Govt 'interfering' in homes probe

By AVA TURNQUEST Tribune Staff Reporter aturnquest@tribunemedia.net POLICE recommended an independent audit of all ministry accounts, and a review of all line staff and contractors at the close of initial investigations into allegations of corruption at the Ministry of Housing, The Tribune has learned. Former lead investigator Keith Bell yesterday urged the government to give a full account of the police investigation, and any further findings. "There is obviously political interference and political influence going on with this administration. There is no question about it," Mr Bell said. "I don't know of no case in the history of The Bahamas where it took a whole team of officers five years to investigate - not even Sir Harry Oakes' murder. I can't tell you about no case, they need to give an account." Mr Bell said he presented his investigation to former Minister of Housing Kenneth Russell, and turned over the file to the commissioner of police in 2007. Mr Bell said: "I told Minister Russell right there and then, that if he has any tenacity he would conduct an independent audit of all of the accounts inside the Ministry of Housing and he would also review his entire line staff and all of the contractors. "I told him that he would have to make a decision as to whether or not there was evidence substantively or otherwise and he would have to make a decision as to how we deal with the people within and outside of his ministry." Mr Bell said he was only directed to investigate serious allegations of corruption and breaches of trust within the ministry concerning contractors and housing inspectors. During his debriefing with Mr Russell, Mr Bell said he was also questioned about a contingency fund. "When I was doing the investigation and I spoke to some of the reporters at The Tribune, I learnt of (contingency fund) and I subsequently came into possession of documents about it and that is why I told the minister." Mr Bell said: "I put him in the position that if he would wish to have it done, as the minister he could order that an independent audit be done of the account. That way he could have found out exactly what was going on or what's missing." An investigation was initiated by former PLP Housing Minister Neville Wisdom in November 2006 as a result of claims made by contractors and inconsistencies in housing documents uncovered by The Tribune. Mr Bell likened the investigation to "pulling teeth" due to the reluctance of claimants to provide information on record. Mr Bell said he interviewed a number of contractors and housing inspectors over the course of his investigation. In his opinion, he said, housing inspectors were found to be marginalised. While their testimony provided him with a clear understanding of the allegations, Mr Bell said there was no evidence of any wrongdoing. "After they realised it was the subject of a criminal investigation, which meant that persons would have been criminally prosecuted, they didn't want to be called as no witness. They didn't want to give their names and they didn't want no statements and that kind of thing - that was the issue." Mr Bell said: "It appeared to me from what I saw that the inspectors were basically being marginalised - that was my conclusion quite honestly, and even if there were some wrongdoing there was no evidence whatsoever which implicated the inspectors in any sort of wrongdoing." Mr Bell said he provided weekly updates on the investigation to the police commissioner, and continued to conduct interviews with potential informants after the FNM took office in 2007. Under the new government, Mr Bell was put in charge of police prosecutions. Mr Bell said he could not confirm whether or not the investigation was furthered but suspects that investigators were given other aspects to pursue. He also noted that the disconnect between the former Minister of Housing and the investigation into his own ministry begged a lot of questions concerning the FNM administration. "All of this is purely political, because why is it that if they claim that they had done an investigation more than four years ago, and they had evidence to charge somebody, why didn't they charge the persons within that period of time? "Why they just coming now with elections right around the corner, that's a heap of nonsense and foolishness." Mr Bell has since resigned from the Royal Bahamas Police Force, at the time of the investigation, he served as police superintendent. He is an attorney and serves as vice chairman of the Progressive Liberal Party Last night, Mr Bell confirmed that he has also offered himself up for candidacy in the next general election. However, he said the PLP party has not yet made a decision. Mr Bell's comments follow yesterday's story in The Tribune, in which former Housing Minister Kenneth Russell said six more people were expected to face charges as a result of the police investigation.


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