There has been much discussion in recent weeks about Government's true intentions regarding the Corporations of Hamilton and St. George.

Are the local and U.S. consultants they hired (at a cost of $800,000 or more to taxpayers) advising them on the best way to "reform" the legislation that governs the Corporations?

Or are they putting together a plan to "repeal" the Municipalities Act and facilitate Government's takeover and abolishment of the Corporations?

Unfortunately, Minister Walter Roban, charged with leading the Government's efforts on this matter, has had several seemingly contradictory statements in recent months. For example:

On June 19, 2009: "Cabinet determined that the most practical efficient and effective reform would be to repeal the Municipalities Act and transition the operations of the Municipalities into the relevant Government Departments." - Government Request for Proposal

On January 22, 2010: Mr. Roban "stressed that the Government has no 'preconceived notions' and is waiting until the report is complete, in June, before making any decisions. And he denied that the Government intends to close the two entities." - The Royal Gazette

On February 13, 2010: "Cabinet Minister Walter Roban, who is responsible for the reform, has since denied that Government plans to shut down the two entities." - The Royal Gazette

And on February 17, 2010: "The Government is committed to the repeal of the Municipalities Act." - Official letter to the Mayor of Hamilton

Confused? You're not alone.

The truth is that working towards a greater level of participatory democracy at the local city level is a position that is shared by many members of the PLP as well as the new leadership of the Corporation of Hamilton.

Transparency

That is why my Council members and I have taken steps to increase public participation and transparency in our deliberations through open town hall and board meetings, and have called for expanded voting rights in our elections. In fact, we were elected on a platform that promised to implement these positive changes and we are delivering.

If the goal of reform is truly to increase democracy through reform of voting rights, the Government would find no opposition from the Corporation.

We strongly endorse the expansion of the vote, but rather than work with us towards that end, Minister's Roban's takeover announcement will strike a serious blow to democracy in Bermuda, and appears to be at odds with the PLP's previously stated goal (which we support) of encouraging community participation and expanding democratic values in Bermuda.

If reform is the true goal of Government, then why would Minister Roban earmark $800,000 of our tax dollars so far on consultants, including a U.S. law firm with expertise in privatization and real estate development?

The answer is clear from Minister Roban's February 17 letter, referenced above. This is not about reform at all. Moving to repeal the Municipalities Act is a blatant attempt by some Government members to take over the City of Hamilton and snatch and grab its assets. The PLP goal of expanding democratic principles is at risk of being perverted.

Bermuda is facing staggering budget deficits and runaway government spending. The Corporation of Hamilton, by contrast, is debt-free and managed in a fiscally responsible way with balanced budgets and well-run city services.

It is so well run that many of us in Bermuda have taken this for granted, and only now are we beginning to turn our minds to the serious consequences of a Government takeover. By repealing the Municipalities Act and taking over the city, we run the risk of seeing Government do to Hamilton what it's done to Bermuda - a financial risk we just can't afford.

Government's continued contradictory statements, whether designed to intentionally mislead the public or not, have created much confusion. The more people hear, the more they wonder what's really going on.

But on the question of "repeal" or "reform," Government's has now made its intentions crystal clear - abolishment!