Sir John: Public should have been consulted on waterfront deal
City Hall bosses made a “major error of judgement” in their handling of the waterfront redevelopment project, according to former Premier Sir John Swan.
Sir John maintains that the public should have been widely consulted before the City decided to issue a request for proposal for the project — as was done to build new hospital facilities for the Island.
“There is one Bermuda, one Hamilton and one Hamilton Harbour. That’s it,” he said.
“No member of the public knows anything about how it is going to be developed.”
While the selection of Allied Development Partners as the lead developer for the project was announced in late January, it appears that the decision was made before the December 17 election.
It later emerged that the harbourfront had been leased to the developers.
Sir John confirmed that he was approached by Michael MacLean after the developer had acquired the rights over the waterfront.
“That waterfront does not belong to one individual,” he said. “The benefits should have been to the people of Bermuda not to one individual.
“Therefore I was not prepared to be a party to something that to me was not capable of being scrutinised by the public and demonstrate that the public would benefit.”
Sir John argued that the lease, details of which have not yet been released, and the failure to invite public participation were a betrayal of public trust, given the significance of Hamilton Harbour to the entire country.
“That was not what the Corporation was elected to do. That’s not what the public expected the Corporation to do and no other previous Corporation has done that.
“Not only have they done that, but they have also not informed the public as to what they have done. It’s fundamentally wrong.”
The former Premier told
The Royal Gazette that the waterfront project is the Island’s most important.
“It’s more important than the hospital, the hotel and more important than even building an airport,” he said.
Redeveloping the waterfront is as significant a development as signing the 1986 tax treaty with the United States, he said.
The Tax Treaty paved the way for Bermuda’s role as a jurisdiction for international business at a time when tourism was on the decline.
“Bermuda is in more trouble than people realise,” Sir John said.
“This is a time when we all need to stand up and do what is best for Bermuda. It’s not about me making money off this thing. It’s about leaving something for future generations.”
He added that the Corporation might be legally right “but is it in the public interest what has taken place?
“In other words, there might be nothing we can do about it, but it’s a shame the public has been deprived of due process.”
But he warned Bermudians not to be complacent about critical issues.
“Their children and their grandchildren will pay the price, because things have happened and nobody seems to get worked up about anything,” he said. “They get worked up about things that are irrelevant rather than things that are relevant.
“We’re paying the price and we will continue to pay the price until the public says ‘this is my little Island, I want to protect it, I want to make it work and I prepared to support those things that make it work’.
“There has to be a giving and taking in that process and we have not yet reached that stage.”
City Hall has promised that they will work with Government going forward, and that the public will be consulted.
Bermuda’s Ombudsman, Arlene Brock, has announced that her office will be conducting an own motion investigation into the operation of the Corporation with a particular focus on the waterfront project and concerns about lack of transparency.
Sir John Swan, a long-time advocate of redeveloping the waterfront, has also been mulling legal action over allegations by Mayor Graeme Outerbridge that he threatened the Corporation of Hamilton when he expressed concerns about the process being followed over the waterfront.
The matter was discussed with Deputy Mayor Donal Smith at the Corporation’s Christmas cocktail party on December 18, he told
The Royal Gazette.
Mayor Graeme Outerbridge, on January 2, wrote to Sir John alleging that Sir John had told Mr Smith, in the presence of a witness, that he would “shoot down” any announcement of the waterfront contract in the same way he had “caused” the Progressive Labour Party to lose the general election.
In response, Sir John denied that he had ever made such a threat and produced a signed statement from the purported witness who said he was not a party to such a conversation.
“How could I say that to them? It makes no sense whatsoever,” Sir John said. “I have consulted a lawyer and I could make it a matter for the courts.”
He added that the Mayor’s correspondence demonstrated for him the “potential of underhandedness”. “There’s nothing ever been published in any fashion or form that I have in any way attacked the PLP at anytime - never once.
“My job was to purely inform the public of the truth as I see it. And that’s the same thing I’m doing here; to look out for the public’s interest.”
We received no response to our request for comment from the Mayor.
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