By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) leader yesterday said he was “amazed” that government MPs and their leadings supporters appeared to be justifying corruption, which has “almost become a culture” in the Bahamas.
Branville McCartney told Tribune Business that the comments by Leslie Miller, the Tall Pines MP, backing the system of ‘patronage’ that sees governments blindly award contracts to their supporters, had especially “embarrassed me as a Bahamian”.
He also hit out at Sir Franklyn Wilson for appearing to justify Bahamian corruption by arguing that the problem was far worse in the US, meaning that the latter did not have “clean hands” when it criticised this nation.
Mr McCartney said such comments exposed the Bahamas “both locally and internationally”, and represented “a turn off” to the multi-million dollar foreign direct investment (FDI) flows needed to jump-start the economy.
He pledged that a DNA government would “weed out” all corruption, from the highest forms to the lowest, and appoint an Ombudsman to deal with the Bahamian public’s complaints about the treatment they received from government agencies and departments.
Responding to the reaction by governing party MPs, and their major supporters, to the US Human Rights report on the Bahamas, Mr McCartney said: “I found it amazing that there is a public acknowledgement of corruption by a sitting PLP [Mr Miller].
“What is even more amazing, I read this morning where a PLP stalwart [Sir Franklyn] said the US could not talk because they had ‘unclean hands’, and there was more corruption proportionately in the US than in the Bahamas.
“It’s almost as if they’re trying to justify corruption.... That shows not only locally, but internationally, that we have a corrupt system, and that has to change.”
Apart from Mr Miller and Sir Franklyn, Mr McCartney pointed to the reaction of former Cabinet minister Loftus Roker, who argued last week that the failure of many sitting and former MPs to comply with the Public Disclosures Act “breeds corruption”.
The DNA leader said further support for his contention came from Prime Minister Perry Christie, who last year said he hoped the majority of construction contracts for the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) had gone to PLP supporters.
He also cited remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis, who argued in 2014 that MPs should be paid more to deter them from wrongdoing.
“The US has warned about this from last year,” Mr McCartney told Tribune Business. “It’s terrible.
“Legitimate investors, when they see this, hear this, listen to what is being said by persons in the Government, it’s a turn off and causes us to lose business. We don’t have that investment come to us and help build our economy.”
The DNA leader continued: “Can you imagine any other place in the world to admit this?
“Any other place in the world would call for Leslie Miller to step down. Unfortunately in the Bahamas, we tolerate and accept this foolishness. It must stop. If we Bahamians continue to allow this, we will disintegrate into nothing.
“What Leslie Miller said is embarrassing as a Bahamian. As a professional in this country, as a businessman in this country, as a citizen in this country, I feel embarrassed at what was said by our leaders.”
Mr Miller, in his reaction to the US State Department report, said nothing new for many Bahamians in acknowledging the wonderful system of patronage that has developed for the supporters of whichever government is in power.
He argued that the granting of government contracts to political supporters will “never stop” because politicians must “do what they have to do” to win elections, and appeared to justify it on the basis that Free National Movement (FNM) administrations have done the same thing.
“I wouldn’t call that corruption,” Mr Miller argued. “The FNM gave millions upon millions in contracts to their supporters. It’s not fair and it’s not right, but that’s what political parties do when they are being inundated or terrorised by certain people who believe they have a right, and that they supposed to get contracts even if they don’t have experience.
“As a minister, you can’t tell supporters or his top fellows on the ground that he can’t do XYZ....... You got to give them ABC to enable them to get payback for the work that they did during the general elections. Both parties do it and it ain’t going to ever stop.
“That is just human nature. You help those who help you. That is just the way it is and there is nothing we can do about it. [There is] nothing wrong with it. It’s not fair but in the world in which we live it’s the norm and it’s going to continue.”
But apart from undermining the concept of a meritocracy and basic fairness, the system outlined by Mr Miller also ensures that the Bahamian taxpayers/people frequently fail to gain ‘value for money’ and quality workmanship from numerous public sector contracts, because they are issued on the basis of politics rather than ability.
It has also resulted in major government over-spending, and played its part in growing the national debt to $6.6 billion, leading to Value-Added Tax’s (VAT) implementation.
Mr McCartney promised that the DNA would make government more transparent and accountable if elected, and “clean out and weed out” all forms of corruption, “letting the chips fall where they may”.
Apart from a Freedom of Information Act and public ombudsman, the DNA leader also promised a maximum of ‘two terms’ in office for any Prime Minister; fixed general election dates; and an independent, non-political Attorney General.
“We need to take a firm step and change this system. It’s almost become a culture for this country,” Mr McCartney told Tribune Business.