OBA: Little Time To Ask Questions In Debate

March 25, 2022 | 7 Comments

“During a two-hour session on the Ministry of Finance, the Government Senator only left a few short minutes for me to ask questions on the brief,” Opposition Senator Dr Douglas De Couto said, while his fellow OBA Senator Ben Smith said “Legal affairs continued the same government plan to read for most of the session leaving little time for questions or answers.”

Opposition Senator Dr Douglas De Couto Statement

Opposition Senator Dr Douglas De Couto said, “As I sit here in the Senate, I am listening to the Government Senator read every word and number in the National Security brief word for word. I am sure the Senator will run out the clock, leaving little to no time for my colleague Senator Ben Smith to ask questions and challenge the Government plans.

“Yesterday, during a two-hour session on the Ministry of Finance, the Government Senator only left a few short minutes for me to ask questions on the brief. As you can imagine, I was barely even able to ask a handful of questions, none of which were answered, on what you might consider to be the most important ministry for this Budget Debate.

“This morning, in our two-hour session on the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Reform, the Government Senator left a mere seven minutes for us ask questions and seek answers. To make matters worse, there were three senior civil servants who attended to support the Minister, whose time was completely wasted.

“The purpose of this Debate is to shed light on the Government’s plans and how it plans to spend the People’s money, by asking questions and seeking clarification on the various budget items. It is a way of providing transparency and accountability of the Government to the People. These debates should be a vital part of Bermuda’s democracy and checks and balances.

“Indeed, we often hear from the People and the Government, “Why don’t you work together?”

“Along with my OBA Senate colleagues, I am here to work. We are waiting for the Government Senators to work with us.

“But it seems the PLP Government has chosen to disregard its accountability to the people, and disrespect them by hiding behind these briefs.

“It is clear the Premier and his Cabinet have so little confidence in their budget that they are not willing to open themselves up to questions and challenges.

“A confident and secure leader would welcome challenge and debate, as they know it would create better outcomes for our Island. And, it would give them an opportunity to highlight their mastery of and supporting detail behind their plans.

“That’s the kind of leader we need now in Bermuda. I hope that the PLP Government can find such a person in their ranks.

“To add further disrespect to the people, Senator Owen Darrell made a point of frequently referring to “people who look like me” in his remarks. Like many on this Island, I hope that we can have a leadership and Government that represent us all, regardless of race, creed, and background. It’s clear that Senator Darrell is not up to that task.

“Here a few of my questions regarding the Ministry of Finance, of course there were many other detailed items that were unable to be addressed.

  • Regarding Fuel taxes, and the recent announcement of the Premier’s intervention in fuel prices at the pump, has the Government considered reducing the relevant taxes, which would allow the cost reduction to remain over time for people?
  • The Budget shows decreased revenue from Exempt Company taxes and Corporate and Insurance Services taxes. Does this indicate a projected decrease in International Business activity in Bermuda in the next year?
  • Are there any plans to make this critical budget book information available in a modern digital format suitable for financial analysis such as Excel?
  • What controls and procedures will be put in place to reduce mistakes such as the overpayment on Unemployment Benefits, and what are the plans to recover that money?
  • What processes and procedures will be put into place so that we do not miss critical deadlines that cause problems with global tax authorities such as the OECD and EU?
  • Regarding the Guarantee Management unit, and their evaluation and analysis of Government Guarantees, how did they account for Gencom’s failure pay staff redundancies, when considering a possible guarantee for Gencom for the Southampton property.”

Opposition Senate Leader Ben Smith Statement

Opposition Senate Leader Ben Smith said, “The process in place for the budget debate in the senate does not lend itself for debate unless the government senators desire it or have permission from their Minister.

“The first debate for Youth and Sport saw Minister Peets give close to an hour for questions to be asked and answers to be given. The second debate was finance and the junior Minister of Finance Ariana Hogdson read a very long brief including every figure in the budget book that all senators had in front of them and that had been studied in preparation of the debate. This brief had been read out in the HOA days prior so did not provide new information for the debate or the listening publics.

“With 12 minutes left after the one hour and 48 minutes of listening Senators Decouto and White quickly asked questions in the hope of receiving answers. This cannot be the best version of democracy. After watching that frustrating process I hoped to change the process for the next Ministries. A request to remove heads from the National security debate in order to shorten the Senators brief to give time for debate. This decision was not because the heads were not important but to create better use of time and to get some information to the Bermuda public.

“Although there seemed to be support for this change in the chamber it was denied minutes before the start of the session. There seems to be an effort to silence anyone not in the government and the lack of transparency leads to questions of what is being hidden. Legal affairs continued the same government plan to read for most of the session leaving little time for questions or answers. This was the same behavior in the HOA.

“Please find a sample of questions that should have been asked for National security so that the government could provide answers. Maybe they will answer in this forum if they believe in answering to the people.

Police

“There has been a significant reduction in the budget for police over the last few budgets and now only small changes in the 22/23 budget. With the increase in crime, gang activity and road issues what impact will the continued lack of support have on policing?

“There was a reduction in officers by 40 and there only seems to be an addition of 9 officers. With retirements and officers suspended or sick this leaves us with more overtime and less support for the officers? With the change in crime and the potential need for more enforcement after cannabis legislation are we putting more pressure on the police service?

Corrections

  • “Is the cellphone jamming technology operation at the Westgate facility?
  • “Have the improvements to the facility been implemented to provided upgrades to the gates, removal of mold, hot water?
  • “Do we have enough officers to cover the facilities with all the challenges of inmates including gang activity?
  • “Do we have the level of mental health support for inmates?
  • “Have officers been provided with all training necessary for the demands of the job?

Fire Service

  • “Is the fire service still operating the ambulance in St George’s?
  • “If not will this create any changes in response time?
  • “What certification is necessary for the fire service at the airport and who is responsible for providing it?
  • “How many officers are mandatory at the airport to satisfy the international regulations?
  • “How many Fire service representatives do we have for the airport?
  • “Is there special certification necessary for these fire service members?
  • “How long does it take to receive this certification and can it be completed locally?
  • “How many of the local officers at the airport have this certification?
  • “If Bermuda does not meet these regulations can the airport be shut down?”

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Comments (7)

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  1. watching says:

    this is the same process that has been in effect for decades. The OBA could have changed the procedures during their term in office couldn’t they?

    • Truthhertz says:

      Did the OBA prevent debate during their short tenure?

    • sandgrownan says:

      Ah, of course, it’s the OBA’s fault. Obviously.

    • Hey says:

      Watching, perhaps you should stop watching and instead listen. Take those blinders off. I don’t care who is in power, this isn’t about parties, it is about what is best for our childrens future and it sure as hell isn’t the current government.

    • Question says:

      Rubbish. Burt completely changed how the budget was presented this year. He gave no details in his budget speech, and left it to individual ministers to present their own budgets piecemeal. All designed to minimise debare and questions. They are not up to it.

  2. Joe Bloggs says:

    Why does the OBA act surprised? This is not the first time the PLP Government have used that tactic.

  3. Hey says:

    Ultimately this approach by the PLP does not benefit Bermudians.We are paying through our tax dollars for the PLP to waste time and not have questions raised on the important issues made by the opposition to ensure Bermudians get transparency and the best product from our government. The PLP called for people to work together, this is not working together and more importantly it is not working to benefit Bermudians.Shame on you PLP

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