To begin with I want to make it clear that I am in favour of reforming the municipalities. Furthermore, there is nothing all that bad in the draft legislation that I am strongly opposed to. At best there are some aspects of it that I need clarification on, and depending on the clarification I might advocate various amendments.
That being said, I am not very happy with the way the Government has approached gone about with the reform process, and I am disappointed with the end product; I think the Government – or rather the PLP – has squandered an opportunity to effect some real, long-reaching political reform for the whole country.
A year ago, when the initiative to reform the municipalities was announced, I questioned both the $800k cost of the consultants and the sudden focus on the reform when there are many other social issues that I thought were more pressing. I still have that double position.
Having seen the end result of that $800k consultancy I am left thinking we were completely ripped off. The draft legislation does have the feeling of being rushed, and there is nothing in it which couldn’t have been created by our own people. The Central Policy Unit could have pumped that out in a month, easily. With no added extra cost. My impression is that the bulk of the funding went into researching legal issues in order to prepare against any possible legal challenges to the legislation from the CoH. That and travel/living costs for the consultants.
I would have much preferred a series of public meetings, like we had when the Sustainable Development Initiative was launched, as well as a series of submissions from stakeholders like was done by the Bermuda Independence Commission. This kind of participatory approach would have been educational for all involved (particularly the lay citizen who is generally ignorant, like me, of the issues involved here), and would most likely have produced a reform policy at least equal to (if not better than) the current draft legislation. It certainly would have cost less than $800k, as well as generating mass support for the reforms.
The rather secretive approach taken by Government was always going to generate mistrust. For a Government which already has a trust deficit with much of the public, this approach could not but help lead to all manner of rumour and anger. I saw – and still see – no reason for taking that approach. It has led to the Government fighting unnecessary battles and reinforcing a sense of alienation amongst many. And over an issue where they could have easily cultured support and developed a more far-reaching reform. It just makes no sense to me.
I know there are some in Government who will argue that the CoH ‘started it’ or, at least, approached the reform initiative negatively, at least privately. You know what, I don’t care. You’re the Government. Be the bigger person; let them fall on their own sword rather than stoop to their level. Government completely failed to use the resources available to it (press releases or the PLP site) to put forward its positions. It didn’t, at least not until the very last moment, almost literally.
And even then what they produced had me thinking they were opening themselves up to a defamation suit. The CoH has since rebutted much of the PLP’s piece too, and this means that either the PLP defamed the CoH or the CoH has now defamed the PLP. I don’t want the PLP to be sued, but at the same time I don’t want them stooping to defamation when they could win arguments cleanly. And if the CoH has defamed the PLP, well, surely that gives the PLP a gift on a silver platter?
As for the draft legislation itself, I find it piss poor that it wasn’t made available to the public earlier than it was (and even then I don’t know if it was officially released or leaked). This isn’t unique to the Municipal Reform Act 2010, true, but I don’t see any reason why such draft legislation isn’t made more regularly available to public scrutiny before going to the House. That it was only made available yesterday and gone to the House for a vote today meant that the public has not had the opportunity to consider its implications or seek clarifications.
The Draft Itself
I have to admit I had always seen the CoH as an autonomous part of the public estate. As such I was surprised to see that it’s exemption from land tax was being revoked. If the CoH is indeed a private entity, then it is my opinion that it should indeed be abolished as a private entity and replaced by an autonomous public city government. As such I need more clarification on this point.
The draft repeals the Hamilton Extension Act 1951, which extended the City limits, adding over one hundred acres to the municipality. I skimmed through that act briefly, but it really wasn’t clear to me what areas are subsequently being stripped from the City. As such I need clarification on that – although going by the RG/CoH it would seem that this area is roughly Par-la-ville Park, Bermudiana Road and Albouy’s Point, but I can’t say if that truly is the case. [Having had the time to reread the Municipal Reform Act 2010 and the Hamilton Extension Act 1951 again, since writing this, I realise I misinterpreted this bit. On my second reading I do not think the City area is being reduced at all; I was misled by my quick reading of the legislation and the article in the RG earlier in the week.]
Personally, even though I know the official City Limits (more or less), I regard everything on the harbour and west of Albouy’s Point, along to Hamilton Princess, as part of the City, including Ace, XL, Robin Hoods Pub and BHS. If anything I would have expected the officialy City Limits to have been extended to cover these areas.
I need to study the issue of wharfage duties further before I comment on it really. As is I don’t have a problem with wharfage duties coming solely under the national government. However, if the CoH does indeed own the docks, then they have an excellent excuse now to increase the rent they charge Government… Personally I thought converting Morgan’s Point into an industrial dock (complete with a reverse osmosis plant, a composting plant and a solar power plant) would be a good idea, and replacing the Hamilton docks with some new office space or tourist infrastructure would be beneficial.
Having read the draft legislation I am not in support of the demonstration that should have been held today. I am not endorsing the Act as it is, but I am certainly not opposed to it, and need further clarification on the reasoning behind parts of it before I support it. Having said that, I always support people demonstrating publicly for something they believe in, even if I disagree with them. PLPers, and others, should not attack them for doing so, but instead should welcome them. With the pathetic Opposition Parties that we have we should certainly welcome any half decent opposition as it is, as well as offer our respect for those willing to stand for something, even if they oppose us.
Will it have any effect? I don’t know. Personally I doubt it, I don’t think they will be able to mobilise enough people to be honest. This is more due to the general ignorance that surrounds both the CoH and the draft legislation than anything else. At best they can draw attention to the issue and cause the legislation to be postponed for a week until people have had a better chance to review it. At worst they will reinforce the PLP’s argument that the CoH and it’s ‘supporters’ are little more than the old oligarchy, and in so doing increase the support for reform.
The proposals really seem pretty mild compared to all the rhetoric that has surrounded the issue. It’s actually a bit of a let down and I expected more from $800k. I reckon I could have done all the research and drafted the same legislation in two months and for a fee of, hmmm, lets go with $20k.
I’ve noted the clarifications I need on the draft Act; I cannot really comment further on them. What I would have liked to have seen is this opportunity used to stimulate overall political reform, from our Westminster parliament, an appointed Senate and a revitalised parish council system. I’ve written before that I see the council system as an alternative to a parliamentary system, with a series of nested councils – of parish, municipality and industry – being a viable system, with the neighbourhood and shopfloor as the smallest political units. That would be a much more grassroots democratic system than the current one we’ve inherited from our colonialism, along with a colonial mentality that devalues our own abilities.
Generally I adopt the position that decisions should be weighted on the basis of those who will be most affected by them. On that basis I am completely for expanding the residential vote, and giving them extra weighting on matters relating to living in the City. In place of the property/business vote though, I would like to see all those who work regularly in the City (and by that I mean those who have a full-time job based within the City Limits) to have a vote, especially on matters relating to them (which could be from traffic control, crime, sewage and health and safety issues). I don’t think Capital needs it’s own voice though; they have the Chamber of Commerce as a lobby group as is, and business owners can speak (on equal terms) with the workers.
Perhaps more controversially I would also suggest we look into the possibility of extending the franchise to citizens from CARICOM and our sister UK Overseas Territories. An argument could also be made to extend this to Commonwealth citizens too, though that could be more difficult. At least those citizens working in the City should have some say in the workers section of my proposed municipal voting reforms above; one could also add the restriction of limiting this extended franchise to PRC’s of the above (CARICOM/UKOTS).