After details of Cabinet Office contracts were published in the Official Gazette, it was revealed that the Progressive Labour Party government has spent at least $175,000 on an empty office in Washington.
The Premier and his spokesmen tried to justify this waste of hard-earned taxpayer dollars with the excuse of pressing European Union matters and the Caribbean Financial Action Taskforce review.
A government must focus on all important matters and must not drop the ball on any. So if the Budget provides funding, and it is spent, the taxpayers expect a return on the money spent.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew, and don’t make excuses after money is wasted.
The One Bermuda Alliance made the decision, which was announced in the Budget debate of 2017-18, to close the Washington Office. During that debate, it was announced the budget would be cut from $407,000 to $206,000. The allocation would cover rental expense, insurance and utilities only until such time as the space was sublet. The process of subletting the space was to be undertaken by the Ministry of Public Works in consultation with the building agent in Washington.
It was our view then that we should step away from a bricks-and-mortar presence to one of extending our professional lobbyist reach.
An External Affairs Strategic Planning Committee was formed. Members of the committee were Derrick Binns, Paul Scope, Pamela Burrows, Cheryl Lister, Karla Lacey, Jeremy Cox, Ross Webber, Richard Winchell, Leila Madeiros and Travis Gilbert. This committee reported to Cabinet.
In addition, we should continue to build the good relationship with the United States, visit Washington and meet key political leaders. This was done with success by the former OBA government.
Any government has the right and ability to launch initiatives that they believe will benefit the people they serve. However, spending money with no return is not acceptable and something that the Loyal Opposition will fervently call out.
Many people put their hope in the PLP at the last election, but sadly that hope is disappearing with the continued lack of transparency and accountability.
To date, Bermuda has failed to progress under the PLP government. Ironically, the only jobs being created are as a result of OBA projects at the airport redevelopment and at the St Regis Hotel.
Yet we see spending on an empty office in Washington, a qualified audit in the first year, an increased Cabinet, with two ministers having seemingly little responsibility but a nice paycheque, and ministers with a growing number of paid personal consultants.
This is not putting Bermudians first.
Finally, people should note the inappropriate and false political statement by a government spokeswoman who served both the OBA and PLP governments:
“From October 2015 until the change of government in 2017, it should be reminded that in our major trading partner we essentially had no representation whatsoever when faced with a new administration and tax reform.”
It goes on to say “the office was shut down with no plan ...”
Government spokesmen should never allow a premier or minister to have them deliver a political statement about a former administration. Ministers should do it themselves and not hide inappropriately behind a civil servant.
The OBA continued to strengthen our good relationship with the US by having high-level meetings with key political leaders such as Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, Cory Booker, G.K. Butterfield, Steve Scalise, Jim Clyburn and the Congressional Black Caucus, among others.
In addition, with the input and support of international business, we had communication with the White House in the early stages of the new administration when tax reform was a hot topic.
Bermuda is in a better position because of this work.
There are 175,000 other ways we could have spent the money allocated to an empty office. No excuse can justify the failure to be accountable for hard-earned taxpayer dollars.
This is not putting Bermudians first.
• Michael Dunkley is the former Premier of Bermuda, an Opposition backbencher and the MP for Smith’s North (Constituency 10)