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Premier fails to answer questions over trip costs

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David Burt, the Premier (File photograph)

The Premier has refused to disclose how much the organisers of a cryptocurrency conference in America paid for his travel and accommodation bills to attend the event.

The Opposition has raised questions over why David Burt allowed organisers at the pre-Christmas gathering to splash out for his travel expenses.

Mr Burt submitted few details of the visit to Naperville, Illinois, west of Chicago, between December 3 and 5 for the “Future of Finance Summit – Understanding Bitcoin & Cryptocurrencies” on the Government’s website.

The Premier claimed $23.48 in meals for the trip from Government funds.

The Government would not reveal how much Mr Burt’s travel costs amounted to and referred questions to the conference organisers.

In response to The Royal Gazette’s query about who paid for what for the Premier at the US event in December, Mr Burt pointed to a previous visit he made to Mexico – a visit taxpayers funded.

The Government Travel Calendar said: “Premier was invited to speak at a Future of Finance Summit event hosted in Chicago.

“The invitation followed the Premier meeting African-American leaders in blockchain at the 2021 Satoshi Roundtable. Hotel, accommodation and ground transportation were covered by the conference hosts.”

The Government was asked what expenses the organisers had paid for Mr Burt and why he thought it was appropriate for the head of Government to have a trip paid for by an outside body.

Questions about the Premier’s December visit to Chicago

“How much did the hosts of the conference/other outside bodies (if any), spend on the Premier’s visit (details below)? Including a breakdown of areas of expense, please?

“Why does the Premier think it is correct for the head of Government to have his trip and expenses paid for in this way?”

The Premier refused to discuss what cash was paid out for his US trip and instead commented on a different trip.

Mr Burt said: “But what is particularly worrisome is the underlying tone of the reporter’s questions. It suggests that because the organisation responsible for the Future of Finance summit is an African-American one that Bermuda shouldn't look to pursue partnerships and opportunities with such entities.

“It’s these types of micro-aggressive and not so subtle inferences that should be extremely concerning for readers.”

Michael Dunkley, a former One Bermuda Alliance premier, said parts of some visits had been paid for by the organisers of events.

He added: “If it is necessary then that’s OK. If it’s a big event. But, I did not really hear much about this visit. Maybe I missed it?

“There needs to be accountability and transparency in these things.”

Asked to detail what financial assistance the Premier received to cover his attendance at the conference, the Premier told The Royal Gazette: “The hosts should address your first question.

“It should be stressed that the sole purpose of the Government’s travel website is to ensure transparency, which this Government is committed to.

“And it should be noted that Premier David Burt, and for that matter, many former Premiers, have on numerous occasions been invited to speak at international or regional conferences. This is not unusual.

“These conferences generate substantive business interest in Bermuda and provide an immeasurable opportunity to meet with global business leaders and potential investors.

“Premier Burt was invited to attend these events by organisers who appreciate what Bermuda has and continues to accomplish in fintech, blockchain development and digital asset management.”

The Premier has still failed to tell taxpayers how much a trip to London in early November cost and has not provided details of the cost of another visit to a cryptocurrency gathering in Switzerland last month.

In the run-up to what is expected to be another tough Budget on February 25, it emerged Curtis Dickinson, the former finance minister – who quit his post on Monday just a week before the Budget – spent more than $1,000 a night on hotel bills over a five-day stay in New York.

Mr Dickinson, accompanied by an official, spent $8,330 on the US visit between November 28 and December 2 last year.

Flights cost $1,205, ground transport was $1,141 and accommodation was $5,157.

The cost for meals was $752 and “miscellaneous” expenses amounted to $75.

An earlier visit to New York by Mr Dickinson between September 27 and October 1, 2021 cost $9,055.

Mr Dickinson, accompanied by MP Jache Adams, led a delegation from the Bermuda Business Development Association to a roadshow on climate risk rinance in New York City.

Air travel costs for the visit were $1,152, accommodation was $6,004, ground transportation $1,147, meals were $451, and miscellaneous expenses were $300.

Michael Dunkley (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Premier has posted that a trip to a fintech meeting in Mexico cost taxpayers $2,870 between July 24 and 28 last year.

Air travel for the event cost $1,136, accommodation was $1,324, ground transportation came in at $228, meals claimed amounted to $25, and “miscellaneous” expenses werewas $154.

Despite government claims foreign trips by the Premier and fellow Cabinet Ministers would be “continuously” updated, Mr Burt has still to say how much the trips to the UK capital and Switzerland cost taxpayers.

The failure to declare how much was spent on the visit to the UK capital came despite Walter Roban, the home affairs minister and Deputy Premier, revealing the $9,000 cost of a trip to Britain at about the same time as Mr Burt’s stay in London.

The cost of such trips is supposed to be posted on the Travel Calendar section of the Government’s website.

The Progressive Labour Party promised the register would give a rapid insight into how public money was spent by ministers after it was overhauled in 2017.

Lovitta Foggo, then the Cabinet Office minister, said at the relaunch: “I am pleased to reintroduce the minister's travel expenses page on the government website.

“The new page contains current and historic information and will be continuously updated as ministers travel overseas.

“I am committed to full transparency and this page will detail the location and reason for a minister's international travel together with how much they spent while travelling.”

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Published February 16, 2022 at 7:48 am (Updated February 16, 2022 at 7:42 am)

Premier fails to answer questions over trip costs

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