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Dickinson defends his first Budget

Government ministers took aim at the One Bermuda Alliance's Reply to the Budget last night.

Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, said that it was easy to simply call for cost cuts, but much more difficult when the human impact was weighed.

Mr Dickinson said: “It's easy to say cut people's jobs, but the fact of the matter is every action has a reaction. If you cut people's jobs in the public service, where are they going to go?”

He also defended the decision to not feed into the Sinking Fund, explaining that the island's economic situation has become more positive.

The Progressive Labour Party MP said: “The notion that we would now borrow money to save makes no sense.”

David Burt, the Premier, meanwhile said the Budget Reply failed to highlight how the OBA would diversify the economy or make the Budget cuts they want.

Mr Burt said: “I hope that Nick Kempe, the Shadow Minister of Finance, will take a page from a former shadow minister and actually come and produce an alternative budget.

“Show the Government how you would spend our money. If you say you would spend less, then say what you would cut.”

He said the PLP clearly laid out in its Budget how it plans to diversify the economy while helping those who need assistance.

Opening the debate, Wayne Furbert said it was clear based on the duelling Budget statements that the PLP was the future, while the OBA is entrenched in the past.

Mr Furbert, the junior finance minister, said: “I could talk about how the workers of the Government were not given a salary increase in five years.

“I could speak for an hour about the pain they inflicted on our seniors and didn't give them an increase for five years.

“I could speak about how the former minister told our seniors money didn't grow on trees, but I'm not.”

Mr Furbert quipped that the OBA's Budget Reply must have been published before last night, when it was revealed that a banking solution for fintech businesses had been found.

He said: “Finally, we have hope for jobs coming here to this island. I'm assuming the honourable Member printed that report before they heard the good news.”

Mr Furbert added that while the subject of the European Union's economic substance regulations are unknown, they could prove to be a huge economic boon for the island if companies decide to establish themselves here.

“If they each put a boot on the ground, we can get the economic reality that we are looking for, in terms of payroll tax, in terms of retail sales,” he said. “It goes on and on.”

He also fired back at claims that the PLP had not improved efficiencies, saying that the OBA hiring freeze had cost millions in revenue.

Mr Furbert said there were insufficient resources in the Office of the Tax Commissioner, which resulted in a lack of audits.

He added: “We found $330,000 of cheques in a drawer not processed.”

Mr Furbert said that while the $300 base rate for Land Tax would result in larger bills for some, the Tax Reform Commission had recommended an even higher $500 base rate.

He described the Budget as “transformational” and said that it “sets the government movement for future growth”.

However Trevor Moniz, an OBA backbencher, took issue with Mr Furbert's assessment

He said: “It's a holding Budget — again.

“It doesn't really achieve anything, it's just holding on to where we are.”

Mr Moniz said that he felt it was a mistake not to add to the Sinking Fund.

He explained: “Most of us, I think, would think it's a good idea to have a fund for a rainy day.

“And I think that this government is glad we had one. What would they do without it?”

Mr Moniz said the Government was “still riding on the coattails” of the previous administration.

He added: “They are riding on the America's Cup, they are riding on the airport project, they are riding on the tourism success.

“That's fine. But you have to have more than that.”

Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, said that the cost of living in Bermuda “continues to be a challenge”.

He added: “I don't feel that the Budget has addressed the cost of living to really present the realities of what's going on in Bermuda right now.”

Mr Cannonier said the high cost of living had always been supported by a “healthy number of people living and working in Bermuda”.

Michael Dunkley, an OBA backbencher, that there were many “interesting” and “worrying” aspects to the Budget.

The former premier said that the Budget showed numbers and estimates that “have been changed for the worse over the Budget from last year”.

Mr Dunkley added: “This goes against the grain of the fiscal discipline the PLP government have alluded to over the past week, and I believe it creates doubt about the accuracy of the Budget.”

Junior Minister of Finance: Wayne Furbert

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Published March 02, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated March 02, 2019 at 7:43 am)

Dickinson defends his first Budget

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