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Wednesday, July 26, 2006 

7/26/2006 3:23:00 PM
Big turnout for public meeting on the economy
Islanders concerned about the state of the economy and the housing market packed the Leopard's Club to capacity last night.

The forum was dominated by discussion on ways to open up the island's prosperity to a wider portion of the community - particularly for young black males.

It looked at what should be done about the through-the-roof cost of housing and the plight of small business owners.

It was the first in a series of public meetings organized by government about sustainable development.

The problems the island faces are in part due to its success in drawing capital and international business, according to Craig Simmons, an economics lecturer at Bermuda College.

"For the first time ever we have to question our own economic success," he said. "Like my father was fond of saying about the Americans, 'they've got more money than brains.'"

That success has driven up the cost of living in all areas and created a culture of greed, Mr. Simmons added.

Small business owners and aspiring home owners voiced their frustration during the forum's question and answer period.

One member of the public said institutional racism was still very much alive in Bermuda, and said any plan to better Bermuda would fail unless this problem was addressed.

Panelist and social commentator Rolfe Commissiong agreed, and noted that Bermudians of all colours have been afraid to acknowledge the problem of racism in recent years.

"[Racism] is the 3,000-pound gorilla in the closet … we can't build sustainable development until we address this issue," he said.

Others who stood up to ask questions wanted to know what could be done about the lack of space for small business, how housing and property prices could be brought down to within the reach of working people, and what to do about the poor work ethic among many young Bermudians.

"I'm actually thinking of approaching immigration [to hire foreign workers]," said one small business owner, referring to her difficulty in finding a hard-working young Bermudian to work in her shop.

Another audience member wondered how he could buy a house without having to work for the rest of his life in order to pay for it. The audience member said he saved to have a house built, but the contractor he hired "built it totally wrong, and it's nowhere near completion."

"How do you get a house unless your parents own one?" he said

"We as black Bermudians struggle to be heard," said yet another member of the crowd, which was made up of a diverse mix of black and white, men and women, young and old.

Calvin Smith, a former PLP senator and newspaper columnist, asked if it would be beneficial to slow down Bermuda's red-hot economic development in order to bring prices down to more reasonable levels.

Butterfield Bank president and panelist Alan Thompson said that by slowing down development, Bermuda would run the risk of reversing it.

"I think we'll see land prices come down … in line with supply and demand," he said.

Mr. Thompson also said at one point in the forum that unless a plan of action was crafted, he worried that the sustainable development strategy and the discussion surrounding it might be all for naught.

"Our analysis may equal paralysis," he said.

Copyright 2006, Bermuda Sun Ltd.

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