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Burt: airport panel needed PLP involvement

David Burt, the Leader of the Opposition (File photograph)

David Burt, the Leader of the Opposition, has questioned the lack of consultation with the Progressive Labour Party over selecting members of an independent panel to assess the Bermuda Government’s airport redevelopment project.

Bob Richards, the Minister of Finance, announced the group yesterday as a panel of six “distinguished local professionals”, chaired by Malcolm Butterfield, a retired managing director of KPMG.

Dubbed the Blue Ribbon Panel, the group would have access to all documentation, including confidential aspects of the deal, before vetting the project before the end of this month.

Mr Burt said the announcement came well after the PLP’s call, in November 2016, for the project to be assessed by the Auditor-General to ensure that “MPs receive an unbiased appraisal of the cost to taxpayers”.

That suggestion had been turned down last year by Michael Dunkley, the Premier, who said that the project had already been reviewed, and that the Auditor-General was “not equipped to do this type of work” in any case.

This evening Mr Burt issued a statement calling it “handpicked panel”, the selection of which showed “contempt” for the people and their representatives.

The One Bermuda Alliance, he said, “refuses to share the airport project agreement with MPs who will ultimately vote on the contract, but will disclose this information to a panel with no legislative authority”.

Mr Burt also criticised the minister for suggesting at yesterday’s press conference that the panel’s findings were likely to concur with his own assessment of the project.

“We cannot help but question what information the Government is hiding when their lack of transparency continues even through the selection process. If the Government was truly interested in building consensus and trust, consultation with the Opposition regarding persons to sit on this panel would have taken place.

“Furthermore, any committee must have terms of reference. These have not been revealed and we urge the panel to disclose these publicly without delay.”

He further branded the short timeline “unrealistic” and counter to the independence of the panel — adding that some had already advised the Government on infrastructure matters.

The statement repeatedly described the deal as “privatisation” — a term that Mr Richards has dismissed.

“It is my hope that this panel will fiercely assert their independence and take action to address the Opposition’s concerns,” Mr Burt closed — saying the public otherwise would be unlikely to see it as “little more than a political exercise”.

In a statement released on Friday, the Finance Minister responded to Mr Burt’s comments.

“The Opposition Leader’s comments were unhelpful regarding enabling the Bermuda public to increase their calm, thoughtful understanding of this project. Divisive rhetoric and name calling hinders this process.

“The individuals comprising the BRP are senior, respected and non-political Bermudian financial professionals with impeccable reputations. They deserve the space to complete their assignment without being subject to the political crossfire which has plagued this project from the outset.

“This is a good deal for Bermuda, with many benefits for Bermudians, and I am confident that this will be reflected in the findings of the Blue Ribbon Panel.”