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OBA: Economic fightback plan lacks detail

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Show me the details: Cole Simons, the Opposition leader, weighs in on the Budget for 2021-22 (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Government’s plans for economic recovery over the in the new financial year were branded “aspirational and low on detail” by the One Bermuda Alliance yesterday.

Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition, said Bermuda’s debt combined with pension shortfalls had put the island in $4.5 billion a financial hole.

He added the Budget statement was “silent” on unfunded liabilities for the public service superannuation fund, health insurance for Government employees, and the pension funds for ministers and members of the Legislature.

Mr Simons said the shortfalls in these areas totalled $1.47 billion, which contributed to the island’s net debt of $3 billion.

He added: “We have people retiring from Government at all levels, now and in the future. Will there be funding available from a pensions point of view?”

He added: “We hear that they want to address reducing the cost of living, but little details were provided.

“Fairness and equity are noble but it needs more flesh on those bones. What are they talking about?”

Mr Dickinson was speaking after the Budget for 2021-22 was delivered by Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister.

Mr Simons also questioned why gambling was not mentioned when the island expected to see its first casino open this year.

He added there was “no mention in regard to education and sports and the further development of our young people”.

Mr Simons said it was his “first opportunity to give cursory comment on the 2021-22 Budget” and that the OBA would deliver a detailed Budget reply next Friday in the House of Assembly.

He added: “The Covid-19 pandemic was a shock to our economy and our economy was stress tested – it revealed that our fiscal management was severely wanting.”

But Mr Simons said he supported Mr Dickinson on refinancing Bermuda’s debt.

He added: “It was a prudent measure. We would have done the same.

“But there are still weaknesses in the management and administration of Bermuda’s finances.”

Mr Simons highlighted that taxpayers owed the Government about $100 million and that a total of 139 financial statements for government departments, quangos, ministries and other organisations were in arrears.

He appealed to Mr Dickinson to hire “a senior officer to take responsibility for this financial statements backlog – this is very important for fiscal prudence”.

Mr Simons said he had been taken “by surprise” when David Burt, the Premier, announced the night before the Budget that a 10 per cent pay cut for public workers, enacted last year as an austerity measure, would not be extended.

He added: “If they are going to return the 10 per cent to the government sector, where are the funds coming from? Revenues are down.

“I applaud the employees for making that contribution and sacrifice.”

Mr Simons said: “Maybe the minister can speak to why he took that position. I don’t see how it will benefit the community from a financial and operational point of view.”

Mr Simons criticised the Premier for a “tirade” last week in the House during the debate on the legalisation of a cannabis industry.

He said Mr Burt had spoken against “the relationship with the Government of the UK, the Governor and Government House”.

But he said the Budget statement had talked about engagement with Britain to help the island with problems ranging from trading partners to climate change.

He added: “Are the Premier and the finance minister not talking to each other?

“They definitely do not look like they’re on the same page here.”

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Published February 27, 2021 at 8:56 am (Updated February 27, 2021 at 8:56 am)

OBA: Economic fightback plan lacks detail

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