Mayor of Hamilton Charles Gosling has stated outright to the Progressive Labour Party government: “We are not going to take this lying down.”
In a statement released on Sunday, he added: “We don’t believe this action by the Government is lawful and we are prepared to resolve the issue in the courts.”
He was responding to the Government’s plan to do away with both the Corporations of Hamilton and St George’s.
This after hearing the Ministerial Statement delivered in the House of Assembly on Friday, by Public Works Minister Lieutenant Colonel David Burch, reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to replace the municipalities with quangos.
“On an island as small as ours, I simply cannot understand why there are three separate governments,” said Colonel Burch.
Mr Gosling noted that the battle against the reforms spans an entire decade.
“This will be my third go-round with this issue,” he said.
“We saved the city once before in 2010, we faced the threat in 2019 and we’re now preparing to face it again.”
But he said: “We are not going to take this lying down. This is a significant challenge.
“We don’t believe this action by the Government is lawful and we are prepared to resolve the issue in the courts. The original Act of Incorporation in 1793 vested the powers of the then town to the Mayor and his elected members, assigning them ‘forever’ to their successors.”
The Municipalities Reform Act 2019 which allows the Government to appoint administrators, was approved in the House last year. But the Bill failed to make it through the Senate.
“No one at the corporation has it in their schedule that it will be the last,” said Mr Gosling, who noted that the Corporation of Hamilton celebrated 225 years’ service this year.
“We intend to live up to our vision of being a democratically elected, vibrant, safe and clean City focused on economic growth and livability.”
The corporation’s statement also noted that “a public consultation poll commissioned by the Government in 2019 resulted in an overwhelming 98 percent of respondents calling for no interference from Government in the management of Hamilton and St George’s.
“It is the Minister’s assertion that he wants to work collaboratively for the benefit of the Bermudian people. We’re willing to accept the Minister at his word to engage in true dialogue, putting aside all previous attempts at asset grabbing, as shown by prior Ministers whose attempts at collaboration were no more than 15-minute, tick-the-box conversations,” said Mr Gosling.
“We don’t yet know what the coming Bill will include, if it’s back to a quango option, as outlined in the 2019 failed Bill, but if so, that is not collaboration, that is a take-over, and in my opinion, they have no legal right.
“The elected members of the Corporation have a duty of care to the City rate-payers and residents. We stand accountable to them. Local Government is important in any municipality. It impacts our stakeholders more positively, delivers response and results more promptly than any national Government, and our rate-payers and residents can have far more influence at the local level. Interference by Government and the appointing of City officials will only serve to disinfranchise our rate-payers and residents which is completely undemocratic. It is taxation without representation.”
“A prime example of the importance of local Government is what happened at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Government sanitation crews, exercising their right, stayed off the job due to very legitimate health concerns concerning their fellow workers. It was the Corporation crews that answered the call from Government to assist with island-wide refuse collection. Had that not been an option, this island would have seen an even greater added health risk with mountains of rotting trash across Bermuda.
“The Government already has ministerial oversight of the Corporation of Hamilton as all of our resolutions must receive final approval from the minister.
“We also must abide by Financial Instructions as set out by the Government. No significant leases or purchase of Corporation property can be transacted without the approval of Parliament. It is our mandate to govern with fiscal prudence and the City prides itself on having transparent processes.
“The Government of the day has done an exemplary job responding to the COVID-19 crisis and to have them revisit this municipal action, as the island struggles to recover, is indeed disappointing and an irresponsible use of resources. This is the time for us to come together and put all of our energies toward ensuring that Bermuda thrives.