Nothing magical about Brown’s blatant show of disrespect
A Bill to provide greater supervision of the corporations of Hamilton and St George was debated in the House of Assembly on July 10, 2015. You may recall I brought forward that legislation as Minister of Home Affairs during my tenure as steward of the Corporation of Hamilton. This was brought as a direct result of certain matters I uncovered with regard to standards of good governance at the corporation.
During the ensuing debate of the Bill I tabled, Walton Brown said: “If we pass this Act, we will be making a mockery of democracy because we will create a sham of structure.”
He went on and said: “We will have members elected to the Corporation of Hamilton ... through a process which involves expenditure of public funds. They will sit and deliberate, but their decisions will never be valid unless, and until, it has the approval of the Government. So why really have the corporation? Why have it ... if their decisions are not their own?”
He continued saying that people will “be elected and hold office, but be completely neutered when it comes to the possession of any power to do anything. It renders the time, the effort of the Corporation of Hamilton ... completely useless.”
All in all, it was clear that Brown wished both to preserve the absolute, independent decision-making of the corporation and keep at arm’s length the control that government could have over the operations of the corporation in certain defined circumstances.
Fast forward almost three years to March 9, 2018 and the full hypocrisy of Brown — and the Progressive Labour Party — is yet again exposed. On Friday, he tabled further amendments to the Municipalities Act 1923 by way of the Municipalities Amendment Act 2018 to further increase the supervision of the Bermuda Government over the Corporation of Hamilton and, by extension, St George.
The complete about-face should be surprising if it were not so absolutely terrifying and predictable given Brown’s absolute disregard for his previous positions, for example with respect to same-sex marriage. I honestly don’t know how, given all the things Brown said against the One Bermuda Alliance, he is able to look at himself in the mirror in the mornings.
The Bill is in fact yet another example of the PLP magic show of “look at my right hand while I do tricks with my left”. I say this since the Bill was tabled on Friday to be debated in one week — highly unusual for a controversial move such as this — at the same time as the Lahey judgment was being debated. This was presumably done to bury the true reasons for introducing the Bill.
The Bill was introduced without any consultation whatsoever with the corporation — giving less than 24 hours’ notice of a Bill does not qualify (even my criticised record was better than that). Without even asking if the present members of the corporation wish to continue in office; and under the guise of consulting to reform the corporation completely during the next year.
Brown explained that his very short Bill is being brought essentially because the Government feels disrespected and offended by a Taiwanese mayor making a “courtesy mayor to mayor” visit in Bermuda. How dare the Government say direct contact was not made with it first. The Government is also, we are told, fed up with the alleged, and as yet unsubstantiated, failings of the corporation to consult with “relevant” government departments before commencing major infrastructure projects. The latter is a joke when one realises that major infrastructure projects need Department of Planning approval — in circumstances where the Department of Planning has on its board an ex officio member from the corporation. In addition, for example, major road closures necessitate the Police being notified first.
The Bill seeks to postpone the next Hamilton municipal election from 2018 to 2019 and changes the test for interference by the minister from one of “public interest” to that of “in the interests of Bermuda”. While the Bill is short, it is not short on irony or danger. I, for one, find it very hard to believe that elections need to be postponed to permit consultation necessary for municipal reform. In fact, you may recall that even while the Corporation of Hamilton was under my stewardship, elections were still held.
The biggest issue with the minister’s approach is that it is totally undemocratic for the electorate to be told that those they voted in for a three-year term are now given four years. Even if you like the incumbents, this just is not right. It seems to me that as a result, the incumbents should resign at the end of their three-year term.
So what is the real reason for this amendment? Is it because Brown is not satisfied that enough people he is desirous of serving on the corporations are available or ready to run? Is the minister desirous of appointing his own board to ensure that the corporation is merely an extension of the Government and that he can take control of its coffers? Is the minister really so obtuse that he believes this action will not add further fuel to the fire that the Government is incompetent? Is this the grab for the waterfront? Only time will tell.
Reform of the respective corporations can happen without postponing elections and without changing the legal tests regarding ministerial interference. I suspect that anyone who tries to fight these changes will be accused of attempting to be un-Bermudian or trying to protect the “oligarchy” — notwithstanding that previous changes protected the vote of the residents of the respective municipal areas. Brown has yet again demonstrated his absolute ability in practising convenient amnesia, his willingness to rewrite history and his tendency to easily forget why things were done.
Nothing that the minister cited in his explanation for tabling the Bill justifies this ill-considered foray into these anti-democratic measures. There have been no allegations of mismanagement, theft or any other nefarious activity at the corporation. It simply makes no sense.
It appears there were no meetings or conversations with the incumbent councillors and mayors. This is indeed a pity and a demonstration of a failure to manage matters effectively. The mayors’ teams and I had many meetings, and while we did not always see eye to eye, we always discussed matters. The present administrations have made great strides in managing their respective corporations, and should not be disrespected in this manner. They don’t deserve that.
American political journalist Michael Gerson has said that political hypocrisy is the “conscious use of a mask to fool the public and gain political benefit”. He is not wrong.
• Michael Fahy is a former Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities, and Junior Minister of Finance under the One Bermuda Alliance government
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