PLP: unanswered questions about airport plan
The Progressive Labour Party has continued to challenge the proposed airport redevelopment project, questioning the long-term job security of staff and the status of contracts.
However Bob Richards, the Minister of Finance, this afternoon described the comments as “total nonsense”.
Lawrence Scott, the Shadow Minister of Transport, said that while the One Bermuda Alliance had talked about job security for those who are working at the Department of Airport Operations, there were still questions about their benefits and long-term job security given the contracts.
“Section J introduces a grey area that permits the new employer to provide them jobs, but their job security lay at the hands of project co-management, who I have been made to understand are looking at starting a corporate restructuring phase months after the project co-management officially takes over,” he told a press conference at Alaska Hall.
“In the larger scheme of things, those on the ground at the airport have the sense that without the Government's assurance to the contrary, the day-to-day administration of the LF Wade International Airport stands in danger of being compromised.”
He also said that he understood that several contracts related to the $249 million plan had stalled at the negotiation phase.
“Reportedly, the Canadian Commercial Corporation did not intend to be the primary source of financing,” Mr Scott said. “From what can be determined, they planned on coming on board as a co-signer in the unlikely event that Aecon was unable to raise the funds themselves.
“Meanwhile, we believe that the rationale of Aecon selling off its controlling stake in Ecuador was to raise the funds for the Bermuda project. However, it is our understanding that the reason the OBA are remaining silent at this time is the crucial financial package is not yet in place. Consequently, neither the Minister of Finance, nor the Premier have been prepared to update this country about the real progress that has been made.”
Shadow finance minister David Burt, meanwhile, said the Bermuda Government had ignored the Good Governance Act in its handling of the project, which he claimed 75 per cent of Bermudians were against.
“This deal contains every single element the Minister of Finance and the OBA have railed against for years,” he said. “There is no open tender, no proof or surety of value for money.
“This deal sacrifices the single most important physical asset, transferring it to the control of a Canadian company while stripping the government of potential revenue. What will be the largest capital project in this country's history has no involvement from the Ministry of Public Works and no oversight from the Office of Project Management and Procurement as required by the Good Governance Act.”
Responding to the comments this afternoon, Mr Richards reiterated that jobs will be protected, reiterating that those who are employed at the airport will have jobs in either the new airport or the airport quango.
“I have stated repeatedly that the jobs of people who work at the airport are protected. I said it to them eyeball to eyeball,” he said. “We are trying to organise that their benefits, particularly those with government pensions, will be brought over as well. We are going the extra mile.”
He widely dismissed the suggestion that any contracts have stalled, and that CCC was never intended to finance the project.
“CCC provide guarantees for performance, on time delivery and cost delivery. These are not financial guarantees,” he said.
Mr Richards said that the financing plan was to get the project its own credit rating, independent to that of the Government, based on the projected revenues and costs. The project will then be put out on international financial markets by Aecon and others.
“We are still working on the financial cost and projected revenue,” he said. “Once we do that, it will be put out to the international markets. If we get a good rating, it will affect the cost of financing.”
The minister also rejected the suggestion that increasing fees for airlines would negatively affect air service to the Island, saying the important thing for the airlines was the number of travellers coming to Bermuda, and a small increase on the cost of travel would not deter tourists.
He said: “If you raise the cost of travel by $5, is that going to make a difference to someone that it paying $500 a night for a hotel? The business people are going to come no matter what the price costs and the tourists already know that Bermuda is expensive.”
Questioned about the repeated complaint that the project would give the airport to a foreign company, Mr Richards said the airport had been controlled by the United States for 50 years.
“Nobody seemed to be bother by that,” he said. “They built it and they ran it up until the 1990s, but nobody was bothered by that.”