Government leaving people to make choice between eating and paying bills: OBA
People are having to choose between eating and paying bills because the Government has failed the test of hard times, Cole Simons, the Opposition leader has insisted.
Giving the One Bermuda Alliance’s response to the Throne Speech yesterday, Mr Simons said that David Burt had proven himself to be “all talk and little action” because the island was now in a “tailspin”.
He called for tax breaks for small businesses and warned that Bermuda was “systematically shutting down”.
Mr Simons said the Government should be concentrating more on the cost of living situation and less on issues such as pushing independence.
He told the House of Assembly: “People are making difficult choices – they must choose between, food, healthcare and electricity as their income is not stretching far enough to cover their living expenses.
“The biggest and most challenging issue faced today by the people of Bermuda is inflation.
“The OBA believes that the priority of the PLP Government should be to grow and strengthen the economy, and to continue to help ease the cost of living for families.
“Considering this, Bermuda is in a tailspin and this year’s Speech from the Throne has given the people of Bermuda truly little hope or aspiration for a brighter future.
“Premier Burt was at his best, providing a lot of talk, with truly little action.
“While the Throne Speech opened by stating that ‘Bermuda has been tested’, we in the Opposition believe that the Government has failed the test miserably.”
In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Simons took aim at the Government’s crime, health and debt-reduction policies.
He called for a tax deferral initiative for small businesses, which he said had been “decimated" during the past two years.
Mr Simons said: “It appears that the island is systematically shutting down. What is this Government doing to remedy this?
“We recommend that for the time being, corporate taxes must be kept to a minimum.
“With respect to customs duties, we recommend implementing a ‘tax deferral scheme, for between one to three months, to enable retailers to pay their customs duties after their products are sold, not at the time the products are imported.”
The police need more financial back-up to fight crime and gang culture, Mr Simons said.
He stated: “The PLP government has been defunding the police by slashing their budget.
“They have also not provided our firefighters with the necessary equipment and have allowed conditions at the prisons to fester.”
Mr Simons said society had become “numb” to gang violence: “I find it utterly unconscionable that around 1,000 people actively involved in gangs can cause this much disruption and devastation to a population of just over 60,000 people on a 21 square-mile/four square-mile wide island.”
He called for “full investment” in uniformed services to ensure they are fully staffed.
And Mr Simons demanded action to ensure prison officers can work in a safe environment.
He called for the Government to provide on-call mental health and social workers to “support the police in responding to noncriminal calls to provide de-escalation or crisis assistance”.
He added: “To mitigate the rising cost challenges, the OBA has called for the elimination of the sugar taxes and a reduction in the foreign currency purchase tax for one year.
“We would also consider the reduction of the cost of public transportation by 12.5 per cent for one year.”
The Opposition leader said the island needed more immigrants to boost the economy.
He stated: “Work permit approvals are still taking a considerable amount of time to process and receiving documentation once permits have been approved is taking months.”
And he called for an overhaul of how children in care are treated.
“As part of the Department of Child and Family Services' psycho-education programme, millions of dollars have been spent over the years to send Bermuda's children to overseas treatment facilities, with varying results.
“A report on the feasibility of establishing a local treatment facility should be commissioned by the Government to determine the cost of establishing it, and whether it would be more beneficial to the children to receive treatment locally, in familiar surroundings with supportive networks rather than being sent overseas.
“A comprehensive review of protocols surrounding children that are in the care of the Department of Child and Family Services should also be conducted.”
He accused the Government of letting seniors down as he called for tax relief for care costs.
“We recommend changes to the National Social Insurance Reform, which will also impact our seniors.”
Mr Simon’s said that the Government must quicken its pace to finalise a national health strategy.
“On the matter of uninsured residents, approximately 12 per cent of Bermuda’s residents are uninsured, and 23 per cent of our population takes the view that health insurance is unaffordable, and there are those who are under insured.”
Cole Simons called for more urgency on combating global warning as he warned placing customs duty on electric vehicles would backfire.
He said: “When is the Burt Government going to craft and develop a national global warming adaptation plan for Bermuda?
“What strategies are we going to share with the people of Bermuda to mitigate climate risks, which are threatening our families, our homes, and environment.”
He highlighted the increased intensity of hurricanes, the ongoing erosion of coastal cliffs, the rise in temperatures in the summer and the threat to mangroves.
“When it comes to reducing Bermuda’s carbon footprint, the Government should aim for more electric or hybrid vehicles for Bermuda’s roads.
“Considering this, it is unconscionable that the current transportation minister is entertaining the thought of reintroducing customs duties on electric vehicles.”
Mr Simons urged more help for people wanting to buy a home and said that aim was becoming “more and more out of reach” because of the cost of financing.
“This could take the form of payment deferrals, interest only offerings, and the reduction of fees and charges.”
Mr Simons accused the Government of lacking an agenda to tackle the national debt.
“Bermuda’s national debt currently stands at $3.5 billion dollars. Where is the PLP Government’s debt-reduction and debt-management plan?”
According to Mr Simons, the Bermuda Tourism Authority should have less interference from Government because the island needed a “more aggressive” approach to attracting visitors.
“Bermuda desperately needs to revitalise its lagging tourism industry and products.
“The BTA must be given the economic and human capital to get on with its job, with minimal interference from the Government and politicians.”
Mr Simons hit out at plans by the Government to give the tourism minister more leeway in dealing with developers.
He said: “When it comes to inward tourism investments, we believe that the Government does not need greater discretion in granting relief to developers and investors in attractions, restaurants, and hotels.
“Instead, we believe that the Tourism Investment Act is currently adequate as is, as it provides transparency and full oversight by our Parliament.”
Mr Simons said failure to restore the Boston air link had taken a toll on the economy and he called for greater action to deal with potholes across the island.