Log In

Reset Password

Richards hits back at airport ‘slavery’ claim

Condemning campaign: Bob Richards, the finance minister, at a press conference yesterday (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Bob Richards has condemned the People’s Campaign for its “unfortunate, misplaced and deliberately inflammatory” comparison of the airport redevelopment deal with slavery.

The Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance spoke out yesterday, the day after the activist group unveiled a new 69-page report, A Bad Deal for Bermuda.

The document details objections to the Bermuda Government’s deal with Canadian construction firm Aecon to redevelop L.F. Wade International Airport, at an approximate cost of $250 million.

“One hundred and eighty-two years after the abolition of slavery in Bermuda, we are now faced with sentencing the island to economic slavery,” said the People’s Campaign’s Reverend Nicholas Tweed, pastor of St Paul AME Church, during a press conference held by the group on Monday.

“By this report, we are making a clarion call for us to emancipate ourselves from this bad deal for Bermuda.”

In response, Mr Richards reiterated that the infrastructure project would benefit “all Bermudians, plus our leisure and business visitors”.

“I wonder if those Bermudians who will leave the ranks of the unemployed to return to the dignity of honest work will consider themselves enslaved?” he added. “I wonder if those Bermudians working at the airport, whose conditions will be vastly improved, will consider themselves enslaved?

“I wonder if those Bermudians who are relieved that their Government has found a way to stimulate the economy, and create jobs without increasing the national debt, will consider themselves enslaved?”

He also rubbished the report’s claim that the deal would mean Bermuda hands over control of the airport to Aecon, described as “a foreign company, whose national allegiance and principle interests lie elsewhere”.

Mr Richards said: “This is a deliberately misleading statement and an indication of the People’s Campaign’s carelessness with truth and facts.

“The Government of Bermuda will set up a wholly owned quango to manage the manager, so there will be no unfettered foreign control of our airport.

“In any event, the agreement calls for the Government of Bermuda to have a profit-sharing agreement with the management company.”

He addressed comments made by Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert, who criticised the “outrageous” price of the planned airport.

On Monday, Mr Furbert said: “You’re talking about $1,000 per square foot. How could that be good value for money? Most of it is open space.”

Mr Richards called this “faulty analysis”, given that 23 per cent of the cost would go towards “aprons, taxiways and airside civil works, which contain complex underground structures”. He added that the Progressive Labour Party’s proposed airport terminal in 2008 was expected to cost $514 million, was larger in scale and would have cost $4,000 per square metre more than the new plan.

Mr Richards also said that the Government had been “much more transparent on this project than any other major project in Bermuda’s history”, and that he had given numerous presentations across the island explaining the redevelopment and answering people’s questions and concerns.

Mr Richards suggested that the People’s Campaign was motivated more by political gain than the will of the nation.

“I don’t recall the BIU [Bermuda Industrial Union] or the Bermuda Public Service Union ever challenging a public project before — certainly not Berkeley, Heritage Wharf, TCD, Port Royal or the Dame Lois Browne Evans building as ‘bad deals’,” he said.

“We know those cost Bermuda taxpayers hundreds of millions of extra dollars, that in no small way contributed to the mountain of public debt we now have. The public can draw their own conclusions from that.

“For the sake of Bermuda, let’s focus on focus and not divisive language that is false. This is about jobs.”