Roban and Burch robustly defend changes to CoH
Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, promised Hamilton’s change from a municipality to a quango would helped aid the redevelopment of the city’s waterfront.
Questioned by city residents at a public meeting last night, the minister maintained the change was not a takeover or an asset grab.
Mr Roban said: “This is not an asset grab because the municipality will remain a body corporate, as it is now.
“Put simply, the Government intends to give more support to Hamilton.
“That is the plan. In fact, that work has already begun.
For example, the new sewage project that is being undertaken by the Ministry of Public Works will replace the work currently been planned by the Corporation of Hamilton and reduce the proposed capital outlay by $8.5 million over the next three years.”
He told the almost 200 people in attendance that the new structure will help to encourage the inward investment needed for projects such the redevelopment of the Hamilton waterfront.
Mr Roban said: “Right now the waterfront is used for nothing more than cargo.
“There is more that can be done with the waterfront. It can be multifaceted in its use.”
He added: “In our own discussions with Hamilton, there have been issues that we have desired to work with Hamilton on, and they have told this government they don’t have the money to do so, such as waterfront investment.”
Several attendees voiced their support for the Government’s vision for the city, but questioned how the change from an elected committee to an appointed one would allow such projects to be financed.
One member of the public commented that the Government was “broke”.
Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, said the Government has been properly managing the island’s debt, with the 2019-20 Budget resulting in a surplus for the first time in 17 years.
An attendee shouted out “window dressing”, to which Colonel Burch responded: “Let’s really be honest.
“I suspect that most of the detractors to this proposal come from the sense of entitlement that many people feel they have in this country.
“The comment of ‘window dressing’ has to do very much with who is delivering the message.”
He added: “Forget that it’s me talking. This country is 21 square miles. Anywhere else in the world, you would not be having the replication and duplication of effort and resources of the country operating in silos.”
Giving an example, the minister said the island already has facilities in both Dockyard and St David’s which are each capable of handing all of the island’s sewage, but the Corporation of Hamilton still pumps its sewage out to sea.
Colonel Burch said: “The Corporation of Hamilton currently have in their budget $8 million to put in a new pumping station on Front Street. Why would you do that?
“That is environmentally madness. We have the ability and the plan to address the sewage for the entire country at a cheaper cost than having three companies trying to do it.”
The Government has already tabled the Municipalities Reform Act 2019, which is intended to transition the municipalities into quangos.
The Bill, if approved, would bring an end to municipal elections in Hamilton and St George’s. Elected members of the municipalities would continue to hold office until May 13, unless they resign by written notice to the minister.
The minister would then appoint a mayor and eight councillors for each of the corporations, with appointments beginning on May 14.
The mayor and four councillors would be appointed by the minister, and must be individuals he is satisfied have the skills and experience to fulfil the role. The remaining four councillors would be appointed by the minister on the recommendation of a selection committee.
That selection committee will be made up of three people, appointed by the minister, who “reside, do business or work in the municipal area of the corporation”.
The committee will invite the public to nominate candidates and review the candidates before making their recommendations to the minister.
Mr Roban has said no jobs will be lost in the transition, and the structure of the corporations would remain unchanged.
• To view a video of the meeting, visit The Royal Gazette’s Facebook page.