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Burt announces land grabs inquiry

David Burt, the Premier (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda's “historic wrongs” that deprived citizens of property are to be investigated by a commission of inquiry, David Burt announced yesterday.

The Premier told the House of Assembly that some victims might have died, along with “those who committed wrongs”.However, he added: “It is never too late for justice.”

Mr Burt said that the House had approved a commission in July 2014.

But it was turned down by George Fergusson, then the Governor, which sparked a protest march on Government House.The House passed a Bill authorising the Premier to approve a Commission of Inquiry in 2015.

Mr Burt said the commission would “likely” consist of a judge, an expert in conveyancing, a land title officer and two lay members, as well as a secretary.

The Premier told MPs that a budget was being prepared.

The answer came in response to questions from Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition.

Cost was one of the reasons given by Mr Fergusson for his rejection of a commission five years ago because it was suggested that the Britain should cover the expenses for the inquiry.

His veto led to demands from the Opposition for the Governor to be recalled, which was followed by a Progressive Labour Party boycott of Parliament.

Mr Burt told the House that costs would be “prudently managed” and said he hoped to bring further updates during this session of Parliament.

He added that the selection process for commission members and administrative planning had already started.

The original push for a formal investigation came from Walton Brown, a government backbencher who was then an Opposition MP.

The Premier said yesterday that Mr Brown had “quietly kept attention to it” since the PLP returned to government in July 2017.

Mr Brown declined to comment yesterday, but told The Royal Gazette last year that the commission would hear testimonies from “people who had land stolen from them”.

He added: “It all emanates from the fact that we had lawyers and realtors who conspired to deprive Bermudians of property.”

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, highlighted the same practices when he announced updates to the land title registry last year. Mr Brown has maintained that allegations of a property swindle clouded the compulsory purchase of 500 acres at Tucker's Town in Hamilton Parish, which was approved by Parliament in 1920.

The family of Etoile Burch said last year that they believed they had been unjustly deprived of land in Warwick that included the site of the Grand Atlantic development.

Mr Brown said in January that budget constraints prevented the commission from going ahead.

However, Mr Burt told the House yesterday that “technology will play a large part in keeping costs down”.

To read David Burt's statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”