OBA claims Premier was aware of St Regis exemption request
A stay-at-home exemption for construction to continue at a St George’s resort was last night dubbed as double standards by the One Bermuda Alliance.
Work was permitted to continue at the St Regis resort for two days this week during the stay-at-home order, until permission from the Ministry of National Security got pulled on Wednesday afternoon after a public outcry.
Last night, Craig Cannonier, Shadow Minister of Works and Engineering and Tourism, called for details from David Burt, the Premier, on discussions held with the hotel’s developers ahead of the exemption being granted.
A spokeswoman for Hotelco, the developer of the resort, told The Royal Gazette on Wednesday that permission had been granted after “long conversations with the Premier and his team”.
Mr Cannonier responded: “What is clear is that the Premier and his team were very aware of the request for the exemption.”
After revoking the exemption, Renée Ming, the national security minister, said it had been “made in error” and had not been authorised by her.
Mr Cannonier said the error had not been the issuing of the exemption, but in “rescinding the exemption by the Minister of National Security”.
He said Ms Ming should explain what had happened or step down.
A video from the roadside outside St Regis, widely shared on social media this week, showed construction at the site while contractors and their teams at other sites had to shut down from Tuesday because of health restrictions.
It prompted questions from Simon Tully, the president of the Construction Association of Bermuda, as to why others, including the Azura Hotel in Warwick, failed to get the same treatment.
Mr Cannonier said the public were right to ask: “Where is the equity in the approval process?”
He added: “Maybe the Premier and Minister Ming’s decision should have been to change some of the applications they denied approval to, to that of an exemption.
“No Minister should show such reckless decision making towards Investors and Bermudians by offering the exemption, and then recalling it because it was a mistake due to the overload of applications. Really?”
In her statement on Wednesday, Ms Ming said there had been more than 1,500 exemption requests to process – and that she had only found out about the St Regis work that day.
But Mr Cannonier said: “If Minister Ming is responsible for the approval process and is not a part of the team, who is?”
He asked whether she had been present or made aware of discussions held with the developer of the site, saying it “does not make sense”.
He added there was a “small chance” that Mr Burt had not included the minister in the decision.
“If this is so, then the Premier is completely out of line, which would not be surprising. The minister needs to be very clear about what took place. If not, she needs to resign.
“I’m fairly certain that the minister was aware of what was going on, contrary to her denial. There is enough documentation circling to state otherwise.”
A copy of the exemption letter for St Regis hotel employees, issued by the Ministry of National Security, was also circulated this week via social media.
Mr Cannonier called St Regis “a major success story for Bermuda” and said the island “cannot afford such blunders”.
“As stated, the minister needs to clear the air. Otherwise, once again, this Government has failed us.
“Government cannot treat the people of Bermuda and those who have invested in the financial security of our future, with such indignity. The minister cannot call this a mistake or an error. Conversations were had clearly.”
Mr Cannonier said it fell “squarely at the feet of the Premier, who has clearly thrown another one of his Ministers under the bus. Note, former Minister Weeks, former Minister Caines and others have resigned for less.”
The Gazette last night sent queries to Mr Burt on the exemption process, who had signed off on it, and when the mistake in granting St Regis approval had been noticed.
We did not receive a response by press time.