Municipalities Reform Act Tabled In House

July 16, 2010

This morning [July 16] Minister Zane DeSilva tabled the Municipalities Reform Act 2010 in the House of Assembly. The Government proposal has been in the news alot, with a public poll done by the Corporation after Hamilton showing that the majority of Bermudians are not in favour of a “Government takeover” of the City.

The Corporation has expanded considerable efforts and funds on a public relations campaign incorporating print and online efforts to prevent the takeover, which Minister DeSilva called “an inappropriate, ill considered and in many cases misleading public relations campaign compliments of the Corporation of Hamilton.”

Minister DeSilva continued on to say that “it is important to note that the Corporations balance sheet will also be required to reflect the reality for most hard working Bermudian families: land tax payments”, and explain the Bill ends the historical exemption from the payment of land tax by the Corporations.

The full statement is below:

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to advise this Honourable House that today I will table the Municipalities Reform Act 2010.

It would appear that the media and even the Worshipful Mayor of Hamilton seem to attend my Parliamentary Caucus or they possess an uncanny insight in to this matter and to some extent have foreshadowed the tabling of this Bill. In any event, Mr. Speaker, the introduction of this Bill today represents the fulfillment of a promise made in this Government’s Speech from the Throne in 2008.

Modernization was promised, Mr. Speaker and that is what has been delivered in this Bill. I will be the first to admit that there will be those who consider that this Bill does not go far enough; still others will consider it as going too far. Mr. Speaker, this divergence of views is not unexpected and continues to be welcomed.

Mr. Speaker, the people of Bermuda have been treated to an inappropriate, ill considered and in many cases misleading public relations campaign compliments of the Corporation of Hamilton.

Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members will have noted that this Government has not engaged in any counter-attack via the media but have remained focused on the task at hand. To descend to the personal attacks that formed the basis of this campaign would have proven a distraction from the real work.

Mr. Speaker, in the course of his presentation to Cabinet in June of this year the Mayor of Hamilton indicated that his Corporation’s aims were:

“1) making voting easier and accessible to all Hamilton residents; 2) eliminating privilege and increasing accountability in the Corporations and 3) modernizing the Corporations’ authority to reflect the realities of the modern era.”

These are commendable aims, ones, which, in general, are shared by the Corporations and the Government. How we approach these general principles and interpret them in this legislation will test our commonalities and our mutual commitment to genuine reform.

Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members will see from the Bill that the criteria for voting in Municipal elections are now proposed to mirror our national elections. The effect of this Bill will be to eliminate once and for all the last vestiges of the property vote that we recognized as flawed many decades ago.

Mr. Speaker, a core national function is that of taxation. In a 21 square mile Island there is no rationale for any tax structure other than the national one, which reflects the elected Government’s policy. This Bill will also address this issue by ending the ability of the Corporations to levy those charges based solely on their ownership of the Island’s ports.

On this point it is important to emphasize two things, Mr. Speaker. Firstly, the limited balance sheet of the Corporations evidences the importance of this revenue to their bottom line. Insofar as is required to maintain functions and service levels no prejudice will result from this change. The change is a matter of principle that is in fact honored already in its practice. While the Corporation levies the fees and taxes, the Collector of Customs does the administrative collection. This practice has no place in a modern democracy.

The second point to be made, Mr. Speaker, is that these changes will take effect on 1st April 2011 to permit adequate preparation on both sides.

Mr. Speaker, in particular much has been made of the balance sheet of the Corporation of Hamilton. The picture painted thereby is not a full story and although accurate to an extent it does not represent a full overview of the position. This Bill will require an independent audit of the assets, liabilities, income and expenditure of the Corporations within three (3) months of the Act coming into force.

Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that the Corporations balance sheet will also be required to reflect the reality for most hard working Bermudian families: land tax payments. This Bill ends, Mr. Speaker, the historical exemption from the payment of land tax by the Corporations.

Mr. Speaker, for the avoidance of doubt I wish to make it clear that not one comma, semi-colon or full stop in this Bill affects the assets of the Corporations. Not one service provided by the Corporations is transferred to the Government. Mr. Speaker, no jobs are affected and no employee should be or feel threatened as result.

Mr. Speaker, even language has been the subject of the public discussion on this initiative. This Bill represents, reform, in some areas repeal, but above all it represents justice and equity. The modernization that will result is desperately required and if there is truth to the desire of some to work with this Government, this Bill provides a useful starting point for a round of meaningful discussion, free from the glare of media spotlight and unaided by full-page ads.

Mr. Speaker, this Bill represents a promise made and promise kept.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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Comments (6)

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  1. Define Stupid says:

    Wow – 70% of Bermudian residents do not support the Government taking over the municipalities, but in true PLP fashion, they don’t care what the people want, they only care about their own hidden agendas. How sad indeed. Only wish that the Government would focus their energies on the far more pressing issues at hand.

  2. UncleElvis says:

    “Mr. Speaker, this divergence of views is not unexpected and continues to be welcomed…” not by US, of course… but by someone.

    • Boot them out says:

      Yeah , like when they say they’ve had wide consultation with all the stakeholders and they haven’t spoken to anyone. Or when they do consult people or experts who actually know what they’re talking about , and they ignore it all because it doesn’t suit their ‘agenda’.
      A true ‘phony democracy’ at it’s best .

  3. ROCKFISH #2 says:

    Independant audit etc.?—-represents justice and equity?—-balance sheet will be required?—-principle?
    DeSilva reminds me of the infamous”are we being used” comment, made by another politician a while ago. He is clearly out of his depth with this one.
    Instead of singing for his supper, he should consider making a similar presentation to his colleagues!