OBA helped St George but more needs to be done
“The most cogent reason for restricting the interference of government is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power” — John Stuart Mill
Now that we are bang in between the Budget and the Budget Reply we can’t lose sight of the fact that the Government’s woeful consultation period in respect of the takeover of the corporations of Hamilton and St George is now over.
In reviewing the Government’s intent to take over the corporations, I came across an opinion piece I wrote two years ago (February 25, 2017) in my capacity as Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities, as a result of continued misinformation spread by the Progressive Labour Party that the One Bermuda Alliance government did nothing for St George.
Given some of the commentary surrounding the supposed lack of OBA support for St George online and at the public meeting on February 18, 2019, it is worth reminding people of that piece simply because it depicts the facts.
I reiterate these facts again in the spirit of refreshing transparency which we can again agree appears to be a rare occurrence with the current administration.
These facts provide evidence that will enter the annals of history that the OBA enhanced the Corporation of St George’s ability to run its own affairs with the appropriate autonomy.
“I took time in the Senate this week to remind senators and Bermuda that soon after this government took office, it passed the Corporation of St George (Unesco World Heritage Fund and Levy) Act in 2013, which enables the town to collect a tax on fuel landed at Ferry Reach. That tax has been a bonanza for St George, and a boon for the state of Bermuda’s infrastructure as a whole.
“The work that the corporation has been able to accomplish as a result has been quite astonishing and should make us all glad that it has been undertaken at about the same time as work on a new hotel in St George is beginning — and as the town is expecting 12 regular cruise ship visits this year and in every year from 2017 through 2021.
“The Olde Towne owes much to my colleague, the MP for St George’s North, Kenny Bascome.
“As a former mayor of the town, he recognised perhaps more clearly than any of us that years of neglect and lack of proper funding had pushed St George into a state of acute disrepair. It was his insistence that gave impetus to the project.
“There have been two significant shipping-related, infrastructure projects undertaken in St George. These have been prioritised because of the demands, especially for dock space, expected by the America’s Cup events.
“The first is a project that will result in $613,513.18 being spent by the corporation on Ordnance Island and Market Wharf. Four areas of work there are nearly completed:
“1, Replacement of roof on Penno’s Warehouse, at a cost of $436,040
“2, Extension of the fresh water line to Penno’s, $92,499.79
“3, Water Street Sewer line repair, $62,461.73
“4, Dock repair engineering drawings, $22,511.66
“The second is the refurbishment of Hunter’s Wharf. The Government has contributed $1,480,224.19 to the Penno’s Wharf/Hunter’s Wharf Refurbishment project. These funds have been allocated as follows:
“1, Fendering, $42,732
“2, Dock resurfacing, $553,535
“3, Hunter’s Wharf repairs, $654,722.19
“4, Bollard replacement, $100,000
“5, CCTV cameras, $83,590
“6, X-ray machine, $45,645
“The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation fund is to be used for infrastructure improvements for the town, upgrades to the fortifications and can be used also to promote the Old Towne to ensure that we retain its World Heritage site designation.
“To date, the corporation has used $49,918 to fund Unesco projects as follows:
“1, Gunpowder plot, $5,000
“2, Historic Building Informational signs, $8,000
“3, Unesco World Teachers Day promotional banners, $4,600
“4, St Peter’s Church, $20,000
“5, Clemson University mapping project, $3,520
“6, Unesco brochures, $6,500
“7, Unesco membership dues, $2,298
“At the time the tax was passed, there were some who said that this was not appropriate or would not be used properly. I told the Senate this week that the sums are in fact managed well by the Corporation of St George and, by way of information, I can advise that there is $1,205,145.21 remaining in the account.
“The corporation will use those funds to fund wharf projects within the town, with the breakdown below:
“1, Hunter’s Wharf shortfall, $462,933.90
“2, Ordnance Island and Market Wharf, $589,468.03
“As can be seen, had it not been for the Unesco Levy and this government’s commitment to the Olde Towne, things would not be so rosy for St George.
“It is the first time in many years that there has been a dedicated regular cruise ship visiting St George, which will bring a much needed boost for retailers and is a part of a deal made between the Government and Norwegian Cruise Lines.
“The agreement also includes bringing two catamaran ferries to the island for the run from Dockyard to the East End, along with a yearly investment of $150,000 by NCL to sponsor tourism enhancement in co-operation with the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
“This government remains committed to the Old Towne — we returned the ability for the town to collect wharfage fees, which provide significant income for its budget. Many may recall that in 2014 we stepped in to give a cash injection of $750,000 to the corporation to enable bathroom upgrades, dock repairs and for the purchase of a new vehicle.
“And, of course, we are still looking forward to the commencement of the St Regis-branded hotel, which will create jobs and opportunities for Bermudians.
“I raised all this in the Senate because sometimes there is convenient amnesia regarding how things have happened and how improvements are made. It is my view that the Olde Towne will go from strength to strength and we will continue to support wherever we can to see it thrive.”
Now back to present day. The hotel project is well under way, bypass roads around the project have been completed (commenced under the OBA), the catamaran ferries arrived as promised bringing tourists to St George. Oh and the beach always remained opened to the public!
So rather than hamper the town as the PLP narrative will have you believe, the OBA helped St George. And helped the town significantly! However, more needs to be done.
With the hotel due to be completed next year and with more phases to follow, there is hope on the horizon for a real economic boost for St George. The developers should be thanked for their continued support despite the many obstacles faced and cynical undermining of the project they constantly had to deal with from the PLP.
Given the PLP’s record when interfering, we should be very worried indeed!
Of special note is that at the recent public meeting, MP Renee Ming reportedly said nothing about government plans to take over the corporations. When the OBA introduced changes in respect of giving the Government oversight (not takeover) of the corporations in May 2015, then senator Renee Ming, as shadow minister for municipalities, voted against it.
By way of reason she said at the time: “I see this as legislation that hampers and makes the corporations powerless. I’m talking about both Hamilton and St George.” Amazing how her view appears to have changed!
Is silence consent in this context, or an absence of substance, or both? Does she accept that the most cogent reason for restricting the interference of government is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power? You decide.
•Michael Fahy is a former Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities, and Junior Minister of Finance under the One Bermuda Alliance government