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Scott backs independence of BTA

The first step: Leah Scott, the Shadow Minister of Tourism

Political interference has been suggested by the Opposition in legislation granting the tourism minister extra clout over the leadership and the direction of the Bermuda Tourism Authority.

The Bill tabled on Friday by minister Zane DeSilva has been criticised by Leah Scott, the shadow tourism minister, as an attempt to curtail the independence of the BTA. Ms Scott praised the authority’s chief executive, Kevin Dallas, as a maverick whose team had produced “phenomenal results for our tourism industry”.

She queried whether the move might have been “the Government’s first step in creating an exit strategy for Mr Dallas”.

Ms Scott pointed out that Mr Dallas, in December 2017, had urged the Senate to reject a Bill replacing same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships — calling it an “unnecessary threat to the success of our tourism industry”.

Mr Dallas’s comments prompted Jamahl Simmons, then the minister, to rebuke the CEO, who he said had acted without the consent of Paul Telford, the BTA chairman, or its board.

Yesterday, Ms Scott noted that the Bermuda Government’s appeal of a court ruling restoring same-sex marriage had proceeded last week.

She said that “time will tell” whether the Bermuda Tourism Authority Amendment Act 2018 was linked to that case and Mr Dallas’s decision to speak out.

According to the ministry, Mr DeSilva will give details on the Bill this Friday in the House of Assembly.

The BTA declined to comment last night. As well as empowering the minister to appoint board members, the Bill would grant Mr DeSilva the power to appoint a deputy chairman from outside the board’s ranks.

Jessica Mello is the deputy chairwoman of the BTA, which is publicly financed but operates independently.

Ms Scott credited the BTA’s “immense” success on the authority’s freedom from “political interference”.

She added: “The year 2017 saw 692,947 total arrivals to Bermuda. That is the highest number of visitors to the island in its recorded history, and the best statistical performance dating back to 1965.

“People like Mr Dallas, who possess creative genius, are non-conventional and outspoken. It appears that when individuals have the ability to think independently, are able to manage successfully what has been entrusted to them, and are unable to be controlled by the Government, the Government feels the need to amend the legislation to empower the minister.”

Ms Scott likened the step to the Government’s tightening of control over the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission, which was approved by the Senate last December.

Calling for the BTA to retain independence, she said the amendments allowing ministerial intervention were “contrary to good governance and best practice”.

The One Bermuda Alliance MP also went on the offensive over the BTA’s predecessor, the Department of Tourism, and its record under government auspices.

Ms Scott noted that in January 2008, the Bermuda Sun reported that Ewart Brown, the former premier, had been accused of political interference in the appointment of Emilygail Dill to be the new acting head of tourism for North America.

The shadow minister also faulted the contract for the GlobalHue advertising agency, which signed a multimillion-dollar contract with the department in 2006 and prompted “misgivings” by the then Auditor-General Larry Dennis, in a report for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008.

Ms Scott further cited the Progressive Labour Party’s hiring in 2007 of Andre Curtis, who ran a programme of “faith-based tourism” for which “visitor numbers were not met and the minimum number of events were not held”.