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Concerns at Cabinet size

Michael Dunkley

Michael Dunkley’s decision to add two ministers to Cabinet has prompted accusations of profligacy.

Economist Craig Simmons and political commentator Charles Jeffers both expressed concern over the Premier’s Cabinet reshuffle on Friday, which increased its size from ten to 12 members.

But Mr Dunkley stood by his judgment, with a Cabinet Office spokeswoman calling the new ministerial team “very strong” and adding that the cost to the taxpayer would be minimal.

Senator Jeff Baron, Sylvan Richards and Cole Simons were all added to Cabinet last week, as Ministers for National Security, Social Development and Sport, and Environment respectively.

The only outgoing minister was Shawn Crockwell, who resigned from his tourism and transport role during the Pathways to Status protests in March.

According to this year’s Budget book, a minister in the House of Assembly earns $100,841 full-time and $50,421 part-time.

The Bermuda Constitution Order 1968 allows for a minimum of seven Cabinet members and a maximum of 14.

“It’s difficult to see how a 20 per cent increase in the number of ministries will help lower our debt,” said Mr Simmons, who lectures at Bermuda College.

“If issues of governance or efficiency do not motivate increasing the size of Cabinet, then what is the motive?

“We’re moving in the wrong direction, at least from a taxpayer’s perspective. But politics is a different story.”

In 2013, the Sage (Spending and Government Efficiency) report was published — providing recommendations on how to create a more efficient and accountable government.

The 140-page document recommended that Cabinet be reduced to a maximum of eight ministers, including the Premier, as well as cutting the House of Assembly from 36 to 30 seats.

The report said: “The Sage Commission believes the Government of Bermuda has become bloated, jeopardising the island’s ability to compete on the global stage.

“Government is much larger than it needs to be to conduct the island’s business and to deliver necessary services to taxpayers.”

Mr Jeffers, the former leader of the National Liberal Party, said he was “surprised” at the decision to increase Cabinet to 12 members.

“Bermuda has a problem with the Westminster system. It’s probably the most over-governed place in the world,” he said.

“Why they’ve added the additional ministers, I don’t know.”

Mr Jeffers also suggested that the Environment Ministry handed to Mr Simons could have simply been integrated into another portfolio.

He added: “We should have fewer ministers with more ministries. I’m strongly in favour of political reform in Bermuda — we need to change the whole system.”

Reducing the size of Cabinet was a One Bermuda Alliance campaign vow before the party came to power in 2012.

At a town-hall meeting on the economy in 2011, then Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards declared that the OBA would reduce the size of Cabinet should his party be elected.

In December 2013, then-Premier Craig Cannonier cut the size of Cabinet from 13 ministers to ten, saving the taxpayer $240,000 a year.

He said that the streamlining move would “produce a leaner, more effective and efficient Cabinet” and showed that the OBA Government was fulfilling its pre-election promise.

Sylvan Richards penned an opinion piece at the time, which was published in The Royal Gazette, supporting his removal from Cabinet as Minister of Environment and Planning.

Calling the move “a decision I fully embrace and understand”, he reminded readers of the OBA’s promise to “set a good example” by downsizing Cabinet to save taxpayers’ money.

He added: “A smaller group is a more streamlined group, a group that can work quickly and well together. The country surely deserves the most efficient Cabinet we can put together.”

Shortly after Friday’s announcement, acting Opposition leader David Burt chastised Mr Dunkley for “disregarding” the recommendations of the Sage Commission and using taxpayer money to bolster his own job security.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said yesterday that Mr Dunkley was “keenly aware” of the Sage Commission’s recommendations, that a 12-person Cabinet was “not unusual” and that he had already addressed the matter on Friday.

She added: “The Premier has only one staff member costing the taxpayer additional funds, while three members are civil servants who work as his appointed staff and thus no extra costs are incurred by the Government.

“It should be stressed that while five ministers are part-time, they fulfil their responsibilities as required and expected.

“The Premier is confident that the current ministerial team in place is a very strong one, and quite capable of managing and addressing the needs of the country.”