Dunkley and Burt clash over TA form spending
A war of words over travel authorisation revenues and the island’s economy continued over the weekend, with the Opposition questioning the Government’s justification for changing how money earmarked for Covid-19 would be used.
But a government spokeswoman defended applying some of the cash for helping vulnerable residents hit by rising prices – saying a stronger than expected tourism performance this year had brought additional revenue into the public purse.
Michael Dunkley, the shadow health minister, said David Burt, the Premier, was engaged in “political manoeuvring at best” in remarks last week that funds from the $40 travel authorisation, intended for pandemic expenses, could also go to support needy residents.
Mr Dunkley added: “I find it unbelievable that after ignoring the calls for the elimination of the TA, coupled with the skyrocketing cost of living in Bermuda, Premier Burt is now saying that the TA tax will help the needy.
“So that’s left me to ask based on his previous assertions, what funds are going to cover the cost of testing?”
But the spokeswoman said revenue from tourism had exceeded forecasts, including cruise ship bookings “far above the 50 per cent capacity that was projected during the Budget”.
“We expect additional revenue from the TA, which will enable the Government to not only meet budget targets impacted by the war in Ukraine, but also allow the Government to use some of that additional revenue to provide direct assistance to our most vulnerable residents to tackle the rising cost of food.”
She said that extra revenue meant no funding would be diverted from pandemic measures – and that the Government’s vaccination programme was set to resume in the autumn.
The Premier said last week that Cabinet would discuss measures to help families with the rising cost of living at its meeting tomorrow.
The spokeswoman also defended the Government’s tactics, in the wake of remarks last week by economist Craig Simmons, who said the Government’s price freezes on fuel would benefit the wealthy along with those in need.
Mr Dunkley had queried whether the Government’s apparent change in policy had been made in response to Mr Simmons’ criticism.
But the spokeswoman said: “The fuel price freeze assists all families in Bermuda and reduces pressure on inputs such as transportation costs for goods that can further increase the cost of living.
“Prices at the pump around the world have increased dramatically since February – that is not the case in Bermuda.”
She said sparing the island’s families from paying 25 per cent extra on gasoline for their cars meant “a real impact on the household finances for working-class families”.
“The Government is successfully renewing this economy while providing tangible financial relief for the working class and we will be delivering even more relief as promised.”
The One Bermuda Alliance kept up the offensive on the Government’s calculation of inflation rates – which Jason Hayward, the economy and labour minister, said last week that the latest figures reliably clocked inflation at 2.5 per cent.
Mr Hayward highlighted steady rent prices as part of the reason for the island’s lower rates of inflation.
The remarks came in his ministerial statement defending the methodology used for calculating the Consumer Price Index.
But Cole Simons, the Opposition leader, countered that there was “a major disconnect between the Burt administration and reality”. He added that the Government “continues to support their own obvious miscalculations”.
Mr Simons called on the Government to “be honest and be straight”, saying an inaccurate appraisal of the economy risked “compromising Bermuda’s standing as a sophisticated offshore financial centre”.
He insisted the island’s inflation rate would be placed at about 10 to 11 per cent by “most” local economists and investment analysts.
Mr Simons called Bermuda “the most expensive country on the planet per capita” and dependent on imports.
The Opposition leader cited figures for rates of inflation for a string of jurisdictions including: Cayman Islands, 11.2 per cent; Turks and Caicos, 11 per cent; the Channel Islands, 5.9 per cent; Jamaica, 11.3 per cent, and 5.5 per cent for Barbados.
He added: “Our main trading partners show current inflation rates of around 7 to 8 per cent.
“The US has a current inflation rate of 8.5 per cent, Canada has an inflation rate of 8 per cent and the UK has an inflation rate of 7 per cent.
“How does Bermuda produce a figure of 2.5 per cent?”