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Premier and Opposition leader at loggerheads over cost of living

Under fire: David Burt, the Premier and Finance Minister, is facing increasing criticism over the rising cost of living ((File photograph)

The Premier and the Opposition leader have clashed over the escalating cost of living on the island.

The war of words began after David Burt, who is also the Minister of Finance, said inflation in Bermuda was lower than other jurisdictions in part because the price of gasoline on the island had not risen in the past three months.

That claim was mocked by Cole Simons, the OBA leader and the shadow finance minister, who pointed out that prices of other consumer goods had risen by double-digit percentage points in the past year.

The Government’s Department of Statistics has reported that the rate of inflation has stood at about 2 per cent in the past year — much lower than the United States, which is at 8 per cent, and Britain, at 9 per cent.

This week the Cayman News Service reported that the Cayman Island Consumer Price Index increased by 11.2 per cent in the first quarter of this year when compared to the same period in 2021.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Burt stressed that the cost of living was “one of the centrepieces of the Government's policy agenda”.

He added: "Globally, countries are reporting record fuel prices, but here at home the Ministry of Finance, under my leadership, implemented a freeze on fuel prices, and residents have not been subject to an increase in the price of fuel since February.

“This tangible relief at the pump is an important saving to a household budget. This is one of the reasons that Bermuda's inflation rate is, and will remain, lower than other jurisdictions.

“It is because this Government's actions have prevented the increase in fuel prices in Bermuda, which is a major factor in inflation around the world.”

Mr Simons hit back, saying that the island was suffering from a “high cost of inflation and an exorbitant cost of living”.

He said: “What are the tangible solutions to the rising cost of food which has risen between 8 and 10 per cent? Healthcare costs recently increased between 7 and 9 per cent, and lest we forget, the ever-increasing cost of Belco bills, which does not appear to have any relief in sight?

“These figures are challenging enough for the working class, but what about our seniors who now may now be forced to choose between eating and paying a bill or filling a prescription as many exist on fixed incomes?”

Referring to the current freeze on the price of gasoline, Mr Simons said: “We, the Opposition acknowledge and applaud that.

“However, the price differential between cost of gallon of gas in Bermuda, which is now at $8, compared to the price in the US which is between $3 and $4 per gallon is challenging to rationalise.

“The PLP must immediately revisit the existing tax structure on fuel, especially the taxes on fuel at the pumps, and imported vehicles.”

In his statement yesterday, Mr Burt also revealed that he had received a report on the work of the Cost of Living Commission and will review its recommendations.

The commission is tasked with collecting, collating and providing the public with “real-time data on the cost of essential goods by business”.

Mr Burt added: “This will help consumers to plan their shopping, maximise their hard-earned dollars and ensure accurate, timely information to a sometimes very busy working population.

“This is not just the Government’s work, the engagement of community partners is welcomed in working through these issues to the benefit of all Bermudians.”

The announcement came after one charity this week said that seniors were demanding action on the rising cost of living.

Yesterday a consumer survey published in The Royal Gazette showed that residents were cutting back on essentials such as food.

The questions we posed

Mr Burt’s statement yesterday was prompted by a list of questions that were first sent to the Ministry of Finance last week.

Although Mr Burt did provide an answer to one of those questions, he failed to address the vast majority of them.

The questions were:

* What new measures is the Government planning to deal with the cost of living crisis?

* Does the Government accept there is a cost of living crisis?

* Will it agree to an emergency summit with stakeholders on the crisis in the next month, as suggested by BIU leader Chris Furbert?

* How many times has the Cost of Living Commission met in the past six months?

* When will the body make recommendations on how to alleviate the cost of living crisis?

* Is the finance minister planning to make an emergency statement to the House of Assembly on the cost of living crisis? If not, why not?

After Mr Burt’s statement was released yesterday, The Royal Gazette contacted the Ministry of Finance asking for direct answers to the questions.

We also asked for further details on the work of the Cost of Living Commission. No response was received by press time last night.

Mr Burt concluded: “There is a definite urgency to address these issues. Our economic recovery is interlinked with creating the conditions in which Bermudians can meet their needs and ensuring that when they can’t, they can rely on their Government to lend a hand up.

“We did this during the peak of the pandemic, and the ongoing relief we are providing for fuel prices is designed to facilitate that personal, family, human-centred recovery that Bermuda requires.”

Mr Simons took aim at that claim, saying that they were “characteristically lacking in detail”.

He listed a four-point plan to bring the cost of living down, including more low-cost housing, revitalising the tourism industry, and assisting retail by amendments to the method by which customs and import duties are collected.

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Published June 15, 2022 at 7:44 am (Updated June 15, 2022 at 8:35 am)

Premier and Opposition leader at loggerheads over cost of living

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