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Burt: PLP is party of hope

Bermuda’s economy would have suffered even more pain were it not for the actions taken by the Progressive Labour Party Government over the past four years.

Senate Finance spokesman David Burt made the assertion in the Senate yesterday and challenged the Opposition to put their cards on the table and say how many jobs they would cut in pursuit of a balanced budget.

Defending the PLP’s record on spending, he said the $1.8 billion budget for the next fiscal year is $56 million less than the budget for 2011/12, a five percent decrease.

“Interest payments on long term debt are estimated at $85 million. $35 million of that is to be paid from the Consolidated Fund and $50 million of the amount is proposed to be paid from the Sinking Fund.

But he said: “The Opposition loves to harp on their old record pre-1998, but they conveniently forget the fact that they neglected to invest in the infrastructure of this country.

“If Bermuda followed their mentality, we would never build anything until we save up the money to build it. The PLP believes in investing in our people.

But One Bermuda Alliance Senator Michael Fahy charged the PLP authored a “phantom’s budget” and Senator Burt’s brief was “a reply to the reply”.

“Catchy slogans like ‘do more with less’ and ‘let’s build Bermuda together” is absolute nonsense. Selling buildings, partly because some have been poorly maintained with a 30-year lifespan, surely is not good enough.

“It begs the question about what has happened to the Works and Engineering budget over the last 15 years. We have broken buses all over the Island and fast ferries need to be replaced; the problem appears to be maintenance issues.

“We would streamline the work permit process while protecting jobs for Bermuidans and enhancing opportunities by suspending payroll tax on every Bermudian hired for two years.

Senator Fahy said $19 million was earmarked for Lefroy House, but somehow the money never found its way there, and he asked where did it go?

“Let’s face it, submitting supplementaries after supplementaries means we’re in deep trouble, and it’s scary.

“GP cars parked all over the City of Hamilton shows they’re out of touch with the people and they don’t care what the people think. This is a budget of false hope, always the answer is somewhere over the horizon.

“I’m sorry but your time is up, no one is held accountable for anything and still they won’t even say they’re sorry. The budget demonstrates a Government that has lost its way.”

Independent Senator James Jardine, spoke to the issue of unemployment. “”We have seen employment fall by 1.9 percent in 2011 with an unemployment rate of six percent.

“The number of persons working in the various areas of the economy has fallen from a high of 40,213 in 2008 to 37,379 by the end of 2011, a loss of 2,834 positions with the highest decrease in the construction and international business areas a loss of seven percent.

“We cannot lose sight of the fact that over 4,500 people (12 percent) work in the hotel and restaurant industries.

“The increase in serious crime over the period to the end of 2010 is of great concern to both Bermudians, our guest workers and other visitors.”

But he said: “The Government and the police must be commended for their efforts in trying to address crime in Bermuda. However, much more needs to be done as many people do not feel safe.

“Not only must Bermudians feel safe but we need to see substantial decreases in crime in order to make our visitors and international business partners feels safe. Otherwise, they simply won’t come here.”

As for the budget, Senator Jardine pointed to a budget deficit of $172 million. “If you add in the interest on debt paid from the Sinking Fund of $50 million; pension contributions that should have been made of $32 million; and the sale of Government property at $10 million (which is not ‘pure’ revenue in the normal sense), you arrive at a deficit of $264 million.

“That’s about the same as in 2012. Government has borrowed more money and will have increased its net debt position to $1.4 billion by March 31, 2013.

“We could potentially have a situation in the Consolidated Fund of an accumulated deficit position of about $1.8 billion up from $129 million at March 31,2003; a net debt position of $1.4 billion (after Sinking Fund deductions) up from $123 million at March 31, 2003; and unfunded pension and health benefits liabilities of about $1.3 billion up from $401 million (ten years ago).

“These levels of expenditure are simply not sustainable. I do not wish to dwell on the past as it serves no real purpose except briefly to pat ourselves on the back for what we did that was right and learn from what we might have done that is perceived by some to have been a misstep.”

But Senator Burt said: “You can’t have it both ways. Our debt to GDP ratio is one of the lowest in the world, our debt is manageable and affordable.

“It is not enough for the Opposition to say ‘we’ll balance the books’, and not say how. There is no credibility in saying the civil service is bloated and that your only policy is the same as the current Government’s policy of reduction of size via attrition.

“The OBA have left it up to the imagination as they refuse to level with the people about their plan. The struggle is everywhere and it does not discriminate: black or white, young or old, male or female, OBA or PLP; the challenges that we face are real and affect our entire community.

“The people of our country have a choice. In times of crisis, the fabric of our society is more important than the bottom line. I believe the people will make a choice, and they will choose to believe in Bermuda and the Bermudian people; they will chose inspiration and hope over fear.”

- David Burt

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Published March 22, 2012 at 2:00 am (Updated March 22, 2012 at 9:43 am)

Burt: PLP is party of hope

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