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Parks protection body back with Zane DeSilva at helm

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Banyans at Southlands, a national park (File photograph)

An advisory body set up to help protect Bermuda’s national parks has been re-established, about 15 months after it was disbanded.

The National Parks Commission will be chaired by Zane DeSilva, head of a construction company and a government MP, according to a notice in the Official Gazette.

One environmental charity yesterday welcomed the return of the commission but said its re-establishment should not have taken so long.

Karen Border, the executive director of the Bermuda National Trust, said: “BNT is very pleased that the National Parks Commission has been re-established.

“This important statutory body should never have been dismissed in the first place and it should not have taken more than a year of lobbying to get it reinstated, but we are glad that it will once again be able to carry out its function of advising on Bermuda’s national park system.

“Bodies such as the National Parks Commission are a critical part of maintaining a healthy democracy in Bermuda, as they provide an arena through which Government can seek the advice of individuals or organisations with specialist expertise and independent perspectives.

“The NPC brings together a diverse group of people with environmental expertise, open space management expertise, tourism expertise and representatives of park users, who together seek to ensure that environmental needs, community needs and tourism needs are all taken into account and appropriately balanced.”

She added: “BNT’s representative Myles Darrell looks forward to working with the other members of the commission to ensure the best outcomes for Bermuda in the management of our national parks.”

The commission’s existence is set out in the Bermuda National Parks Act 1986, which said that its primary function was to advise the responsible minister “on matters affecting the long-term conservation and management” of the national parks system.

The body was disbanded in December 2022.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, told members that they were no longer required.

He wrote then: “We will be making modifications and administrative changes in the first quarter of 2023 and I am choosing to take the Parks Commission in a new direction.”

In a letter to the Bermuda Audubon Society last year, Colonel Burch said that the parks commission had been “acting outside of” legislation and "in spite of ministry attempts to get them to operate within the law there has been no progress“.

He wrote: “As such there is a need for legislative change which we are advancing and there will be no appointment of a commission until that process is completed.“

A government spokeswoman said in January: “Upon research of the National Parks Act and its definition of responsibilities of the National Parks Commission, there is no need for legislative amendments at this time.”

The Act said members of the commission must include representatives from the BNT, the Audubon Society, the National Museum of Bermuda and the Bermuda Zoological Society.

Zane DeSilva, the MP, was named chairman of the National Parks Commission last week (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Mr DeSilva, the president and chief executive of Island Construction Services, told The Royal Gazette yesterday that his experience in the building sector will be beneficial to the parks body.

He said: “I have been in this field for a very long time.

“With my experience and relationships with everyone, it will be very beneficial to the commission.”

The government backbencher said members of the body will formally meet in a few weeks “when we will have full discussions”.

Trina Bean is to serve as deputy chairwoman of the commission, the Official Gazette notice, dated April 3, said.

As well as the BNT’s Mr Darrell, other members include Heather Bottelli, of the Audubon Society, and Tashae Thompson, of the Bermuda Tourism Association.

Also listed were Ciaran Keaveny, Colin Campbell, Gary Taylor, James Welch, Richard Winchell, Roland Hill and Sergio Lottimore.

Colonel Burch said yesterday that Mr DeSilva brought a wealth of experience to the role of parks commission chairman “both as a seasoned business owner and a dedicated Member of Parliament”.

He added: “His business acumen and understanding of public service are invaluable assets that will undoubtedly benefit the commission.

“Concerns about a potential conflict of interest due to Mr DeSilva's business interests and his parliamentary role are unfounded.

“Every chairman of boards in the Ministry of Public Works is a Member of Parliament, a practice that leverages their experience for the public good.

“I am confident that Mr DeSilva’s background and experience will greatly complement his leadership of the commission.

“His appointment follows careful consideration and is in the best interest of advancing the commission's important work.”

Board appointments complete

Residents were thanked for showing interest in becoming members of government boards and committees.

In a statement yesterday, the Government said it was pleased with the response to a call from the Cabinet Office late last year for people to serve.

It added that "the process is now complete and all appointments confirmed“.

David Burt, the Premier, said: “Several individuals who possess a wealth of knowledge in a variety of industries and disciplines are now serving on the numerous government boards and committees.

“We welcome the contributions of all those willing to serve and are confident that each member will make an invaluable contribution to Bermuda during their service."

Appointments became effective on April 1.

Mr Burt said a "breadth of talent“ existed among government MPs.

He added: “It is not uncommon for an MP to serve on a major board or committee as its chair.

“This is an excellent opportunity for government members to be involved in the governance process.”

He echoed the remarks made by Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, about the appointment of Zane DeSilva as chairman of the National Parks Commission.

The Premier said: “Based on his level of knowledge and expertise, I expect that he will make an invaluable contribution to the National Parks Commission.”

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Published April 12, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated April 13, 2024 at 8:03 am)

Parks protection body back with Zane DeSilva at helm

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