This morning the Opposition in the House of Assembly — comprised of members of the former PLP Government — will read its Reply to the OBA Government’s Budget Statement for the coming fiscal year.

On the basis of its preliminary response to the Budget last week, the Opposition will attack the Government’s Budget for lacking vision, bold action and relief for Bermudians  in need.

But before Shadow Finance Minister David Burt ramps up the rhetoric he would do well, on behalf of his colleagues in the former Government, to formally apologize to Bermuda for leaving island in the worst, most perilous financial position in its modern history.

Without an apology and formal recognition of the role played by the PLP Government in Bermuda’s economic decline, Opposition criticism of the current Government will hold little water.

Unless Mr. Burt convincingly separates himself from his Government’s practices and policies that saddled the Island with more than a billion dollars of debt, massive year-to-year operating deficits, mass unemployment and credit rating downgrades, the Opposition will have little credibility as advocates for a better way.

Parliamentary government to be effective needs a credible Opposition. And in the current situation, the best way for members of the previous Government to achieve credibility on the economy is to admit they messed up.

This may be difficult for Mr. Burt to do because as Junior Minister of Finance in the previous government he was a vociferous and doubt-free defender of the record.

Mr. Burt has already been critical of the new Government’s Budget for doing little to help Bermudians. This is rich because his government’s mismanagement of the economy is the reason they need help. No one else was in power when thousands of Bermudians lost their jobs and thousands more started seeing their pay cheques shrink and their anxieties grow. No one else was in power when the cost of servicing Bermuda’s ballooning billion debt — more than $85 million last year and climbing — led to their cutbacks in support services.

Mr. Burt has also been critical of the new Budget for projecting “one of the largest deficits… in this Country’s history.” Again, this is rich: To pretend he and his colleagues have nothing to do with a projected $331 million deficit two months after leaving office is not credible.

You can’t wash your hands of what you did. Where Bermuda is today is where the PLP Government left it – in a financial straightjacket that threatens the very solvency of the country.

Mr. Richards’s Budget is trying to make the best of a bad situation. With little room to manoeuvere, his Budget is focused on measures to create jobs for Bermudians and restore responsible management to government finances.

Mr. Richards has warned it will take time to dig Bermuda out of a hole that was dug in recent years – “to reverse trends and trajectories locked in place by past practices.”

The projected deficit and the rise in debt service charges to $134 million in his Budget are not creatures of a government just two months in office. They are, rather, the product of a previous government that failed to pay attention to the needs of the economic engine that powers the everyday life of the people of Bermuda; an engine that when properly maintained can provide the means to build a society that achieves social and economic equity for all.

The sooner Mr. Burt and his colleagues acknowledge their record, the sooner Bermuda’s Parliament will have credible opposition on the economy. It can start with an apology. n 

Thad Hollis is chairman of the One Bermuda Alliance.