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New OBA senator calls time out on Government Budget filibuster

More questions than answers: Douglas De Couto, the OBA’s new senator (Photograph supplied)

An Opposition senator yesterday accused the Government of time-wasting to dodge debate on the new Budget.

Douglas De Couto, of the One Bermuda Alliance, claimed that the Government side ate up time by reading out unnecessary details about their portfolios, which left little time for discussion.

Fixed times – usually between two and five hours – are set aside for each ministry’s budget to be debated in the House of Assembly and Senate, which is meeting this week.

But Mr De Couto, said the arrangement was open to abuse.

In a statement this afternoon Mr De Couto said he had listened to a government senator “read every word and number in the national security brief word-for-word”.

Mr De Couto added: “Yesterday, during a two-hour session on the Ministry of Finance, the government senator only left a few short minutes for me to ask questions on the brief.

“As you can imagine, I was barely even able to ask a handful of questions, none of which were answered, on what you might consider to be the most important ministry for this Budget debate.”

Editorial: Killing democracy one Budget debate at a time

He said the Opposition had only seven minutes to ask questions after the Progressive Labour Party’s junior minister wrapped up a presentation on the legal affairs ministry budget, which was scheduled for a two-hour debate.

Mr De Couto said: “To make matters worse, there were three senior civil servants who attended to support the minister, whose time was completely wasted.”

He added: “The purpose of this debate is to shed light on the Government’s plans and how it plans to spend the people’s money, by asking questions and seeking clarification on the various budget items.

“It’s a way of providing transparency and accountability of the Government to the people. These debates should be a vital part of Bermuda’s democracy and checks and balances.

“It seems the PLP Government has chosen to disregard its accountability to the people, and disrespect them by hiding behind these briefs.”

Mr De Couto challenged David Burt, the Premier, and his team to “open themselves up to questions and challenges”.

He said: “A confident and secure leader would welcome challenge and debate as they know it would create better outcomes for our island and it would give them an opportunity to highlight their mastery of and supporting detail behind their plans.

“That’s the kind of leader we need now in Bermuda. I hope that the PLP Government can find such a person in their ranks.”

Mr De Couto also took aim at Owen Darrell, a Government senator, and claimed he made repeated references to “people who look like me” during his presentation.

Mr De Couto said: “Like many on this Island, I hope that we can have a leadership and Government that represent us all, regardless of race, creed, and background.

“It’s clear that senator Darrell is not up to that task.”

Mr De Couto’s concerns were supported by Senate colleague Ben Smith.

Mr Smith said: “There seems to be an effort to silence anyone not in the government and the lack of transparency leads to questions of what is being hidden.”

Mr Smith noted that Ernest Peets, the Minister for Youth, Sports and Community Affairs, spent just half of his time slot explaining his ministry’s spending plans – freeing up one hour for discussion.

But according to Mr Smith, this was an exception rather than the rule.

He said: “The debate on Legal Affairs continued the same government plan to read for most of the session, leaving little time for questions or answers. This was the same behaviour in the House of Assembly.

Unanswered questions

Below are some of the questions the Opposition planned to put to the Government during the debate on the Ministry of Finance budget – but the clock ran down before OBA senators had a chance.

Regarding fuel taxes and the recent announcement of the Premier’s intervention in fuel prices at the pump, has the Government considered reducing the relevant taxes, which would allow the cost reduction to remain over time for people?

The Budget shows decreased revenue from exempt company taxes and corporate and insurance services taxes. Does this indicate a projected decrease in International Business activity in Bermuda in the next year?

What controls and procedures will be put in place to reduce mistakes such as the overpayment on unemployment benefits, and what are the plans to recover that money?

Regarding the guarantee management unit and its evaluation and analysis of Government guarantees, how did they account for Gencom’s failure pay staff redundancies, when considering a possible guarantee for Gencom for the Southampton property?

Is the fire service still operating the ambulance in St George’s, and if not will this create any changes in response time?

There has been a significant reduction in the budget for police over the last few budgets and now only small changes in the 22/23 budget. With the increase in crime, gang activity and road issues what impact will the continued lack of support have on policing?

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Published March 25, 2022 at 7:36 am (Updated March 25, 2022 at 8:08 am)

New OBA senator calls time out on Government Budget filibuster

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