There were more questions than answers in the House of Assembly when Premier David Burt told MPs that taxpayers will have to pay rent for the Airport Mail Facility to Aecon, the developers of the $250 million redevelopment project, or move off the property.
Considering the recent change in Government, the Premier told MPs that it was “prudent to table a supplementary estimate” last Friday, to highlight “the estimates that were the responsibility of the former Government”.
One of those estimates included an additional $290,000 to fund the relocation of the Post Office Mail Facility from the airport to avoid penalties and having to pay rent to AECON”.
The Supplementary “will be debated in detail including input from the relevant and accountable Ministries and Minister at a later date”.
But in the interim, the Premier said: “This Government will try its utmost to ensure that the projected deficit for 2017/18 does not worsen, but we cannot let past lapses with regard to handling the public purse by the former Government hamper our efforts to establish a better and fairer Bermuda that was promised in our election platform.”
During the Parliamentary Question period, Progressive Labour Party MP Lawrence Scott asked the Premier if taxpayers were left with no other option but to pay rent for the mail facility or move off the property owned by the people of Bermuda.
PLP MP Rolfe Commissiong also asked the Premier to confirm that taxpayers will ultimately be required to pay a quarter of a million dollars for the weather radar at the airport as well.
“As it is a stated fact that the former government gave all our airport revenue to Aecon – $50 million this year alone – can the Honourable Premier please tell this Honourable House why Aecon is not paying this quarter million dollar expense as noted,” said Mr Commissiong.
The Premier said the Supplementary Estimate 2017/18 (No 1) represented “a combination of unbudgeted expenditure items which were incurred by the previous administration”. It “directly relates to contractual commitments… for the America’s Cup, World Triathlon Series, Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission, Bermuda Airport Authority Capital Grant, the redevelopment of the airport and a Memorandum of Understanding for the St George’s Hotel development”.
When contacted by Bermuda Real, Mr Scott noted that he was perhaps the first MP “to outright criticize former Premier Michael Dunkley on his administration’s Airport Redevelopment Deal”, dating back to the town hall meetings held in 2015.
Since then, he said: “I remain resolute in my conclusion that this deal is disastrous and represents a callous abuse of the Bermudian public’s trust in its elected officials.
“Having kept a microscope on the former Government’s statements inside and out of the House of Parliament, I am certain that former Works Minister Craig Cannonier misled both Members of the House, and most importantly, the Bermudian people.
“Hansard Records will show that in answer to a direct question from then MP Zane DeSilva, on 12th May 2017 (5 months ago) Minister Cannonier (as he was then) was not truthful.”
The record quotes Mr DeSilva asking Mr Cannonier the former Minister to inform the House “if the Government of Bermuda will have to lease or pay rent for any period from 2017 until 2047 to Aecon” for property “occupied by Customs, Immigration, and the Post Office, and if so, the amount?” Mr Cannonier replied: “I would [add] that this includes the US Border and Customs Control as well.”
Given the Premier’s Ministerial Statement, Mr Scott said: “In the last Parliament we were told by the former Government that we would not have to pay rent to Aecon. I then asked the Speaker whether or not the Premier ‘could please confirm that the former administration misled the people of Bermuda.
“Now that we have had a chance to assess how the Dunkley administration ran the country, the Bermudian public knows the truth. We will need to pay rent if the Post Office facility is not moved in time; in other words, the Post Office facility is not part of Aecon’s new airport plans,” he said.
“I find it curious that MP Cannonier, who was in the House at the time of Premier Burt’s statement, did not deny or refute that he had misled the House; nor did anyone else on the other side of the House.
“Not a single word was uttered by the Opposition after the Premier gave his statement on the matter; this is even more curious when they all had the opportunity to ask the Premier any question they wanted. Perhaps someone should ask MP Cannonier if his silence on Friday is acceptance of facts contained in the Premier’s statement.”
He sounded the alarm on initial concerns with warnings two years ago, at one of the town hall meetings held in 2015, on the CCC/Aecon airport project piloted by former Finance Minister ET Bob Richards.
Then Shadow Finance Minister David Burt and Lawrence Scott, the Shadow Minister of Transport at the time, both condemned what they termed “privatisation proposals”, and noted that the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) – a branch of the Canadian Government, selected Canada-based Aecon Group Ltd as the developer and concessionaire of the new airport.
Mr Scott expressed concerns on the possible consequences of the deal for future generations. He also noted that Aecon had pulled out of the Quito, Equador airport deal, which it had previously built with CCC and sold it, when “a better deal came along”.
His comments were echoed by several PLP MPs, including former party leader Marc Bean, Derrick Burgess, Michael Weeks, Lovitta Foggo and Mr Burt, who warned that Bermuda would lose $1.6 billion in revenue by giving away the airport for 30 years. The deal was labelled “a personal, political project” of the former Minister of Finance, that put “all of us are on the hook”.