Moniz approves ‘business-friendly’ package
The Progressive Labour Party's pro-business approach for the latest Budget got high marks from the Opposition.
However, One Bermuda Alliance MP Trevor Moniz queried whether the ruling party could balance its mission with its supporters.
“The Budget they have produced is, comparatively speaking, for a labour government, very business friendly,” Mr Moniz said in the House.
“On the other hand, some of the tried and true believers of the PLP are mumbling in the background that they are not so happy.”
The OBA supported the Government's bid to glean payroll tax from notional salaries, but Mr Moniz said the Premier had backed down on the relaxing of the 60:40 rule for local business.
Mr Moniz commended the PLP's plans to open up the Bermuda market to global law firms, adding that he faced opposition from the Bermuda Bar for supporting such a move.
PLP backbencher Michael Scott outlined other “green shoots” that are emerging including stimulating investment, the expansion of banks, the relaxation of the 60:40 rule. “I can't think of a negative”, he said.
Mr Scott also spoke on members of so-called gangs. “They do want to be employed. They resent the connection with them as gangs, many have family members and children to support,” he said.
“We have talked about construction projects that could suck up their employment needs.”
Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, said action on bitcoin and cryptocurrencies must be done in a “measured and systematic” way with full consultation with stakeholders.
He said that consultation had taken place with the Bermuda Monetary Authority and the banking community.
Mr Caines said: “We want Bermuda to be leaders in this space. We have to be forward thinking and put the building blocks in place.
“There should be concern but there shouldn't be fearmongering,” he said of the Opposition.
He went on to suggest that no members of the Opposition could understand the issues surrounding cryptocurrency.
OBA MP Craig Cannonier responded that the only concern on his side of the House was with how cryptocurrencies will be regulated while retaining Bermuda's reputation.
“I do own bitcoin,” he said. “I do understand it and I see where it is going.”
Mr Cannonier said that the PLP's Budget “out-UBPed the OBA”.
“This Government has done nothing but support the oligarchy,” he said. “I see nothing in this Budget that is going to encourage my business — just more costs, more costs and more costs.”
Mr Cannonier credited former finance minister Bob Richards for balancing the budget and criticised the Government for not acknowledging it.
Mr Cannonier said he had seen hundreds of jobs materialise over a two-year period as a direct result of the America's Cup and highlighted the community work that was done as a result of the event including “fixing up” sports clubs and boat clubs.
PLP MP Christopher Famous took issue with the loan at Cross Island and said the benefits of the America's Cup had been exaggerated.
He also blasted the high salaries recently revealed to have been paid to executives at the Bermuda Tourism Authority, including the top pay packet of close to $400,000 in total.
Cole Simons, Shadow Minister for Education, said he supported opening up the market for international banks and legal professionals.
But he added that the Government must ensure there was a level playing field.
OBA's Grant Gibbons said the Budget was business friendly, although he criticised the “rhetoric” of the Budget speech itself.
He also took aim at the Premier's comment that the PLP were not elected to continue the status quo. “Had we left the PLP status quo, like Thelma and Louise, we would have gone over the cliff many years ago,” he said.
Dr Gibbons said the PLP would benefit from construction projects launched under the OBA, including the airport development and St Regis hotel project.
On the subject of the Cross Island project, he said: “Stop whining about the capital costs. That's a project that can be used for generations.
“If you don't like the terms of the loan, renegotiate or pay it off.”
PLP backbencher Zane DeSilva, however, fired back that the funds could have gone towards seniors, school buses or any number of other things.
He said the OBA were focused only on prosecuting Ewart Brown and bringing “a boat race” to Bermuda, calling the measures against Dr Brown as “draconian and almost criminal”.
OBA MP Sylvan Richards made the point that while the legal action was started under the OBA Attorney-General, it is being continued by the PLP Attorney-General.
Mr Richards said that austerity measures were not popular and that his government probably paid the price in the election.
But he added: “I'd rather be sitting on this side of the house with a shored economy that the PLP can grow, than be living in a Bermuda that is bankrupt.”
Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education and Workforce Development, took aim at the OBA's record on education, asking how the Opposition expected grades to improve when funding was cut and important positions were left empty.
“You don't care, and you haven't cared since you were voted in,” he said. “For you to stand here with this drivel is disingenuous at best.”
David Burt, the Premier and Minister of Finance, said the debate had made it clear the OBA were focused on the past, while the PLP were looking towards the future.
He said: “We will create jobs. We will create economic activity and we will do it in a way that benefits the many and not the few.”
•UPDATE: This story has been amended to reflect that Craig Cannonier is no longer a member of the OBA Shadow Cabinet.