Outgoing CO: Modernise the army and allow maritime patrols
The outgoing commander of the Bermuda Regiment has called on Government to move forward with changes to the law to both modernise the part-time army and allow soldiers to carry out maritime patrols.
Lieutenant Colonel Brian Gonsalves, who steps down on June 8, told
The Royal Gazette much work had already been done in both areas and he regretted that neither had happened during his four-year tenure.
The commanding officer said the Regiment was underutilised and everyone — including the Governor, the Commissioner of Police and the Government — agreed it should provide maritime border security, rather than the police.
But the plan has been put on hold while a security and defence review is conducted.
Lt Col Gonsalves said: “The Governor and Government said ‘look, good idea, however, let’s wait until the national security review’. I understand that — it makes sense, it’s logical, I get it.
“My only comeback to that is that everybody agrees that the Regiment assumes the maritime patrols, so why wait? I would like to have seen it happen.
“In the long run, it’s going to be cheaper to hire soldiers to the job [though] it might take a little bit more money to get it started.”
Allowing soldiers to conduct the patrols would require a change to the law to grant them powers of arrest.
The CO said that amendment could be “bolted-on” to a piece of legislation drafted and tabled in Parliament late last year just before the general election.
MPs never got the chance to debate or approve the Defence Amendment Act 2012 before the change in Government — and Lt Col Gonsalves said he hoped the new administration would not shelve it.
“The people of Bermuda are crying out for the Regiment to be modernised,” he said. “We revamped the Defence Act and the Governor’s Orders.
“We spent a lot of time and effort and that was submitted to the House [of Assembly] in November 2012. I’m just disappointed it didn’t happen yet.”
The bill would have allowed soldiers to elect to be tried in Magistrates’ Court if they got into trouble at the Regiment.
Fines for failing to turn up for military service would have risen from $900 to $2,000 and the age limit for conscripts would have gone up from 33 to 35 years old.
Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley told this newspaper: “The Defence Amendment Act 2012 was tabled on the eve of the dissolution of the Legislature for the general election.
“The bill is being reviewed and it is intended that it be tabled in this [parliamentary] session.”
The security and defence review — which is looking at the Regiment, Bermuda Police Service, Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service, HM Customs and the Department of Marine and Ports Services — was discussed at a Government House press conference yesterday.
Mr Dunkley said Government supported the security and defence review “based on the importance of effective internal security and strong border control to our citizens and those who visit our Island”.
He added: “It is the Government’s hope that the review will identify logical synergies and chart a working framework that eliminates any duplication of effort and recommends tasks that best suit the strengths and resources of all.
“One obvious area for consideration is the maritime aspect of our border control.
“There are significant opportunities to strengthen our operations at sea and to increase our interdictive presence in the fight against guns, gangs, drugs and violence.
“It is also important to note that this Government’s commitment to the elimination of conscription is not affected by this review.
“The committee will consider Bermuda’s security needs post-conscription, in keeping with this Government’s promise to grow the full-time component of the Bermuda Regiment.”
Governor George Fergusson said the review would help establish how the organisations can best work together and examine “the joins” between them, to see where they overlap.
Useful website: www.bermudaregiment.bm