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People’s Campaign challenges Richards

People's Campaign: Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert, Reverend Nicholas Tweed and Bermuda Public Services Union president Jason Hayward

The People’s Campaign called on Finance Minister Bob Richards to give a public clarification on “inconsistencies” and “mistruths” over the proposed airport terminal redevelopment at a town hall meeting last night.

The group released e-mails this week that include communications by Mr Richards, and e-mails between members of the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) and the contractor Aecon.

Mr Richards has been accused of misleading the public and the House of Assembly with his statement that CCC hired Aecon for the project.

At the meeting, which was attended by several hundred people and panelled by union presidents Jason Hayward and Chris Furbert along with Reverend Nicholas Tweed, the group called on Mr Richards to address the selection of Aecon, saying that Aecon appears to have driven the process that resulted in its selection.

“Minister Richards had stated that CCC brought Aecon to the project, but the evidence clearly establishes that Aecon brought everyone to the project,” Mr Hayward said, as the panellists talked audience members through quotes extracted from the e-mails.

The group raised concerns over what steps Mr Richards took to ensure that proper due diligence was carried out and questioned if Mr Richards was not concerned that Aecon was selected as the developer prior to CCC assessing the viability of the project. “How many of you can go to the bank and take out a loan and they give you the money and then they come back and say ‘you go fill out the paperwork’”, Rev Tweed asked.

The group then questioned references in the e-mails to Aecon using “CCC cover” and creating “a paper trail”. “This is one of the more disturbing revelations,” Mr Hayward said, “If I’m an upfront, selected, known developer or company, why would I need to take the cover of another company to come to Bermuda to do a due diligence on a site that I’m already known to the Government as the developer for?”

In addition, the group raised concerns over Mr Richards sharing his ministerial statement with CCC prior to announcing the airport proposal — and has criticised the minister for telling his Department of Communications and Information officer that he make “fuzzier the no new debt part in view of the funding gap”. Mr Hayward said: “It is unacceptable for the Minister of Finance to have ‘fuzzier’ anything. Fuzzy is the opposite of transparency. How long are we going to let our Minister of Finance get away with this type of behaviour?”

The panellists concluded their presentation by asking members of the public to gather outside the House of Assembly today at 9am and handed the floor over to audience members. One member of the impassioned crowd called for legal action, while another suggested taking the matter to the United Kingdom. Several members insisted that unity and peaceful protest were the only way forward, while others called for immediate action and violence.

The panellists were quick to discourage the latter, stating they believe in effective, non-violent protest.

During a live interview on local television last night, Mr Richards stood by his statement that he knew nothing of Aecon before a meeting in Toronto held in June last year and added that he had been totally honest, above board and straight with the people of Bermuda.

The matter goes before Members of Parliament today.