PLP’s reducing the size of government ‘a probability’ if reelected Glenn Blakeney
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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.
Public Works Minister Michael Weeks noted that few voices from the Opposition were raised during the Budget Reply.
Mr Weeks 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 Weeks noted that he would suspend term limits for two years.
“Because of the fact that Cayman has done it? Don’t go there.”
The Minister 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 Weeks 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, Mr Weeks said: “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 Weeks 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.
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