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Gencom hotel deal imminent, says Premier ‒ after blaming delay on market turmoil

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A final sign-off on the long-awaited deal to secure the $376 million Fairmont Southampton revamp appears imminent, David Burt, the Premier, said yesterday.

Mr Burt has made similar statements on at least two occasions since April, but blamed delays on events on the financial markets in recent months.

Referring to the project, which he said would provide up to 700 jobs, the Premier said during a press conference yesterday that lawyers were “working diligently” on the closing documents.

He said: “That process will complete soon and construction will be able to start.

“What has been the continued delay has been the turmoil internationally in the markets.

“We have had a very, very difficult state in international markets. We have come to closing now, but, absolutely it has been a delay.

“We are now moving, we have commitments that are signed by overseas financiers who had to increase the amount of money because, of course, as time goes, cost supply chain issues are there.

“The Government has not had to put anything additional into the deal.”

Mr Burt insisted there had been no change to the Government’s controversial guarantee for the deal.

Asked if developer Gencom may have been delaying matters because it was not sure who would be in charge after the Progressive Labour Party leadership election on October 20, Mr Burt said: “I don’t believe that’s accurate.”

No extra arrival payments after Travel Authorisation is dropped, says Premier

When the controversial $40 Travel Authorisation form is scrapped at the end of next month there will be no further such payments, David Burt, the Premier, has said.

Confusion had remained over the issue after the Government announced the much criticised TA charge regime would go when the Covid-19 public health emergency ends on November 30.

At a press conference on the cost of living situation, Mr Burt said: “When the Travel Authorisation ends, I do believe that other targets will be met, there will not be any further payments.”

The form was introduced in June 2020 to monitor the Covid-19 status of arrivals, including proof of travel health insurance.

Initially, the Government said the measure was necessary to protect Bermuda’s borders – but acknowledged later that it also provided a necessary source of revenue. The Government is expected to earn $22 million from the TA this year.

The Government had previously insisted that the measure would remain until March 2023, despite repeated calls by critics for it to be scrapped.

Mr Burt blamed delays in rolling out a $15 million cost-of-living crisis relief package, which was announced in July, on needing ensure they would remain within rules scrutinised by the Auditor-General.

The plan included a $150 “back to school” payment, but only half of public school parents have had their requests processed nearly a month into the autumn term.

Referring to delays, the Premier said: “It is incredibly frustrating for me, and frustrating for the Minister of Education but we do live in a society where we are subjects to audits.”

David Burt, the Premier, at a press conference (Photograph supplied)

Delays have also occurred in a $500,000 free LED light bulbs drive, and bringing in a $250 payroll tax rebate for those earning less than $60,000, and a $100 giveback to people making less than $96,000.

Mr Burt said: “The delay in administering these rebates was to ensure that as we establish such an innovative first-time programme, we do so efficiently and responsibly and avoid any issues with the Auditor-General when these funds are audited.”

The Premier said applications for the payroll tax rebate would be rolled out before the end of next week and that they would be processed within ten working days of completion.

Mr Burt rejected suggestions that more of the package, such as cutting customs relief on 21 food and household items, should have been targeted at the poor, rather than impacting the across-the-board income range.

He said: “There is a need for providing. wider relief. But, at the same point in time we are also providing targeted relief – increasing the funding for financial assistance.

“There is a wider slot of persons, people say the forgotten middle class — those persons who don’t normally get relief from Government — who I think deserve it. They pay taxes.

“This is a wide package because the Government has done, in my estimation, a very good job of making sure that we provide for the vulnerable.

“There are people in this country who need relief all the time.

“There are those persons who, maybe, working in tourism sectors and other sectors, not eligible for financial assistance, but still have a challenge with the increasing cost of food.

“We understand that there are many families who are struggling.

“We wanted to do this in July, and certainly I recognise the pain that caused.

“But the real reason we had to delay was because we did not have a firm agreement with grocers to ensure that if we reduced customs relief that at that stage it would be returned to the citizens of this country.”

Mr Burt said the freeze on petrol prices imposed in March would continue and suggested further cost-of-living relief measures could be on the way.

He said: “We are committed to keeping the price at the pump frozen to February levels and if there is an opportunity to reduce it further we will do that.”

Mr Burt said that supplemental unemployment benefit, which impacts only 39 people, would be extended to November 30, when the Covid-19 public health emergency ends.

The Premier repeated figures he had given to MPs last week showing that extra government revenues would help to reduce a projected 2021-22 budget deficit by 35 per cent.

Mr Burt, who is also finance minister, said that based on numbers submitted for the audit of the Consolidated Fund, the deficit for the financial year was expected to be $81 million — $44 million below the original estimate of $125 million.

Government revenue is expected to reach $1.07 billion — $74 million more than the original estimate — owing to increases in customs duties, stamp duty, civil aviation, payroll tax and increased revenue from the Travel Authorisation.

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Published October 07, 2022 at 5:06 am (Updated October 07, 2022 at 5:06 am)

Gencom hotel deal imminent, says Premier ‒ after blaming delay on market turmoil

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