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Back to drafting table for waterfront development

An agreement to develop the Hamilton waterfront has been declared void by MPs following a heated debate in the House of Assembly.

Both the motion and supporting legislation went to vote, and passed only by the governing One Bermuda Alliance's majority.

The Corporation of Hamilton's ground lease, agreement to develop and agreement to redevelop with Allied Trust and Allied Partners Limited had been deemed contrary to national interests by Government, OBA MP Sylvan Richards told the House.

The Junior Minister of Home Affairs said the motion to strike down the agreements had been brought over concerns raised by the Ombudsman's report on the RFP process.

Mr Richards said that “the Government is not supportive of the lease agreement and the terms and conditions therein”, adding: “We don't believe this to be in the best interests of Bermuda, since it involves such a large tranche of land.”

Government had only learned that the agreement had been signed after it was reported in the media, Mr Richards added.

The Progressive Labour Party denounced the ability of Parliament to reject a property deal, with MPs across the Opposition side rising to condemn the legislation as tarnishing the Island's reputation abroad — and exposing Bermuda to the risk of law suit.

Around 1am, the motion was narrowly affirmed by an 18 to 14 vote — with MPs Shawn Crockwell, Michael Weeks and Michael Scott left outside the Chamber when time was called to lock the doors.

It followed an equally rancorous House session over the controversial Municipalities Amendment Act 2014, which allowed any agreement rejected by the Legislature to be voided “ab initio” — meaning they should be treated as invalid from the outset.

Again, Mr Richards introduced the bill, telling MPs its ab initio provision would “clarify and place beyond doubt” that any agreement rejected by Parliament had been struck out.

The Opposition did not object to the amendments adjusting wharfage, which the PLP's Walter Roban called normal business.

But Mr Roban and a host of other PLP MPs said the Act amounted to governmental interference into a private agreement.

Corporation agreements were first brought before the House last year — and approved over unanimous objections by the Opposition.

“It was wrong then, and we still feel it's wrong now,” Mr Roban said.

In the ensuing debate, the various Opposition members accused the OBA government of autocratic and undemocratic behaviour.

Shadow Finance Minister David Burt denounced the legislation as politically reprehensible and damaging to the Island's reputation — an opinion seconded by Rolfe Commissiong, who said it “smacks of autocracy”, and questioned its motives.

Glenn Blakeney asked if Government would have tried to bring such legislation against the former Hamilton administration under Charles Gosling, while Walton Brown called it unconscionable, saying: “Government has lost its moral compass.”

Shadow Attorney General Kim Wilson took aim at the retroactivity of Parliament's power to strike down an existing agreement.

“Void ab initio means it's void from the start,” Ms Wilson told the House. “Like it never happened.”

She cited Parliament's responsibility to the electorate, saying: “Us passing this legislation offends the law.

“For us as Parliamentarians sitting here discussing passing a law that has the effect of voiding a contract of law is a really sad state of affairs.”

Ms Wilson also warned that anybody affected would likely sue Government.

Lawrence Scott meanwhile said the Government were putting themselves over the public, saying the company involved has not done anything illegal.

“They are bringing this so its now legal for them to pick, choose and refuse who get's certain contracts, and that's not right,” Mr Scott said. “It goes against the fabric of democracy.”

Zane DeSilva argued the legislation sends a “terrible message to those who would invest in the Island”, questioning the reasons for the legislation.

And Opposition Leader Marc Bean called the Act “the straw that will break the camel's back”, saying it will have a lingering impact on the Island.

“It's fascist,” he said. “I'm not saying that the One Bermuda Alliance is fascist, but this legislation is fascist legislation.”

Independent MP Terry Lister meanwhile said the developer had already invested thousands, if not millions of dollars in the Par-la-Ville hotel project only to have the legislation being debated putting their rightful bid at risk.

Responding to the concern, Mr Richards noted the Ombudsman's Special Report on the Waterfront Project, which stated: “If development of Hamilton Harbour is indeed a priority of the Corporation of Hamilton, Government and people of Bermuda, then ideally, we should start over.”

Mr Richards added: “That's what we are doing tonight.”

Calling the objections across the floor “hyperbole”, Mr Richards said section 14(3) of the Amendments Act allowed “only those agreements that are currently tabled” to be rejected.

“After this, no more contracts can be brought to the legislature.”

The bill was approved by a narrow margin of 18 to 15 in favour of the Government side, shortly after midnight, with all Opposition MPs voting against.

City of Hamilton Waterfront.(Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 10, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 10, 2014 at 2:01 pm)

Back to drafting table for waterfront development

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