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$160m in overspends approved by MPs

MPs last night approved more than $160 million in government overspends since 2002.

Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards lambasted Government for taking so long to bring the supplementary estimates to the House of Assembly.

“Why is that we are in March 2011 discussing supplementaries that date back to 200⅔?” he asked. “I think the Minister of Finance owes the public of Bermuda a clear explanation of what has happened to the process.”

The Opposition MP claimed it made a “nonsense of the budgeting process” and brought into question the control that the Finance Minister has over Government's money.

“Quite frankly, all of this is bringing into question and is a breach of the sacred trust between electors and the elected,” he said. “What happened here?”

Mr Richards said the Auditor General flagged up the unauthorised spending every single year yet nothing was brought to Parliament.

He asked if they ever would have been if his party hadn't made a “big deal” of the overspends in its reply to the latest annual Budget. “They have been totally ignored for eight or nine years,” he claimed.

Premier and Finance Minister Paula Cox replied: “Clearly, the supplementaries should have been brought before now.”

She said the additional spending was always disclosed in Government's financial statements but should have been brought before the House as well. “It certainly is not the way forward and it certainly is an error.”

MPs scrutinised the spending for about four hours yesterday in its Committee of Supply.

Early on in the debate, Shadow Public Works Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin criticised Ministers for not giving detailed enough answers to questions about certain line items.

“For Minister after Minister to come and say ‘I don't have the figures, I don't have the answers' I think it's deplorable,” she said. “We must have some kind of explanation. Otherwise I would suggest that we rise and report progress.

“It seems to me that members don't have the necessary information to share. Come back with the whole thing. Come back with information that's complete, that we can support and don't waste time effectively saying ‘I don't have it'.

“That's the point of a supplementary. You bring with you the information that supports the supplementary.”

Ms Cox insisted a rationale and breakdown for each item was being provided.

And Education Minister Dame Jennifer Smith said: “Ministers on this side do not love to come to the House and stand up and say that's the total amount of my information. Members have given the impression that Ministers are knowingly coming here and not giving information. Ministers are giving you all the information they have.”

The former Premier added: “There is no other information. If I had it I would have brought it because I'm not stupid.”

She said years had passed and “people die, people retire, people move on, offices are moved”.

Dame Jennifer said Ministers and Ministries had changed and it wasn't possible to get the information.

Mr Richards said that proved his point. “It might have something to do with the fact that this is so old that everybody has forgotten about it.”

Items highlighted yesterday included almost a million dollars spent on advertising two airlines by the Department of Tourism in fiscal year 200¾.

Tourism Minister Patrice Minors explained it related to the launch of the still ongoing American Airlines flight from Miami and a United Airlines flight from Chicago which no longer runs.

Shadow Tourism Minister Cole Simons said: “Does the current Minister have the authority to spend $1 million that has not been authorised by the House of Parliament?

“If she's authorised to spend a million dollars without coming to the House, where does she have to go to get authorisation?”

A pay award to police in 2009/10 of $6.6 million was explained by Minister without Portfolio Michael Weeks.

He said it related to an agreement on pay and other benefits between the Government, the Bermuda Police Association and the senior officers' group.

The largest single overrun was in 2004/5, when the Ministry of Finance spent $53 million more than estimated, the majority of it topping up the pension fund for public servants..

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Published March 29, 2011 at 10:14 am (Updated March 29, 2011 at 10:13 am)

$160m in overspends approved by MPs

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