Anger at government silence in town meeting
The people of the Town of St George made it known loud and clear at a public meeting last night that they do not want the Government interfering with Bermuda’s municipalities.
Residents and ratepayers packed out the hall at Penno’s Wharf to hear Quinell Francis, the Mayor of St George, outline details of the controversial options presented by the Progressive Labour Party.
No one among the estimated 150 in attendance spoke in favour of the proposals to either dissolve the corporations of St George and Hamilton, integrate their functions into a government administrative structure or change them into quangos giving the Government increased oversight.
They also took issue with no government representative being willing to speak on the burning issue, despite three MPs in attendance. And the unavailability of Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier who as Minister of Home Affairs has put the municipalities’ futures in doubt, was particularly grating.
“The devil is in the detail,” a woman among the audience said. “That is what is missing from this meeting.”
St George’s MP Renée Ming, a vocal advocate for St George’s, was present but made no comments. Likewise, fellow St George’s MP Kim Swan and Derrick Burgess, the Deputy Speaker of the House.
While details were scant on the Government’s vision, Ms Francis did say that she had been assured by Mr Roban that none of the scenarios would result in job losses.
Buoyed by the presence of City of Hamilton counterpart Charles Gosling, she added that the wharfage tax that the previous PLP administration removed and replaced with a much criticised government grant would remain with the corporation.
Ms Francis said that she had been in discussion with Zane DeSilva, the Minister of Tourism and Transport, with a view to generating revenue for the Olde Towne.
“The most recent proposal that we put to the Minister of Tourism was that if we get 500,000 cruise visitors, why can’t you just tax them $2.50 and at least they can get a free pass to our museums?
“That would make $1.25 million; that is increasing tax, it is not taking from the Government’s coffers.
“We left that with the minister and there is a process he has to now go through.”
Also in attendance were Opposition leader Craig Cannonier and Sylvan Richards, the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and the Environment, who wrote a scathing op-ed criticising the Government’s motives.
The crowd applauded when Ms Francis asked: “Why does legislation seem to slow for St George’s?”
Gerry Correia, the owner of Ocean Breeze Sail Charters, believes there are ulterior motives behind the Government’s moves.
“They are hurting for money and they are going to suck the blood right out of us,” he said. “Why do they want it? They probably want it because they want to build places down here to stand up more exempt companies.”
Asked which ministries would take up the functions of the corporations in the event of a takeover, Ms Francis said she had not been told, but speculated that most of the infrastructure would be absorbed by the Ministry of Public Works.
Miles Outerbridge, a retired engineering consultant, said: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“Come up with a vision for getting us out of this appalling debt. They have the audacity to think they can run the corporation?”
Neil Paynter, the president of the St George’s Cricket Club, said: “We need to focus on the locals; we need to take care of our own. People will want to come and be part of a good thing. We need to work together.”
Julie Dill, owner of Temptations café, said businesses had to stop working in “silos”.
She said: “We need to come up with a plan together.
“The Government can only do so much. The corporation can only do so much.”
A policy document has been created for public consideration, and consultation will run until Friday.
The document can be viewed at forum.gov.bm.