Now that he’s been given the full story, Public Works Minister Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch apologised to the Bermuda Farmers Association and conceded that farming leases had been neglected.

Moving forward, he said all leases for arable lands would now be extended to 21 years less one day.

This after he refuted claims by the association that all leases for government-owned farmland had not been renewed for more than three years.

Colonel Burch told MPs that he had not been given the full story by Ministry officials.

In an “apology without reservation” to Chairman of the Farmers Association, Carlos Amaral, he also said his rebuttal of the group’s objections was a mistake.

Based on the statistics previously given to Parliament that only 13 leases had expired with two in dispute, was  technically correct, but only since June.

“Don’t assume you know or are being told everything in your Ministry,” said Col Burch. Other than vacant lots, he said all the land was being farmed and there was no intent to use the properties for anything other than farming.

He also noted that he ordered the timeline to address outstanding leases as a matter of priority, and the longer leases would be implemented “unless there is a compelling reason not to”.

In his opening remarks, the Minister stated from the outset that he rose on the floor of the House to “specifically to offer an unequivocal apology to Mr Carlos Amaral… and the and the entire Board”, and he agreed with Mr Amaral that “the problem with farmers leases needed examination”.

He noted however that he wondered out loud “why it has taken five (5) years for anyone to say anything?”

Contrary “to what was implied by the schedule of leases provided that prompted my statement – it is incorrect – infact the Farmers Association has been advocating for a regularization of leases as far back as 2016 based on the correspondence I have now had sight of.

“As such I apologise to them without reservation,” he said.

“Let me stress that other than the vacant lots, the land is being farmed and there is no intent to use this land for anything other than farming.

“The expired leased land is still being farmed with the farmers paying their rent regularly. The statics presented last week of 13 properties appearing to have expired leases and two (2) in dispute over ownership are correct – but only since June this year.

As an aside, he said his “Ministerial colleagues must use  my experience in this regard to not assume that they know or are being told everything that is happening in their Ministries. I encourage them to do as I will now – follow up on projects begun before July 18th last year, but not yet concluded and get such a list from staff
in each area of their Ministries.
“In the wake of this new information I have ordered that a plan and timelines to fully address the outstanding leases be implemented as a matter of priority with the understanding that unless there is a compelling reason not to (and a fulsome case needs to be presented to justify same) – all arable land leases are to be for 21 years less a day so they don’t have to be dealt with again anytime soon or require Parliamentary scrutiny,” he added.
Col Burch concluded: “As I stated last week – this government is fully committed to farming in this country and will use all resources at its disposal to encourage, expand and develop wider participation in farming in Bermuda.”