EDITOR, The Tribune.
This is an open letter from Save The Bays chairman Joseph Darville to Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Dr. Kendal Major.
Dear Mr Speaker,
We, the members and directors of Save The Bays (STB), would like to publicly offer our heartfelt thanks to you and communicate the overwhelming sense of relief we feel following your recent declaration that our private correspondence and financial information should have never been read and tabled in the House of Assembly.
It has been STB’s position from the start that our fundamental constitutional rights were violated by the actions by the MP for Marathon and others – a perspective with which, as you are aware, the Supreme Court of The Bahamas has concurred.
We are extremely heartened to know the Chair of the Honourable House of Assembly feels this unwarranted attack on private citizens was also a violation of best parliamentary practices and should not have been allowed take place. STB could not agree more.
It is indeed lamentable, however, that the path to such rational consensus has been so long, turbulent and bitter. Members of the public, including leaders in the financial community, have quite rightly reacted with alarm and trepidation to the actions of the MP for Marathon and others, in particular the consistent threats to target STB members once again.
Meanwhile, and perhaps most worryingly, the violation of our privacy has caught the attention of the international media, with coverage including an editorial in a leading regional newspaper, a substantial article in the Financial Times (the most prominent and widely-read financial publication in existence) and, most recently, a withering critique entitled “The Bahamas owes Louis Bacon a serious apology,” on dealbreaker.com, rated as one of the top financial blogs in the world by Time Magazine. Several other well-known financial sites reposted this article. Links to the sources are attached below for your convenience.
It is our humble view, Mr Speaker, that this unfortunate debacle was totally unnecessary from the outset and we feel it is in the best interests of all concerned that it be brought to a peaceful, fair and sensible conclusion as soon as possible before any further damage is done, either at home or abroad, to our good name as a country.
Far from being the unprecedented constitutional crisis that some MPs have claimed, the relationship between fundamental constitutional rights and parliamentary privilege is well-charted territory in the Commonwealth, with several judges establishing precedent in cases similar to that brought by STB, though without resort to such hostility as we have seen here.
Nor is the issue new to The Bahamas, where in the case of The Attorney General vs. Lightbourn (1982), it was ruled that a sitting MP could not rely on the shield of parliamentary privilege to obscure a case of wrongdoing – exactly the argument we presented against the MP for Marathon in our recent constitutional challenge.
In short, STB has done nothing but follow established precedent and there is simply no reason why all concerned cannot agree to step away from the precipice and let calmer heads prevail.
Unfortunately, it seems that certain factions in Parliament would not favour a calming of tensions, but instead continue to push for an ever-heightened level of hostility and extreme rhetoric in the public sphere. In particular, the ongoing effort to have STB’s attorneys cited for “contempt of parliament” runs the risk of doing extreme and perhaps permanent damage to our international reputation.
The world is indeed watching, Mr Speaker, and we should do everything we can to avoid sending the message that The Bahamas is a place where citizens can be censured and even jailed for seeking to defend their rights through the courts as mandated by the constitution. Added to which, any such finding would only do untold further damage to the relationship between parliament and the judiciary.
We therefore respectfully request, in the interest of calming an unnecessarily inflamed situation that is extremely damaging to the national interest, that you call off the efforts to hold our legal team in contempt.
Please know, Mr. Speaker that it was never the intention of STB to become entangled in an altercation with either the executive or the Parliament of The Bahamas and we remain baffled as to how a private lawsuit, launched against private individuals, led to a hostile attack on our members by sitting MPs.
Much has been made of our application for an injunction to defend against further breaches of our right to privacy. You have been quoted in the press as asserting that the right of Parliament to govern itself should be respected and pointing to your ruling that no further private correspondence in the House.
Once again, we are in total agreement with your reasoning, Mr. Speaker. However, we would respectfully ask you to recall that your ruling was delivered only after our injunction application had been filed. Up until that point, MP Fitzgerald and others had been allowed to attack us at will and with total impunity. At the moment of filing, STB and our frightened, disheartened members had no indication whatsoever that the Chair intended to intervene and defend our rights. Indeed, all indications had pointed in the opposite direction.
We therefore submit that our actions were in no way intended to create the impression of a challenge to either parliamentary privilege or the authority of either the Chair. They were simply an attempt to defend ourselves when it seemed there was no one else willing to defend us.
While, as you have rightly noted, democracy is indeed a messy process, Mr. Speaker, we sincerely ask you to take into consideration that for us, the members and directors of Save The Bays, this ordeal has been much more than a formal exercise. Our members have been thrown into fear and anxiety, we have been denounced and victimized as a result of the unwarranted attacks against us. Our families, our children, have been harassed and taunted over the totally false claims made against us.
We respectfully invite you, Mr Speaker, to lead the way in bringing an end to this lunacy and ensuring calmer heads prevail before it is indeed too late.
Finally Mr Speaker, we hope that no offence is taken to the open nature of this letter; we thought it appropriate given your most welcome public comments regarding the tabling and reading of our correspondence.
We would be more than happy to meet with you to discuss any and all related matters at your convenience.
Chairman, Save The Bays
August 14, 2016.