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Tourism governance short on transparency and independence

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Open the books: Owen Darrell, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Bermuda Tourism Authority’s recent refusal to disclose details of its board meetings is a disconcerting move that undermines the principles of transparency and accountability.

Despite a clear directive from Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez last year stating that such minutes are the type of record that “public authorities routinely and proactively disclose”, the BTA’s stance suggests a troubling disregard for public interest and governance norms.

The reasoning behind The Royal Gazette’s request for board meeting minutes spanning the past 2½ years was straightforward: taxpayers have a right to know how decisions affecting Bermuda’s tourism sector are made.

This information is not just relevant but crucial for ensuring that the BTA operates with the integrity and transparency expected of any public authority. Ms Gutierrez emphasised that taxpayers are entitled to access these records for the “sake of transparency regarding a public authority’s governance”.

Yet the BTA remains defiant, citing an inability to understand how such a request serves the public’s interest.

This situation is symptomatic of a broader issue under the Progressive Labour Party government, which has repeatedly exhibited tendencies to exert undue influence over supposedly independent bodies. The One Bermuda Alliance has consistently opposed such political interference, advocating instead for the empowerment of the BTA to function as a fully independent entity, as it did before the PLP’s interventions.

Under the OBA’s vision, the BTA would be restored to its former independence, free from daily political meddling. This would allow tourism professionals to execute their roles effectively, fostering a more dynamic and responsive tourism strategy. It is worth noting that the BTA has seen a revolving door of leadership under the PLP, a clear indication of the instability and inefficacy brought about by political interference.

The OBA’s stance is unequivocal: we believe in the separation of politics from the professional management of our tourism sector. Our approach is to ensure that bodies such as the BTA operate transparently and independently, accountable to the public they serve rather than being subject to the whims of political actors.

Independent body: Wayne Caines, chairman of the Bermuda Tourism Authority (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Given the BTA’s refusal to disclose board meeting minutes, it is imperative to question the stance of the tourism minister and the chairman of the BTA. Do they support this move, and how do they reconcile it with their party’s purported commitment to transparency? The electorate deserves clarity on whether the BTA will continue to operate in this opaque manner or if it will align with the principles of good governance and public accountability.

The people of Bermuda deserve a BTA that is transparent in its operations and free from political interference. This is not merely a matter of good governance but a fundamental principle of democratic accountability. The OBA remains steadfast in its commitment to these ideals and will continue to advocate for a tourism authority that serves the best interests of Bermuda, not the narrow objectives of political expediency.

The call for transparency and independence in the BTA is not a partisan issue but a public-interest imperative. Bermuda's tourism sector is too vital to be hampered by lack of accountability and constant political intervention. It is time for the BTA to open its books, restore public trust, and operate with the transparency that the people of Bermuda rightly expect and deserve.

Restore public trust: Maurice Foley is the One Bermuda Alliance candidate for St David’s (Constituency 3)

• Maurice Foley is the One Bermuda Alliance candidate for St David’s (Constituency 3)

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Published June 20, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated June 20, 2024 at 7:21 am)

Tourism governance short on transparency and independence

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