By ADRIAN GIBSON
Corruption is rife in the Bahamas. Today, there is a general lack of transparency, fair play and accountability in governance.
When one considers the statements on corruption by Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damien Gomez, I initially wondered if he was privy to certain happenings within the government and had finally arrived at certain truths that he wanted to acknowledge and fight against publicly. Of course, Mr Gomez’s about-face this week and his puerile threats to seek leave from a judge to file Election Court petitions against Free National Movement Leader Hubert Minnis and FNM Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner, alleging that both parliamentarians are in violation of the Article 49 of the Constitution – a section with respect to conflict of interest, was nothing short of bewildering, particularly since he isolated those two MPs from the pack and totally ignored queries about members of his own Parliamentary caucus/Cabinet who are either conflicted or appear to be caught up in conflicts of interest. Was Mr Gomez politically neutered and made to backtrack on his earlier statement? Or, were his utterances merely representative of a charade of smoke and mirrors in hopes of fooling the Bahamian public?
What were Mr Gomez’s motives? Indeed, former Pindling-era Cabinet minister Loftus Roker is correct in questioning Mr Gomez’s motivation. Of late, what is more astounding is the number of Cabinet Ministers making statements and, quite frankly, going on a frolic of their own. Whatever happened to the notion of collective responsibility? Do these Cabinet Ministers really believe that they are speaking for themselves; do they not understand Cabinet protocol? Moreover, is it an agreed position by the Cabinet that certain ministers will be used to float certain ideas to the public and gauge the public’s response? Is any of this sanctioned by the Cabinet or Prime Minister Perry Christie himself?
The cold hard facts are that The Bahamas is a cash-driven, materialistic society where certain politicians are corrupt, vain kleptomaniacs who fancy themselves to be among an imaginary class of citizens known as “the unaccountable elite”. Corruption is a mainstay of Bahamian politics as more than a handful of politicians steal money or solicit bribes to maintain lavish lifestyles and/or dole out contracts to reward cronies and seek patronage.
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham — a man of great integrity — had it right when he said that, for us the Bahamian public, good and faithful governance is a matter of trust. At present, the public looks at the government with scepticism and distrust and, more often than not, you can hear Bahamians grumbling and stating that they are only biding their time until election day. Unfortunately, we do not yet have a recall system for MPs in place and the Constitutional Commission did not find it as necessary to suggest that our Constitution be reformed to include this electoral mechanism. Frankly, an electoral mechanism should be implemented to remove elected legislative members who sometimes are found to be inept benchwarmers.
Over the years, I have become convinced that there is an unaccountable elite in this country. For some time now, several past and current (elected) politicians have been known to use their position in government to shaft the public/investors and amass cash and valuables that are stockpiled in bulging secret bank accounts/safes. Here, corruption among politicians and public officials vary and is inclusive of bribery, embezzlement, graft, nepotism, patronage, extortion, cronyism, kickbacks and bid-rigging. Yes, bid rigging!
According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia:
“Corruption poses a serious development challenge. In the political realm, it undermines democracy and good governance by flouting or even subverting formal processes. Corruption in elections and in legislative bodies reduces accountability and distorts representation in policymaking; corruption in the judiciary compromises the rule of law; and corruption in public administration results in the unfair provision of services. More generally, corruption erodes the institutional capacity of government as procedures are disregarded, resources are siphoned off, and public offices are bought and sold. At the same time, corruption undermines the legitimacy of government and such democratic values as trust and tolerance.”
I am amazed at the tremendous sense of entitlement of several obnoxious Bahamian politicians. Unfortunately, rather than fooling the public with their rhetoric of looking out for The Bahamas and our interest, more and more Bahamians—based on social media commentary, radio and letters to the editor—are speaking out and seeing through their bombast and empty, self-comforting magniloquence and angrily taking stock as these individuals conduct themselves like, greedy, spoilt brats and appear to be nothing more than a motley crew of incompetent, “tiefin” wannabe national leaders who couldn’t spell transparency even if it were typed in bold font — size 72!
Although I’m not suggesting that all politicians are shysters, to use the words of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, “corrupt politicians make the other ten per cent look bad”.
Unquestionably, certain elected and high-ranking officials should face charges as it relates to their dishonesty. The improprieties that have happened over the last 40 years have tainted certain politicians and revealed that they are nothing more than political pirates. It appears that some Bahamian politicians don’t have the slightest understanding of the meaning of the prefix “honourable” that — so unfortunately — precedes their names. This is one reason why it is ever so important for us to have an Independent Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Frankly, such a person would not sit around a table with Cabinet colleagues and/or hold allegiances to a government that prohibit them from charging so-called high-ranking officials. At present, we have not had a DPP for nearly a year and there has been no thrust on the part of the government to formally appoint someone to the post. I will speak on this in one of two columns next week!
Isn’t it mind-boggling how certain first-time Bahamian politicians enter parliament with a declaration of between $25,000 and $40,000 but five years later declared a million or more? Isn’t even more mindboggling how certain folks could enter Parliament and serve stints as a Cabinet minister only to declare that they are much richer than they were before the previous general election?
The Public Disclosures Act needs to be repealed and replaced with stronger legislation or amended and strengthened. It lacks teeth and so does the Commission that is supposed to ensure the timely declarations of Members of Parliament (MP). At present, how many MPs are up-to-date with their disclosures? And, for those who are not, why haven’t they been fined or jailed as is set out by the Act? Is there one law for the average Joe blow and another for the MP and Minister, persons who—quite frankly—are elected to serve our interests?
How many current ministers actually hold a job outside of being an MP once they are booted from office and lose their Cabinet post? And, if they do not hold jobs, how many of them had investments and undertakings prior to entering public life that they could turn to and how many suddenly and unjustly became rich during their tenure as a minister?
Because of the blatantly corrupt practices of a number of politicians in the 1980s, The Bahamas was infamously branded as a “nation for sale” and “paradise lost.” It is imperative that the public agitate for the enactment of legislation that ensures transparency, answerability and checks and balances, which are all features of a principled government. A prior Commission of Inquiry indicted several politicians and queried the shady activities of others, even leading to a few shameful resignations. Former Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling’s claim to have received $16,000 — in US $100 bills — from his poor Androsian constituents will never be accepted by discerning Bahamians and, in my opinion, bore the stench of corruption.
Take one look at the Bahamas’ oversized civil service and one would quickly realise that it’s a cesspool of corruption. What’s more, many government-owned corporations are teeming with political cronies, many of whom are totally unqualified for the positions they hold.
Moreover, Bahamians widely believe that consecutive governments have manipulated, politicised and tinkered with our country’s law enforcement agencies through promises of promotions and other self-serving rewards to certain officers who placed themselves over country.
There are some who would argue that the dreadful effect of corruption also blights our judicial process... let’s think about it, how often do we hear of the nolle prosequi being issued for the connected and under questionable circumstances? Why is it that many Bahamians feel that the poor and persons who are not politically connected with go to jail and have the book thrown at them or be beaten by police, etc?
The election season is fast approaching. No doubt, we can once again expect to see the most barefaced forms of political corruption taking place. Bahamians are well aware of the propositions of politicians, who offer bribes for votes during a general election campaign, whether that means purchasing food, clothing or appliances, paying utility bills, using public funds to create temporary jobs, doling out contracts for campaign favours, or unashamedly giving away money.
To prevent corruption during elections, there is a need for campaign finance reform. Why has the promised legislation not yet been moved, Prime Minister Christie?
When it comes to campaign financing, we must seek to cap expenditures by putting ceilings on donations and carefully scrutinize the institutions and/or individuals contributing to the coffers of these parties. Disclosure requirements to heighten transparency and ensure that the public is made aware of how much money was donated to a political party or candidate, by whom, when and for what purpose must be put in place! Countries such as France have completely banned corporate funding of political parties and also put limitations on the amount of cash a candidate can spend which, if exceeded, can result in a candidacy being nullified and sanctions placed on a candidate for future elections.
Indeed, as is widely believed to be the case with the web shops, opportunities for purchasing influence in government/political parties abound and such practices extend beyond the electoral process to include contracts and the brokering of corrupt transactions.
The lack of freedom of information legislation makes the Bahamas a haven for megalomaniacal politicians intent on raping taxpayers.
Presently, there are no safeguards against corruption and neither are there any mechanisms in place to protect whistle blowers. At a mass rally on November 21, 2006, PM Ingraham told a crowd that he found it “very revealing” that The Bahamas had not signed nor ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which was entered into force in December 2005. Has that been signed or ratified as yet?
A process must be put in place to make politicians directly answerable to their constituents even before a general election is called, rather than the current setup where a lousy MP could “live fat off the hog” for five years. An electoral recall is a political device that would undoubtedly be a valuable check on the power of venal, self-serving public office holders, from the local administrative units to the central government. It would perhaps eliminate the notion of a safe constituency/seat, increase an MP’s accountability and empower Bahamians to rid their constituencies of certain politicians who appear to be nothing more than lying hypocrites.
Any politician who displays a lack of fitness, engages in an act of malfeasance or misconduct while in office, violates their oath of office, neglects his/her duties, wilfully misuses, misappropriates or converts public funds or property associated with their elected/appointed office, is convicted of a felony and/or is corrupt or incompetent, should face the electorate in an emergency, US-style recall election. In our dying political system, there are numerous oafish legislators who are ill-equipped for public office and even unprepared for parliamentary debates.
With all this talk of corruption, why is Mr Christie so quiet?
There are a few major issues that must be spoken to Mr Prime Minister. Please answer these questions sir:
Considering the Manual of Cabinet and the possible appearance of a conflict on the part of Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson, whether direct or indirect, will you – per paragraph 44 – discipline or relieve Mrs Maynard-Gibson of her duties?
As it relates to Baha Mar, are there any other members of your Cabinet who may have contracts with the resort? Do you or any member of your Cabinet have a company or have a child or children involved in a company that has been awarded a contract to maintain all the pools at Baha Mar? Do you or any member of your Cabinet or their close relatives have a contract to carry out and maintain the landscaping at Baha Mar?
The privatisation of garbage collection happened virtually overnight here in New Providence and one would like to know who the beneficiaries are of these most recent contracts? Are any Cabinet ministers affiliated with any of the entities awarded these contracts?
On a separate issue, the secret award of a contract to foreign-owned company Renew Bahamas to remediate the New Providence Landfill has also left a bad taste in the mouths of Bahamian business operators who claim that the government was not forthcoming during the bidding/proposal process.
We still wish to know about Renew Bahamas and the LOI that Renward Wells signed. Who told him to sign the LOI?
Whatever happened to the Prevention of Bribery Act? Over the years, we have had more than enough accounts of bribery of public officials and yet no one has been prosecuted under this Act.
When was the last that contractors were invited to attend the openings of the bids at the Ministry of Finance? And, was it General Electric—an American company that won a $35 million bid to supply medical equipment to the new Critical Care Unit at the Princess Margaret Hospital – that complained to the State Department about government interference and corrupt practices? Was it that company that was allegedly pressured to supply the new block with the medical equipment through a company headed by a former PLP minister rather than its Bahamian distributors?
The FNM, in its 2007 Manifesto set out what it called the “standards of conduct for ministers of government.” Here, it stated that ministers of government were expected to observe the following principles of Ministerial conduct:
Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests.
Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the policies and operations of their departments and agencies.
Ministers must not mislead Parliament. They must be open with Parliament and with the public.
Ministers must avoid accepting any gift or hospitality, which might appear to compromise their judgment or place them under improper obligation.
Ministers in the House of Assembly must separate their roles as Ministers, Members of Parliament and Party Representative.
Mr Christie, do you have a similar code of conduct for your ministers? And, moreover, how many of the five principles listed have ministers of the current administration blatantly violated thus far? The correct answer would likely be all five.
It is shameful enough that Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Index refers to corruption as remaining “a problem at all levels of government with top officials frequently facing allegations of administrative graft, domestically and from abroad.”
Corruption can have ominous, far-reaching affects upon a society, such as poverty, economic collapse, underdevelopment, abuse of the public’s purse, the loss of life, unemployment and even result in a country being blacklisted. Corruption undermines democracy and retards economic development!
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