Gosling prepared to go to war over ‘quango’

  • St George’s Town Hall

The City of Hamilton’s mayor last night signalled a legal battle will be launched to fight a government plan to turn the city into a quango.

Charles Gosling revealed that preparations were being made for a writ and he would “talk tactics” with lawyers.

He was speaking after MPs voted 22-7 in favour of the Municipalities Reform Act 2019 in the early hours of yesterday, bringing to an end a combined total of almost 450 years of local government in Hamilton and St George’s.

Mr Gosling said: “We’re fully aware that nothing favourable would happen for the corporation in the House of Assembly and even if this Act were to be defeated in the Senate, that would only give one year’s grace, and then it would pass and then there would be just no way of being able to defeat it.

“The only way we’re going to be able to fight this thing properly is in the courts.”

Mr Gosling said before the vote that it was a foregone conclusion “and has been one for almost a year”.

He explained last night that talks with legal advisers had taken place over several weeks and confirmed that a writ was “being prepared”.

Mr Gosling said a writ would be filed “at the time we deem most appropriate”.

The news came as the Mayor of St George’s said the town had to have enough government funding and improvements to its infrastructure if a special Act of Parliament was passed to govern it.

Quinell Francis said: “We were lobbying the Government for this but unfortunately it was not a part of the Bill. St George’s can’t be governed under the same Act as the City of Hamilton.

“If the Act allows the people to still have a say, then it will be welcomed.”

However, Ms Francis warned: “Over the next couple of years, the people of St George’s will be watching to see if promises that are being made are coming into fruition — things like the marina and improvements in infrastructure.

She added: “If they don’t see these things, that is where I think the issues will arise.”

Renee Ming and Kim Swan, Progressive Labour Party MPs for St George’s, asked during the debate for a separate Act for St George’s and Walter Roban, the home affairs minister, pledged to prepare one “once we complete this legislative process.”

Craig Cannonier, the Opposition leader and an East End resident, said in the House that the townspeople “do not forget” and that voters would “carry this through to the next election”.

Ms Francis added: “Everybody is aware that St George’s is not a safe seat. St George’s can make or break a government as we saw in the last two elections.

“I’m sure both MPs cannot take that lightly and they know that they need to continue to work to ensure the people are receiving the attention that is required.

“It is difficult to say if it will cost the PLP a vote. When the OBA provided funding to St George’s and the cruise ships, they thought that was enough to keep them happy but it wasn’t.”

Business leaders yesterday said they feared that the municipalities would not be a government priority and that the quango arrangement would lack accountability.

Gerry Correia, owner of St George’s-based Ocean Breeze Sail Charters, said the quango plan could lose St George’s for the PLP.

He added: “They are trying to give St George’s a little bit of a twist but I don’t trust them as far as I can throw them. Why couldn’t they have assisted us before?

“My guess is they will start demolition here and start putting more office complexes here for exempted companies. Hamilton is done — there isn’t enough room.”

Mr Correia said: “The people of St George’s will remember this for sure. They are not going to vote for them.”

However, Kristin White, a St George’s resident who runs tours of the area and a gift shop, said: “As long as it works out for the betterment of St George’s, I don’t care what the structure is. It is time for us to be a priority.”

Grant Gibbons, a Hamilton businessman and former One Bermuda Alliance government minister, said: “I fear that the loss of the direct electoral responsibility will make whatever replaces them less accountable to those who live and work in those municipalities.

“The corporations’ focus was the town or the city but government has a lot of other issues it has to deal with and the municipalities may not be as high a priority as other issues.”

Elaine Murray, owner of The Irish Linen Shop in Hamilton, said: “This isn’t democracy at work. This is a government acquisition. We have to wonder how long this quango will last before that, too, will be eliminated.”