NATIONAL SECURITY Minister Bernard Nottage’s “500 per cent mis-speak”, as one local wit called it, certainly set the town on its head and burned up the airwaves this week as Bahamians went apoplectic to think that Prime Minister Christie’s “noble act” had cost them $5 million.
Before the January 28th gambling referendum went to the people, Mr Christie had speculated that it would cost more than $1 million. However, he said at the time, he did not know the exact figure.
At the end of last week, Dr Nottage, who has elections and referendums in his political portfolio and should have known an approximate figure, in an interview with a Guardian reporter commented: “I know that the referendum held in January cost us around about $5 million, I think is the figure.”
There was such an angry uproar from the public that Dr Nottage sent out an immediate apology for “inadvertently” giving the wrong figure.
“Almost immediately, I told the reporters, who were from the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas, Cable TV 12 and The Nassau Guardian, that I was uncertain about the actual amount,” said Dr Nottage in a press statement published in Monday morning’s newspapers.
“Nevertheless,” he continued, “the figure was published in The Nassau Guardian in its Friday 4th edition. As a result, in a note that I wrote to the author of the article and to his superiors on another matter, I pointed out that I thought it was unfair for them to have used that figure.
“I wish to point out that I am now in possession of the exact figure, which has been provided for me by the Parliamentary Registration Department.”
But how unchivalrous of him. The good minister is concerned about his own “integrity”, but the reporter’s integrity? Well, that can be assigned to the dust bin.
We hope that the reporter’s editors were not so foolish as to reprimand him. Politicians are responsible for what they say, and reporters are responsible for reporting what they say accurately. It is not their responsibility to correct the politician’s facts. Dr Nottage said he thought it was $5 million and the reporter recorded what Dr Nottage said he thought.
In the report, it was made clear that – like Mr Christie earlier — Dr Nottage had no exact figure. It was clear to readers that both Mr Christie and Dr Nottage were giving estimated figures. Mr Christie did not complain, so why Dr Nottage?
As soon as the $5 million escaped his lips, Dr Nottage should have immediately known that such a figure was preposterous. It just goes to show that the penny ha’penny days of our childhood have disappeared into the misty past. This present generation lives in an age when millions slide easily from their slippery tongues. But to miscalculate by $4 million should make Bahamians worry about the government we now have managing our country’s affairs.
Last year’s May 7th election when unthinking Bahamians gave the PLP a resounding mandate to govern, the cost of the election was estimated in the region of $1 million — if not just under.
In that election, there were 38 constituencies, 133 candidates and 172,130 voters on the register. Of that number, 156,000 Bahamians voted.
By comparison, there was a poor showing for this year’s gambling referendum. So soon after the last election — and the fact that they were voting from the same register – all the election paraphernalia was there. The basic expenses would have been the printing of the ballot papers and the salaries of the persons manning the polls.
Persons knowledgeable of election costs estimated that the gambling referendum should have been under $1 million.
However, we agree with Opposition leader Dr Hubert Minnis that if today Dr Nottage puts all the bills on the table of the House, including those of the advisers brought in from South Africa, Bahamians might see the figure nearer to Dr Nottage’s $5 million, than Mr Christie’s $1 million.
But up to last night Dr Nottage was sticking to his guns.
“I have corrected myself,” he said, “I have made a mistake and it doesn’t matter why the mistake was made. It doesn’t matter why the mistake was made. It was made, it was regrettable. I think that it could have been handled differently by the press, but I understand and so I accept it. I am not commenting any further on that matter.”
Dr Nottage, this is your own folly — nothing to do with the press. Maybe next time you will think carefully before you speak.
Your only complaint against the press would have been valid if you had been misquoted. You were not misquoted. It was made clear that the $5 million was not an exact figure — but inexact by about $4 million – well that’s one doozy of a mistake.
We are all looking forward to the statement of accounts being presented to the House today. It’s a shame that the parliamentarians did not debate this matter in the House and with a simple amendment settle the knotty problem of gambling in the Bahamas. No referendum with its attendant expenses was necessary. If the matter had been dealt with as it should have been, today’s debate over $5 million would not have been necessary.
But this is the mess that people often get themselves into when they shirk their responsibilities.