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Bermuda could play ‘central role’ for UK’s OTs

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Bermuda stands to play a central role in defining the future relationship between the UK and its overseas territories, according to Overseas Territories Minister Henry Bellingham.

In a speech before a packed hall at the Bermuda College, Mr Bellingham praised the Island as “a sophisticated and high-quality business and tourist destination with a highly developed government system”.

He commended Premier Paula Cox’s “recent initiatives to strengthen governance mechanisms”.

Mr Bellingham then touched on the UK’s governance issues with another of its 14 former colonies. He said: “The situation we are now handling in the Turks and Caicos Islands is one that we do not want to see repeated in other Territories, and we will be seeking, through this strategy and other mechanisms, to ensure that we do not.”

The Minister’s audience, Governor Sir Richard Gozney noted, included “more former Premiers than I have seen in one place”: David Saul, Alex Scott and Sir John Swan attended, along with Premier Paula Cox, numerous members of her Cabinet, US Consul General Grace Shelton, Director of Public Prosecutions Rory Fields, and Hamilton Mayor Charles Gosling.

Mr Bellingham’s visit to Bermuda, his first, is intended to give an overview of the Island’s economy and political system, as well as to “launch a dialogue” in advance of next year’s White Paper by the UK Government on its Overseas Territories.

“We believe that at this point in the history of our relationships with the Territories, when a decade of constitutional revision is coming to a close, the time is not right to embark on further constitutional change,” Mr Bellingham said.

“Rather, our strategy is to make sure the constitutional arrangements work properly to promote the best interests of the Territories and of the UK, both now and in the future.”

He reiterated the British Government’s stance on independence, which is for Territories themselves to decide, on the basis of “the clearly expressed wish of the majority”.

Mr Bellingham’s speech underlined the UK’s wish for “good governance, public financial management and economic planning” in its Territories.

He invited feedback from “as many people in the Territories as possible”, including through an online portal.

The Minister then fielded questions from his audience.

Former Senator Walton Brown, Jr said the UK’s previous White Paper, in 1999, was “neither progressive, nor a partnership” with the Territories.

Referring to Article 73 of the United Nations charter, which he said obliged Britain to move its Overseas Territories toward self-government, Mr Brown asked for the Minister’s comment.

Mr Bellingham said that the UK “will not interfere in that decision-making process”, adding: “It’s a decision for the people of Bermuda.”

PLP Senator LaVerne Furbert asked: “We hear often in Bermuda, and particularly of people in the Opposition, being concerned about the way Government is handling finances, and that there is a need for a commission of inquiry to look into the way the Bermuda Government is handling finances. Is there a need?”

Mr Bellingham replied that the Bermuda Government does not need permission from the UK government to borrow on the international market.

He said that in discussions with the Premier, they had talked about economic challenges, her plans for lowering Bermuda’s deficit and national debt, and called Bermuda’s debt “still healthier than the UK’s”.

Mr Bellingham warned Bermuda not to be complacent about the future of its financial services industry and to diversify its economy, finishing: “The UK will not order Bermuda what to do.”

Former Premier Sir John Swan said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office currently represented Bermuda’s interests abroad.

“I have yet to believe to the process has been as energetic and as forthcoming as it should be,” he said.

Sir John said that as other world governments “retrench themselves and seek new means of revenue”, they might encroach on Bermuda’s economic well-being, and asked if the UK would “reach beyond the reach” to defend Bermuda’s interests.

“I can give you 100 percent assurance,” Mr Bellingham answered.

Noting that in the European Union and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, there were “interests that are jealous” of the Territories, Mr Bellingham said: “I don’t call them tax havens. They are wold-class offshore centres.” He said it was important for Bermuda represent its interests in the European Union, the Commonwealth and other international organisations.

A member of the audience, Joshua Butler, jumped up to speak as Mr Bellingham was leaving the room, but was cut off by the Governor.

“He told Senator Furbert we are okay, and we’re not okay,” Mr Butler charged.

Sir Richard said the Minister’s schedule did not allow for extra time to speak.

Mr Bellingham’s visit will include meeting today with Bermuda’s Olympic athletes, who will compete in London next year. He is to travel on from Bermuda this evening.

Useful website: www.fco.gov.uk.

UK Minister for Overseas Territories Henry Bellingham is joined by Governor Sir Richard Gozney at the new War Memorial on Cabinet grounds in Hamilton, yesterday.
British MP Henry Bellingham who is in charge of all Overesea Territoriies delivers a public speech at the Bermuda College Mondayy ( Photo by Glenn Tucker )
British MP Henry Bellingham who is in charge of all Overesea Territoriies delivers a public speech at the Bermuda College Monday ( Photo by Glenn Tucker )

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Published September 27, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated September 27, 2011 at 10:20 am)

Bermuda could play ‘central role’ for UK’s OTs

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