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Finance staff 'sharpening pencils', minister says

Curtis Dickinson, the minister of finance (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Minister of Finance has renewed a pledge that there will be no new taxes in this month’s Budget.

Curtis Dickinson also promised Government departmental expenditure would be kept on a tight leash in the next financial year.

Mr Dickinson said: “There will be no new taxes and no plans to increase existing taxes.”

But he added there will be “slight increases” in some fees.

Mr Dickinson was speaking as he faced a barrage of questions from members at the public in an hour-long virtual town hall meeting last night.

He said that the coronavirus pandemic had damaged the global economy over the past year and caused Bermuda’s budget deficit to balloon from an estimate of around $20 million to $295 million.

Mr Dickinson added that Covid-19 had cost the Government around $125 million, but that the toll on the nation’s purse strings will be much less in the next 12 months – around $20 million.

He said: “We have better information on how to deal with pandemic, a lower number of cases and the vaccine.”

Mr Dickinson will present the Budget on February 26.

He said: “The themes are that we are emerging from times of profound dislocation, being steady and careful in how we manage the public purse in uncertain times, not growing debt levels and being very disciplined about how we spend money – and promoting growth.

Mr Dickinson added that the reason for the massive jump in the national debt was plain.

He said: “Government, over the course of 17 or 18 years, has been spending more than it has taken in which has resulted in the accumulation of the current debt position.”

Mr Dickinson added that the habit had to change and that the ministry was “sharpening our pencils to identify opportunities to save”.

He said: “We have to maintain discipline around costs. We are agreeing on limits that will be set for individual ministries, and once set, ministers are duty bound to honour them.

“But that is only one lever available to us – we need to grow our economy.”

Mr Dickinson painted a grim picture of the economic challenges faced.

But he said he was confident that the country could return to balanced budgets by 2023/24.

He added: “That will be a good sign, but we still have a way to go.”

Mr Dickinson said that everyone could play a roll in boosting the economy by following two simple steps.

He added the first was to “follow the rules of Covid”.

Mr Dickinson said: “It only takes one person to spark an outbreak so following the rules of masking and social distancing are important so that we’re not required to implement actions that suppress economic activity.

“And shop locally. The retail industry need your support and staycations are a good idea.”

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Published February 04, 2021 at 5:09 pm (Updated February 04, 2021 at 5:15 pm)

Finance staff 'sharpening pencils', minister says

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