Opposition is ‘very vague’ on solutions, says Gibbons
The Opposition is good at identifying problems but is “very vague” at providing solutions to those problems, Education and Economic Development Minister Grant Gibbons said in the House of Assembly.
Speaking after Shadow Finance Minister David Burt had delivered his Reply to the Budget, Dr Gibbons said Government's budget had struck the right balance between getting finances under control while protecting people from additional challenges such as new taxes.
And he said it marked an “end to an era if lax spending and lax care which saw debt skyrocket over the last ten years”.
Referring to the Opposition's Budget reply, Dr Gibbons said: “I will give them an ‘A' for effort in some respects — they're very good at recognising problems and that's their job. But most of the problems have been with us for years and as the former government they did very little to address them.”
He said that, even when the former Progressive Labour Party government had come up with a plan to tackle a problem, it failed to execute that plan. According to Dr Gibbons, 96 educators were made redundant under the PLP in a bid to cut costs — but all 96 were hired back again shortly after.
“So it's easy for them to throw suggestions out there. The Opposition was talking about a reduction in spending and then looks for another $43 million and the question is, where is that money coming from because, as the Minister of Finance has said, we're tapped out.
“More of the status quo is to keep spending but we have to get back on the path where we're reducing spending.”
Independent MP Terry Lister questioned Government on its claim that the number of civil servants had been reduced in the last year, pointing out that there were now 200 more posts listed within the organisation.
And he also questioned Government claims that several hundred jobs had been created in the private sector — noting that Government payroll tax revenues for the year had remained almost unchanged om the year before
And he criticised plans to cut education scholarships, claiming that Bermuda was at risk of suffering from another brain drain.
PLP MP Walton Brown said that if Government-controlled sectors could be run at a profit, the cash should go back to Government — not into the hands of the private sector.
He added: “If we care about the people and care about tax revenue being given back to the people, that's what we should do,”
And he told MPs: “If your heart is where you say it is, for the people and the country, don't give public money to the private sector.”
Mr Brown added that the hard-right UK Tory Government of Margaret Thatcher had “wreaked havoc” on the UK in the 1980s through a ruthless programme of privatisation and curbs on union rights.
He said: “There is a mindset here that we can get rid of trade unions — but trade unions have been a vital engine of change in this country.”
And he added that trades unions on the Island had fought to end low pay, long hours and “terrible” working conditions.
And he warned that dumping the 60/40 rule — which guarantees majority ownership of local companies — risked depriving Bermudians of the chance to get into business.
Mr Brown said: “When you talk about 60/40, what is the objective, what kind of Bermuda do we want to create? International capital can buy up every single business in the country.
“The 60/40 rule gives local entrepreneurs an opportunity to get into businesses they wouldn't have the opportunity to get into otherwise.
“The wholesale abolition would create havoc in this country and deprive future generations of opportunity.”
Mr Brown added that an increasingly hard line stance by the UK Government on “what it called tax havens” should “send shudders across this Island” and posed “a real and present threat to our existence.”
But he said: “There are some who are so, naive is perhaps not the best word, but are so reluctant to challenge the British ... that is a challenge, if it's not addressed, makes all these discussions about the Budget moot if we don't have control.
“We also need to broaden that debate to look Bermuda in the global economy and whether we have the appropriate framework and appropriate treaties entered into had it may mean we address what we do with the UK.”
Government MP Susan Jackson, however, said that public-private partnerships (PPPs) could be used in Bermuda for major projects like the upgrading of the ageing airport.
She added: “It would be just a wonderful opportunity for us to have a partnership with an investor who will have a real love for the airport.
“it would be not only wonderful for our visitors when they arrive to see a sophisticated and wonderful new airport, but good for Bermudians travelling too.”
And she added: “This would provide us with lots of jobs because there would be a lot of construction involved.”
Ms Jackson said extra space for shops would also generate employment, while maintenance work would also provide a jobs boost for Bermuda.”