Clubs to benefit from cash confiscated from criminals
Legislators passed into law a bill that allows money confiscated from criminals to be used by sporting clubs and community based organisations.
But a move by the Opposition Progressive Labour Party to amend the measure to specify that recipients must be in areas affected by gun violence or other serious crime was narrowly rejected.
The Proceeds of Crime Amendment Act 2013 is a “step towards” the fulfillment of the One Bermuda Alliance’s election campaign promise of a “cash back for communities” programme, Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley told the House of Assembly.
The bill will expand the use of money in the Confiscated Assets Fund to allow payments to “further the programmes of a community-based organisation or sports club that are related to youth development, sport, area improvement, community improvement or infrastructure improvement,” he said.
Currently, the Fund can be used for law enforcement, costs of treating and rehabilitating drug addicts, prevention and public education efforts on drug abuse and expenses of National Drug Control.
The Minister reminded the House of Government’s Throne Speech promise to encourage the private sector to assist the community organisations with accounting and business planning skills.
“This Government wants iconic sports and community based organisations to thrive and to play their part in making Bermuda safer and combating the gang lifestyle in this community,” Mr Dunkley continued.
He added: “We promised a means by which to channel funds into areas affected by gang violence and harmed by crime. With this Bill today we set the stage for that promise to become a tangible reality.”
Applicants would have to be registered charities or a sports club dedicated to a sporting activity regulated by a governing body.
The Opposition Progressive Labour Party supported the general aims of the bill but Shadow Attorney General Kim Wilson questioned whether it was too broad and suggested it be amended.
She argued that, as drafted, it gave organisations such as the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, which are not affected by gun violence, the same standing to apply for funds as those that are impacted.
But Attorney General Mark Pettingill said that amending the bill to restrict certain organisations from applying for the funds would be unconstitutional.
“Surely it has to be an absolute nonsense, a facetious concern, to think that any Government — ours in particular — would consider an application from the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.”
But he said: “You can’t have a provisions in legislation that, on the face of it, are discriminatory. Even if they are discriminatory against the Yacht Club in favour of Somerset Cricket Club.”
Independent MP Terry Lister supported the bill and dismissed Ms Wilson’s argument saying that a club may want to apply for funds for a programme that will benefit those affected by violence.
But he questioned what standards and conditions would be imposed on the recipients of the money and what provisions would be made for the Ministry of Youth and Sports to provide its own input on which organisation gets funding.
Only the Finance Minister and the Minister responsible for Legal Affairs are listed to authorise payments from the Confiscated Assets Fund.
Opposition MPs Walton Brown, Rolfe Commissiong, Michael Scott and David Burt also supported the measure, as did Government backbencher Jeane Atherden, and Ministers Shawn Crockwell and Bob Richards.
Mr Commissiong, whose 2006 report on Bermuda’s Sports Club was cited in the Minister’s brief, said he hoped that funding would be distributed to sports clubs most in need.
And Mr Burt called for strict guidelines to ensure the money is not used as a political “slush fund”.
The PLP’s proposed amendment was voted upon, and defeated 15-13.
About $1 million was seized by the Bermuda Police Service and the courts in 2012, Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley said.
Police made 28 cash seizures totalling $339,934.14, while the courts ordered that $800,000 be confiscated under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
“In the first quarter of 2013 there were nine further seizures under the provisions of Section 50 and initial detention orders have been obtained to the value of $134,052. A further $32,979 has been forfeited by the court under the cash forfeiture provisions and has been made available to the (Confiscated Assets) Fund,” Mr Dunkley said.
“To date the second quarter of 2013 has seen a further seven cases of cash seizure with a value of $27,685 seized and an additional $36,521 forfeited by the courts and made available to the Fund.