PLP’s Burt questions whether Chamber is politically neutral
Shadow Finance Minister David Burt has questioned whether the Chamber of Commerce is politically neutral following its public response to recent rating agency reviews.
But Chamber President Ronnie Viera is standing by the statement issued yesterday in his name.
“If the Chamber has decided to abandon its apolitical stance and will now publicly attack and question the Progressive Labour Party, the members of the Chamber and the people of Bermuda should be informed of this major reversal in policy,” said Mr Burt yesterday.
Reacting to the recent decisions by agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, Mr Viera said the Chamber was unsurprised and criticised Mr Burt and the former Progressive Labour Party administration.
The ratings agencies’ assessments reflected the performance of the former Government, he said.
“In that regard, we do however find the Shadow Minister’s response of interest, as he seems to completely overlook the performance of the former Government and how that has directly affected the recent ratings announcements.”
Mr Burt’s own response to the agencies’ assessments — Moody’s said Bermuda’s bond rating was on review for a “possible downgrade” and Standard & Poor’s revised its outlook from stable to negative — was to criticise the Government’s fiscal policies.
“Despite the local praise for the OBA Budget in the media echo chamber, the PLP and now independent international observers are shocked with the increase in spending and the record deficit contained in the first OBA Budget,” Mr Burt said.
He added: “We once again point the OBA to the ideas raised in our Party’s Throne Speech Reply and Budget Reply; these ideas will assist Bermuda in diversifying the economy and increasing our revenue base.”
Mr Viera’s statement alleged that the Opposition had offered no ideas on how to cut spending or grow revenue and was hell-bent on opposing Government initiatives.
“The Chamber cannot stress enough just how important it is for our politicians and the community in general, to move beyond what is often nothing more than petty politics and start working together to move this Country forward.”
Mr Burt refuted Mr Viera’s assertion, saying his party had offered suggestions in its Throne Speech Reply and the Budget Reply, and supported many of the Government’s legislative proposals.
“We also worked with the Government to strengthen some bills, specifically the two-year payroll tax exemption for new Bermudian hires” and plugged a potentially costly loophole.
He added that the Opposition had a constitutional responsibility to hold the Government to account and that Mr Viera should take his own advice to “move beyond petty politics”.
“Further, it is my view that organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce also have an important role to play and enjoy greater credibility when they conduct their affairs in an apolitical manner. I look forward to having the chance to meet with the President of the Chamber of Commerce and my former colleagues on the board of directors to listen to their concerns and share the PLP’s ideas for Bermuda’s economic diversification.”
Mr Viera told this newspaper yesterday that the Chamber remains apolitical and stood by his comments.
“We are glad to hear that Mr Burt will work with Government as his reply suggests and are happy to meet with him to better understand the Opposition’s ideas on how they would reduce the level of Government expenses, debt and increased revenue generation,” Mr Viera said.
Earlier last month, Mr Viera told this newspaper in unpublished comments that he was “pleased that the Opposition is willing to work with Government as it relates to Government finances and the economy in general.
“As has been mentioned, We will only emerge from this downturn if we all work together.”
He had been asked the Chamber’s reaction to the suggestions made in the Budget Reply. But he said the Chamber had not discussed many of the Opposition’s suggestions.
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