HISTORY was made in the House of Assembly yesterday when for the first time in 50 years – since the beginning of internal self government — the voice of an Opposition leader was silenced.
As the Speaker ordered Opposition Leader Dr Hubert Minnis from the hallowed halls of parliament for two sittings, his colleagues rose in support, mounting two large signs on the table in front of them. The signs read: “Democracy will not be muzzled” and “The Bahamas should be for Bahamians.”
The Bill before the House was a bill to regulate stem cell therapy in the Bahamas, not only for research purposes, but as a first step in entering the field of medical tourism.
Dr Minnis has made it clear that the FNM is “not opposed to stem cell research provided all the regulations, monitoring mechanisms, and especially enforcement are convincingly and aggressively adhered to”.
“After all,” he said, “we must protect the reputation, and the future growth and development of the Bahamas.”
In fact, when Minister of Health in the FNM government, Dr Minnis was very active in getting stem cell research off the ground.
Today, the only fly in this progressive ointment is the shadow of Lyford Cay resident Peter Nygard, his land problems, and a keen eye on establishing the world’s best stem cell research centre at his Medical Spa on his Simms Point, Lyford Cay property. At least that is what he represented at a meeting with Sir Baltron Bethel in the Office of the Prime Minister in June last year. Since then, he has claimed that he never had any intention of putting such a facility in his “own backyard”, calling The Tribune “silly” for making such a weirdo suggestion. Obviously, Mr Nygard suffers from a short memory.
The moment the flamboyant Nygard with flowing white mane entered the stem cell picture, the Opposition became nervous about maintaining its medical integrity.
For the sake of our democracy, the FNM became concerned with the apparent cosy relationship between wealthy fashion designer Nygard and several PLP cabinet members. “Mr Peter Nygard – as reflected in media reports and in YouTube videos produced and released by Mr Nygard – has been judged by many as being most unseemly and outrageously inappropriate,” said Dr Minnis.
On July 17th, St Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman, in making his contribution to the House stem cell debate, suggested that this situation gave the appearance of corruption. He called no one corrupt, but suggested that certain things were going on that gave that appearance. If he had been given a chance, he could have probably explained to what he alluded. But he was cut short. The Speaker ordered that he either defend his words or withdraw them. Mr Chipman withdrew them, followed by the Speaker having them expunged.
Dr Minnis, his leader, stood up to support his colleague. He said he saw no reason for Mr Chipman to withdraw anything. Dr Minnis reiterated that there was the appearance of corruption, this time his reference was interpreted as having called the Prime Minister corrupt. This is not what we heard, but this is apparently what Bain and Grants Town MP Bernard Nottage claimed he heard. Even the Speaker seemed to be in a fog as to whether that is what he also heard. Anyway, Dr Nottage demanded that the Speaker deal severely with Dr Minnis.
The Prime Minister also protested. He seemed genuinely surprised when Dr Minnis mentioned that he had an affidavit. The Speaker demanded that Dr Minnis withdraw his words, or produce evidence to support them. Dr Minnis refused to withdraw, but before he could produce the Nygard affidavit boasting of his friendship with the Prime Minister and the financial support of his party, the Speaker moved for adjournment. The scene was repeated on July 22. Yesterday, the Speaker came prepared to oust the Opposition Leader — a most unusual parliamentary move. He had made the decision even before the member had a chance to speak in his own defence. Dr Minnis was again asked to withdraw his offending statement or prove the alleged corruption. He only had time to confirm that he was not withdrawing anything. Before he could lay his supporting documents on the table he – flanked by his colleagues — was being hustled out of the chamber by the police.
The Speaker —before ordering Dr Minnis’ suspension — gave an interpretation of the word “corruption”.
“What corruption is, in essence,” said the Speaker, ”is the acceptance of a gift, favour or advantage by an official that causes that official to act in a way he would not have acted had he not received that gift, favour, or advantage.
“Whereas a meeting between a Minister and an individual may bring suspicion of corruption to the mind of a member, or a group of members, it is not sufficient to support an allegation of corruption.”
What we understood both Mr Chipman and Dr Minnis to have alleged was not actual corruption, but the appearance of corruption.
It seems reasonable that the man in the fish market could look with suspicion on Mr Nygard’s proud boast that he was one of Mr Christie’s “major backers” and the “major PLP financial contributor.”
“Hey, man yuh hear dat!” could well be the exclamation by our little fisherman if he were told – as we were – that Mr Nygard said quite openly that he donated $5 million to the PLP’s election campaign. He has since denied this statement, now claiming that he had spent the $5 million on stem cell research.
Everywhere Mr Nygard goes these days, he complains bitterly of how badly neighbour Louis Bacon is treating him and makes it clear that he expects the Christie government to lift the Ingraham edict demanding that he return his property borders to their original position, thus giving up an extra three acres of land acquired by what he claims was accretion over the years. Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham had accused him of taking Crown land, which belonged to the Bahamian people. Mr Ingraham wanted it returned to its original state.
Mr Nygard has made it quite clear that he expects the Christie government to become a “Mr Fix-It”.
And then there is the infamous tape. The tape in which Mr Nygard boasts after the PLP victory that he, Peter Nygard, has taken back the Bahamas.
All these episodes taken together would certainly qualify for the Speaker’s definition of attracting a “suspicion of corruption”.
At a recent function, Mr Christie told his audience that he wears “his integrity on his sleeve”.
We do not doubt that Mr Christie is a man of integrity and so today we are appealing to that integrity to put this last rumour to rest:
It is being said that government has already agreed a 21-year lease to Mr Nygard for the disputed piece of Crown land at Simms Point. It is also understood that a rental fee has been attached, but there is no option to purchase.
True or false?