‘We have the same old sheriff’ Bob Richards tells House – The Royal Gazette | Bermuda News, Business, Sports, Events, & Community

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‘We have the same old sheriff’ Bob Richards tells House

Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards last night dismissed Government's claim there's a new sheriff in town saying huge mistakes have happened under Premier Paula Cox's watch as Finance Minister.

Mr Richards told the House of Assembly Ms Cox had failed to follow the golden rule of good finance: “First do no harm,” as she allowed the economy to overheat and then increased taxes when people couldn't afford them.

And he poured water on recent suggestions a new tone of sensible spending is now in place because civil servants regard Ms Cox as “the new sheriff in town”.

“A new sheriff in town? This sheriff has been in town for six years,” said Mr Richards during the Budget debate on Finance yesterday. “I believe there's no new sheriff in town.

“We have got the same old sheriff. I haven't been impressed by the sheriff. We need to get expenditures under control.”

He was responding to Assistant Cabinet Secretary Judith Hall-Bean's comment that civil servants are now aware of the need for greater efficiency with Ms Cox as the “sheriff”.

Mr Richards said: “One principle that over-rides all others when it comes to fiscal policy is: first do no harm.

“Can the Finance Ministry hold its hand on its heart and say they have met that principle? It's clear that they cannot. They cannot even meet that simple criteria.”

He said Government had stimulated the economy when it was already overheating as a successive wave of capital came into Bermuda before the recession.

And he said the payroll tax increase last year which Ms Cox reversed this year had made the economy slow down when it needed a boost.

“The damage is done,” he said. “That's the incredible responsibility of being a Finance Minister. If you make mistakes they can be very costly.”

He also criticised Ms Cox's plan to introduce a three-year Budget cycle, which she says will allow better long-term planning than the one-year cycle currently in use.

“The record of late has been such that the Government has not been properly able to forecast one year,” said Mr Richards.

“How the heck are they going to be able to forecast three years in the future?

“The further you go into the future, the harder it is going to be to forecast. Somebody is going to have to sit down and figure out what's going to happen three years down the track.”

Mr Richards said Government's inability to meet its budgets had been partly caused by the Ministry of Finance's failure to ensure financial instructions were being followed.

And he questioned why Government puts so much faith in credit ratings, which he said usually only highlighted failings when it's too late.

Shadow Works Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin said Ms Cox was “profound” to say there would be no tolerance for failing to follow financial instructions.

Speaking of her experience on the Public Accounts Committee, Mrs Gordon-Pamplin said: “We found that financial instructions seem to have taken a back seat in many, many, many areas.”

She welcomed Ms Cox's efforts to stop overspending on capital projects but warned: “The horse has bolted. It's wonderful to put controls in place to ensure that the principles of controls are adhered to, but I think we have missed the point.”

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Published March 15, 2011 at 10:16 am (Updated March 15, 2011 at 10:16 am)

‘We have the same old sheriff’ Bob Richards tells House

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