By PACO NUNEZ
Tribune News Editor
FIRST off, let me say I'm not about to join those calling for Dion Smith's head, or those defending the embattled Deputy Speaker.
The future of his political career is in my view, entirely a question for the MP and his party leader.
Still, it was beyond amusing last week to watch Mr Smith and his lawyer Wayne Munroe try to argue the case against resigning after claims were made against him of a "tirade" punctuated by racial slurs that put neighbours in fear for their safety.
According to Mr Smith, he entered politics to serve his country, takes his responsibility as an MP and Deputy Speaker of the House "very serious" and therefore will not permit a "rag-sheet" like The Tribune to distract him with allegations he says are false.
Meanwhile, in Mr Munroe's view: "If it is said that because you were sued you should resign, then tomorrow I will file a lawsuit against Hubert Minnis. I hope he resigns. I will file an action against – and it doesn't have to have merit – against anyone and they have to resign.
“See how ridiculous that is?"
Listening to them, one would think no public official in the world had ever resigned in the face of allegations they insisted were false.
But then, it never ceases to amaze me that a country as interconnected as the Bahamas can be as insular, as intellectually isolated, as it sometimes appears.
On a daily basis and at all social levels, we interact with people from around the world, yet we persist in behaving like some sort of lost civilisation, ignorant of everything beyond our shores.
What, for example, would Messrs Smith and Munroe have to say about US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Chief of Staff Suzanne Barr?
"In recent weeks, I have been the focus of unfounded allegations designed to destroy my reputation," she said in her resignation statement in August,"but of greater concern, however, is the threat these allegations represent to the reputation of this agency and the men and women who proudly serve their country by advancing ICE's mission."
The view she expressed, which could be defined as the "my post is more important than I am" priciple, is acutally a very well established, even commonplace response in the face of unproven allegations. Consider that in just the last year, we've had:
• IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn: "I want to protect this institution which I have served with honour and devotion, and especially—especially—I want to devote all my strength, all my time, and all my energy to proving my innocence."
• German President Christian Wulff, who said the country "needs a president who can devote himself completely to national and international challenges."
• US Senator John Ensigh: "I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation..."
So, while Mr Smith's "respect" for his position leads him to insist he must stay, the very same impulse points many, many others who declare their innocence, to the exact opposite conclusion.
As for his lawyer's "I'll sue Hubert Minnis" argument, I agree that if Mr Munroe himself – as either the representative of a PLP MP or an officer of the DNA – were to lump a political rival like Dr Minnis with an obviously frivolous lawsuit, it would be "ridiculous" for the FNM leader to resign.
But it’s hard to see what this might have to do with Mr Smith's predicament. Is Mr Munroe suggesting the other tenants in his client's building – and particularly the foreigners – are desirous of harming the PLP?
Is there something about these Pilot House residents that
distinguishes them from run-of-the-mill expats, who settle here for the sun, sand and sea, and causes them to adopt a local political agenda?
Maybe so, but if there is, these gentlemen failed to share it at their press conference.
But should it even matter how the rest of the world treats serious allegations levelled without a known political motive?
After all, this is the Bahamas, where we make our own rules and everybody knows history began in 1967, right?
Be that as it may, the most ardent nationalist would do well to remember that Bahamians interact with so many foreigners, not because we want to, but because we have to.
Despite decades of bluster about diversifying our economy, we are as dependent on attracting foreigners to our shores – and as reliant on their overseas markets for the food we eat and the clothes on our backs – as we ever were.
Not just that, but they have to like us too.
Tourists have to feel safe and comfortable here. Foreign investors have to feel this is a stable economy where lawmakers employ good governance. Those who use their financial services have to feel their money is well protected.
If not, all these people will go elsewhere and then the game is really up.
In this context, the reputation of our institutions arguably matters even more than in the foreign cases quoted above.
I said before that Mr Smith's political future is a question for his leader.
That's not to say Prime Minister Christie won't have to put forward an awfully good argument for keeping him – at least a better one than was presented at last week's press conference.
I certainly hope that in making his decision, Mr Christie does consider the reputation of our "honourable" House of Assembly, should international news wires happen to pick up that the Deputy Speaker is caught up in allegations of racial and anti-foreign remarks, damage to property and seeking to take advantage of his relationship
with the Commissioner of Police.
The PLP like to complain about the local press, but as we all know, those foreign headlines can be particularly cruel.
Perhaps the fear of the story going international, the desire to keep our heads buried in the sand, is what led some in the PLP to resort to intimidation and harrassment over this issue (see HERE).
Insight wrote last week about the governing party's apparent attempt to control the factors that make public opinion with a view to "inventing reality", but this time, they're barking up the wrong tree.
The Tribune is not ZNS and the use of harrassment, lies and thuggery will, I can assure them, blow up in their faces.
We will continue to follow the story, not because we have it out for Mr Smith, but because regardless of their truth or falsity, such claims against someone in such a position constitute A STORY pure and simple – no less than any of the international examples quoted above, or for
that matter the "Mona Vie" and "helicopter ride" claims during the FNM's last administration.
If a PLP hireling tries just one more time to persuade or intimidate a Tribune journalist into dropping the Dion Smith story, they won't have to wait for the international press wires.
We will ensure that every press freedom agency, human rights organisation and free speech forum the world over knows about their tactics.
Then we might really see the consequences of burying our heads in the sand.
What do you think?
Email your questions or comments to email@example.com, or join
the conversation at www.tribune242.com/opinion/insight