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Chamber queries airport deal ‘transparency’

The Bermuda Government let its airport development proposal fall into controversy because of its “communications issues”, the Chamber of Commerce has claimed.

However, the Chamber gave its backing to the Government to proceed with a new terminal, which it says Bermuda needs.

The proposal has been challenged by the Progressive Labour Party since the initial deal with Canadian Commercial Corporation was announced in November 2014.

In particular, the Government's decision not to put the project out to tender has been unpopular with grass roots movements such as the People's Campaign, which likened it to “economic slavery” in an announcement last week.

“One of the objectives of the Chamber of Commerce is to take leadership positions on issues that are of interest and importance to our members,” said John Wight, president of the organisation.

“The proposed airport development meets the criteria for a project that is of significance to Bermuda and the members of the chamber. The executive thus felt we should opine on it.”

The Opposition renewed its attack on Monday, accusing the Government of giving a deal to the contractor, Aecon, at the island's expense, but Mr Wight said the timing of the chamber's release was unrelated.

“Summer vacation schedules had more to do with the timing of the release than anything else,” he said.

The chamber's main concern over the $250 million proposal for L.F. Wade International Airport related to transparency over choosing a vendor, Mr Wight said in a statement issued yesterday — even though the party selected was “a well-considered choice”.

“They, through their primary contractor, have successfully built many large infrastructure projects, including airports. Collectively, they have a proven track record. And they have the financial backing of the Canadian Government.

“What is not as clear is whether a formal request for proposal process should have been conducted in order to enhance transparency for the benefit of Bermudian taxpayers to provide comfort and confidence that the vendor selected and procurement strategy was optimal for Bermuda.

A competitive RFP would ensure value for money, the statement continued — encouraging the Government to benchmark Bermuda's deal with comparable proposals.

Mr Wight said the Chamber's board, along with many of its members, felt “strongly” that the new airport terminal was needed, citing “very high maintenance costs” along with the present terminal's vulnerability to hurricanes. As the island's primary link to the outside world, it would show that the island was “serious about tourism and international business”.

With three or four years before the completion of a new terminal, the chamber said that its necessity would not be in doubt by the time of completion.

Noting the transfer of risks off the “overburdened” public purse, the chamber pointed out the payment model's similarity to the arrangement that brought the hospital's new acute care wing to fruition.

“The decision to contract with a reputable third party to build a new terminal and maintain it into the future for Bermuda is a reasonable one in the chamber's opinion.

• To see the Chamber's statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.

John Wight, president of the Chamber of Commerce (File photograph)

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Published August 10, 2016 at 12:36 pm (Updated August 11, 2016 at 7:42 am)

Chamber queries airport deal ‘transparency’

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