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Rio cost ‘down to 11th-hour booking’

Olympics trip: Sylvan Richards

Sports minister Sylvan Richards and his permanent secretary Wayne Carey flew business-class to Brazil to attend last month’s Olympic Games, a spokeswoman has said.

The Royal Gazette contacted the Ministry of Social Development and Sports after details of Mr Richards’s Rio de Janeiro trip were posted on the One Bermuda Alliance expenses site, prompting an angry online response amid claims of profligacy.

The cost totalled $31,566 for nine nights (August 5 to 14): $20,290 on flights, $10,991 on accommodation, $130 on ground transportation, $105 on meals and $50 on miscellaneous expenses. When this newspaper published the figures on Friday, the $10,145-per-person air tickets stirred incredulity among readers, with many of the 120-plus comments querying the high cost of the flights.

The Ministry of Social Development and Sports initially refused to comment on whether Mr Richards and Mr Carey had flown first-class, while a request to interview the sports minister did not come to fruition.

When pressed for a response, a spokeswoman replied that they had travelled on business-class tickets.

“It is noted that during events like the Olympics, the cost of travel increases to these destinations,” she said. “Government ministers are mandated to always look closely at travel costs. However, due to the lateness at which these travel plans were made, it was difficult to take advantage of any early bird costs.”

Although the Olympics did cause price increases, this newspaper yesterday researched the current cheapest cost of a return flight from Bermuda to Rio de Janeiro at short notice.

Three noted online booking sites were selected — priceline.com, edreams.net and expedia.com — flying one week today (Thursday, September 29) and returning two weeks later (Thursday, October 13).

• At priceline.com, an economy-class ticket cost $1,095.62, a business-class ticket cost $5,397.02 and a first-class ticket cost $10,389.52.

• At edreams.net, an economy-class ticket cost $1,082.27, a business-class ticket cost $3,921.36 and a first-class ticket cost $10,793.98.

• At expedia.com, an economy-class ticket cost $1,100.02, a business-class ticket cost $5,397.02 and a first-class ticket cost $7,785.02 (price reduced due to possible class mixtures on connecting flights).

• Averaged out between the three websites, an economy-class ticket cost $1,092.63, a business-class ticket cost $4,905.13 and a first-class ticket cost $9,656.17.

Yesterday, a Public Access to Information request was submitted to Government, to discern a detailed breakdown of costs accrued during the trip.

Responding to The Royal Gazette’s initial request, the Ministry of Social Development and Sports spokeswoman pointed out that Bermudian sports ministers have represented the island at many previous Olympics.

“As is customary for the sports minister, Mr Richards attended several events in which Bermudian Olympians were competing, in order to cheer them on and encourage them to do their very best,” she said.

“The Government cares deeply for and supports all of our athletes, as they are ambassadors for Bermuda. At the same time, we are also mindful of travel costs and do whatever we can to keep these costs down.”

Overseas travel costs have long been a bone of contention in Bermudian politics, with both parties accusing one another of wastefulness.

In November 2009, the Progressive Labour Party government ordered severe cutbacks on trip expenses — with Cabinet sending a memo to all ministries and departments.

The memo warned: “Travel is to be cut back to essential business travel only for the remainder of this year; and all travel must be ECONOMY CLASS, no matter the distance.”

Three months later, it was revealed that Ewart Brown, the then-Premier, and his travelling companions had spent $265,000 in nine months on foreign trips.

Shortly after winning the 2012 General Election, the One Bermuda Alliance pledged to reduce spending on “consultancies and travel”.

However, in February 2014, it was revealed that Craig Cannonier, the then-Premier, and his associates had spent $180,000 on 17 official trips since assuming office. Later that year, the OBA set up a website to outline its travel costs.