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Covid-19 crisis looms over Budget as House of Assembly prepares to sit tomorrow

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David Burt, the Premier (File photograph)

Preparations for a strict Budget will overshadow the return of the House of Assembly tomorrow.

The blueprint for the next financial year, prepared against the massive economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, will be unveiled on February 25.

But Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, has not followed through on a pledge he gave last year to release a pre-Budget report in January.

Sources said the delay was down to the “extraordinary” pressure on the Government caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr Dickinson has already said that price controls were unlikely despite an admission that the island was “importing inflation” alongside the large amount of goods coming in from the UK, US and Canada.

He warned that, although revenues for the 2021-22 financial year would be $8 million higher than predicted, expenditure would be $56.9 million higher than anticipated.

Mr Dickinson has already slashed capital expenditure, imposed a government hiring freeze and signalled that the Government’s deficit target would be met.

David Burt, the Premier, has also promised that controversial legislation to legalise cannabis would be back before the House in the early months of this year.

The legislation passed the House but was rejected by the Senate, although it can only delay the passing of new laws by a year.

The move would create a flashpoint with Britain as Rena Lalgie, the Governor, has made it clear that Progressive Labour Party plans to make the drug legal and license its production would breach British treaty obligations.

Mr Burt raised the stakes after he insisted that refusal of Royal Assent to the Cannabis Licensing Act if it is passed by MPs would “destroy” the island’s relationship with Britain.

He has maintained that laws passed by the Bermuda Parliament should not be vetoed by London.

But Ms Lalgie made it clear that Britain was bound by international treaty conditions that forbid the legalisation of cannabis for anything other than medicinal and scientific use.

Rena Lalgie, the Governor (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Same-sex marriage could also cause more political upheaval as the Privy Council in London considers its long-awaited verdict on the PLP’s move to try to ban same-sex unions from equal status with mixed-sex ones.

It was not all strife for the Government as politicians prepared for a new session of Parliament.

The Reverend Nicholas Tweed insisted that he supported Mr Burt despite his earlier attack on the party.

Mr Tweed denounced the PLP for the way it handled a scandal involving Curtis Richardson, who has since resigned from the Senate.

Mr Tweed accused the PLP of “moral bankruptcy” and said Mr Richardson had been “intimidating” a senior citizen after the rent row became public.

He spoke out after Margaret Harvey, who is in her seventies, broke down in tears at the Supreme Court last month as she told of the health toll the legal battle to recover the thousands of dollars owed by Mr Richardson had taken on her.

But Mr Tweed said this week: “The current premier has my full support.”

He added: “We can have our own conversation and we can mend and fix our own relationships.”

The opposition One Bermuda Alliance has demanded that Mr Burt give an explanation to Parliament on why he appointed Mr Richardson to the Upper House in October 2020, after he was twice warned by the family of Mr Richardson’s elderly landlady that he had refused to leave her property and run up $19,000 in rent arrears.

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Published February 03, 2022 at 7:56 am (Updated February 03, 2022 at 9:48 am)

Covid-19 crisis looms over Budget as House of Assembly prepares to sit tomorrow

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