Premier Paula Cox: “The people have a real stake and their opinion is valued.  Accordingly, in my capacity as Minister of Finance, I’m introducing a  pre-Budget report.” *Image supplied
Premier Paula Cox: “The people have a real stake and their opinion is valued. Accordingly, in my capacity as Minister of Finance, I’m introducing a pre-Budget report.” *Image supplied

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13: The public has the opportunity to influence the Bermuda Government’s spending policy by commenting on a new pre-Budget review, Premier and Finance Minister Paula Cox said yesterday.

Policy options up for comment include revising duty for personal imports at other points of entry besides the airport and reducing the tax on betting.

Increasing sin taxes – alcohol and tobacco taxes – is up for debate, while tax breaks on green initiatives like hybrid cars can also be discussed.

Government policy on land taxes – including imposing land tax on vacant land – is also an option where the public can give their opinion.

Unveiling a look ahead to next February’s spending plan for the year, Ms Cox said: “The people have a real stake and their opinion is valued. Accordingly, in my capacity as Minister of Finance, I’m introducing a pre-Budget report.”

But she warned: “I’ve often spoken about doing more with less and this Government remains committed to being more efficient with its resources.

“We must also look at how we can do less with less. Governments cannot be everything to everyone. We’re a country of finite resources and we need to make sure that our spending is directed to the places where it has the most benefit to our society and our future.

“There are some times when Government should get out of the way.”

She said Government is working to cut “bureaucratic waste” and is considering things like means testing for some social programmes, such as land tax relief, which are currently open to all irrespective of income.

Ms Cox added: “It’s nice and less complicated to go across the board, but when we’re trying to eke out revenue, we want to make sure we’re properly allocating the resources to people who need it most.”

Ms Cox said that moving Government personnel from over-staffed departments to ones under pressure would increase efficiency without costing jobs, while non-replacement of people who leave the public service voluntarily would also help cut costs.

Ms Cox said the report, and the chance to comment on proposals for spending, is in line with efforts to increase public awareness and have more open Government.

She added: “It allows the public to have an input by submitting priorities for them. If I had to distill it into a couple of sentences, it’s setting the context and designing a tool box of alternative strategies ahead of time and will allow Government to plan its spending.”

Ms Cox said transparent Government demands greater public participation in helping to set public priorities.

She added: “Budgets are not just about numbers, they’re about people. Governments are here to serve people and it’s important that citizens are informed about the Budget process and understand what it means to them.

“Budgets affect lives, budgets affect businesses, budgets affect our children and budgets affect our retirees.”

She added: “It’s my hope that this open budget process not only transforms lives, but transforms the conversation.”

Ms Cox said a two-way Budget process could be used as a sounding board to test public opinion on Government proposals, especially if the global financial crisis means more belt tightening.

Ms Cox said: “Nobody wants that to happen, but it’s critical we think about it now and look at options on how we will respond.”

Ms Cox said, as promised earlier this year, Government will move to three-year budgeting for current account expenditure to improve forward planning rather than the year-to-year system used at present.

The pre-Budget report is available online at www.gov.bm and comments can be made by emailing openbudget@gov.bm.