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Richards quizzed on who is giving debt advice

Finance Minister Bob Richards came under intense pressure by the Progressive Labour Party to reveal exactly who is advising him on the management of Government debt.

He refused to do so in Friday’s sitting of the House of Assembly, but promised to provide the names in writing.

The questions came after a statement by the Minister formally informing the House of Government’s new financing strategy, which entails borrowing up to $800 million this summer to cover budget deficits for the next three years.

“As part of this multi-year budgeting the Ministry of Finance, in conjunction with the Public Debt Management Advisory Group, has been reviewing its borrowing arrangements and practices used to finance ongoing budget deficits,” said Mr Richards.

Shadow Finance Minister David Burt asked: “Who are the members of this advisory group and what are its responsibilities and powers?”

Mr Richards said the formation of the group was promised as part of the OBA’s election campaign, and Government was getting free expertise.

“It's a group of people involved professionally in the investment industry,” he said, before promising to provide written answers to the question.

Mr Burt again asked the Minister to tell the House the names of the members.

“I will give that Honourable Member a complete list. I do not want to leave anybody out. I don’t want to make any mistakes. I will get a complete list to him as soon as possible. If he is not satisfied with that I’m sorry,” said Mr Richards.

The Minister said the group had no executive powers but investigated matters at his request.

Shadow Attorney General Kim Wilson asked to know the identity of the chairman of the group, but Mr Richards said there is no chairman. In answer to another question he said there were about six members of the group. “It's a very informal group. The structure the Honourable Member is looking for does not exist.”

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce has praised the Finance Minister’s approach to managing the debt, saying in a press release that elements of a plan submitted by its Economics Advisory Committee were being adopted.

“The Chamber’s Economics Advisory Committee produced a study on debt restructuring more than a year ago, which was submitted to the then-Government and again to the current Government. The paper, primarily written by the late Kirby Brackstone, called for a proactive and holistic plan for borrowing and the inclusion of a Bermuda dollar denominated bond issue. We are pleased to see elements of this plan are being adopted,” said Chamber president Ronnie Viera.

The Chamber is also pleased with Mr Richards’ efforts to protect Bermuda’s reputation, it said.

“The Chamber of Commerce fully supports recent action by the Government to defend the Island’s international reputation in the lead up to the recently concluded G8 summit and the announcement yesterday regarding proactive steps to minimise interest costs in its efforts to address Bermuda’s on going deficit funding and national debt.

“In our view, Minister of Finance Bob Richards has tackled two key — but very difficult — issues over the past week, both necessary to maintain the Island’s economy.

“The Minister has begun the process of refuting the impression that Bermuda is a tax haven, and educating the international community with the facts and the true nature of the Bermuda economy, which is essential to maintaining our international business industry and reputation in general.”

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Published June 24, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 24, 2013 at 12:04 am)

Richards quizzed on who is giving debt advice

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