Home Affairs Minister Walton Brown reiterated this weekend, that consultative talks on Government municipality reform, will include all stakeholders, including “residents and ratepayers”, in addition to the general public.
In follow up to the announcement on Friday, on the decision to defer municipal elections for a year until May 2019, while “the Government undertakes consultations”, he said the move will “ensure an extensive consultation period”.
In a Ministerial Statement delivered in the House of Assembly, he said the decision push the elections back by 12 months, also allows time for consultation with “all stakeholders”, during “this important process”.
“Stakeholders include the voters and rate-payers, the councilors themselves and the general public,” said Mr Brown.
“This Bill will allow the government to lead on major infrastructure projects. These projects will attract investments to Bermuda and stimulate job growth.
“This legislation will also grant the municipalities the authority to pursue other projects in the interests of Bermuda, which they are not currently able to engage in.”
The announcement came amid concerns over a lack of accountability and “proper due diligence”, which was not seen to be done in the awarding of contracts – not to mention the millions of dollars that went missing.
With consultation on “the most appropriate way to strengthen and modernize municipal governance for the benefit of Bermuda”, he said the Act will facilitate the way forward.
New measures included would allow the Minister to direct the corporations to undertake projects for the benefit of the island, with the power to intervene in cases such as the closure of the Hamilton docks.
While noting that “reform in respect of municipalities in Bermuda has been undertaken by successive Government administrations”, he said: “Ongoing reform is likely to be evolutionary.”
“Municipalities in Bermuda do not deliver social services, which are the exclusive authority of the Government of Bermuda, although the need for social services within the municipalities are growing and the only recourse is to Government.
“The two levels of taxation and the segregation of authority between the municipalities and central government while necessary in larger jurisdictions, may not be justifiable in a geographic area of 22 square miles, the size of Bermuda, having regard to current fiscal realities,” he said.
“The existence of municipal governments in Bermuda may have raised concern in times when there were examples of inefficient allocation of resources in such a small jurisdiction.
“However, the impetus for changing this arrangement has never been very strong particularly when the Corporations have largely been able and had the resources to govern their affairs properly and efficiently.”
On that note, he said: “The Government believes that this can no longer be sensibly argued, and the case for changing the status quo has become stronger in recent years.”
Minister Brown stressed that the recent Front Street waterfront and Par-la-Ville hotel development fiasco, “reform of the municipalities is now necessary”.
He noted that “failures” of accountability, proper due diligence and governance in the awarding of contracts, resulted in “a highly critical report by the Bermuda Ombudsman, legislative intervention by the Government of Bermuda, the assumption of temporary stewardship, and an arbitration that has cost many millions to the public purse”.
“This saga continues in the case of the Mexico Infrastructure Finance vs the Corporation of Hamilton [case] where, as you will recall, $12 million went missing. The case is now headed to the Privy Council,” he added.
He also said the city Corporation breached protocol when they invited the Taiwanese government to contact the Bermuda Government to enter into a tax information exchange agreement without speaking to the Premier and Minister of Finance first.
Mr Brown also pointed up the lack of adequate resources on the city’s infrastructure, including the proposed sewerage system upgraded in the City of Hamilton.
Moving forward, he said municipal policy and operations need to coincide and be aligned with Government policies and legislation.
Up to now, he said there has been a lack of consultation about infrastructure with the relevant Government departments.
Responding to questions fielded by the Opposition, said the corporations were informed of the new bill “within the past 24 hours” [as of Friday, March 9th].
He also said: “The impetus for changing this arrangement has never been strong”.
One Bermuda Alliance MP Dr Grant Gibbons, questioned the extent of consultation with the municipalities. In response, the Minister, said there was “minimal consultation, precisely because we were not clear on the direction we wanted to take – but we will now commit ourselves to expensive consultation”.
When asked whether or not he could comment “as to whether the corporations are supportive of the amendments in this particular bill”, the Minister replied: “I have no comment on that.”