Minister of Environment, Planning and Infrastructure Strategy Marc Bean issued an interim response to the Ombudsman’s report on the Tucker’s Point SDO released today [Feb.10].
The statement said, “Government will reply more fully to the Ombudsman in accordance with the Act by the given deadline of May 1st 2012.
“As the Ombudsman will be aware, Government has most recently placed the matter of SDOs fully in the public domain by requiring an SDO to be approved by the Legislature, rather than allowing the responsibility to rest solely on the Minister responsible for Planning.
“Furthermore, national interest considerations, such as SDOs, are the purview of Ministers, the Cabinet and the Legislature which is the highest policy making body of all of Bermuda’s democratic institutions.
“It is somewhat peculiar therefore that an Ombudsman would seek to enter into what is essentially a political process that has a proven track record of resolving issues of national concern within a democratic framework.
Minister Bean said: “Our Government was praised in this report for its amendment to the Development and Planning Act to require SDO’s to be approved by the legislature.
“This is one of many steps that our Government has taken to enhance governance and transparency in Bermuda. Regarding this SDO, there were numerous assessments done prior to the submission of the SDO to parliament, and conservation officers were comfortable that the additional conditions contained in the SDO were sufficient to protect the environment and mitigate any adverse impact.”
Minister Bean continued: “Our Government is, and will always be, committed to the environment. We have taken numerous steps to protect land from future development. The public should also not forget that the people of Bermuda received 15 Acres of protected land as part of this SDO. This land will be conveyed to the Government so that it is protected and never developed.”
The statement continued on to say that, “As the investigation was based upon an ‘own motion’ rationale, for which there are no guidelines in Bermuda law, it is left in doubt whether the outcome is without bias.
“Around the world, own motion investigations by Ombudsmen are rare. It is important to point out that an SDO is an administrative action taken by a Minister in conjunction with the Cabinet.
“The Ombudsman Act 2004 in Clause 2 of the Schedule to the Act precludes the investigation of an administrative action taken by the Cabinet, a Minister, or a Junior Minister.
“It is rather unfortunate that the Ombudsman would use the narrow basis of an own motion investigation that was subject to an inherent flaw to question Government’s commitment to good governance and in honoring its commitments.
“Furthermore, it should be noted that in the Ombudsman’s report, there isn’t a single reference to the word “unlawful”. Rather, she found maladministration in “the collective failure of due diligence to determine applicable law, international standards and best practice relevant to a decision of national priority”. The principles of the UK Environment Charter are embraced by the Bermuda Development Plan.
Minister Bean concluded: “The office of the Ombudsman was created by the PLP Government. Though we may differ on interpretation, I’m proud that this government has created mechanisms to scrutinise our decisions, and recommend improvements.”