Moniz: Grand Atlantic law change unfair’
Opposition politicians accused ministers of being “unfair” as they sought to introduce and pass a law change in a single Parliament sitting without public scrutiny.
Legislation approved last week means the Bermuda Housing Corporation will benefit from duty relief as the Grand Atlantic complex in Warwick is transformed into a condo hotel.
It was tabled hours earlier by Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the public works minister, as he aimed to make progress on the troubled project.
The Bermuda Housing Amendment Act 2018 will exempt the Bermuda Housing Corporation from stamp duty and land tax for the conversion of the development.
Grand Atlantic was originally built as affordable housing but failed to interest the public, with only two homes sold out of its 78 units.
In the House of Assembly on Friday, Colonel Burch moved to suspend Standing Order 29 (1), which states a Bill should not have its second reading until it has been “printed and distributed” and no earlier than seven days since it was introduced.
However, Trevor Moniz, the Shadow Attorney-General, objected. “With respect to this, although it is on the face of it to be a short technical Act, it in fact is a pretty fundamental change in this Bill,” he said.
He pointed out that the BHC was established to provide low-cost housing and would now be “running a hotel”, describing this as a “fundamental change in the raison d’être of the corporation”.
Mr Moniz said: “We think that this is something that the public should know about.”
He added: “We think it would be quite unfair for a Bill of this importance to not have the opportunity to go through the appropriate process.”
Colonel Burch, who announced in March that the development would be repurposed, said his move was to ensure that the Government and people of Bermuda could pay off the debt held by the Grand Atlantic.
He was able to continue with his second reading and told how the plan is for a partnership to be formed with successful bidders to convert the Grand Atlantic site into a “mid-market boutique hotel” with leisure facilities.
Colonel Burch said: “Essentially this Bill will provide the legal means for the BHC to consummate that arrangement.”
Nine buildings housing the 78 apartments are to be converted into 71 units for sale, with additional kitchenette and bathroom facilities to provide 111 rents.
Outdoor amenities are to include two pools, one being an infinity style, and a funicular lift to the beach below. Seven units will be turned into communal facilities to include a reception area, restaurant, spa and gym.
Jamahl Simmons, the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, told the House: “This is just the beginning because there are other exciting projects that are in the pipeline.”
Kim Swan, a PLP backbencher, said that a government addressing an issue in its first year could not be accused of “kicking the can down the road”.
He added: “I would conclude that the Minister of Works bringing this here is looking to take care of this matter once and for all.”
Craig Cannonier, an OBA backbencher, said it was a “shock and surprise” to learn that the amendment would be tabled and debated on the same day.
But he added: “Let’s get this project going — because it means jobs for people.”
Jeanne Atherden, Leader of the Opposition, was also concerned the issue was being “pushed through”.
“I would just hope that we don’t have any waste created by our haste,” she said.
Colonel Burch told MPs that there was currently no agreement in place for the property.
He added that three offers of financing for the project had been made, and that two “major hotel brands” had expressed interest in its operation.
Colonel Burch said the Government was determined not to “step outside the legal framework where we are operating on a solid footing”.
The Bill, which was passed, will also enable the corporation to apply the Tourism Investment Act 2017 to the development.