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Committed to making progress and doing more

Big strides: Michael Dunkley, the Premier, says the OBA is giving Bermuda a more transparent government (File photograph)

The One Bermuda Alliance was elected to provide Bermuda with more transparent, more accountable and more responsible government.

With those goals before us, we have made big strides in progressing freedom of information, transparency, accountability and responsible spending.

It is a work in progress because we are trying to reverse a culture of secrecy, red tape and waste built up over many years.

In light of the sports minister’s trip to support Bermuda’s young Olympians in Rio, let’s look at the record so far:

• In the 2009-10 fiscal year, the Government’s travel budget for all ministries was $6.3 million. The travel budget this year is $3.1 million, less than half what it was in 2009-10.

• As Premier, I am responsible for all Cabinet Office activities. In 2009-10, its travel budget was $612,000. This year it is $177,000, down by 71 per cent

• We ended the questionable system that allowed ministers a daily travel allowance without requiring them to submit their spending stubs

• In 2014, we made Public Access to Information a fact of life in Bermuda — a first — anchoring the relationship between citizen and government to principles of accountability and transparency

• In 2015, we implemented a Code of Conduct for government ministers. All ministers have signed this document that requires them to meet the highest standards of governance

• In 2015, as Premier I set up the webpage travel.gov.bm, enabling the public to see the cost of travel by government ministers. They are instructed to post their costs as soon as possible after the travel, and this has been done without fail

• It is through this travel website that the public were able to learn about the cost of the Rio trip — exactly as the webpage was intended to work, with government ministers reporting back to the people. This is the backdrop against which the Rio trip took place. To the many who have weighed in on this matter, I say: “We hear you. We get it.” And, I would add, “We’re actually on the same page.”

What the situation says to me is that despite our progress, we still have a way to go to make the system work as intended. In this instance, we got caught between the cost of a relatively late booking because of ministerial changes, an extremely expensive destination owing to the Olympics and our duty to support Bermudians competing in the world’s biggest sporting event. Have we learnt from this episode? You bet, no question. The concerns expressed are well founded.

There was clearly room for more oversight and cost efficiency, and this will be discussed at the Cabinet table and with the Civil Service executive. Our aim is to make the system of government work better. To get us there, the Government needs to be open, making it possible for people to get the information they need to hold their representatives to account. That is exactly what happened in this instance, by virtue of the transparency measures we put in place. It is an outcome that challenges us to be better and more vigilant.

That is the system we are building and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We we will continue to do more in light of this situation, strengthening the process governing ministerial travel with even more accountability. People’s concerns on this point are well founded.

Michael Dunkley is the Premier of Bermuda and the MP for Smith’s North (Constituency 10)