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Senators accuse Government of ducking top priorities

One Bermuda Alliance Senate leader Ben Smith.

The Government is ducking what should be top priorities in the coming legislative year, according to several senators.

The claim was made during a debate in the Upper House today on the Throne Speech, which was delivered earlier this month.

Owen Darrell, the Government Senate Leader kicked off the debate – by attacking last week’s opposition One Bermuda Alliance Throne Speech reply, which he described as “rambling”.

Mr Darrell insisted that a Throne Speech was not a platform, but simply highlighted some “high ticket” initiatives that would be pursued in the coming year.

Some of those included in this year’s speech included legislation on housing, tourism education and welfare.

He said: “The PLP is building on a solid record of delivery. We have made massive strides in making a better and fairer Bermuda.”

Independent senator John Wight said he applauded initiatives such as planned increases in financial assistance and childcare, and continued education reform.

But he added: “While there are many initiatives in this Throne Speech that should assist Bermudians in difficult times, there is no reference to where the increased revenues are going to come from to pay for these initiatives.

“I am very concerned about our government debt but even more concerned about our inability to prepare a balanced budget.

“For me the biggest question about this Throne Speech was the omission of what I believe needs to be a top priority – to proactively increase the number of people in Bermuda to increase the tax base so desperately required with our ageing population.”

Opposition One Bermuda Alliance Senate leader Ben Smith said it was the Government’s duty to warn of “dark clouds” ahead.

Mr Smith acknowledged that there was much in the speech that would support struggling Bermudians – initiatives that he approved of.

But he said that kick-starting the economy and reversing Bermuda’s declining population had to be the Government’s two priorities – neither issue was mentioned in this year’s Throne Speech, he said.

Mr Smith said that Bermuda’s population statistics were “startling” and compounded by increasing emigration, with many young Bermudians leaving the island because of a lack of opportunity.

He said: “Less and less is being paid into the overall pie and that is what is going to continue to increase the cost of living – the burden of the national debt is being put on shoulders of young people causing them to leave.

“We have to increase the size of the pie – that needs to be our focus.”

Mr Smith also ridiculed claims made earlier by Mr Darrell that the Government had kept its promises, reeling off a list of economic recovery initiatives launched two years ago that had failed to get off the ground.

He went on: “Oh, and then there was ‘we’re going to balance the Budget’. Promises made, promises kept.”

Mr Smith questioned why the Government said it would explore the issue of independence in the next legislative year when it needed to focus on the economy and creating jobs.

He said: “We need to have a mature conversation about where our country is and where it is going and how we as a country … are going to dig us out of this enormous hole that we are in.

“There are things that the Government is doing to move forward, but they need to accept the amount of failures that are happening, and that the emergency that this country is going through is going to take all of their focus.

“If they think that the plan that they are following with all these initiatives is enough for Bermuda, I guess they don’t see the dark clouds outside. We will continue to point out that the bad weather is here, the population needs to prepare for it … because if our people are not prepared, we are all going to suffer the consequences.

However, Progressive Labour Party Senators defended the Government’s record since coming into power, including the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, reducing taxes for workers and bolstering funding for education.

Newly appointed PLP senator Leslie Robinson, making her maiden speech in the Senate, said that despite global challenges, there was reason for optimism, noting the Government’s recently unveiled mortgage guarantee programme.

“We are not living in a time where we can just instantly fix things,” she said. “There are too many things that are happening around Bermuda globally.”

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Published November 21, 2022 at 5:20 pm (Updated November 21, 2022 at 7:56 pm)

Senators accuse Government of ducking top priorities

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