‘The people want to elect their officials’
St George's residents labelled a plan to turn the Olde Towne into a quango as an attack on democracy at a public meeting last night.
Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, told attendees the change would mean a higher priority from the Government and better funding for the Corporation of St George.
Residents, however, questioned why the Government could not simply increase funding without changing the municipality.
Mr Roban also promised that the reform would help the Government bring the St George's marina project to life, but Quinell Francis, the Mayor of St George, said the corporation has been waiting for the Government to pass legislation for the marina for years.
Ms Francis said: “It has been with the Government for the past eight years. We have seen the Progressive Labour Party, the One Bermuda Alliance and now the PLP again.
“We have been waiting for the legislation to be put forth to be approved, and now we are being told again that it is on the agenda and all we can do is hope that this will come to fruition.”
She added that the residents of the town were unhappy about the loss of their ability to vote for the candidates they want in the corporation.
Ms Francis said: “From this meeting, it's very clear that the people want to elect their officials. This town is a close-knit community and that has been the buzz around the town, that they won't have their say.
“An appointed board instead of an elected board doesn't sit well in the Town of St George. That is the main concern.”
More than 100 people attended the meeting at East End Primary with Zane DeSilva, the Minister of Tourism and Transport, and Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, joining Mr Roban in answering questions.
In an opening presentation, Mr Roban said the change from a municipality to a quango would benefit the town in a variety of ways.
He said: “It will mean enhanced services, including the deployment of smart-city technology. It will mean improved infrastructure.
“It will mean better upkeep of public spaces, and it will allow, finally, for the creation of a marina, which St George's have long desired.
“It will also allow the creation of a World Heritage Site management plan for the town, which is crucial for the continuation of St George as a Unesco World Heritage Site.”
Mr Roban said the legislation would also ensure that residents have a say in the creation of a strategic plan for the town.
He added the legislation would not result in any job losses or that the operation structure of the municipalities would be lost.
Mr Roban said: “It does not mean a takeover. That is the word that has been bandied about quite a bit over the past couple of weeks.
“The people of St George will be the ones making the decisions of the town.
“Persons who reside, or do business, or work in the town will have the opportunity to provide input to the selection process of the mayor and the councillors, especially four of those councillors.”
Residents questioned why it was necessary to “dismantle” the corporation to achieve that aim and voiced concern about an appointed corporation.
One resident said: “If the people who are really involved in this, who are living in the town, are not going to be electing their mayor and councilmen, I'm not sure if that's really the will of the people.”
Another said: “While the ministry might not want to call it a takeover, that's essentially what it is.
“It seems like a bit of a coup d'état in reverse by the central government.”
Cyniqua Anderson, a common councillor for the town, added it was misleading for the Government to say residents would have involvement in the selection of four of the councillors.
She said: “According to the Bill, there's this selection committee of three people that will appoint the remaining four.
“It also mentions that the selection committee is appointed by you [the Government] as well. So it seems to me as if you appoint all the individuals.”
Mr Roban replied that the selection committee will be made up of people from the town, and they would select from the people who put their names forward to sit on the corporation.