limited support networks faced by students in the UK;
5 – Provide scholarships for OTs citizens to study at UK teacher’s colleges;
6 – Provide UK assistance, expertise and technology to increase OTs self-reliance, primarily in terms of energy, transport and food security;
7 – Provide (or expand) UK assistance, expertise and technology to improve nature conservation and ecological restoration in the OTs; likewise in improving our planning departments abilities;

1b – What are the main challenges facing your Territory/the Territories in relation to everyday life?

Well, quite a bit of what I covered in terms of our economic challenges are relevant here. In particular the development of our human capital and general self-reliance in terms of cost of living issues. Greater assistance in terms of conservation, ecological restoration and urban planning are also relevant here. These areas also, I think, cover issues relating to predicted challenges of climate change.

On more social issues, Bermuda, at least, continues to have challenges of social inequality as a result of historical slavery and segregation. These need addressed, although it is a very controversial (and understandably so!) area to rectify. I do believe some sort of reparations are required, but my concept of reparations here are developing our education and healthcare system, as well as developing a living minimum wage and a number of additional social welfare institutions. Ultimately though I don’t think it is directly within the scope of this consultation to develop a fully-worked out approach to reparations and their implementation. At best I think the UK should develop a special commission to review the extent of the problem, the possible approaches to dealing with it, and generally engaging the OTs (and the former colonies as well) in active consultation on what needs done. Perhaps this is best done in conjunction with the Commonwealth proper?

On more immediate and concrete issues though, the current gang problems are a threat to both our social fabric and our economic base, in terms of it risking capital flight out of tourism and IB here. The UK is nominally in charge of our domestic security, and I think they could be doing much more in this area. I stress though, I am not advocating unilateral action by the UK here. I am however advocating that the UK take the initiative to assess our challenges and put together a package of what the UK can provide to help with this area and approach our governments with it, and work together on these issues. One particular aspect the UK could help us with is developing a forensics lab devoted to the OTs. Right now we must use US or Canadian labs, and as these are not devoted to us we sometimes experience challenges there. Developing a devoted forensics lab, based either in Bermuda or one of the Caribbean OTs could benefit us all.

I think more could be done to boost our general social capital as well. I’m thinking assistance in developing community clubs, in particular youth social clubs, could really help out. Even the development of a handful of community centres, where each centre has a library, an internet cafe, some sports facilities (squash, badmington, weights, aerobic or dance room) and a games room (table tennis, pool, board games, etc.), with one in every other Parish, it could help with the long-term issues of youth alienation and social fragmentation. The UK could help facilitate their development and construction as one small step or form of reparations.

Assistance with cleaning up the former US baselands would be a great help. The deal to provide the Americans with these areas was made by the UK, not Bermuda, and the pollution left behind is very costly to deal with. Assistance with either their restoration, or getting the Americans to restore them, would allow us to focus our limited resources elsewhere. An additional area that the UK could greatly help with is the redevelopment of Pembroke Marsh. This area, in a poor, back of town, predominantly Black area, was used as a landfill for decades, and still draws down property prices there. Redeveloping it could boost the entire area and neighbouring communities, and is probably central to the success of the North East Hamilton Economic Empowerment Zone. It could also serve as a useful additional tourist attraction and social capital area (providing parkland and sporting facilities) and, in the long-term, help reduce the social problems in the surrounding area (and by extension, Bermuda as a whole).

So, my concrete steps here are:

1 – Set up a Commonwealth-wide commission to address the historical legacy of the British Empire in terms of slavery, segregation and resulting structural inequalities in OTs and former colonies; this commission to also address possible modes of reparations;
2 – Offer greater assistance to the OTs in dealing with crime – what can the UK offer?
3 – Develop a regional forensics lab devoted to the OTs;
4 – Facilitate the development of community-centres;
5 – Help with the ecological restoration of polluted former US military bases;
6 – Help with the ecological restoration and redevelopment of Pembroke Marsh;

1c – What are the main challenges facing your Territory/the Territories in relation to issues of politics and government?

Domestically speaking, we have been operating on the basis of a constitution drawn up in 1968. This constitution was drawn up at a constitutional convention largely based at Warwick Camp, and with the expectation of being an essentially temporary constitution; the expectation was then that Bermuda would be independent within a decade or two and a new constitution would be created at that time. Over forty years later, for a variety of complex political, economic and social reasons, Bermuda remains an OT, and there is no indication at the moment that there is a strong movement towards independence anytime soon. As such, it is time to review our constitution and develop a new one for the 21st Century. In particular, the role of the unelected Senate, the potential for proportional representation, the right of recall, fixed-term elections and the areas under Bermudian jurisdiction (as opposed to the Governor) require attention. With the experiences of the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland since 1998, and the current reforms to the Westminster system under the Coalition Government (notably voting reform, fixed-term elections and reform of the House of Lords), there is an opportunity here to hold a Constitutional Convention and a series of consultations on developing a newer political system for Bermuda.

As regards the relationship between the OTs and the UK, OTs citizens do not really have a voice in the UK parliament. As such we are not able to defend ourselves against UK actions which are contrary to our interests; and, in as much as we are UK citizens, we are thus disenfranchised and de facto second-class citizens of the Commonwealth. It is my belief that the UK needs to move to a more federal system (where England has its’ own parliament akin to the various devolved governments) with a federal parliament representing all citizens of the UK, including the OTs. Each OT should have an MP elected to such a federal parliament in order to represent OT citizens. We can look at the relationship between metropolitan France and it’s overseas departments for a precedent that we can adopt for our own purposes here. Likewise, the UK expatriate workers here are doubly disenfranchised, from local and UK elections. While the granting of the local vote to expatriates is controversial, they should at least have the right to vote in federal UK elections, either in electing the MP for each OT or (preferably) granting a single MP to represent the interests of all UK expatriates in the OTs (so each OT would elect and MP and then there is an additional single MP to represent all UK expatriates in the OTs). These OTs MPs should also have special powers (a veto?) on matters dealing with the OTs themselves, just as should the regional representatives of the other constituent members of such a federal UK – the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish).

In addition to matters of political reform, the OTs have particular challenges in relation to the workings of the civil service. We do not have the economies of scale that larger jurisdictions have, and yet the civil service (in policy development and enforcement) must aspire to similar levels of quality and service. The UK could provide additional assistance in this area, at least as regards policies which are universal in their application to the OTs (development of PATI – Freedom of Information – legislation and execution being an example). Perhaps more importantly though, providing further training and full scholarships to Bermudians and OTs citizens in general to attend training or education in policy development and civil service administration in the UK could be beneficial. Perhaps secondments to the UK civil services could also be developed? These would help with the long-term standardisation and training of the civil service here and in the OTs in general.

So, my proposals in this area are then:

1 – Hold a constitutional convention to develop a new constitution, in particular addressing the matters of the Senate, proportional representation, fixed-term elections, right of recall and the powers under local self-government control;
2 – Develop a federal UK parliament where each OT elects an MP to represent OTs interests;
3 – Develop greater assistance between the UK and OTs in terms of improving, developing or general assistance as regards policy development and civil service administration.

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