The Government will not withdraw its controversial plan to bring the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission under ministerial control, tourism minister Jamahl Simmons said yesterday.
Mr Simmons, moments after Cheryl-Ann Mapp was announced as the new commission chairwoman, insisted he would press ahead with an amendment to the law to give him the power to issue policy directions to the regulatory body and fire without cause commissioners appointed for a fixed term.
He warned that a similar amendment could be made to the Bermuda Tourism Authority Act if the independent but publicly funded body ceased to have a “mutually respectful relationship” with the Government.
Mr Simmons said: “It must be understood, the tail will not wag the dog in this government.
“We are providing funding for these entities and while we will respect their independence, which should be based on their expertise in their respective fields, there has to be a measure of policy direction when and if necessary.”
He was speaking after David Burt, the Premier, announced lawyer Ms Mapp as the replacement for Alan Dunch, the outgoing chairman of the commission. The Casino Gaming Amendment Act 2017, which could be approved this week by MPs, has been criticised by the island’s gaming commissioners and overseas experts, one of whom claimed last week it was a “recipe for disaster” because it would remove the commission’s independence.
But Mr Burt, flanked by his Cabinet, said: “My Cabinet colleagues are here to be a part of this important press conference because they fully support and endorse the new chair and this government’s approach to casino gaming in Bermuda.
“The Progressive Labour Party government wants to ensure that we have a partner in the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission who is able to work with us, executing our vision for casino gaming — gaming that works for the benefit of the many.
“It is important that commissions and organisations which are created by Acts of Parliament and are by funded by the taxpayer work co-operatively with policymakers, which in this case are the persons behind me who were chosen by the people of Bermuda on July 18.
Mr Burt added: “This government will not be in control of the day-to-day operations of the casino gaming commission.
“To say the Government is taking away the independence of the commission is not true. It is necessary for the Government to have a working relationship with the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.”
Mr Simmons said he would give only “legal policy directions” to the commission and there would be “protections” to ensure no political interference, as with the Bermuda Monetary Authority. He added: “When it comes to investigations, when it comes to the general actions of the commission, that’s off limits, completely off limits.”
Mr Simmons added that he would also play no part in decisions on casino licence applications.
He said Ms Mapp, a magistrate and chairman of the Permanent Arbitration Tribunal, was chosen for her “strength of character and her integrity”.
Mr Simmons added: “I can assure you she will stand firm against any form of interference.”
Ms Mapp said: “I believe in the independence of the commission and that gaming must be free of political interference, and that it is imperative for us to collectively and diligently work to ensure that we get gaming right.”
Bermuda’s gaming commissioners are appointed for a fixed term and under existing law can be removed only if they are incapable of managing their affairs, or for bankruptcy reasons, or if they are convicted of a dishonesty offence.
Mr Simmons made three unsuccessful attempts to get rid of Mr Dunch, before he tabled the amendment.
Mr Dunch resigned last week and asked the Government to consider the withdrawal of its “ill-advised” Bill.
The PLP attacked the last One Bermuda Alliance administration after it failed to hold a promised referendum on gaming.
But Mr Simmons ruled out a referendum under the new administration.
He said: “Unfortunately, we have seen that train leave the station.”