By ADRIAN GIBSON
DAILY, I’m becoming more and more convinced that we live in a banana republic or are fast descending into becoming one.
In recent days, the member of parliament for MICAL and Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Alfred Gray – who also had responsibility for Local Government – has been facing accusations that he abused his power after he allegedly contacted Mayaguana island administrator Zephaniah Newbold last week to offer what Mr Gray has called “legal advice” regarding a young man convicted in his constituency.
Mr Gray admitted that he spoke to the administrator and, at one point in another daily newspaper, seemingly caught a case of amnesia, asserting that he could not recall whether he contacted the administrator first or vice versa. He noted in that report that he speaks to administrators every day and that contact could have been established either way.
Moreover, the minister strongly denied that he in any way attempted to sway the course of justice and contended that the young man was on bail. I know that Mr Gray is in his 60s and, though my grandparents are in their 80s, even they don’t have sudden bouts of amnesia where they cannot remember who initiated a call and what was said.
However, the Free National Movement claimed that following a phone conversation between Mr Gray and the administrator, the latter granted the release of the man he had convicted just days earlier. At that time, Mr Newbold was acting in the capacity of a local magistrate.
Yesterday, The Nassau Guardian reported that the administrator had confirmed that the convicted man had been released outright as opposed to being on bail, as asserted by Mr Gray. Mr Newbold was reported as stating that he ordered him to be set free after “whatever order came forth.” Imagine that!
So, even after all this, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) MP for MICAL, has been allowed to retain his seat around the Cabinet table whilst yet another inquiry is being conducted.
While we have two differing accounts of what happened, I ask a few questions that should perhaps enlighten those investigating: Is the young man, who was formerly convicted, now free? How could he be free – if previously convicted – without a formal appeal (outside of Mr Gray’s alleged “appeal”)? Did the police officers and other persons present in the court at that time witness the young man being brought guilty before the phone call and sudden about-face by the administrator? Did Mr Gray call the administrator twice and, if so, who was present?
What I find absurd is the statement of Prime Minister Perry Christie in the House of Assembly yesterday.
He said: “In reference to the allegations recently made against Minister Alfred Gray, the member for MICAL, I am advised that the honourable Attorney General has referred the matter to the Royal Bahamas Police Force for a thorough investigation. As a result of this development, Minister Gray has invited me to relieve him of his ministerial responsibility for local government pending the outcome of the police investigation.
“In all the circumstances, I consider that this is the correct thing to do.”
Well kiss my leg! Is the PM serious?
It has been alleged that Mr Gray used his power as minister responsible to interfere with the judicial process and rather than resigning or being fired, he invited the Prime Minister to relieve him of his ministerial responsibility for local government until the results of the police investigation are known. Stunning!
So, firstly, it appears that in Mr Christie and Mr Gray’s minds responsibility for local government has only been temporarily handed to Hope Strachan and, secondly, they seem to believe that there is absolutely no reason for Mr Gray to be dismissed from all of the Cabinet. Mr Gray’s invitation to voluntarily relinquish one part of his ministerial portfolio pending the outcome of the investigation is but a small victory. He still retains his post as Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources.
If Mr Gray did not invite Mr Christie, what would have happened? In the real world – where the PM and Mr Gray have clearly lost their citizenship – do employees invite their bosses to dismiss or discipline them or do they just leave or resign and/or are simply fired? What a weak, spineless and wishy-washy response by the Prime Minister.
Why is it that our nation’s leader constantly appears to have been emasculated in the face of controversy? Why won’t Mr Christie act, why does he couch all his utterances and actions in flowery language, giving the impression that, just as a pussy cat is afraid of water, he fears decision making?
When we talk about a belief in Bahamians, would the actions of some of the governing party’s MPs/ministers be that which those who voted for them expected to see?
Is believing in Bahamians allegedly perverting the course of justice for whatever reason and for whomever could likely be a political supporter or family of political supporters? Is it really all about friends, family and lovers?
Is a man condemned to three months’ imprisonment currently walking the street due to the alleged intimidation of an administrator/magistrate by a cabinet minister who, in another capacity, is his boss?
Ministerial resignations are rare here, especially in a Christie Cabinet.
There is no such thing as a partial resignation. How does one only resign one-third of their portfolio? Where in the Westminster system has that kind of foolishness ever happened and been accepted?
But hey, as they say, PLPs don’t resign. One quick review of recent history and anyone could attest to that.
Relieving Alfred Gray of one part of his entire ministerial portfolio is merely a face-saving gesture. It’s pathetic that we have a situation where not only has Mr Gray purportedly violated the fundamental pillars of governance but that in and of itself does not amount to a breach significant enough for him to step down.
Instead, he gets a slap on the wrist ... and you wonder why some folks assert that the country is facing dire straits, that the country is falling apart at the seams.
The Deputy Prime Minister misleads the House of Assembly and is at the centre of a number of major controversies ... yet, no resignation.
Renward Wells signs a Letter of Intent for more than $600m ... yet, he felt he had no cause to resign and his job was instead made redundant.
There are three audits that state that there has been fiscal malfeasance at the Public Hospitals Authority. But, what does the government do? Oh, they facilitate yet another audit.
So, where does it end?
There are so many other examples one could cite but that would only cause us to be here all day.
What Alfred Gray is alleged to have done is yet another example of the “mightier-than-thou, we-are-in-charge” attitude of this administration.
This time, it appears that we have gone beyond the pale. This is no longer an issue of relativism. This is an example of administrative or leadership incompetence. As difficult as this is for me to say, the reality is that this may be why we are faced with the current crime problem in the Bahamas.
When you can have a legislator who allegedly does not understand the separation of powers, what does that say? Though a police investigation is supposedly ongoing, we know – by all accounts – that the administrator contradicts, verbatim, the comments of Mr Gray.
Here’s the thing. Family Island administrators, who replaced what were then known as commissioners though they, in many respects, operate in much the same way, are appointed and overseen by the minister with responsibility for local government.
Frankly, a minister calling and ordering an administrator to perform a certain task or release a convicted person – as has been alleged – could surely leave such a person concerned about their job security if they acted adversely.
Administrators are political appointees, but they are supposed to be persons appointed with all-encompassing powers, across ministries. Many times, administrators serve as magistrates, as marriage officers, as co-ordinators of a Family Island’s affairs along with the chief councillor (local government) and as one tasked with carrying out other governmental functions. They embody the power of several departments and ministries all in an effort to make life easier for Family Islanders. That reason makes the allegations against Mr Gray worrisome.
Considering the conversation, when would the minister speaking to someone, in the way that it has been alleged that Mr Gray did, not be an order?
How could one be released unconditionally and yet said to have been released on bail? Was there a committal order in place and if so, where is it? We know that bail can only occur upon appeal, so how could the formerly convicted man have got bail if no Supreme Court is located on Mayaguana? Surely, they ought to have known that the only way to appeal such a ruling would be to the Supreme Court, right?
One doesn’t know if we could find a criminal jurisdiction to cover the alleged act if indeed he is found to have perverted the course of justice. So, if the allegations prove true, could the court itself assume its inherent jurisdiction and hold Mr Gray in contempt?
Surely, Mr Gray is not the only minister of government to have been accused of perverting the course of justice. Another minister immediately comes to mind.
Will this investigation come under the Attorney General’s swift justice programme?
I am told that the officer, against whom the offence was committed by the formerly convicted man, was not the prosecutor as has been alleged. Can Mr Gray or someone speak to this as well?
Have persons of questionable character been brought back into local government, as administrators or otherwise? Was anyone hired to work in the Central and South Eleuthera local government office after a call from Mr Gray?
Has there been any accusation of impropriety in a certain government office in Mayaguana involving the misappropriation of monies?
In my ministerial report card, I recently rated Mr Gray as a non-performer, who has rendered a dismal performance on every level. He rolls from one gaffe to another. Recently, he claimed that if they knew who burnt down the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) dormitory and knew that the person was aggrieved, he would have paid the person out of pocket.
He also 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.
In my report card, I wrote: “The only positive light in Gray’s ministerial tenure has been his fondness and support for regattas. Alfred Gray should lose a significant part of his portfolio, especially since he seems happy just being minister of something. He earns a QF for quick failure.”
I stand by that.
As I look at the way the Prime Minister and his administration are handling this issue, it is clear that they have no respect for the Bahamian people in general or the media. Whatever happened to honour and integrity?
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