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DeSilva takes aim at BTA

Inflammatory talk: tourism minister Zane DeSilva has put the BTA on alert

The tourism minister said last night he planned to not just look under the hood of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, but “tear the car apart”.

Zane DeSilva highlighted news this week that St Peter’s Church in St George was unsuccessful in its application for BTA funds.

He asked: “Who got all the calls? Kim Swan, Renée Ming, their constituents were calling them, but the minister knew nothing about it.”

He told the House that when the legislation was passed to give him the power to “get closer” to the BTA “I’m going to lift the hood up and I’m going to tear the car apart”.

The statement was an apparent reference to Bob Richards, a former One Bermuda Alliance finance minister, who said after the party won power in 2012 that it would have to look under the hood of the country’s finances.

Mr DeSilva was speaking in the House of Assembly just before the Bermuda Tourism Authority Amendment Act 2018 was passed with no objections.

He said the amendments would allow the BTA to “better fulfil the Government’s mandate of ensuring the social and economic enhancement of Bermuda”.

The independent but taxpayer-funded BTA’s board members were previously elected by the board in consultation with the minister.

The amendment will mean board members will be appointed by the minister after consultation with the board.

A second amendment gave the minister power to appoint a deputy chairman of the BTA.

The deputy chairman would not have to be an existing board member but must have “suitable qualifications and experience in the travel and tourism sectors”.

Mr DeSilva said that the system of board members electing other board members and the deputy chairman was “unusual”.

He added: “It limits the ability of the minister to recommend or appoint board members, including the deputy chairman, who might bring to the authority useful, alternative points of view. It does not allow for the authority to be refreshed with new ideas and energy from time to time.”

He said he was impressed by the BTA’s performance over the last two years and by its chief executive, Kevin Dallas.

Mr DeSilva said that the board members were “political appointments”.

Members of the Opposition, however, said they were worried that the Government was trying to regain control over tourism.

Sylvan Richards, the shadow home affairs minister, asked: “Is this the first move by the Progressive Labour Party to ditch the independent BTA?

“Is this the first move by the PLP to bring tourism back in-house? Will the PLP government force the BTA to secure its own funds?”

Mr Richards said: “Time will tell. But I caution you, the people are listening.”

Leah Scott, the shadow tourism minister, said that the tourism quango should be left alone.

Ms Scott added there had been record tourism numbers over the last two years and that “the BTA is working”.

She said: “It’s functioning as it should be and its independence is necessary for it to continue to function as it does.”

Scott Simmons, a PLP backbencher, said that the OBA government had “systematically created an environment in this country where you would be able to have departments that you could control in your absence”.

He said because the BTA was funded by the Government, “its independence should be restricted somewhat as it relates to the responsibility to the people of Bermuda who fund it”.

Michael Dunkley, an OBA MP and former premier, said that the PLP’s “super majority” had gone to its head and it wanted to claw back power from the BTA.

He added that the Bill did not give the minister the power to hire and fire. He said: “It clearly says that the minister should consult and the board needs to give effect to any directions. And the board better listen. The BTA is on the menu.”