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OBA leader attacks PLP non-Covid-19 spending

Cole Simons, the Opposition Leader (File photograph)

The Progressive Labour Party government yesterday came under fire from the Opposition for “alarming trends” in spending outside of the cost of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cole Simons, the One Bermuda Alliance leader, warned the island was on course for debt to approach $4 billion.

He said Bermuda’s budget was already in “critical condition” before the pandemic arrived in March last year.

Mr Simons said the OBA supported the Government’s management of the pandemic, which meant “unbudgeted funds had to be spent to keep the economy afloat”.

But he added: “As the shadow finance minister and a citizen of this country, what I cannot thank the Government for is their unjustifiable spending during the pandemic that has nothing to do with expenses related to Covid-19.”

Mr Simons said net debt topped $2.94 billion last September, with gross debt about $3.15 billion, which threatened to push the debt ceiling to $3.5 billion.

He added: “That’s almost a $1 billion increase in debt in less than four years.

“The worst part of that statement is that the second half of the 2020-21 fiscal year performance reports and statistics have yet to be reported.”

Mr Simons said: “If nothing changes, in an island of less than 65,000 people, Bermuda will be on a glide path to almost $4 billion of debt.”

He accused the Government of “unjustifiable spending”.

He highlighted $11 million given to former staff of the Fairmont Southampton Hotel to cover their severance cheques.

The Government agreed to the payout last November after the hotel closed and laid off hundreds of people but failed to pay redundancy money on schedule.

Gencom Limited, the hotel’s owner, pledged last month to repay the Government.

But Mr Simons said the redundancy cash had been paid “without any arrangement” to recover the money.

Mr Simons criticised the failure to recover an unsecured 2018 government loan of $800,000 to American promoter Anthony Blakey and his exempt company Savvy Entertainment to set up a recording studio at Dockyard.

He also hit out at the decision to relocate the Department of Child and Family Services to a Front Street office block owned by Zane DeSilva, a government MP.

The move meant an increase in annual rental costs from a reported figure of $589,000 to $788,000.

Mr Simons said the move had been justified as an improvement in the protection of children.

But he asked: “How is the Government protecting our children when generations of Bermudians will be the ones responsible for repaying a debt of almost $4 billion, and it continues to grow?”

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Published January 12, 2021 at 9:37 am (Updated January 12, 2021 at 9:35 am)

OBA leader attacks PLP non-Covid-19 spending

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