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Dunkley rejects PLP airport request

Michael Dunkley, the Premier, has refused a request by Opposition leader David Burt for an independent review of the airport development by the Auditor-General (File photograph)

The Premier has refused a written request by the Progressive Labour Party for an independent review by the Auditor-General of the proposed airport development before MPs vote on legislation.

Michael Dunkley reiterated last night that an assessment had already been carried out and that the Bermuda Government intended to debate the legislation during the next House of Assembly session.

His comments came after Opposition leader David Burt repeated his call for an independent review, which had been outlined in a letter to the Premier dated November 24.

“Yes it was denied and for a couple of reasons; the first reason is that we have had assessment of this project done,” Mr Dunkley told The Royal Gazette.

“And we’ve worked closely with the UK Government and Government House on it. We’ve made sure they’re very comfortable with it and we have their full support.”

He furthermore noted that the “Auditor-General is not equipped to do this type of work”, adding that the Auditor-General is set up to do audits after the fact, not before.

Mr Dunkley also dismissed Mr Burt’s accusations that the OBA had broken its promise to reveal the full contract details, refused to respond to summons by the PAC, violated financial instructions and repeatedly omitted or “fuzzier up” the facts surrounding the process of awarding the contract as “absolute nonsense”.

“While the Opposition leader and his colleagues are entitled to play politics and do what they have to do, this Government has done significant due diligence on this project and my colleague, the Deputy Premier and the Minister of Finance, has worked hard on it,” he said. “We feel confident in this and this will serve Bermuda well going forward.

“We are going to move forward, we’re going to give the people of Bermuda all the information that’s required and we look forward to the debate in the House of Assembly on real issues, on real terms, and we’re not going to get caught up in the prevarication, the spin and the misleading comments by the Opposition leader.

“We were elected to make very tough decisions and this is a very complicated project. We feel we’ve got it right, putting no more debt on our bottom line, and building ourselves a new terminal. We will make sure it is managed in an appropriate way so that Bermudians get what they expect and what they deserve and we will make sure there are jobs and opportunities at the same time.

“It is our intention to debate it in the next session when we go back into the House.”

In the letter, Mr Burt requested Government support a motion to commit “the Bermuda Airport Authority Act 2016 to the Select Committee on the Public Accounts, with a request that the Auditor-General — an ex officio member of that committee — provide the committee with an independent assessment of the impact on Government finances and value for money”.

He also requested that Government “provide the necessary information to the Public Accounts Committee and/or Auditor-General to enable her to make an assessment of the project before January 31, 2017, and delay the final consideration of the project by Parliament until after this review. Note that this timing will still enable the Government to achieve financial close prior to the March 31, 2017 expiry of the Airport Development Agreement”.

But he stated yesterday: “Regrettably, after receiving a written request from the Opposition for such a review, the Premier and the OBA rejected this transparent, sensible and reasonable approach and continue to stubbornly barrel ahead with this scheme.

“Parliament needs to have a fully independent review of the finances of this deal so that every MP, acting on behalf of the people they represent, can understand what impact the vote would have on the government’s finances,” he added.

“The best way for this to happen is the reasonable and sensible suggestion that the PLP have brought forward; to request the Auditor-General to review the contract in advance, including the documents that have not been disclosed to parliament, and provide MPs with unbiased information regarding the impact of this deal will have on government finances.”

The proposal for a new terminal at LF Wade International Airport cannot proceed until the Airport Redevelopment Concession Act and the Bermuda Airport Authority Act are approved. This was expected to go before MPs during last Friday’s sitting of the House of Assembly but it was delayed after a meeting with Opposition and Government leaders to give MPs the opportunity to go over the materials that had been shared up to this point, according to Randy Horton, Speaker of the House.