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House: Burt accuses OBA of creating ‘exodus’

The One Bermuda Alliance's legacy will be the “the great Bermudian exodus”, Shadow Minister of Finance David Burt told MPs in his Reply to the Budget yesterday.

The OBA was accused of adding $1 billion to the island's debt and overseeing the loss of 2,266 jobs instead of delivering its promised 2,000 jobs.

Controversial and “unilateral” immigration initiatives featured prominently in Mr Burt's address, in which he maintained that Bermudians had left the island because of a lack of jobs and opportunities.

Mr Burt also addressed anxieties over a Progressive Labour Party administration undoing legislation put in place by the OBA, saying that a PLP Government would not reverse the Civil Service cuts put in place by the OBA.

Stressing the need for bipartisan collaboration on immigration reform, he told the House that international investors “need to know that they have a stable platform on which to base their investment decisions”.

“Immigration policy can change from government to government; we will not attract the long-term investment that we need if potential investors feel that the rules may change after an election,” he said.

In keeping with previous addresses, such as the Opposition's Vision 2025, Mr Burt emphasised the party's commitment to diversifying the island's economy to create jobs.

Other measures include:

• Streamlining the Civil Service through technology, management and measures such as performance-based pay for senior managers

• Creating an Economic Diversification Unit, a Bermuda Fund for local investment, a Technology Incubator at Southside and developing high-tech financial services

• Using government-owned Crown Corporations instead of privatisation to make the Civil Service more efficient and bring in revenue

• Investment in a “green economy” with renewable energy on government buildings, and hybrid and electric vehicles added to the government fleet.

The PLP continued to propose greater consumer protection over banking and money lending, while scrapping the middle school system and adding more engineering to the island's curriculum.

Mr Burt said the Opposition would boost the construction of studio apartments for younger Bermudians to purchase, and turn over arable government land for domestic food production.

Mr Burt also predicted the latest Budget would be the OBA's last — noting that the Parliamentary Registrar had allocated funds to prepare for a General Election in the coming fiscal year.

The OBA, along with Bob Richards, the Minister of Finance, came under continued pressure over the airport redevelopment plan, for which $13 million was allocated in the recent Budget.

The Government's current account expenditure budgeted at $921 million is higher than last year's budgeted figures when the expenses for aircraft and shipping registries are removed from the Budget, Mr Burt said.

He added: “The idea that we can reform both the payroll tax system and implement a service tax in one year flies in the face of common sense.”

Mr Burt said the projected deficit for this year from 2015 had fallen $50 million short of the promised $150 million, and that “across the board tax hikes” the minister said would bring in revenue would harm the economy.

“The top rate of tax is now set at 15.5 per cent, while the portion of tax recoverable from employees has risen to 6 per cent — the highest level it has ever been.”

The shadow minister said Mr Richards's optimistic depiction of the recession as “over” had been based on a selective reading of statistics, and he accused the OBA of being out of touch with the plight of ordinary Bermudians.

“For 38 months as the Opposition, we have held the Government to account,” he added.

“With our Throne Speech Reply and this Budget Reply, we have laid out a vision that Bermudians, who have been ignored and forgotten by the One Bermuda Alliance, can embrace.”

Parliament will continue on Monday as legislators delve into the opening debate over the 2016/17 Budget.

• To see Mr Burt's Budget reply in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.

Budget reply: David Burt, the Shadow Minister of Finance, raised concerns about controversial and “unilateral” immigration initiatives (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published February 27, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated February 27, 2016 at 7:37 am)

House: Burt accuses OBA of creating ‘exodus’

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