By ADRIAN GIBSON
WHILE this column will address the unravelling of the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI), I must certainly look at the undoing of the Christie administration and the fact that countless projects and initiatives have bitten the dust or been the subject of derision, scandal and out-and-out ridicule.
The burning down of the male dorm at BAMSI and the subsequent revelation that the contractor simply did not have insurance – instead being allowed to submit a quote of all-risk contractors insurance – and thereby being granted mobilisation payments of taxpayers’ monies on the basis of that, is simply disgraceful.
Since no plausible reason could be given for what happened in the case of Audley Hanna and his Paradigm Construction company, he must have been allowed to skip such a vital step in the contractual process due to what a recent Tribune editorial has rightly characterised as the buddy, buddy system.
A $2.6m structure was built with taxpayers’ money, without an insurance certificate and no one seemingly thought that they should object to such bending of the rules to facilitate Mr Hanna, who we all know served as a Progressive Liberal Party senator at one point and is quite chummy with the governing party’s hierarchy.
What’s more, the debacle was amplified in the wake of the fire as it has been discovered the Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis made conflicting statements in the House of Assembly. Mr Davis told Parliament on February 25 that contractor’s all-risk insurance had been engaged at the start of the project, but because of negligence by the contractor the policy lapsed. However, last Wednesday he admitted that the building was never covered by insurance, a fact he said he did not learn until receiving the contractor’s file on March 2.
So, when the contract was initially doled out, was the substantive minister not present when the documents were being signed? Did the minister have any input in the hiring of Paradigm Construction to begin with? How many other government contracts does Mr Hanna have, if any? How many other BAMSI-related contracts does Mr Hanna have, if any?
How is Mr Hanna getting contracts when there are reported inconsistencies in his company’s National Insurance Board contribution payments? How has he been getting letters of compliance? What is the status of the 13 other contracts at BAMSI and to whom were they given?
While I can’t endorse what the suspected arsonist did in allegedly burning down the dorms at BAMSI, I have to admit that had the burning not taken place, we would probably have had no tangible proof of the absolute foolishness going on there.
BAMSI kicked off with a credibility problem, with many questioning the integrity of the programme at the outset. Many said then – and still do – that they view the project under a cloud of suspicion, seeing it as nothing more than a slush fund to reward the party faithful though it is paraded as an example of the government’s thrust to ensure food security. Thus far, it seems that BAMSI has been the gift that keeps on giving, rolling from one fiasco to the next.
Last September in The Tribune I wrote: “The mockery and downright travesty that is being made in Andros of what I thought would amount to a revival of local agriculture has left a bad taste in the mouths of many Bahamians and raised many questions about the credibility of the programme itself and the so-called “qualified” persons at the fore of the project.
“The Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) has seemingly been derailed by political partisanship, cronyism, tribalism and nepotism in the rewarding of construction contracts, dubious and exorbitantly costly imports of plants that could have been purchased locally and what appears to be a cluelessness as to the purpose of BAMSI, and how it will be accredited and have a form of educational quality assurance to undergird its degrees and certifications.
“Is BAMSI a slush fund that is evolving into a free-for-all under the guise of a national agricultural revitalisation project?”
When first announced, I was ecstatic to hear about the launch of BAMSI and the potential it had to put the Bahamas on the fast track to food security. Imagine my disappointment today.
In September, I also stated: “At the helm of BAMSI, as its “special adviser and project consultant”, the government has hired Omer Thomas, the former head of the Jamaican Bureau of Standards. Mr Thomas resigned his post under a dark cloud when questions were raised about the authenticity of his qualifications. He claimed he had a doctorate degree but the school that issued the degree was found to be nothing more than a degree mill. Mr Thomas’ biography states that he owns/owned and operated a 320-acre cocoa and coconut farm, that he holds a PhD in Public Administration, a Masters of Science degree in Pathology and a BSc in Virology and Pathology.
“So, is Omer Thomas – who some refer to as Dr Thomas – the holder of valid academic qualifications that qualify him to carry such a title? When the Bahamas government hired Mr Thomas, who signed off on his hiring and were the qualifications he espoused as a part of his professional credentials the main cause for his recruitment and employment or was it something else? Who vetted Mr Thomas before he was hired and, to paraphrase the Gleaner (a Jamaican newspaper), are Bahamian taxpayers being short changed and duped into buying into a country-wide agricultural rejuvenation programme that is under the direction of Omer Thomas who has – based on my research – not effectively explained the circumstances surrounding his so-called doctorate degree and its attainment? Was there no suitably qualified Bahamian to do the job that Mr Thomas is doing?”
“And, what is the salary that Mr Thomas is being paid? What exactly is he doing as government’s special advisor?” I asked.
We have yet to be given answers to those questions.
And then there is Alfred Gray, the Minister of Agriculture. He said that his government spent $50m on BAMSI thus far only to have that statement walked back by the Prime Minister, who said they spent much less.
Now, either Gray’s $50m claim was a moment of clarity and truth about the governing party’s apparent use of BAMSI as a watering trough for the party faithful or it is indicative of the minister’s cluelessness of his own portfolio.
How many contracts have been handed out to non-contractors? When will an independent audit be done at BAMSI? With whom does BAMSI have contracts for fruits and vegetables grown there? What staple food is being grown at BAMSI to ensure our food security? We know that bananas and paw-paw is grown, but what else? These are certainly the most expensive bananas and paw-paw that I’ve ever heard of.
Why were lime trees purportedly being imported into the Bahamas at a cost of $1m for this project? Show us the receipts and all associated information. Something smells funky.
And who came up with the ingenuous idea to uproot cascarilla plants, taking them from Acklins to Andros only to – according to a source – have them wither and die before shipping?
Did the government of Morocco give the Bahamas’ government $500,000 worth of inorganic fertiliser? If so, where is that shipment located and how is it being used?
As it stands, it seems that BAMSI is representative of an opportunity lost. Everything about it has become a political hot potato; it has become a name-calling, finger-pointing exercise. People are only paying lip service to the challenges being teachable moments, but will the Bahamian people be able to benefit from these horrible experiences rather than empty rhetoric being used to cover up pork barrel politics and an all-for-me atmosphere?
BAMSI has become the poster child for all that is wrong in the way we do business in the Bahamas. Instead of being a bright spot of hope for Bahamians, it has become metaphoric for why some of us feel despair.
Indeed, it seems that the Opposition is on a good wicket and, for the first time in a while, the message of the Free National Movement is wholly resonating with the masses. The visit of the Leader of the Opposition and his contingent proved that, even in the wake of the fire, there was no heightened security detail in place.
We should have an apolitical public accounts hearing into the happenings at BAMSI, one that is open to the media and the public.
Politically, the Deputy Prime Minister must have had the worst week ever. On a personal note, I extend my sincere condolences to him on the passing of his mother.
However, one must note that like BAMSI, the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) falls within Mr Davis’ ministerial portfolio. Every time I think about the experience I had this week and watching my son and others squirm in discomfort, I get pissed off. I felt as if I was living in 1000 BC, returned to the Dark Ages. How pathetic and absolutely disgraceful is it for a company such as BEC, that has had countless experiences with blackouts over the years, to not have a contingency plan in place so that that does not happen.
From space, The Bahamas must have looked like North Korea this weekend. Pitch black. I concluded this weekend that we are third world. I have never travelled to a developed country or state within the United States where the power just randomly shuts off ... and everywhere is without electricity.
The fact that tourism was negatively impacted, with leading hotels such as Atlantis and the British Colonial Hilton experiencing blackouts and most likely having to offer rebates, is shameful and speaks volumes about us not having our act together, but merely pretending to. When I drove by my barber’s shop and other small businesses on the weekend and noted that they were all closed, I knew that small business operators were suffering, some of whom make the bulk of their monies on the weekends.
Frankly, what needs to happen is that small businesses need to sue the government; large companies such as Atlantis and those affected hotels need to sue; home owners need to sue. Sue for monies lost; sue for blown equipment and appliances. Sue BEC and the government. It’s time that they get their act together.
The impact of the power cuts had far reaching implications. People lost their hard earned perishable goods and all we got was a perfunctory apology. What’s worse is that this is against the backdrop of paying what amounts to virtually the highest rates per kilowatt hour in this hemisphere. To make matters worse is the immature name-calling and back and forth between the union president, the chairman and the minister.
Everyone in the entire chain at BEC has lost credibility. Whatever happened to the promises of cheaper, more reliable energy? If it’s difficult for BEC to supply the electrical needs of the Bahamas as it is, how will it be when Baha Mar fully comes on-stream?
Considering the fact the Letter of Intent/Renew Bahamas debacle also concerned the Deputy Prime Minister’s ministry, I think it is time for Mr Davis to submit his resignation. He is the common denominator in all of these happenings – from BAMSI to BEC to Renew Bahamas to the LOI/Stella Waste to Energy. Otherwise, Prime Minister Perry Christie must demand his resignation or fire him.
Duane Sands, a friend and noted physician, told me yesterday: “Very few people have pointed out that Audley Hanna is (purportedly) Brave Davis’ campaign general, just as Carlos Lamb is to Jerome Fitzgerald. Mr Hanna has also had a contract to repair the Detention Centre. Paradigm Construction has been the go-to contractor, sucking at the trough of the PLP. Hanna is a former senator so he is totally connected to Davis’ political machinery and they are personal friends.
“Brave Davis is a master at giving feeble, questionable, doubtful and incomprehensible answers. At the very least, I think that on the basis of this we can say that he is incompetent and I don’t think that anyone who is objective, honest and transparent would disagree with that assessment. Brave has to be fired. Christie now has all the reason he needs to fire Brave,” Dr Sands said.
Where is the PM anyway? Why has he not spoken to the public?
However, on further thought, it is likely that before the Prime Minister fires or requests the resignation of his deputy, we are more likely to see a squadron of pigs flying over Nassau.
Mr Christie, save yourself! Save whatever remnant of a legacy you hope to maintain! Do not allow your legacy to be stained by such a disgraceful mess when the public expects you to act and to dismiss those at the core of all of this.
Our trust has been abused. The governing party has clearly mishandled our monies and seem to be telling us to shut up and not ask them anything. And while we’re at it, when will the Attorney General or Prime Minister or someone who has some respect for the Bahamian people answer our queries as to which board member took the bribe to swing a BEC contract to French power and transportation giant Alstom SA? Who is Official 8?
The Public Accounts Committee had better get to work. Apply pressure to get answers for the Bahamian people or go to the press, talk to the public. We are watching.
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