Premier Paula Cox, escorted by Opposition Leader Kim Swan, makes her way from the House of Assembly to the gazebo where the Governor delivered the Throne Speech. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Premier Paula Cox, escorted by Opposition Leader Kim Swan, makes her way from the House of Assembly to the gazebo where the Governor delivered the Throne Speech. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
FRIDAY, NOV. 5: A new Gang Task Force to fight escalating gun crime has been established as part of Premier Paula Cox’s platform for Bermuda.

Ms Cox in her first Throne Speech — just over a week after taking over as Premier from Dr. Ewart Brown — set out the priorities of her new Government.

The speech outlined a series of policy initiatives and legislative reforms, including the Task Force, which will fall under the remit of Colonel David Burch’s new National Security Ministry.

Ms Cox’s speech, read by Governor Sir Richard Gozney at the official opening of parliament this morning, also unveiled potential plans for a second Police Support Unit — the street squad that executes warrants and conducts stop-and-search blockades.

The Gang Task Force will be made up of ‘relevant stakeholders’ — likely to include representatives from police, customs and prisons, among others.

It will work with the U.S. Consul in a “coordinated effort” at “apprehending those responsible for gun crime and discouraging those at risk from joining that destructive lifestyle”.

A High Risk Adolescent Intervention Team will also be formed in a bid to help youngsters at risk of being recruited by gangs to take a different path.

Sir Richard, dressed in his official garb — a white military suit with hat and feathers, outlined Ms Cox’s policy plan in front of all members of Parliament, assembled dignitaries and crowds of onlookers on the Cabinet lawn this morning.

The speech contained broad brushstrokes, with Ms Cox and her ministers likely to provide more detail in a series of press conferences starting this afternoon.

A commitment to improve “teacher quality” through a plan to introduce “Master Principals” as models of effective leadership was also announced.

Ms Cox promised more independence for schools and a greater “structure for accountability” within the education system.

Jumpstarting the economy was a key theme of the speech.

Ms Cox acknowledged that Government needed to “live within its means” and committed to “restrain growth in spending and effect savings of at least $150million in the first year.”

The speech highlighted the new Procurement, Contracts and Project Management Office as a way of achieving the cutbacks.

The office will be responsible for tendering major capital projects to ensure value for money and is expected to provide: “enhanced oversight and greater compliance in the area of public service delivery”.

Additional funding for the Auditor General to have its own “independent counsel” was also promised — a sign, perhaps, of greater cooperation with the financial watchdog, that has highlighted major concerns over the Government’s handling of some capital projects.

New Economic Empowerment Zones will be established in St George’s and Sandys, and an Equal Pay Act will be brought to Parliament.

“The role of Government is to help its citizens in times of need and to devise a framework that supports the honest work of its people,” said Sir Richard, reading from Ms Cox’s speech.

An overhaul of the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act of 1956 was also promised with the new department of Economy, Trade and Industry expected to take a lead role in ensuring Bermudians are trained to take key jobs in the workplace.

A commitment to extend tax protection legislation for International Business to 2035 was also included in a bid to reassure Bermuda’s key industry.

“We must do everything we can to protect our lead in this area,” read Sir Richard.

Reform of the health insurance system through changes to regulatory requirements is also in the pipeline.

“By 2012 more affordable options will be available to the public.”

Other commitments included a new war memorial on Cabinet grounds, moves to protect Bermuda’s coral reefs, a review of the civil service and a new “water supply and servicing master plan”.

Ms Cox’s speech concluded: “As a new season unfolds in Bermuda’s political landscape there remains a need for common effort in pursuit of a common purpose. We must strive for harmony in our discourse and not disagree for the sake of disagreement. The community is tired of that and wants a country that is prepared to have all hands on deck pulling in the same direction.

“That which divides us cannot be allowed to trump that which unites us.”

Sir Richard added a few words of his own wishing the new administration success in their “fundamental goals”.

He added: “I have in mind their emphasis on public confidence in Government, on the widest look at social questions and on the need for sustainable support to the essential services.”

Read the Throne Speech in full