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November 2022: Throne Speech sparks debate on Independence

The Convening of Parliament: the Throne Speech read by Tom Oppenheim, the Deputy Governor (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The annual Throne Speech announced a wide range of plans and promises as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the island lessened.

Tom Oppenheim, the Deputy Governor, delivered the speech on the Cabinet Office lawn for the first time since 2018 in place of Rena Lalgie, the Governor, who came down with Covid-19 two days earlier.

A report detailing self-governance options for Bermuda dominated debate after the speech.

Alex Scott, a former Progressive Labour Party premier who governed between 2003 and 2006, said the report was “encouraging” and “a healthy step forward”.

But Cole Simons, Leader of the One Bermuda Alliance, said it was poor timing to raise the question of independence at that point in time.

He said: “Families are trying to figure out how they are going to eat and pay bills and are worrying about their futures.

“To raise independence at this juncture is yet another stark reminder that Premier [David] Burt and his Government have truly lost touch with the people.”

David Burt, the Premier, clarified that the study was meant to educate people about the prospect of self-governance and spark an important discussion around the “firestorm” issue.

However, Mr Burt denied that there would be an independence referendum during the current parliament, which can last until 2025.

More financial assistance was laid out for people struggling with surging inflation.

Vulnerable families were also announced to receive increased financial aid and childcare options under the Cost of Living (Essential Commodities) Regulations, which came into effect later in November.

Mr Burt said the changes would make the pension system fairer and modernise the island’s safety net system.

Kelly Hunt, the executive director of the Coalition of the Protection of Children, welcomed the financial assistance, adding the changes would help those still reeling from the economic effects of the pandemic.

Several changes to the education system were promised, such as the creation of an Education Authority and establishing P7 and P8 year groups in upcoming parish schools.

Becky Ausenda, the founder of the Bermuda Education Network, said that the Education Authority was a “positive step” – but added that more information on a timeline and who oversaw the major projects was needed.

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, clarified that the Education Authority in Bermuda will not be fully independent, but will be run with minimal political interference.

He added that Innovation Unit Australia New Zealand, the overseas consultancy group that will help reform Bermuda’s public school system, would have its contract extended by a year.

Legislation paving the way for Bermuda’s first two parish schools, planned to be established in Francis Patton Primary School and Purvis Primary School, was also announced for tabling in the House of Assembly.

The education shake-up caused rifts among public school supporters, with many in the West End saddened and angered by the closure of West End Primary School, an historic school for Black schoolchildren.

Jamahl Simmons, a former PLP Cabinet member, even defended his mother’s opinion over the closure when she hit out at the education minister for “insulting” comments over the Sandys school.

Mr Oppenheim promised in the Throne Speech that the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service would be reviewed next year by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services for the first time since 2010.

He added that the Fire Safety Act 2014 would be amended “to clarify that the adoption of the National Fire Protection Agency Codes applies only in relation to premises within the scope of the Act and not to the operation of air crash and fire rescue services”.

The announcement came after members of the Bermuda Fire Service Association they were at their “boiling point” over staffing issues within the service, particularly at the LF Wade airport.

Plans to create a company to manage the development of the failed Morgan’s Point resort was also also promised. The company was created in December.

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Published January 01, 2023 at 7:57 am (Updated December 30, 2022 at 12:26 pm)

November 2022: Throne Speech sparks debate on Independence

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