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The truth behind municipality takeovers: progress or justice?

It was something that Charles Gosling said that gets us to thinking that there may be something more afoot in this quango kerfuffle than the Bermuda Government merely wishing to modernise the governance of the corporations of Hamilton and St George.

“This minister is wanting to finish what he started in 2009!”

It is not until you drill deeper into those comments by the Mayor of Hamilton, the history of the Hamilton waterfront and the extraordinary reshuffle of David Burt's Cabinet that sent ministries, ministers and departments scurrying every which way that you can begin to make a little sense of what is playing out before our eyes.

And how the name Michael MacLean very well may be in the frame once the dust begins to settle.

For now, Gosling is determined to use whatever legal means available to prevent Walter Roban's “asset grab” of the municipality being given Royal Assent, allied to a belief that the Olde Towne was shoehorned into the package as collateral damage amid a legislative smokescreen.

The scarcely believable haste with which a plea for St George to be afforded its own Act was met in the affirmative is as easy to see through as a premium-grade colonoscopy — bureaucracy is not nearly that fluid, is it?

Gosling was given a great leg-up by the Upper House on Friday when the independent senators, eloquently led by Senate president Joan Dillas-Wright, effectively told Roban to take back his Municipalities Reform Act 2019 and change it — but not without bringing the people along for the ride in democratic fashion.

It is the first piece of legislation the Senate has pushed back on since the Progressive Labour Party reclaimed the Government in July 2017, and the first brakes put on any government since the Private Member's Bill brought by Wayne Furbert, designed to outlaw same-sex marriage, came a cropper almost 12 months earlier.

Roban and Co can still ram this down the people's throats, whether they like it or not and with nary more consultation, by simply observing the one-year waiting period and resubmitting the legislation in the Lower House — after which point a muted Senate would be obliged to pass it on to the “Big House on the Hill” for Royal Assent.

Which would then trigger the increased likelihood of the Mayor of Hamilton's writ being brought out of cold storage.

For a blast from the past, a government takeover of the municipalities was all the rage ten years ago when Roban and Gosling were newbies in their respective positions. Roban was seriously wet behind the ears, having been introduced to Cabinet by Ewart Brown as a Minister without Portfolio only days earlier, while Gosling was a short time away from becoming Hamilton mayor for the first time.

What followed was thrust and counterthrust until a sequence of events put the PLP government's plans for the corporations in abeyance:

• The death of health minister Nelson Bascome, which led ultimately to Roban taking on that ministry during the time frame of the FutureCare ruckus and a capital project that remains a political talking point to this day — the new Acute Care Wing at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital

• Paula Cox becoming party leader and Premier of Bermuda after Brown, having unapologetically eroded the goodwill that provided a significant majority government, took his leave in the middle of an election cycle

• The PLP losing the 2012 General Election to the upstart One Bermuda Alliance, a political newcomer that was an amalgamation of the short-lived Bermuda Democratic Alliance and a breakaway United Bermuda Party element that was determined to leave leader Kim Swan to man a sinking ship on his own

MacLean, a name that instantly conjures thoughts of waterfronts, parking lots and $18 million bridging loans gone bad, is on record as saying the PLP's ambition to take over the municipalities did him no favours. And when the developer resurfaced in late 2017 in a sequence of YouTube releases, flanked by Eron Hill, the hybrid aspiring lawyer-youth activist, he made it abundantly clear that he had been let down by Walton Brown — even before he was appointed home affairs minister.

“It will be exactly what I was going to do with it,” he told The Royal Gazette of the waterfront's future in almost soothsayer fashion in December 2017. “The proposal I put forward was for a mixed-use development and an investment hub.

“The OBA took it from me and the PLP now has a free run at being able to take the waterfront.”

The Cabinet reshuffle in November meant that ministerial oversight of the municipalities had come full circle from ten years ago — from Roban, to Zane DeSilva during his brief stint as Minister without Portfolio, to Michael Fahy in the OBA government, to Brown and now back to Roban.

Hence, Gosling's “finish what he started” comment.

Amid all the talk of modernisation and smart cities, there is an undercurrent of retribution in the air and an evening of scores with the oligarchies that have kept black people, in particular, under their thumb since slavery was abolished in 1834. None of this could be gleaned publicly until the Senate began debating Municipalities Reform Act 2019 when, first, Kathy Lynn Simmons last Wednesday and then Crystal Caesar on Friday took us down a path that just may have given clarity to the party's endgame.

Government House rejected in 2014 Parliament's request to launch a commission of inquiry predominantly into the Tucker's Town “land grabs” of the 1920s that displaced blacks from their homes in the name of tourism development.

It is a sore that has become cancerous and from which much of the racial rancour that permeates our loosely woven social fabric originates.

But unless more concrete facts are produced and it can be established that such an action is in the interest of public welfare — George Fergusson's sentiment in rejecting the PLP's call for a commission of inquiry when in Opposition — there is virtually no chance of Government House authorising exceptional use of the Consolidated Fund, let alone getting on hands and knees to ask the British Government to make reparations to compensate for those times and for the period that gave birth to the base lands.

So where will the money come from?

A clue can be found in an excerpt from Burt's address to the PLP delegates conference last October:

“Over the next four years, we must also deal with justice. I can remember in 2014 when a land-grab motion was passed in Parliament and a commission of inquiry was never called by the Governor.

“Justice is about finding the truth, and there is no price that you can put on justice, and so we will find the resources to ensure that we have the inquiry.”

Playing the long game: Walter Roban was a wet-behind-the-ears Minister without Portfolio in 2009, and less than a week in the job, when he first rose in the House of Assembly to put in motion a takeover of the municipalities. This time as the minister responsible he has waited three months before relaunching the plan, but he and the PLP will have to wait another 12 months after the Senate laid a temporary roadblock (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 25, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated March 25, 2019 at 9:01 am)

The truth behind municipality takeovers: progress or justice?

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