Use of GP cars for Ministers is called into question
Opposition MPs have questioned Government's insistence on providing cars for Cabinet Ministers, after it emerged that Dame Jennifer Smith's own vehicle was converted for official use.
The former Premier said she turned down a car after she was appointed Education Minister last month but then agreed to a “compromise” with Public Works Minister Derrick Burgess, allowing her vehicle to become Government property without any money changing hands.
She insisted the decision was in line with Government's pledge to save taxpayers' cash but Opposition Senator Michael Dunkley claimed yesterday it didn't make “common, logical sense”.
“To me, it makes no sense to even have the transfer,” said the Shadow National Security Minister. “Dame Jennifer is not always going to be a Minister, but then that car is always going to be with Government.
“What happens if Dame Jennifer is not a Minister next week? What happens to the car? Will she want it back? What if every Minister wants to do the same thing?”
He added: “It would have made more sense for Government to pay for the gas and maintenance. It's a lot simpler method than doing what they did. If you have access to a car a lot of employers pay for gas or cover transport expenses.”
The UBP politician said there was no reason for Ministers to drive an official car with a GP licence plate. “We are here to serve the people,” he said. “Everyone knows who Dame Jennifer is. To drive around with the GP licence plate doesn't really mean anything.
“We shouldn't be getting involved in politics as a status symbol. We get involved to serve people. I find it very strange.”
Bermuda Democratic Alliance chairman Michael Fahy said: “The issue is not so much the vehicle that Dame Jennifer drives. It is an issue of Government leading by example.
“Prudence is necessary to rein in spending and therefore we recommend a car pooling arrangement and a cut in the overall fleet.”
The party's finance spokesman said more information was needed on the use of the cars in the GP fleet.
“Should Ministers use GP cars when not on Government business?” he said. “Why do Ministerial vehicles seem to not pay for parking in Hamilton like the rest of us, especially when Ministers already get parking at the House of Assembly?”
Mr Fahy added: “It is time for some accountability and it should start by a fleet reduction.”
The Ministry of Public Works yesterday refused to issue a comprehensive list of the vehicles within the GP fleet or disclose whether any new ministerial cars had been bought since Premier Paula Cox appointed her Cabinet.
A Government spokesman said Dame Jennifer's car was spray painted dark blue and assigned a GP licence plate saving thousands of dollars on the potential cost of a new one.
Dame Jennifer, who prefers to drive a stick shift car, said: “I wished to keep my car and initially refused a GP. The compromise gave me an opportunity to keep the car to which I am accustomed and also allowed me to make the offer to transfer the ownership gratis, because I am acutely aware of the need for everyone in government to adopt austerity measures where possible.
“Government saved money and I am driving a car with which I am comfortable.”
The Ministry of Works and Engineering revealed in February it had spent almost $500,000 on nine new GP cars since July 2008.
That included one BMW costing $188,000, three Toyota Camrys at $70,000 each and five $20,000 Kias, Deputy Premier Mr Burgess said.
UBP Senator Suzann Roberts Holshouser urged Government in March to buy cheaper cars for Ministers to help save taxpayers' money. “This is the people's money,” she said. “When it comes to expenditures that are not necessary is where I have an issue.”
Ms Cox who increased the Cabinet from 11 to 13 Ministers has repeatedly stated she will cut unnecessary spending.