Year at the top – Burt pleased with progress
The Government has done an “admirable” job of increasing opportunities for Bermudians, the Premier claimed yesterday.
David Burt highlighted the amount of legislation that has gone through Parliament since the Progressive Labour Party took power and insisted all but one of its 100-day pledges is largely complete.
In an interview with The Royal Gazette as he marked his first anniversary at the helm, Mr Burt assured voters of the hard work being carried out.
However, he remained tight-lipped on controversial issues such as the appointment of Narinder Hargun, the new Chief Justice, and whether he would set up a Commission of Inquiry into a row over legal action launched by the previous government against the American-based Lahey Clinic.
A lawsuit brought by the former One Bermuda Alliance government alleged Lahey conspired with Ewart Brown, a former premier, to defraud the island of millions of dollars in healthcare charges.
The United States District Court in Massachusetts later allowed Lahey’s motion to dismiss the case.
Mr Burt said of the 21 pledges to “bring immediate change to Bermuda’s society” in the PLP’s first 100 days, 20 were “substantially complete”.
He added the one remaining pledge was the provision of access to funding for community clubs through a loan guarantee programme.
Mr Burt explained: “I know the Ministry of Social Development and Sport, along with the Ministry of Economic Development and Tourism, are working to complete that, through the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation. It is our aim to complete things as quickly as possible so we will continue to work to finalise that particular issue.”
He admitted: “As someone who has a background in community clubs it’s a disappointment that has not been able to be completed substantially and that community clubs are not able to enjoy those guarantees to get that work done, but I am certain that it will be done in the very near future.”
Mr Burt said two other items, the implementation of a Spending and Government Efficiency Commission recommendation to establish three permanent parliamentary oversight committees, and the drawing up of a code of conduct for Members of Parliament, fall under the scope of the House of Assembly.
He admitted: “We cannot actually do them.”
But he added: “From the government perspective, we’ve done our bit of it.”
The Premier said: “I push everyone incredibly hard. The amount of legislation which has gone through the House of Assembly this year has been significant.
“It’s not as though the people who are at the House have not been doing anything, they have a number of committees as well, so it is not my intention to say that they are not advancing in the way which they should, it’s just certain things take longer time than others, so from that perspective that’s where I would say that challenge would lie.”
He added: “I think overall when you look at the things that are written inside of our Throne Speech, which we said we would like to accomplish in this parliamentary year, I think we’ve done an admirable job in advancing those items.”
Mr Burt promised some “meaty items” were still to come to the table, including feedback from the Bermuda First economic and social advisory group and a report from the tax reform commission.
He added there also was work to be done in healthcare finance and reform, the cost of living, which was “without question a challenge” and access to banking services to generate competition in the face of rising interest rates.
The Government confirmed earlier this month it is to appeal a landmark Supreme Court decision to reverse the island’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Mr Burt shied away from calling the case a “priority”, but said the Government would continue “in the direction” in which the party was elected.
He added that, despite calls from inside the PLP for a Commission of Inquiry into the government lawsuit against the Lahey Clinic, which he suggested he would think about when it was raised in the House of Assembly, there were more important things to deal with.
Mr Burt said: “We consider all things and then we make a decision based on merits, but I think that right now the most important thing at this point in time is to focus on making sure we continue to deliver the things which we laid out in our election platform.”
He also avoided reopening controversy over the appointment of Narinder Hargun as the new Chief Justice, which he said was “an affront” to the Government after the appointment was announced.
Mr Burt said: “I don’t wish to go down that rabbit hole right now.
“What I would say is that the Chief Justice has been appointed under the Constitution which we have as a country and I wish him well in his service.”
Mr Burt summarised his view of his party’s 12 months in charge.
He said: “We stated that we were going to put in place policies that were going to allow Bermudians to have more education, to be better trained, to have better opportunities for entrepreneurship and better opportunities inside of the corporate sector.
“I think in all cases we have done an admirable job in that, so I think the ethos of the Progressive Labour Party shines through.”
Mr Burt will give an overview of his first year in office in a national address today.
The address, at 6.40pm, will be carried by CITV, One Communications channel 2 and Wow channel 102 as well as the website www.gov.bm/whats-on-citv and the Government of Bermuda Facebook page.
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