Burch’s warning to corporations
The new municipalities minister vowed yesterday to press on with a plan to axe the corporations of Hamilton and St George.
Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch admitted there was opposition to the proposal to replace the local authorities with unelected quangos but told the House of Assembly: “This administration is not afraid to take this on.”
Colonel Burch, who took the municipalities portfolio from Walter Roban in a Cabinet reshuffle last month, also had strong words for St George, which he said many had condemned as a “sleepy ole town”.
He told the corporation to “get with the programme” and make the Olde Towne more attractive when Bermuda attempted to reignite its tourism industry next summer.
The Municipalities Reform Act, which aimed to abolish the corporations, was passed by MPs in March 2019 but rejected by the Upper House after senators questioned the level of public support.
Colonel Burch told MPs that the legislation was “the elephant in the room” when he held his first meetings with the corporations.
He said: “It is no secret that it was the then minister's intention, who had responsibility for municipalities, to bring this legislation back to the House after the summer break.
“He was carrying out a government initiative and I can see no reason why I would change course now that I have assumed this responsibility.
“On an island as small as ours, I simply cannot understand why there are three separate governments.”
The minister said the Corporation of Hamilton had to consider economies of scale in the post-Covid world.
He explained: “You have the Government on the one hand collecting garbage, providing engineering services, managing waste and sewerage, while the Corporation of Hamilton provides the exact same services, only delineated by the invisible line in the sand.
“This is but one example of duplication of effort and we must have the serious conversation as the island is only 21 miles long and, in most jurisdictions, the municipality has a larger footprint.”
He added: “I realise that many have their views on this. But what I can say is that the former administration had a similar view — however, this administration is not afraid to take this on, hence the tabling of the legislation.”
Colonel Burch said that his early meetings with mayors Charles Gosling of Hamilton and George Dowling of St George had been fruitful.
But he told the House: “I have never been one to mince my words, so I took the liberty of reminding the team of the Corporation of St George that they must up their game and be ready for when the visitors descend on their town in ten months.
“No longer does anyone want to hear ‘St George's used to be this or used to be that'.
“I challenged the team to get with the programme as none of us want visitors landing on our beautiful island only to complain that St George's was a ‘sleepy ole town' with nothing to do.
“That would not be fair to the investment made by the developers in the east and it would not bode well for Bermuda's reputation as a vibrant tourism destination.”
He said St George has more than 55 shops but that fewer than ten of them were open “on a good day”.
He added: “I also heard, whether anecdotally or factual, that if you are not from St George's, it's an uphill battle for an outsider trying to make a go with their business.”
The minister said he had also told area MPs Kim Swan and Renée Ming they needed to help “bring some life back to the town”.
Colonel Burch added: “You have to forgive me but I am not from St George's so my recommendations were somewhat general in nature. But on that same note, the East Enders have to be creative as the modern traveller is looking for an experience that they cannot find elsewhere.
“So this has to be an ‘all hands on deck' approach as April 2021 will be here sooner than we think.
“I have invited the Corporation of St George to collaborate with the departments in the ministry, especially the quangos, for advice, resources and support.”
He said: “I am convinced that the people of St George can rise to the occasion and make their town the vibrant, but still historic, metropolis that we all know it can be. This government stands ready to work with them to make that happen.”
A spokesman for the Corporation of St George said the municipality welcomed the remarks from the minister and looks forward to further collaboration.
The spokesman said: “The Corporation of St George is already progressing in this post Covid-19 environment to implement alfresco dining initiatives.
“The support of the ministry and the area MPs will demonstrate that we are serious about assisting our local businesses during these unprecedented times.
“The revamping of Ordnance Island will provide a fresh destination for visitors and locals when visiting St George's. It will be an opportunity to rediscover our history and provide education, along with a recreational space to enjoy.”
George Dowling, the Mayor of St George, added: “We look forward to forging new partnerships and strengthening the existing ones.
“We are all in this together.”
• To read Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch's statement in full, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”