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Throne Speech opens window to full Caricom membership

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Rena Lalgie, the Governor, delivers the 2023 Throne Speech on the grounds of Cabinet (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Smoother government services, full membership of Caricom and the first fare increase for taxi drivers in a decade were among the Government’s legislative agenda for the next year delivered by Rena Lalgie, the Governor, in the 2023 Throne Speech.

The speech, entitled “Serving the People”, was delivered on the grounds of the Cabinet Office on a blustery morning after the arrival of the Black Rod summoned legislators for the opening of Parliament.

A Cybersecurity Bill in the wake of September’s cyberattack on the Bermuda Government will go before MPs.

Also on the technology front, there was a pledge for digitalisation of the immigration department; a smoother planning department after complaints from residents; and a single-payment portal for all government services that would allow customs payments by phone.

Digitalisation is on the cards for public transport. Ms Lalgie said that “the promise of digital-fare media for public transport has been too long deferred”, with a procurement completed — and MPs to review amendments to “implement this initiative”.

On a practical note, the speech pledged to “urgently advance” replacing the island’s asphalt plant so drivers can “start to see relief from less-than-ideal road conditions”.

Ms Lalgie opened on education and health.

Legislation for an Education Authority is to go before the House, while “transition teams” for the Elliot Primary and Harrington Sound Primary are to be created for the next two parish primary schools. Sandys Secondary Middle School will take on the next signature programme, in hospitality, tourism and education.

Core services for a universal healthcare benefits package will be drawn up and the population’s health is to be surveyed, along with data collection aimed at controlling co-pays.

The speech came with reference to an amendment to the Registration (Births and Deaths) Act 1949, allowing for a short-form death certificate so that estates can be settled quickly.

Artist “makerspaces” will be established, according to the Governor, and derelict homes will be repurposed and refurbished.

Specific initiatives include a five-year plan to combat domestic abuse and promote the safety of families and children, the Bermuda Business Development Agency evolving to become an Investment Promotion Agency to coincide with the 2024-25 fiscal year, and a task force on immigration compliance being renewed.

Amendments to the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956 were said to bring forward measures recommended in the Economic Development Strategy.

Tax reforms played large in the speech.

“After two successful rounds of consultation with the public, and particularly with affected industry stakeholders, Bermuda will join this global effort with the introduction of a Corporate Income Tax Bill during this legislative session,” the Governor said.

Rena Lalgie, the Governor, outside the Cabinet office as she prepares to deliver the 2023 Speech from the Throne (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

“Following the passage of the principal Act, further amendments will include qualified refundable tax credits as part of the global minimum-tax regime to encourage international companies in Bermuda to invest in projects that boost our economy and infrastructure,” she added.

In the speech, she discussed banking reforms.

“In today’s digital age, the use of a bank account is a basic necessity for Bermudians. The Government will further advance banking reform by legislating the requirement that licensed banks have a duty to provide access to basic banking services to all residents.

“Additionally, the legislature will take into consideration the regulations necessary to regulate excessive fees charged for banking services.”

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According to the speech, the Government will advance amendments to the Regulatory Act 2022, the Electricity Act 2016 and the Electronic Communications Act 2011 to improve electricity pricing and make it more transparent.

The cyberattack this September on the Bermuda Government was also discussed.

“To mitigate the risk of future attacks, the Government has mandated an increase in threat detection, as well as enhanced security training for public officers,” the Governor said.

The promise of full membership to Caricom, 20 years after the island became an associate member under the vision of former premier Dame Jennifer Smith, was received with applause.

Among the most popular promises was the determination to provide taxi drivers with their first rate increase in almost ten years.

Adoption law will be reformed to trim procedure for adopting children from overseas, while a homelessness strategy is to go before lawmakers this session.

On employment, benefits are planned for businesses that retain workers aged over 65, while the Government will “lead as an employer” for staff with disabilities, and a uniformed services cadet training programme will prepare those of school age for future careers.

The cost-of-living committee is to add more essential commodities to its list of items for customs breaks.

Ms Lalgie touched on Public Access to Information, saying the legislation would be amended to allow for an audit committee to review Pati procedure.

Along with the items mentioned in the Throne Speech, Ms Lalgie listed 13 Bills to go before the legislature, ranging from amendments to Clean Air Act; amendments to investment, insurance, trusts and companies law and legislation affecting the Bermuda Health Council — and Parliament itself.

The Governor closed by referencing the “palpable” sense of global uncertainty to the backdrop of war in Ukraine and the recent “horrors” in the Middle East.

“I am more convinced than ever that resilient, robust, transparent and accountable institutions of government are essential to achieving our aspirations for Bermuda,” Ms Lalgie said.

• To view the Throne Speech in full, see Related Media

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Published November 04, 2023 at 2:46 pm (Updated November 04, 2023 at 2:46 pm)

Throne Speech opens window to full Caricom membership

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