House: Parties clash over construction chief
The position of local construction chief Michael Butt on the board of Aecon, the Canadian giant in line for the Island's airport redevelopment, has been cited as a major concern by the Opposition.
Bob Richards, Finance Minister, maintained that Progressive Labour Party did not want to see Government succeed in its public-private partnership the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), which still has not been cemented.
Mr Richards clashed with Shadow Minister of Finance David Burt over the project during Friday's House of Assembly, when Mr Burt presented Members of Parliament with the Progressive Labour Party's response to the Budget.
Government's sidestepping of a request for proposal over the selection of Aecon prompted Mr Burt to question the OBA's governance, telling Mr Richards it was “hugely coincidental” that the chairman of a prominent local construction firm sat on Aecon's board.
Mr Butt is the chairman and chief executive officer of Somers Construction Limited, and holds the same position for Toronto-based general contractors Buttcon Limited. Mr Butt is active on the board, as chairman of Aecon Group's corporate governance, nominating and compensation committee, as well as a member of the audit committee.
Mr Burt did not identify him by name during the Reply to the Budget — a session that concluded shortly before 3am on Saturday.
However, Mr Richards told MPs he had approached the Shadow Minister to ask the identity of the person he had alluded to.
Mr Richards added: “He told me the person is a company — and companies don't sit on boards, as we all know.”
“I don't care who it is, because I know I haven't met him. I don't even know who he is.”
According to Somers Construction, Mr Butt has served as chairman for the Ontario General Contractors Association, the Canadian Construction Association and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority. Somers also said they draw on the resources of Butt- con.
Aecon's website lists him as an independent director. According to May 2014 documents produced by Aecon for their shareholders, Mr Butt's declared number of common shares makes him the third-largest shareholder of the directors sitting on that board. His shares number 283,000 and were valued at more than $5 million Canadian dollars in the documentation. Responding to Mr Burt's suggestion that Government has awarded the airport redevelopment project to Aecon, Mr Richards said that decision has lain wholly with the Canadian Commercial Corporation.
“CCC chose Aecon, not the Bermuda Government,” the Minister said. “They chose Aecon because they're one of the biggest developers in Canada, and they've got experience in doing this kind of thing. Throwing some kind of mud to see what sticks is not the kind of behaviour that a group of people who say they support our project in principle would do. They don't support the project and they're trying to trash it wherever they can.”
Marc Bean, the Opposition Leader, objected when Mr Richards told the House that the PLP wished to see the development projects fail.
“They say it's a straw man, they say it's a fairy tale — I think the listeners can make up their minds for themselves,” Mr Richards responded, prompting PLP MP Jamahl Simmons to tell the House that the minister had no idea how the Westminster Parliamentary system worked.
“The Opposition's words do not have the power to stop people from investing in profitable ventures,” Mr Simmons added.
The two sides also clashed on the amount of revenue generated by LF Wade International Airport — a topic that caused some confusion in the Senate last November.
That same month, Aaron Adderley, the head of the Department of Airport Operations, cautioned that the layout of Budget figures was deceptive, and gave the wrong impression that LF Wade was a money-losing venture — telling The Royal Gazette that it produced a small profit of $3 to $3.5 million annually.
Mr Burt cited a figure of $11 million, pointing to $10.8 million in airport fees listed in the latest Budget plus $20 million in departure tax, versus $19.3 million in airport expenses.
However, Mr Richards called the assertion “totally false”, maintaining that Bermuda loses a small amount of money on LF Wade.
Departure tax, which Government is increasing, goes directly into the Consolidated Fund, the Minister said — and he dismissed without comment Mr Burt's assertion of a profit.
Consolidated Fund receipts, according to the Budget book, include “aircraft registration and air terminal fees”.