Log In

Reset Password

MPs clash over the economy during Reply to the Budget Debate

First Prev 1 2 3 Next Last

Environment Minister Marc Bean criticised the One Bermuda Alliance for suggesting things in the Reply to the Budget that Government is already doing.

His speech was punctuated by frequent heckles from Government MP Glenn Blakeney of “copycat politics!”

Mr Bean cited as an example the fact that Government is already allowing the size of the Civil Service to be reduced by attrition but not through redundancies.

He added that Government is also looking at redeveloping the Hamilton waterfront, as suggested by the Opposition, and holding a referendum on having a casino.

“This is 30 pages of platitudes. They don't want to touch the difficult issues,” he said of their reply, accusing them of wishing to “shirk the difficult issues” because there is an election coming.

Mr Bean went on to suggest it would be in the best interests of Bermuda to unpeg the local currency from the US dollar and have it backed 100 percent by gold instead. He said this would make the currency more secure and stop the Island's wealth depreciating in value.

More land will have to be reclaimed to widen Bermuda's airport runways, if the Island is to collect a fee for the use of its commercial airspace.

That was the assertion of Transport Minister Derrick Burgess, amid heavy Opposition criticism of the proposal in the House.

The issue came up during a fiery Reply to the Budget from the One Bermuda Alliance's Pat Gordon-Pamplin, who branded the Progressive Labour Party a “yo-yo Government”.

The Shadow Transport Minister listed off what she called policy shifts on payroll tax, import duties, free licences for seniors and free colleges fees, as well as changing stances on issues such as pay cuts for ministers.

“It's important to think through what you promise,” Ms Gordon-Pamplin finished.

She said that “granny licences” ought to be put on vehicles in bright pastel colours, so that people would be less inclined to take advantage of the fee waiver for seniors.

Ms Gordon-Pamplin also criticised Ministers “going to the public forum before coming to the House to explain what the ministers intend to do”.

She challenged Transport Minister Derrick Burgess to explain why she had to tune in to public utterances to find out more about Government's idea of “charging aircraft for coming across our airspace” at which the Minister rose on a point of order.

“That was not included in the Budget as an expenditure item,” Mr Burgess pointed out.

“I take his point,” the OBA MP said, “but it's in the Budget Statement, on page eight.”

She said that in the Minister's comments to the press on that possible revenue stream, “it didn't appear that anything substantive had been done”.

She accused Government of looking for “something extra for the Budget book, to make it look good” and said it was like “nailing Jello to a wall”.

Ms Gordon-Pamplin said she saw “nothing in here about how we're going to pay for the hospital, or the PPP [public-private partnership]”.

She also accused Government of flooding the real estate market, citing the Grand Atlantic development as an example.

“If there was a genuine need, those houses would have been snapped up in a minute,” she charged.

But with people leaving the Island and landlords lacking tenants, a “perfect storm” had been created, she said.

Ms Gordon-Pamplin concluded by accusing Government of lacking a plan, even though “Government has the books in front of them”.

Premier Paula Cox then deferred in her reply, and Education Minister Dame Jennifer Smith rose.

“The Budget Reply is normally the Opposition's time to ask questions,” she said. “They have nothing to say.”

The Reply accused Government of failing to follow the Hopkins Report's recommendations, she said.

“I don't know how many times I have had to make updates on the Hopkins Report or the Blueprint for Reform,” Dame Jennifer said. “For heaven's sake, we amended the Education Act

because of the Hopkins Report.”

Accusing the Opposition of not visiting public schools, she said: “School teachers should not be used as a political football.”

Dame Jennifer questioned the Oppositions maths in the Reply, saying she was baffled how it could say that her Ministry only achieved savings of $4 million in the latest Budget, when there was a difference of $19 million between the original 2011/12 figure of $128 million, and the revised figure of $139 million.

Shadow Minister Grant Gibbons rose on a point of order, saying that $4 million was from comparing one year's budgeted amount to the next year's.

“Ouch,” Dame Jennifer responded. “I stepped on somebody's foot. They don't know what they're doing. They're just out to slam education. Stop attacking our schools and our principals and teachers.”

Dr Gibbons accused her of misleading the House; Dame Jennifer said she had never heard the Opposition say something positive about public education.

Asked by Dame Jennifer when he had last visited a public school, Dr Gibbons made reference to Robert B Chaffee, which prompted laughter from Government's side. The former US Naval Air Station school was generally for US citizens and closed in 1995 and is now the Clearwater Middle School.

Dame Jennifer then listed off public school results under the Cambridge International Exams, which she said showed Primary 6 students performing at a worldwide average in English.

Noting that the public school system has “some great schools, good schools and low-performing and static schools”, she said performance tracking used the current economic climate as both a challenge and an opportunity.

“We rise to the challenge and use it as an opportunity to create the best in our students,” she said.

OBA leader Craig Cannonier then rose to address what he called “the urgency of the now”.

Noting that “Bermuda is hurting”, Mr Cannonier reflected: “The question is, is this Budget fixing their woes?”

Saying the budget had “no weight to it, no numbers coming into this Country”, he added: “I've seen nothing bold in this Budget, nothing that says how it's going to attract new markets, except for some plane flying over.”

PLP MP Zane DeSilva remarked: “You've been asleep, Cannonier.”

“You've got a lot of mouth,” Mr Cannonier responded. Calling Mr DeSilva “brother”, he said the reckoning was coming soon, at which point Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess rose to object to the terms of address. Mr Cannonier apologised.

Continuing, he said: “This Budget statement is the biggest electioneering that I have ever seen. There's nothing in here that speaks to the common man and says we are going to turn things around.”

Saying the Premier was “between a rock and a hard place”, Mr Cannonier said: “Take a look at the Budget and take a look at the Reply, and at the end of that, call the election.”

Mr Burgess remarked that the Opposition made it sound as if the world recession had been created by the PLP Government. Compared to elsewhere, he said, “This Country has done very well.”

He said: “It's obvious that those on the other side lack understanding of what's going on in the world economy.”

The Deputy Premier listed infrastructural developments such as Sylvia Richardson rest home, the new Berkeley Institute, the Dame Lois Browne Evans court and Police station and Heritage Wharf at Ireland Island, over further shouts across the House floor.

“So, not doing that, we would probably be in a better position,” Mr Burgess said. “The Auditor General? Let's talk about that. When this Government awarded the contract for the Dame Lois Browne Evans building, they criticised us. They said some other company should have had it. Some company that was found guilty a few weeks ago of discrimination Apex.”

Mr Burgess said the Auditor General's report on spending for the project had left out the cost of schematics.

“That turned out to be $3.4 million in additional expenses, and the Auditor General didn't pick that up,” Mr Burgess said.

Referring to user fees for commercial air space, the Deputy Premier said $30 million a year was possible.

“That's not just a plane flying overhead. By 2017? It might be. In order to bring Bermuda's runway to international standards, we have to widen it by reclaiming land. That's why it's going to take five years.”

Addressing OBA MPs Grant Gibbons and Trevor Moniz, Mr Burgess said: “It's unfortunate that we still have some people in this Country that still think the way these honourable members think.”

Reading from an article in

The Royal Gazette that referred to blacks in the Bermuda Militia Artillery, when black soldiers were prevented from becoming commissioned officers, Mr Burgess continued: “That's the thinking these two members portray. I wish there was a seminar they could attend to change their attitudes. Because these attitudes are not welcome in this Country.”

Mr Moniz called back: “Drop the shovel.” Calling a point of order, he said Mr Burgess has “gone completely crazy”, adding: “Someone has put something in his water.”

“Back to the Budget,” admonished the Acting Speaker.

Mr Burgess then called on Mr Moniz to retract his statement, to which the OBA MP replied: “If he retracts all of his insulting remarks, I am willing to meet him halfway.”

Over more calls from the other side, Mr Burgess said: “This is a great Budget. It was painful for them to write their Reply; they had five experts brought in to help.”

The United Bermuda Party's Kim Swan said the difference in size with today's Budget and that of 200/01, showed how the Country had grown expansively.

He went on to say that the PLP Government in 1998/99 had inherited a surplus of money.

“One of our main complaints about Government, particularly over the last seven years, was that Government had the opportunity to put money aside for a rainy day,” Mr Swan said.

The UBP's philosophy was steeped in financial prudence, he said, and former UBP leader Sir David Gibbons had “prided himself on a balanced Bermuda”.

“We've committed ourselves to things that we can't pay for,” Mr Swan continued. Referring to today's UBP he said: “We are only two, and a lot of people don't like that we are still around. But my grandmother had some home-grown truths, and one was, put aside for a rainy day.”

Returning to the UBP's earlier Reply to the Budget, Mr Swan said national security was a top concern, and that gang violence was the Country's most critical problem.

“More than 30 mothers have lost their children,” he said.

“Prior to 1998, and I'm picking 1998 because I am UBP and proud, it was road fatalities ... we used to get exercised when a murder happened.”

Now, he said, “we have become anaesthetised”.

Unless all sides could pull together, he said, the Budget resources put aside to tackle gang violence would be “for nought”.

Government backbencher Walter Roban defended the PLP's economic performance.

He told the House of Assembly that the Budget for the coming fiscal year had identified clear paths to create growth.

The Opposition's Reply, Mr Roban said, “talks a lot about what we need to do for business”.

“It's almost as if they have adopted the adage that businesses are people too, if I can take that remark from another jurisdiction.”

The Budget initiatives were about creating local jobs, he said, adding: “I find it interesting that the Opposition had a lot to say about governance.”

Referring to an earlier criticism by the OBA's Pat Gordon-Pamplin of ministers airing plans in public before bringing them to the House, Mr Roban called it part of the open budget process, adding: “If that's not transparency, I don't know what is.”

Encouraging private industry to “step up too”, Mr Roban said Government had been a stimulator and a generator, not a “job creator”.

Over the past four years, he said, surpluses had not materialised, but “Government has still had to keep up a level of social spending and capital spending”.

Infrastructures, such as the incinerator and the causeway, continue to age, he said.

“These are things that we are going to have to address. Investment is going to have to come. If another government were in our place, they would face the same issue.”

Capital investment would be required at the airport, he said, for the “partial monetarisation” of our airspace.

Investment up at Dockyard had been well made, Mr Roban said, clearly reaping rewards in tourism.

“National security has progressed very well recently,” he added, saying Government investment there had also paid off.

In terms of business in the international sector, he said, “From the standpoint of Government, we kind of leave them alone.

“I keep hearing a lot from certain members in this chamber about how we have scared them away. I am very sceptical of that. I have not seen anyone yet who has presented any data or evidence that a policy of this Government has contributed to a mass exodus.”

Term limits, he said, were created as “a policy to address an issue of long-term residency”. Government had subsequently changed its approach due to changing conditions.

Government's Budget “responds to the needs of the people” while the Reply “does not have the same focus”, Mr Roban added.

Backbencher and West End Development Corporation chairman Walter Lister recalled how the closure of the Royal Naval Dockyard had been an economic challenge for the West End around 1950.

“Because I have lived a long time, I would like to assure people that in spite of economic difficulties, we will bounce back,” Mr Lister vowed, commending Premier Paula Cox and saying now was not the time to switch the hand at the tiller.

Former Transport Minister Terry Lister noted that few voices from the Opposition were raised during the Budget Reply.

Mr Lister listed some forthcoming developments, from drug interdiction facilities at the Island's ports to $1 million into the refurbishment of Lefroy House.

“I look forward to my colleague Derrick Burgess putting the taxi authority in place this year,” he added.

Unemployment was high, but the One Stop Career Centre would be welcome.

“It's so easy to be in Opposition,” he said. “It's even easier to be an armchair quarterback who sits at home and criticises everything that we do.”

Taking aim at Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards, Mr Lister noted that he would suspend term limits for two years.

“Because of the fact that Cayman has done it? Don't go there.”

Mr Lister said that native Caymanians had become a minority, adding: “That's not us.”

In issuing permanent residency certificates, he said, “we were forced to clean up something that the UBP created”.

“We had to do the right thing,” Mr Weeks said.

“What the UBP/OBA would have us do is start the whole thing all over again,” he said.

Bermuda's international sector had been created by local businesses and professionals fostering relationships overseas, Mr Lister said.

“I challenge the lawyers, accountants and bankers of this Country to go out there and get the business. Do what we always do. But we are not going to stand up in this House and take responsibility for failures in business; it was never Government that did it.”

Turning to the gesture of ministerial pay cuts, he added: “It will make very little difference, but we will do it.”

As for a pension cut, he said: “We will do that as well. The OBA is not prepared to do that, and I am disappointed by that.”

Of Opposition Leader Craig Cannonier's call for an election date to be set, Mr Lister finished: “Be careful what you ask for. I would say to the Premier, bring on the election. We are ready.”

Youth, Families and Sports Minister Glenn Blakeney noted that the OBA Reply said that the PLP Government “with its xenophobic and racial rhetoric” has given Bermuda's competition “a big stick with which to beat us”.

“How in God's name could they in good conscience make a statement like that?” he asked.

Mr Blakeney went on: “They have a deck of cards built around racial inequality, and they have the audacity to victimise victims?”

He complained that Budget suggestions for alternative revenue streams had been made a joke of by the Opposition.

He added: “Another thing that put me off was the inference that this Government is insensitive our guest workers, because we have regulations and restrictions regarding term limits and work permits.” Those who come to Bermuda already know what our laws are, he said.

Turning to suggestions in the Opposition Reply, Mr Blakeney said many were already put in place by Government, such as cutting costs by freezing the size of the Civil Service.

“Reduce the size of Cabinet? I think this Government has already stated that this is a possibility, if not a probability, given our re-election.”

Elected members of the House receive no stipend, he said.

“Reform immigration to make it work for the people? What does that mean?” he asked. “Suspending term limits for two years?”

Mr Blakeney said the Opposition had called travel to attract business on behalf of the Country “lavish”.

“You know why they say that? They want to stir up emotions in the hope that the people of this Country will buy in to this nonsense.”

Mr Blakeney finished: “This Reply to the Budget was all over the place, and again a manifestation of the disingenuousness of the Opposition.”

He concluded by calling the Reply “throwing our Country under the bus for their own political agenda”.

Minister of Health Zane DeSilva praised the work of the Island's hospitals and seniors' homes. He said Government has promoted health and health education to reduce spending on that area.

He praised Government for banning smoking in public places and said Bermuda has the lowest percentage of smokers of the Organisation for Cooperation and Economic Development countries.

He went on to highlight how Government widened access to generic drugs, thus saving patients money, and introduced the FutureCare health insurance scheme for seniors.

Wrapping up the debate, Premier and Finance Minister Paula Cox said Government is committed to providing an environment for the growth of local and international business.

She said $1.2 billion has been spent on capital expenditure since April 1, 1999 including investments in infrastructure and other capital acquisitions. She said Government exercised “prudence and restraint” prior to the global financial crisis, achieving “relatively all debt targets” from that date until March 31, 2008 when gross national debt stood at $345 million.

During that period, she said, $793 million was spent on capital projects; $608 million of which came from the current account surplus and $185 million from borrowing.

Since the financial crisis hit in 2008, she said, gross Government debt increased by $934 million and will stand at $1.2 billion by the end of the fiscal year.

Ms Cox maintained that despite the challenges presented by the global economic climate, “the sky is not falling in and I'm not buying all the Honourable Opposition members have been selling. I don't believe that, despite the trying and testing times, we are in a lose-lose scenario.”

She said listening to the criticisms of the One Bermuda Alliance was like listening to the former United Bermuda Party Opposition.

Recapping on key points from her Budget statement, she said Government was here “to provide hope and help for the people of Bermuda”.

Ms Cox added that the gross domestic product when the PLP came to power in 1998 was $3 billion and it now stands at $5.7 billion.

The Budget debate is set to continue today.

Post-Budget Press Conference: Derrick Burgess Deputy Premier and Minister of Transport.(Photo by Akil Simmons) February 24, 2012
Patricia Gordon Pamplin(Photo by Akil Simmons) August 16,2011
Budget Town Hall Meeting: Dame Jennifer Smith (Photo by Akil Simmons) February 28,2012

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published March 05, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated March 05, 2012 at 8:56 am)

MPs clash over the economy during Reply to the Budget Debate

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon