Save our municipalities, says OBA’s Robinson
An Opposition senator appealed yesterday to the public to lobby MPs over the Government's plan to do away with the corporations of Hamilton and St George.
Dwayne Robinson, of the One Bermuda Alliance, highlighted that legislation to abolish the municipalities could not be blocked again in the Upper House after senators rejected the move last year.
Mr Robinson was speaking after Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the public works minister, who recently took over the municipalities portfolio, vowed to press on with a plan to replace the local authorities with quangos.
But Mr Robinson said: “After seeing the minister's statement in the House of Assembly regarding municipalities, I feel the need to remind the people why it was blocked in Senate last year when it was first introduced.
“The legislation will turn the Corporation of Hamilton and the Town of St George into unelected quangos.
“This legislation robs the residents in these locations of their democratic rights to elect their municipal officials.
“That is why it was blocked by both Opposition and independent senators because it removed a fundamental right of the people — their right to vote.”
Mr Robinson added: “Voting the legislation down in the Senate meant that it could only be delayed and not blocked indefinitely, and I am extremely disappointed to see Government pushing ahead with this legislation despite the public outcry against it.
He asked: “Why not work with the Corporation of Hamilton to modernise its voting structure or find a workable solution that maintains the voting rights of the residents?
“Maybe create a hybrid with Government having half the councillors, with the mayor and the other councillors being elected — allow the mayor to have the decisive vote.”
Mr Robinson told the public: “Please make your voices heard, Bermuda, as this time the Senate will not be able to block it and with the Progressive Labour Party overwhelming majority, it will pass in the House when it is debated.
“Lobby the PLP MPs and remind them that they are taking away a right that many people fought hard to win and which is fundamental to the operation of any democracy.”
Colonel Burch admitted there was opposition to the proposal but told the House of Assembly last Friday:
“This administration is not afraid to take this on.”
The Municipalities Reform Act was passed by MPs in March 2019, but rejected by the Senate after some members questioned the level of public support.
Colonel Burch, who took over the remit in a Cabinet reshuffle last month, told MPs last week: “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.”
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.”
Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton, said that he was prepared to face the threat for the third time and the city authority was “not going to take this lying down”. He highlighted that the Corporation of Hamilton had celebrated 225 years' service this year.
Mr Gosling added: “No one at the corporation has it in their schedule that it will be the last.
“We intend to live up to our vision of being a democratically elected, vibrant, safe and clean city focused on economic growth and livability.”
Mr Gosling added: “We don't yet know what the coming Bill will include, if it's back to a quango option, as outlined in the 2019 failed Bill, but if so, that is not collaboration, that is a takeover and, in my opinion, they have no legal right.”
A spokesman for the Corporation of St George said that the municipality looked forward to further collaboration with the Government as the local authority explored ways to boost Olde Towne businesses in the wake of the impact of Covid-19.
George Dowling, the Mayor of St George, added: “We look forward to forging new partnerships and strengthening the existing ones.”