Burt is barking up the wrong tree on Budget? Statement short on details, long on rhetoric – The Royal Gazette

Updated: February 25, 2022 7:26 PM

Happier times: Curtis Dickinson, former finance minister, with David Burt, prime minister and his predecessor and successor. (file photo)

David Burt, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, approaches to present the budget (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

To analyse

It was Budget the dog that didn’t bark.

David Burt failed to show the public the money over what caused the rift with Curtis Dickinson just days before the parliamentary event of the year – widely believed to be government guarantees for the $200million redevelopment of the Fairmont Southampton.

Was the Prime Minister scared at the last minute of the plans that caused the former finance minister to resign?

Too bad, because it would have at least added some much-needed sizzle to a rather bland, pedestrian budget that lacked detail and rhetoric.

In a retro and reactive speech, Mr Burt devoted much of it to kicking the One Bermuda Alliance rather than explaining how he was going to revive the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

Indeed, he mentioned the OBA so many times that the budget statement sounded like a review of the previous administration, rather than an attempt to move his own forward.

Sure, he threw in a few carrots like a reduction in vehicle registration fees and a reduction in payroll taxes for the lowest paid, but it was the unlisted cuts to public services that left the biggest impression.

But Mr Burt generously said he would not say where the ax would fall as that would ‘steal the thunder’ from his ministers – and, conveniently, also leave them to deal with any backlash from the public.

The Prime Minister is also very concerned about the decline in the island’s population and wants to increase the numbers on the island – a policy that will surely be known in nine months as the Burt Baby Boom?

We will definitely need these babies over the next few decades to support the elderly, as the retirement pot has been depleted by more than $200 million under the program allowing people to withdraw cash now.

But there are tax cuts around the corner, apparently, we just have to hang on a little longer – maybe until just before the next general election?

Cole Simons, head of the OBA

At the One Bermuda Alliance headquarters, which sits above a music store, they were singing a different tune.

Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition, demanded a balanced budget and accused Mr Burt of ‘playing sweet melodies to put our residents to sleep’.

Mr Simons, however, was vague on how a population increase could be achieved.

He said he would bring 12,000 new residents to the island as well as top flight companies.

When it was pointed out that such a plan would take a considerable number of years to work, if it worked at all, and asked how he would balance the books in the meantime without further service cuts, Mr Simons seemed lost.

To paraphrase the nursery rhyme, Old King Cole may be a jolly old soul, but his economic strategy seemed slightly less convincing.

But back to Mr. Burt who is, of course, in a difficult position with a coronavirus-ravaged economy and a collapsed tourism industry.

Curious though, as Mr Burt is Minister for Tourism, along with all his other portfolios, there were so few details about, well, tourism.

The Prime Minister made reference to the Fairmont Southampton – giving him the opportunity to attack the OBA over the failed development of the Morgan’s Point resort.

But he did not say what government guarantees might be for the resort town of Southampton, only that any development had to be fully funded to be considered for aid.

If that is now the government’s position, then what was the almighty conflict with his former finance minister, whose “unique insight” he praised?

With Mr. Dickinson suddenly off leash and the budget behind us, we may have a bark – and maybe even a bit of a bite – after all.

Dorothy H. Lewis