While Finance Minister Bob Richards outlined his 2014 Budget, a mini war of words was being waged on social media.

The protagonists, National Security Minister Michael Dunkley and Shadow Finance Minister David Burt, used Twitter to champion their respective party’s agendas and poke fun at each other. 

The exchange was insightful, absorbing and amusing.

But it also revealed the deep divide in how the budget would be received by the opposing parties.

At one point Mr Dunkley joked: “Shadow Finance Minister Burt likes this section on banking!”

While Mr Burt retorted: “To quote a former Shadow Minister of Finance, “you’ve got to be joking!” to Government’s pledge to cut spending by $70 million.

There was some common ground as Mr Burt acknowledged:  “We can agree on something: ‘Bermuda is not a tax haven’.”

But more often than not the to and fro of twitter boiled down to party politics,

Mr Dunkley’s rallying calls of “Now is the time for all of us to work together. Let’s do it!” were often doused by Mr Burt’s criticism that “The minister is diagnosing the problem but does not seem to have a solution.”

@BDAmilkman was not averse to throwing in a bit of light relief to his posts, adding: “Min of Finance is doing a great job with the Budget...and only a few sips of water!”

But @DavidBurtMP kept his comments on point saying “75 minutes into the speech the minister finally gets to the Budget” and “Budget Headline should read OBA overspends by $45 million in its first year in office”’

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eanwhile, away from the banter of the twittersphere, Mr Richards revealed there would be no new taxes and no job cuts in the civil service for the next year.

The Finance Minister pledged to cut Government spending by $70 million in the next year.

And he outlined plans to reduce overall spending by 15 per cent in the next three years.

Mr Richards told the House of Assembly that the estimated revenue for 2014/15 was just over $901 million, while the expenditure was expected to fall just shy of  $946 million.

He said the figures indicated both “good and bad news” adding: “The good news is that revenues for the current fiscal year are some $21.4 million greater than originally estimated.

“The bad news is that current expenditures [ie last year’s Budget] are now estimated to be some $32 million larger than estimated.”

In a Budget speech in which Mr Richards stressed the island was moving in the “right direction”, he insisted that there was still much work to do.

He said: “Subsidies currently in place for the hospitality, restaurant and retail sectors — so-called concessions — will remain in place for the next financial year.”

Although he ruled out redundancies in the civil service for now, Mr Richards said that the “old corporate culture” and lack of strictness and accountability had still not been squeezed out of some Ministries.

He added: “Further reductions in costs after 2014/15 will not be achievable without either staff layoffs or the outsourcing of non-core functions through mutualization or privatization.

“Remaining as we are, with the current number of civil servants, will not be possible.”

Mr Richards said Government would look to privatization and mutualization of some Government Departments to ensure they hit savings targets.

He said: “We recognize and understand people’s fears about change and we will work carefully to make change work for the individual and the common good.”

During the budget speech Mr Richards spoke of the need to increase the resident population by attracting financial and intellectual capital from abroad as well as liberalizing the immigration policy.

And he hinted at a possible end to the 60-40 rule: “Today’s Bermuda needs capital to recover and there is only one place to get it — from outside Bermuda.

“So people who try to stir up the fear of being overwhelmed by foreigners do so only for political gain.”

Mr Richards used his speech to send a bigger message to the rest of the world on Bermuda’s tax status, declaring “Bermuda is not a tax haven”, for all international and European doubters to hear.

And he revealed that France’s decision to temporarily blacklist the island had caused over $40 million worth of French reinsurance contracts with Bermudian companies to collapse.