Land grabs’ back on PLP agenda
A commission to investigate the island’s history of “land grabs” could still take place years after it was controversially turned down.
Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, told The Royal Gazette that a Commission of Inquiry into the issue remained “a priority of the Government”.
Mr Brown was an Opposition MP when he led the call for a formal investigation in the House of Assembly in May 2014.
The motion pushed for a review of “the historic losses in Bermuda of citizens’ property”, and sparked a march on Government House after it was turned down by the Governor of the day, George Fergusson.
In an interview to mark the Progressive Labour Party’s first year back in power, Mr Brown said the matter was “still very much on the agenda but it’s a question of having the budget put aside”.
He added: “It all emanates from the fact that we had lawyers and realtors who conspired to deprive Bermudians of property.
“We know there is a fundamental injustice there and it needs to be rectified. We will have a commission that will take testimony from people who had land stolen from them, which will give its findings and proposals for a resolution.”
The call for a Commission of Inquiry in 2014, when Mr Brown was Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, cited instances of land grabs as late as the 1970s, through what Mr Brown termed “illicit practices by a cabal of lawyers, real estate agents and banks”.
The motion passed, but Mr Fergusson dismissed it by stating its concerns were “neither so clear nor so urgent”, as well as on grounds of expenditure.
That refusal led to a PLP boycott for the rest of the summer session, as well as calls by the party for the Governor to be recalled.
However, four years on, Mr Brown said he was “very confident that this will happen in due course and hopefully not too far in the future”.
Mr Brown said he planned to table a Bill for the licensing of debt collection agencies in the House of Assembly on Friday, the last session before the summer break.
He said: “It is designed to bring them under control, including the extraordinary rate they charge, and it is an initiative we are very proud of”.
Other priorities for the ministry are immigration reform and labour relations, he said.
Mr Brown said that the working group on immigration reform meets each week, and “we are ploughing through the legislative initiatives required”.
He added that he hoped for legislation to be tabled by November, with top priorities being clearer policies on the extension of Permanent Resident’s Certificates and the granting of Bermuda status.
He added: “It’s a remarkable balance that we have to strike, which is part of the challenge. We have to recognise that Bermudians should come first, and at the same time offer some measure of comfort to people that have been here for 20 to 25 years.”