Empty DC office eats up $175,000 in rent
An unused office in Washington cost the Government of Bermuda more than $175,000 for only ten months last year.
Liberty Place, on the United States capital’s 7th Street, was maintained even though it was closed in 2017.
A spokeswoman said the Government planned to reopen the office “in the future” after promising 16 months ago to return it to operations.
She said: “Successive governments have decided to maintain the office space, despite the fact that the office is closed.
“The goal for this government is to reopen the office in the future.”
It came after details about Cabinet Office contracts valued at $50,000 or more were published in the Official Gazette last week.
Among them was an entry for rent at Liberty Place between January and October 2018, at a cost of $175,327.21. David Burt, the Premier, said last week: “Promoting economic growth here at home requires us to safeguard Bermuda’s interests overseas.”
He continued: “In 2018, much of our attention and resources had to be diverted to deal with the assessment of Bermuda’s anti-money-laundering and anti-terrorist-financing regime by the Caribbean Financial Action Taskforce and later in the year, to address the issues of economic substance requirements imposed by the European Union.
“With much of that work done, and now that the balance of power has shifted in Washington DC, we will take this opportunity to renew our efforts to staff the DC office.”
The Group, a Washington-based organisation that provides US regulatory guidance, was hired by the Cabinet Office to help lobby on behalf of the Government, pending the reopening of the premises.
The Washington office was officially opened in September 2009 to strengthen links between Bermuda and the US, but remained without staff until halfway through the next year.
Ewart Brown, then premier, announced the appointment of Omar McIntosh as managing director in June 2010, with the recruitment of two more staff members expected to follow, yet there remained only one person in post by the fiscal year-end.
It acted as a resource centre for Bermudian students in the US “as time and resources” allowed in 2012.
A few months later, after the One Bermuda Alliance came to power, it was suggested the office could be closed to cut costs and then premier Craig Cannonier said its operations were being reviewed.
However, it was understood that the former Progressive Labour Party administration had signed a ten-year contract on the property.
The office was kept on but in March 2017, Michael Dunkley, then premier, told legislators it was being phased out, although $206,000 was allocated for it in the 2017-18 Budget to cover rent, utilities and insurance until a sublet could be found, since several years remained on its lease.
The PLP returned to power in July 2017 and in its September Throne Speech of that year, the administration pledged: “This Government will increase Bermuda’s outreach around the globe by staffing the empty Washington DC office and increasing engagement with the European Union in Brussels to ensure that Bermuda’s interests are represented as the United Kingdom leaves the EU.”
Mr Burt said in February 2018 that the island would open an office in the Belgian capital on April 1, 2018, in efforts to limit spending on consultants in Europe.
However, nine months later that premises had yet to open.
Mr Burt said last week: “I am pleased to confirm that an office location has been identified. Before the end of this month, we will have established a presence in Brussels.”
He claimed the London office and its team had been “invaluable”.
Mr Burt said: “Our constitutional arrangement demands close links with the UK and it is critical that we have first-hand knowledge of the workings of Westminster.
“With Brexit looming for the UK, the London office has kept us, here at home, fully briefed and strongly advocated for Bermuda to address any impact the UK’s exit from the EU might have.”
The Premier said that the Government’s management of its international relations also helped “to deliver on our promise to lift up people in need of help, and to create opportunities for young people investing in education here and abroad”.
He added: “Our investment in these global activities is designed to promote our interests abroad while safeguarding our future here at home.”
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