Senate approves creation of Tourism Authority, though Opposition concerns linger
Senators have approved the creation of a Tourism Authority for Bermuda, despite Opposition members voicing fears about the potential for corruption.
Progressive Labour Party Senator Marc Daniels told the Upper Chamber yesterday that while the Tourism Authority Act 2013 allowed Government to “tick off” an election pledge, there were still concerns about what it would actually mean for the country.
“Where are we going with this and who stands to benefit?” he asked.
But Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy said such concerns should be “put to bed” because the Act clearly defined the role of the authority and its members would be required to register their interests to prevent any potential conflict.
The legislation was agreed by MPs in the House of Assembly last month, when Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell said the independent authority would be a “modern, leading tourism enterprise” which was “dynamic, entrepreneurial and vibrant”.
“The authority will be the singular voice that restores Bermuda as a world class tourist destination,” he pledged.
Senators heard that the new authority, to be led by hotelier David Dodwell, would have an initial budget of $1.1m — taken from the Department of Tourism's existing budget for 2013/14.
Education Minister Nalton Brangman, who presented the bill to the Upper Chamber, said an additional $900,000 would be spent on the transition of staff and services from the Department to the authority.
He said the aim was for the authority to become self-sufficient within the next few years but it would not be required to pay Government back the public funds it initially used.
Sen Daniels, referring to the creation of an independent authority, said he “welcomed this type of move, because it's a break from the norm”. But he added that there was genuine concern about who would make decisions and who could stand to profit from those decisions.
He questioned whether members of the authority could “invest certain monies in properties and the like”, adding: “We have to wait and see who benefits, where and why, and whether or not there has been any abuse.”
The politician went on: “The genuine concerns that I think people have are whether or not this is an opportunity for certain individuals to lead the industry, to put themselves in prime position, and direct the way this country is going to go forward.”
Describing the authority as having “wide-ranging powers” he cited the need for “checks and balances” and asked: “Is there enough protection involved?”
Sen Daniels added that there was a “real question mark” about who would spearhead the authority, including making decisions about who to hire to run the organisation.
His party colleague Senator Diallo Rabain said he too had worries about the legislation's seemingly “unfettered approach to public funds”.
The Opposition member said the bill allowed for the formation of an entity which would be given public funds and created the “potential as a back door way for them to get friends and family contracts”.
He added: “I don't think we need to do that.”
Sen Fahy said clause 11 of the bill made clear that the authority would have to implement the Island's national tourism plan, which had already been approved by parliamentarians after extensive debate.
“This isn't an authority that's going to come up with something on its own,” he said. “They have very specific objectives. That's incredibly important. This is what they are tasked with doing.”
He referred Senators to section 13 of the bill, which deals with an “interest register”, and said authority members would have to declare their own interests and would not be allowed to vote where a conflict existed.
“I don't see how anything in this bill is going to lead to people having corrupt practices,” he said. “I think it's quite clear that there are safeguards and checks and balances.”
Sen Brangman said the executive steering committee responsible for appointing members of the authority's board comprised Mr Dodwell, Tourism permanent secretary Francis Richardson, Wedco boss Andrew Dias and Jessica Mello, director of consulting at Deloitte and Touche.
Independent Senator James Jardine said he was pleased to see the size of the board had been reduced from 20 to eight members.