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SAGE: Public must hold MPs accountable

Bermuda has three years to get its economy in order, in the assessment of the SAGE Commission.

But last night's full house at the second public meeting of the Spending and Government Efficiency task force was repeatedly told: hold your MPs accountable — and demand action from them.

Asked if fixing the Island's ailing economy required both political parties to pull together, SAGE Chairman Brian Duperreault told a packed audience at Penno's Wharf, St George's that Bermuda “can't tolerate politics as usual, because we can't afford it.”

Added Pensions Committee Chairman Kim White, who earlier in the evening delivered a grim evaluation of the Island's public pensions scheme as running out of money by 2046: “You know the urgency of now? You all get it. What you need to do is make sure your MP gets it. They can't run, they can't duck, and they can't hide.”

The Commission will put its final report before Finance Minister Bob Richards next month — and that document will be tabled in November's House of Assembly, at which point its recommendations are open to the public.

Added Commission member Cathy Duffy: “This time we have ammunition. When our report becomes public, none of us can plead ignorance.

“You can use this information to challenge your politicians. If this fails, we've all wasted a huge amount of hours. Tell everyone who will listen to read this report — because after October, we won't have a SAGE Commission website any more.”

Under the Act that constituted it, the Commission will formally dissolve after handing in its advice.

Many of the questions fielded last night focused on the need for the necessary political will to enforce the Commission's recommendations.

One member of the public noted that the “three-year time horizon” given by Mr Duperreault would likely coincide with Bermuda's next general election.

He asked the Commission: “What road blocks do you see in getting the political will on both sides of the fence?”

Answered Commission member Don Mackenzie: “The first thing you have to do to fix a problem is to acknowledge it — and we have been in denial for many years.”

In Mr Duperreault's words, the Commission will “disappear” after its report is tabled — but Government does not.

“You'll have to get the report from Government sources,” the chairman said, speculating that an electronic version would likely be made available.

Until that point, last night's meeting was told, the Commission is required to keep the specifics of its recommendations to itself.

However, Mr Duperreault conceded it was a fair bet that raising the age of retirement by two, three or more years was likely to be among its suggestions.

“You've got to recognise, if you live longer you've got to work for longer,” he said. “All of us old guys are going to have to keep working.”

The public gathering also heard from Streamlining Committee chair Dame Jennifer Smith that a “silo mentality” keeps Government departments from working together — and Performance Committee head Martha Dismont drew shocked murmurs from the crowd when she said Government's pensions fund hadn't been audited since 2005.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in Government fees also remain to be collected, Ms Dismont said.

“It's very, very clear that it's going to take real leadership to turn this around,” she added.

Sheila Nicoll, speaking for the Privatisation and Outsourcing Committee, told the audience: “Government is a monopoly. As such, it is not incentivised.”

As the meeting drew to a close, Mr Duperreault was asked by a member of the audience what Bermuda had done wrong.

The chairman said the Island had failed to secure investment in tourism, and “we kind of chilled the air with international business”.

He added: “Maybe we thought we could continue to spend because there would always be revenue. Maybe we never thought there would be a downturn, and we just were not prepared for it. Maybe we got a little lazy.”

To view the SAGE Commission's presentation in full, see The Royal Gazette's website.

Tought times ahead: SAGE Commission Chairman Brian Duperreault addresses a public meeting. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published September 18, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 18, 2013 at 1:25 am)

SAGE: Public must hold MPs accountable

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