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Throne Speech to unveil ‘college promise’

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Second Throne Speech: John Rankin, the Governor (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Government will unveil a “college promise” programme in its second Throne Speech this morning.

An excerpt from the speech, released last night, revealed the merit-based programme would offer Bermuda College scholarships to public-school students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. The excerpt said: “Recent census data revealed that alongside racial pay inequity, black Bermudians are falling behind in gaining access to higher education.

“Government must and will expand the opportunities available to access a college degree.

“To achieve this, the current financial aid grant will be increased to ensure that even more young and mature students who have the ability, but not the means, are not hindered from attending the Bermuda College.”

The programme will be just one part of the speech, to be delivered today by John Rankin, the Governor, in the Cabinet Office grounds.

The speech, intended to set out the blueprint for the Government’s year, is also likely to outline details of a pledge to legalise the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal use.

The economy, tourism and crime are some of the other areas likely to be covered in the Progressive Labour Party’s plan for the new parliamentary session.

Promises on road safety, seniors and child welfare are also expected.

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the shadow health minister, called for more information on the Government’s pledge to give free healthcare to people aged over 90.

She said the pledge questioned “not least whether it is financially sustainable in the long term”.

The One Bermuda Alliance MP added: “While I appreciate that we must help our seniors in as many ways as we can, we cannot do so unless we are convinced that this is a financially stable and affordable plan.

“The Throne Speech is coming and I hope the Premier goes into detail about this proposal, to allay concerns that this is just a return to the PLP modus operandi of expenditure of public funds to buy private votes.”

The PLP’s Throne Speech last September, the first of its new term of office, included pledges on the establishment of a living wage, a new plan for public schools, legislation to create a police authority and a review of financial assistance.

It also promised a “greater degree of protection and care for children” involved in court proceedings, a problem highlighted in recent times.

The speech said: “The Children Act 1998 will be amended to enhance the existing protocol that assigns a litigation guardian to children whose custody, care or control is before the courts.”

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, said the “representation of the children and their interests in proceedings before the court will be ensured” but did not elaborate on how the services would be funded, which children’s rights campaigners want clarified.

Campaigners will also want the treatment of children in care to figure in the speech in the wake of an investigation into the Department of Child and Family Services.

Martha Dismont, executive director of Family Centre, said this week: “We can clearly see the evidence in our community, particularly with our young adult males, that care and good treatment hasn’t been somebody’s priority.

“These issues are more than concerning, they are indicative of a much larger and dangerous problem in our community.”

Good governance will also likely be included. David Burt said in July that the House of Assembly had backed a code of conduct for MPs and the establishment of the committees.

The Premier said it was now up to the House to introduce them as “from the Government’s perspective, we’ve done our bit”.

Government also promised in its platform campaign finance reform to publicise political donations, a strengthened Public Accounts Committee, an anti-corruption watchdog, legislation to tackle voter fraud, more power for the Auditor-General to “follow the money” and performance-based pay for civil servants.

Gambling was absent from last year’s Throne Speech and it has since moved ministries, from economic development and tourism to finance.

Today’s speech could reveal why Mr Burt has backtracked on a plan to have the island’s multimillion-dollar bookmaking industry overseen by the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.

Parliament was told in February that regulation of the betting shops was being transferred to the commission.

But the BCGC became the responsibility of new finance minister Curtis Dickinson in last week’s Cabinet reshuffle and the betting sector now falls under the Ministry of Legal Affairs, which is headed by Ms Simmons.

New role: Curtis Dickinson (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)