‘Election platform from a wannabe premier’
MPs across parties agreed on one point during their debate over the Opposition's Reply to the Budget: the island's national debt must be brought back to heel.
But the One Bermuda Alliance and Progressive Labour Party sparred over which side bore responsibility for it, while still delivering on social assistance. Opposition MPs chastised the government for doubling debt, while OBA representatives pinned blame on the former administration, maintaining the PLP would return to spend-heavy policies if returned to power. Throughout, MPs invoked an impending General Election.
Grant Gibbons, the Minister of Economic Development, led the response by criticising the Budget Reply from David Burt, the Leader of the Opposition, as an “election platform from a wannabe government, a wannabe finance minister and a wannabe premier”.
Saying that “governing requires more than political rhetoric”, the minister attacked the Opposition's economic stewardship. Acknowledging degrees of conflict of interest within the government, Dr Gibbons told the House that the OBA ranks held greater business expertise than their counterparts.
Dr Gibbons hit back at Opposition claim that diversification had been neglected, saying that the Bermuda Business Development Agency delivered better than the PLP.
The minister said innovation fell to the private sector, not government — a contention hotly disputed by Opposition MP Michael Scott, who maintained that the OBA protected a white elite, while PLP MP Derrick Burgess called Dr Gibbons's claim of greater business expertise an insult to “a large segment of the population”. Meanwhile, home affairs minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin questioned how the PLP would pay for its suggestions — with Opposition MP Zane DeSilva insisting the answers lay in the document itself. Shadow home affairs minister Walton Brown stressed that the PLP's vision focused on people — a mandate he said the Government neglected.
Mr Brown called the island's tax system “income tax for poor people”, and said proposed tax reforms could not be progressive with a cap at $900,000.
Meanwhile, shadow health minister Kim Wilson stressed that an emphasis on tourism growth and capital projects was “not good enough”, while the Budget Reply contained plans for economic growth and job diversification and creation.
The Government had failed to address inequality falling “largely along racial lines”, she said, while the PLP would examine a living wage as well as tax reform.
OBA MP Glen Smith hit back at claims that his side “doesn't care about people”, and rejected the notion that the America's Cup would not create jobs as “absolute nonsense” — a view supported by Nandi Outerbridge, the Government Whip, who said the OBA “has delivered on everything the Opposition could not, and would not if back in power”.
Opposition MP Wayne Furbert called on the OBA to call an election now if confident, adding “Or are they not finished with the smear campaign or innuendo that they think will rescue them?”
Sylvan Richards, the Minister of Environment and Planning, said the PLP had left an economy in “free fall” — and, if returned, would “continue that strategy of spend, spend, spend.”