By CELESTE NIXON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE FNM hit back at State Minister of National Security Keith Bell's allegation that confiscated drug money was used as a "slush fund" under the former government - claiming the minister's comments reveal he doesn't know what he's talking about.
Describing the claims as unbecoming of a minister, opposition leader Dr Hubert Minnis said Mr Bell's assertions about the Confiscated Assets Fund are completely baseless.
He said: "Mr Bell appears to be completely unfamiliar with the operations of the Confiscated Asset Fund and unfamiliar with the fact that the fund is routinely audited by the Auditor General and reported to the Financial Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and subsequently tabled in the House of Assembly by the Minister of Finance."
Speaking on Monday, Mr Bell claimed $9 million was taken from the fund between 2007 and 2012, but details of how the money was spent were never tabled in the House of Assembly.
Dr Minnis said: "If he had bothered to familiarise himself with the operations of the fund, he would be aware that the Auditor General's report on the fund, tabled in the House of Assembly in June, 2002, reflected a closing balance of some $3.7 million.
"He would also know that the Auditor General's report on the Confiscated Assets Fund for the period ended June 30, 2007 was tabled in the House of Assembly by the Rt Hon Hubert A Ingraham on July 2, 2008, reflecting a closing balance of just over $9.5 million.
"And, Mr Bell, had he bothered to check, would be aware that the last audit report of the Confiscated Assets Fund was tabled in the House of Assembly in October 2011, reflecting a balance of just under $1 million and also recording expenditures of funds from the Confiscated Assets Fund authorised for the acquisition of surveillance equipment (electronic monitoring), ammunition and bullet-proof vests; aviation training; the purchase of aircraft, motor vehicles and motorcycles, mobile police command centres, radar equipment and vessels - all to strengthen the capacity and ability of the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to better wage war against the criminal class, both local and international, who seek to ignore our laws and destroy the peace."
Dr Minnis said all the funds were spent with Cabinet approval and in full compliance with the requirements of the Confiscated Funds Act.
"Mr Bell would have been better advised to explain why with $9.5 million in the Confiscated Asset Fund up to May 2007, his party's government had failed to provide either the police or Defence Force with urgently required anti-crime fighting equipment including vehicles and vessels to improve patrols and strengthen anti-crime initiatives around the country," he said.
In fact, Dr Minnis noted, the PLP failed to purchase a single vessel for the Royal Bahamas Defence Force between 2002 and 2007 - notwithstanding the obvious condition of the aging fleet.
He said: "Mr Bell suffers from a common PLP disease - that of looking in the mirror and rather than seeing themselves, seeing the FNM."
The FNM leader also rejected Mr Bell's claim that FNMs were "handing out envelopes of money on election day" and pointed out that the minister "might seek to explain why, particularly given his past career on the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the fact that as an attorney called to the Bahamas Bar he is an officer of the courts, he did not see it fit and necessary to report a crime which he alleges to have seen or which was reported to him.
"Further, given his present position, he might advise if he proposes to have the police investigate the crime and cause charges to be laid."
He said the FNM does not engage in actions that threaten to degrade and destroy Bahamian democracy.
"We uphold the law, support democracy and never countenance any action which would damage our democracy. Our record on this speaks loudly for us. The same cannot be said for the current PLP-led government."