Municipal elections in May will be postponed for a year after home affairs minister Walton Brown launched an attack on the Corporation of Hamilton’s “failures of accountability”.
The Municipalities Amendment Act, tabled yesterday by Mr Brown, will give the minister more power over Hamilton and the Corporation of St George and postpone the elections until May 2019, while consultation takes place.
Mr Brown told the House of Assembly “proper due diligence” was not carried out in the awarding of contracts and said that millions of dollars had gone missing.
He said talks with the corporations, residents and ratepayers would determine “the most appropriate way to strengthen and modernise municipal governance for the benefit of Bermuda”.
Mr Brown told the The Royal Gazette that the announcement would ensure “an extensive consultation period on the municipal reform process”.
“All stakeholders will be consulted during this important process,” Mr Brown said. “Stakeholders include the voters and ratepayers, the councillors themselves and the general public.
“This Bill will allow the Government to lead on major infrastructure projects. These projects will attract investments to Bermuda and stimulate job growth.
“This legislation will also grant the municipalities the authority to pursue other projects in the interests of Bermuda, which they are not currently able to engage in.”
Hamilton mayor Charles Gosling said yesterday there was “no consultation whatsoever” before Mr Brown delivered his ministerial statement.
Mr Gosling said 90 per cent of Mr Brown’s statement about the corporation was incorrect.
He added: “It’s extremely frustrating.”
Mr Brown’s decision came three years after a succession of Progressive Labour Party MPs furiously attacked then minister Michael Fahy of the One Bermuda Alliance for taking more control of the Corporation of Hamilton.
Mr Brown said then that the OBA’s move would create a “mockery of democracy” where elected officials would not be able to make their own decisions.
But Mr Brown told MPs yesterday that further reform was needed because of “failures of accountability and proper due diligence and governance in the awarding of contracts”.
He said: “Honourable Members will recall that the proposed Hamilton waterfront and Par-la-Ville hotel developments resulted in a highly critical report by the Bermuda Ombudsman, legislative intervention by the Government of Bermuda, the assumption of temporary stewardship, and an arbitration that has cost many millions to the public purse.
“This saga continues in the case of the Mexico Infrastructure Finance v the Corporation of Hamilton case where, as you will recall, $12 million went missing. The case is now headed to the Privy Council.”
But Mr Gosling said the PLP was instrumental in the Par-la-Ville development from the beginning and that his own administration had been “cleaning up” the mess of the MIF case left behind by its predecessors.
Mr Brown added that protocol was breached when the corporation invited the Taiwanese Government to contact the Bermuda Government to enter into a tax information exchange agreement without consultation with David Burt, the Premier and Minister of Finance.
Mr Gosling argued the corporation had only agreed to a request from Taiwan to forward its letter to Mr Burt.
Mr Brown added the Corporation of Hamilton had not devoted enough resources to the upgrade of services, including the proposed upgrade to the sewerage system in Hamilton.
He said policy and operations had to be aligned with Government policies and legislation, and that there was a lack of consultation about infrastructure with the relevant government departments.
Mr Brown, in answer to questions from the Opposition OBA, said the corporations had been informed of the Bill “within the past 24 hours”.
Mr Brown said that “impetus for changing this arrangement has never been strong”, but that there would be extensive consultation.
OBA MP Grant Gibbons asked if the minister could comment “as to whether the corporations are supportive of the amendments in this particular Bill”.
Mr Brown responded: “I have no comment on that.”
Mr Gosling told The Royal Gazette he was not prepared to comment on how the corporation would handle the consultation.
But he said the City was more efficient than the Government in areas such as trash collection.
He added: “All politics is local, and you can’t get more local than municipalities.”
Dr Gibbons called it “astonishing” that Mr Brown had taken a “unilateral decision” without consultation.
He added: “The Government’s intent to bulldoze these amendments through in one week is very disconcerting.”
• To read Walton Brown’s statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”