By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A well-known businessman yesterday said there was less corruption per capita in the Bahamas and English-speaking Caribbean than the US, and told the Obama administration: “Cure yourself.”
Sir Franklyn Wilson, hitting back at the allegations levelled against the Bahamas in the US State Department’s recently-released human rights report, told Tribune Business that the US lacked “clean hands” when it came to corruption and inadequate transparency in public life.
The Arawak Homes and Sunshine Insurance chairman said the US report again showed Bahamians how the country was forced to complete on an ‘uneven playing field’, with “one law” for the US and large nations, and another for their smaller counterparts.
To support his case, Sir Franklyn pointed to financial services, branding the US as the “world’s biggest tax haven”, where investors were able to enjoy levels of secrecy that the Bahamas and other international financial centres (IFCs) are no longer able to provide.
He added that the State Department’s report again showed why it was vital for Bahamians to unite to defend the country’s national interests, regardless of political affiliation and allegiances.
“My point to them in America is: Look inside,” Sir Franklyn blasted in response to the 2015 Human Rights report. “I think strong language is needed to the government of the US at the highest levels: Cure yourself.
“I am positive that on a proportionate basis, there is less corruption in the Bahamas or any English-speaking country in the Caribbean than there is in the US.
“I think of the Americans; when you want to lead the world on these matters, you need to come with clean hands,” the businessman added. “People will not do it on the basis of what you say, but what you do.
“The level of corruption in the US is such that they are not good leaders for anybody in the world, including the Bahamas. I encourage all Bahamians to say to the US: Thank you, but mind your own business. I say that without regard to the party in power.”
The concerns voiced in the latest US State Department report largely echo what was contained in its ‘Investment Climate’ reports on the Bahamas for the past two years. Both those documents expressed similar concerns about public sector contract tender/bidding processes, and the associated lack of transparency.
However, the human rights report’s language is much stronger. It said: “The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. However, the Government did not implement the law effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were frequent reports of government corruption during the year.
“The procurement process was particularly susceptible to corruption, as it is opaque, contains no requirement to engage in open public tenders, and does not allow award decisions to be reviewed.”
The report has produced sharp reactions from all sides of the political divide. Branville McCartney, the Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) leader, described it as “a damning indictment” of the Bahamas’ governance, which threatened to “sully” this nation’s international reputation.
However, Tall Pines MP, Leslie Miller, echoed Sir Franklyn by describing the US report as “baseless”, adding that it was Americans who taught Bahamians “how to be crooked”.
He then described the Bahamas’ system of patronage, and the awarding of government contracts to family and political supporters, as the most natural thing in the world, asserting that it will “never stop” because politicians must “do what they have to do” to win elections.
Sir Franklyn, meanwhile, acknowledged that it was impossible for the Bahamas to ignore the report “because the US is the US”.
Yet he added: “It’s important for the people of the Bahamas to understand that the US operates to different rules, one for them and one for the rest of the world...
“The US is becoming one of the biggest tax havens in the world because more and more investors can do in the US what they cannot do in the Bahamas, Panama, Turks & Caicos and Cayman.
“The fact is that the US uses its might in ways which places like the Bahamas cannot.”
A key factor behind the accusations of hypocrisy levelled at the likes of the G-7/G-20, and Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), in their anti-IFC offensive is that they have done nothing to deter the activities of US states such as Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming.
These states offer clients levels of secrecy that the Bahamas and IFCs were forced to give up back in 2000, and still allow investors to use bearer shares - the same instrument this nation abolished at the turn of the century.
“Simple things like opening a bank account; the OECD put all those rules on us,” Sir Franklyn told Tribune Business. “Is the US in compliance with OECD rules? That’s the question.
“Tell the OECD to go and deal with the US, and the US will tell them: Go to hell. They don’t go to hell: They come to countries like the Bahamas and beat up on us.
“I want the Bahamian people to understand they have certain rights to be in the world, and operate without fear. It should be fair, and today there’s so much lack of fairness. They [the US] can ignore the OECD because they’re big and powerful. We can’t, and that’s not fair.”
Sir Franklyn called on Bahamians to set aside partisan politics and realise there was a “Bahamian national interest” that needed to be defended.
“It’s my hope that more and more Bahamians understand the concept of national interest, and we stand up and defend it as best we can without regard to the party in power,” he told Tribune Business.
“It’s my hope that by 2040, more Bahamians will be prepared to stand up and tell big countries that it’s not fair.”