City of Hamilton welcomes municipalities’ review
A Government review of Bermuda’s two municipalities has been welcomed by Corporation of Hamilton chief Graeme Outerbridge.
Yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy announced that a review of both Hamilton and St George’s corporations was being carried out “in an effort to improve efficiency and effectiveness, as well as increase oversight in accordance with the principles of good governance”.
“The fundamental issue is to ensure that we increase the democratic process to ensure good governance for the benefit of all Bermudians,” Minister Fahy said.
Tensions between Government and City bosses erupted in 2010 after the former PLP administration introduced the Municipalities Reform Act. The law removed the rights of business owners to vote in Corporation elections and also funnelled wharfage fees from the two towns into the coffers of central Government.
And there has been further friction between the Corporation of Hamilton and Government after councillors unveiled plans for a new harbour development in the capital earlier this year. The Ombudsman is now investigating an alleged “lack of transparency” at City Hall in the wake of concerns about a secret lease signed for the redevelopment, while Government has refused to endorse the project because it has not been provided with essential documents.
“This is a project of significant national importance and as we go forward the Government will consider how to best represent the interests of the people of Bermuda as opposed to leaving such decisions to the sole discretion of the Corporation,” Minister Fahy said last month.
Yesterday, Mr Fahy highlighted the significance of Hamilton and St George’s as “historical beacons for our Country”. But he pointed out that the corporations were operating under legislation that was now 90 years old.
“The reality ... is that the municipalities have been chartered for decades under the existing structures while our Island has experienced significant and profound political, social, cultural, economic and infrastructure development,” he said.
“In fact, until 2011, there hadn’t been any reforms to the Municipality Act since 1923. The 2011 reforms represent the beginning of a process that must now evolve in the best interest of today’s Bermuda.”
Mr Fahy also revealed that businesses may have a say in how the municipalities are run.
“We will give consideration to restoring some form of business vote addressing the issue of the disenfranchisement of these tax payers,” he said.
“To be clear, in this regard the consideration is a business vote not a property ownership vote. To this end I can confirm that discussions with the Parliamentary Registry on this matter have commenced.”
The Minister stressed that the residential vote would not be affected but that “the fundamental issue is to ensure that we increase the democratic process to ensure good governance for the benefit of all Bermudians”.
Asked about the relationship between City Hall and Government, Mr Fahy was diplomatic. ”We have a difference of opinion in terms of the waterfront project, but in terms of other matters we have had many fruitful discussions,” he said.
Hamilton Mayor Mr Outerbridge said he was “highly encouraged” by news of the review.
“Last year, the Council commenced the process of looking internally at what we would like to see reformed in the [Municipalities Reform] Act,” he said.
“I must add, the two previous City Councils had looked at and made significant suggestions on how the Act could be reformed.
“A meeting will take place next week with Minister Fahy. We are grateful that the Minister has included the Council at the start of the process. We will share our views and make recommendations.” Public meetings to discuss the review process will be held in Hamilton on May 17 and St Geior