Corporations quango bid stalled
An attempt to turn elected corporations into government quangos remains balanced on a knife edge after it met firm resistance in the Upper House last night.
Senators rose from their debate on the Municipalities Reform Act 2019 without taking a vote and will continue their deliberations at a later sitting, possibly tomorrow.
The legislation was designed to axe the corporations of Hamilton and St George and replace them with government-appointed administrators instead.
It was passed in the House of Assembly last week. James Jardine, an independent senator who signalled his opposition to the Act, said: “This proposed amendment will take away from residents and businesses of the city and the town their existing democratic and legal right to be able to elect their own city and town officials.
Senator Jardine continued: “I am frankly very surprised and extremely disappointed that based on the history of all those who fought for fair and proper representation in the past, in all areas of Bermuda life, that the Government now wants to deprive residents and businesses, in both of these municipalities, of the right to elect their own city and town representatives, as has been the case for many years.”
He added: “I, therefore, see no valid reason to change the existing operating structure of either the Corporation of Hamilton or the Corporation of St George.”
Mr Jardine said legislation that allowed the Government to exercise control over the actions of both municipalities was already “more than sufficient”.
Michelle Simmons, who is also an independent member of the Upper House, told senators: “The consensus from what I gather is that in neither St George nor Hamilton are people happy about losing the right to elect their representatives. They are not happy about seeing this erosion of the democratic process. The purpose of local government, as I see it — ie, the municipalities — is to shine a spotlight at the local level so things can happen at a faster pace. Government already has a lot to do.”
Ms Simmons added: “At this point, I cannot support this legislation because it fails to uphold the democratic process that the people of this country expect of us.”
If the two independent members maintain their position in the event of a vote, combined with the three One Bermuda Alliance senators, that could force a stalemate.
They would face the five-strong group of Progressive Labour Party government senators expected to support the Bill and leave Joan Dillas-Wright, the Senate president, with the casting vote.
Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, told the Upper House that an originating summons was filed in the Supreme Court yesterday.
She explained that the Corporation of Hamilton was the applicant and the respondents were listed as the Attorney-General and the Governor of Bermuda.
Ms Simmons read from the legal document and told senators that the corporation sought an order ruling that the Municipalities Reform Act 2010 and other amendment Acts, as well as the decision by the Government to convert the corporation into a quango through the Municipalities Reform Act 2019, would contravene sections of the Constitution by the depriving the city of property without compensation.
She added: “They are talking about all of the Acts that give the democratic rights to the residents of the municipalities.”
Jason Hayward, a PLP senator, insisted that the Government would not compromise the position of its “excellent” MPs in St George's — Renée Ming and Kim Swan — by a lack of commitment to the residents and businesses in the town.
He said plans for Hamilton included a “multifaceted” waterfront project and increased city living as well as bringing tenants back into vacant office space.
Mr Hayward added: “What we are attempting to do is move the country forward, the Government has the best interests of the people of Bermuda at heart, I haven't heard any compelling argument against why this should happen.”
He said the move was not about an “erosion of democracy” and added: “I believe we've been kind of bamboozled to believe that somehow this Government is eroding rights when we are attempting to make the City as efficient, as effective, as vibrant as it can be.”
Nick Kempe, an OBA senator and the shadow finance minister, believed the Act was “not in the interest of the people”.
He said: “It improves no processes, it improves no oversight, it adds nothing of value to the corporations that's not already there in the existing Act and it's simply a rollback of the democratic process.”
The Attorney-General added later that because of “some of the arguments advanced and representations made, which may cause senators to pause and consider their positions”, she proposed that the Senate rise and report progress on the second reading of the 2019 Act.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include comments from senators Jason Hayward and Nick Kempe.