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Heated Dunkley denounces PLP’s record

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The Opposition’s record in government was assailed in Parliament by Premier Michael Dunkley after the One Bermuda Alliance was condemned as lacking in transparency and accountability.

“Nonsense — arrant nonsense,” Mr Dunkley said in an exchange during which he accused the previous administration of pilfering the Island’s assets.

Heated remarks from the Premier closed yesterday’s Budget debate over the Cabinet Office, in which Progressive Labour Party leader Marc Bean told the House that transparency was more elusive now than at any time in Bermuda’s history of government.

Mr Bean went on to challenge the Premier on Cabinet’s travel budget, listed as $232,000 for the revised figure of 2014-15 but $301,000 in the subjective analysis. Mr Dunkley responded that he too had noticed the discrepancy, and had found that the actual figure up until last week was $149,200.

“Remember the election promise of the OBA that they were going to reduce travel?” Mr Bean went on. “The Premier has made that promise in terms of Cabinet Office, but when I look at the overall travel, and it starts from the top, the actual spend in 2013 and 2014 for travel was $3.3 million, but for this last fiscal year, the

actual spend, revised, is $4.4 million.”

Government thus spent $1.08 million more on travel than the previous year, he said. “If that was us, that would be on the front page of The Royal Gazette,” he said.

Mr Bean then questioned why Government’s website showing travel spending covered ministers only, and not Cabinet’s travel budget, asking: “Is that actually attaining the goal of transparency?”

The Premier pulled no punches when the PLP’s Wayne Furbert took his seat to allow Mr Dunkley the remaining five minutes to respond to the Opposition.

“When I hear about the worst government in history, you would expect the Opposition to say that, but to come out with blatant prevarication — I won’t call it lies because that’s not appropriate language, but I will say prevarication and twisting,” said Mr Dunkley, who likened the Opposition’s questions over the national procurement office to a comedy skit from Saturday Night Live.

That office was put in place by former PLP Premier Paula Cox as a government transparency initiative.

“The reason the former Premier had to do something was because those guys on that side were pilfering,” Mr Dunkley said before listing the Dame Lois Browne-Evans Building, the Transport Control Department, Port Royal Golf Course and the Bermuda Land Development Corporation as examples.

The outburst prompted debate chairman Rolfe Commissiong to interject that Mr Dunkley’s language was “over the top”, while Walter Roban said the Premier had impugned improper motives on former Cabinet members with no evidence. Mr Dunkley responded: “What about missing assets? What about the auditor’s report? I withdraw the pilfering, but what about missing assets? Misappropriated assets? Unethical? That’s not my language; that’s somebody else’s. If the shoe fits, you have to wear it.”

In an apparent reference to the lease of White’s Island to the anti-gang charity Cartel, which was overturned in court last year, Mr Dunkley added: “What about the 21-year lease minus one day that didn’t get to the light of day? What about putting all your cronies in charge of the BLDC and paying them as consultants?”

The Premier’s remarks came amid protests from across the House, with Mr Furbert objecting that it was “absolutely wrong for the Premier to be standing up and saying that the government put cronies in place — the board made those decisions, based on advice by lawyers”. Mr Dunkley said the former Government had paid a consultant $500,000 in 2011 when the procurement office was established.

“The former Premier tried to tighten it up and we have to go finish the job,” he said.

Mr Dunkley also castigated the previous administration’s record on getting a ministerial code of conduct in place and vowed that the code would “make it into the 2015 script”.

On the issue of travel, Mr Dunkley said $3.6 million had been budgeted for the upcoming fiscal year. He told the House that under the PLP it had been $5.6 million in 2006, $6.4 million in 2007 and $6.5 million in 2008.

Mr Dunkley also said he had cut his consultants down to two, as opposed to four for former Premier Craig Cannonier and five for Ms Cox.