Finance minister Bob Richards has decided to release the airport project agreement to all 36 of Bermuda’s MPs without requiring them to sign non-disclosure agreements but pages relating to critical financial information are blank.
Shadow finance minister and Opposition Leader David Burt told Think Media that after a war of words between the parties on Friday, Richards informed him that the agreement would be released to MPs on Monday without preconditions.
Burt asked for his copy of the airport agreement ahead of Monday as he had a scheduled meeting with the so-called Blue Ribbon panel which is reviewing the project.
He told us that the pages relating to a minimum revenue guarantee and financial models are blank – information critical to assessing the deal’s impact on the nation’s finances, or the cost to the taxpayer should Bermuda pull out of the deal in the future.
“The main issue that parliament has to deal with is whether or not this deal makes sense,” Burt said this morning.
“One of the most important thing for a 30 year agreement is how much will it cost the taxpayer. And when we are talking about a minimum revenue guarantee, the question we have to ask is what does that represent?”
Separately, sources close to the deal have indicated that contractor Aecon would be entitled to 40% of the value of the contract should Bermuda pull out of the deal post ratification.
Pulling out now would subject Bermuda to penalties estimated at around $24 million.
Burt said the agreement has a termination clause but that makes reference to financial information that is missing.
“At the end of the day, all we’e been trying to get to is the simple questions – how much money is Aecon going to make off this deal? Would it be cheaper if we did it another way? Where profits were not going to a private company And would it be more beneficial and less costly to the taxpayers of this country? Without access to the financial information those questions cannot be answered.”
Burt has asked House Speaker Randy Horton to postpone Friday’s debate on enabling legislation for the deal by a week. But he indicated that the fact that important information was being withheld had complicated that timeline.
“Parliament’s job is to approve money and what we want to know is what is going to be the impact on the taxpayers. And to this date, parliament has no independent opinion on that. And it does not look like parliament is going to have an independent opinion on that. And that’s the most fundamental question when parliament is going to vote for something: How much does it cost?”
Government has resisted Opposition calls for full transparency on the deal, saying commercial sensitivities and confidentiality agreements preclude such transparency and that it has subjected the deal to an unprecedented level of transparency. It also points to new acute care wing of the hospital to argue that full contractual information is not typically made public on public infrastructure projects
But the Opposition argues that the airport agreement is unique in that it concerns future revenue streams being committed to another entity.
On Friday, Government said in a release that the Opposition leader had rejected an offer to release the airport agreement to him and the public accounts committee. That offer was contingent on the politicians signing a non-disclosure agreement. Burt insisted that all the MPs should have access to the information before debating the legislation. He made a counter proposal – for the PAC to review the material an have an international accounting firm offer a view. PAC chairman Wayne Furbert said that no offer had been made to him.
The latest development means that all MPs will now have a copy of the agreement – without the financial information. Richards has been contacted for comment but has not responded by the time of this posting. He did, however, appear on Shirley Dill’s radio talk show today and said in response to a query by Burt that he did not know any information had been missing from the agreement. Richards also confirmed that the Blue Ribbon panel had the same document and promised to provide the missing information.
The Blue Ribbon panel’s term of reference are to provide a view on the “commercial reasonableness of the transaction” not the impact on the taxpayer, Burt pointed out.
Audio of Richards and Burt on Shirley Dill show today.
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