In his first Ministerial Statement as Minister of Finance and Premier of Bermuda, David Burt told MPs that he had “to find an additional $1 million to cover the interest for an empty island”, that was formerly the home of the 35th America’s Cup Village.
Referring to the loan payments on the reclaimed land that formed Cross Island, Premier Burt accused the former One Bermuda Alliance government of failing to budget for a “staggering $13 million work of spending, including an extra $4.3 million on the America’s Cup sponsorship guarantee.
Speaking on the floor of the House of Assembly on Friday, Premier Burt charged that the OBA administration overspent on the America’s Cup, in what could be deemed as nothing more than political grandstanding in the lead up to the last General Election.
“This Government will try its utmost to ensure that the projected deficit for 2017/18 does not worsen, but we cannot let the 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,” said Premier Burt.
“Considering that there has been a change in Government”, the Premier said “it is prudent to table a supplementary estimate at this time” to “highlight” the estimates “that were the responsibility of the former Government”.
While noting that “these items will be debated at a later date”, he advised MPs that the legislation tabled represents “a combination of unbudgeted expenditure items which were incurred by the previous administration”.
The “contractual commitments” included the America’s Cup, the World Triathlon Series, the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission, the Bermuda Airport Authority Capital Grant, the redevelopment of the airport and a Memorandum of Understanding for the St George’s Hotel development.
But Shadow Minister of Economic Development, Dr Grant Gibbons labelled the Premier’s remarks as a “pathetic” attempt to misinform Bermuda’s electorate, that undermined all the hard work that had gone into hosting the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda’s Great Sound.
“It’s unfortunate and, frankly, pathetic that the Progressive Labour Party and the new PLP government continue to spin Trump-like misinformation about Bermuda’s highly successful financial management and hosting of the recent 35th America’s Cup,” said Dr Gibbons.
The Shadow Minister also said the Premier’s assertion that the $15 million sponsorship guarantee jumping to $19.3 million was nothing more than “spin at its worst”.
Instead, he said the cash surplus left from the event would “more than cover any difference” between the initial estimate and the “now reported, reconciled amount of $19.3 million”. “Thus, no additional taxpayer money will be required,” said Dr Gibbons.
He also noted that the ACBDA’s overall expenses were estimated to be more than $8 million below budget as of July 2017, which would return to the government.
But the Premier maintained that the regatta had been “unable to meet the expectations of the people of this country”.
“Just yesterday [Thursday] in the Ministry of Finance, I had to find an additional $1 million to cover the interest for an empty island,” said Mr Burt, referring to the loan payments to reclaim the land that formed Cross Island, the home of the AC Village.
At one point during the Parliamentary Question period, PLP MP Zane DeSilva rose to his feet citing a Point of Order, objecting to Dr Gibbons, who prefaced his questions to the Premier with “does the Honourable Member [Premier] understand…” while defending the $25 million sponsorship guarantee.
He insisted that hosting the prestigious race series “was an attractive deal for Bermuda”, and that it was no surprise that the final tally differed from estimates made in January.
“The PLP government should understand that denigrating the overall sponsorship level does nothing to facilitate future government sponsorship requests for major sporting or tourism event,” said Dr Gibbons.
As the PLP government will be aware, he said the difference between the Government 2017-18 budget sponsorship guarantee estimate of $15 million and the recently reconciled $19.5 million figure is more than offset by the superb financial and operational management demonstrated by the ACBDA and the Ministry of Economic Development.
“Rather than spending their time on petty Trump-like political distractions, the new government should be working hard to build on the successful legacy of the AC35 by attracting lucrative repeat superyacht business to Dockyard and future sporting/tourism events like the World Triathlon Series, scheduled for 2018, 2019 and 2020,” he added.
The transformation of Dockyard and the new Cross Island venue represent a superb platform for future international events. Bermudians will rightly expect the new government to take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity for Bermuda.”
Specific details of some of the Supplementary Estimates include:
- An additional $4.3 million in sponsorship guarantees paid to the America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA) in addition to the under budgeted amount of $15 million; this under-budgeting occur despite the advice of the ACBDA to budget at least $18 million. The total $19.3 million was paid to the ACEA last month;
- $2.9 million to host the World Triathlon Series events in 2018;
- $1.6 million to fund operations of the Gaming Commission;
- $1.7 million to provide additional ferry services for the America’s Cup as no additional funds were included in the budget for the additional ferry service for the America’s Cup;
- $1.9 million to undertake certain infrastructure works as part of an agreement with the Desarrollos Hotelco Group, the developers of the proposed St Regis Hotel in St George’s;
- $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.
Mr Burt reiterated that “these items will be debated in detail including input from the relevant and accountable Ministries and Minister at a later date”.