“THEY respect neither tradition nor the law and should be exposed for the dictatorial tendencies they secretly harbour.”
These were the prophetic words of the late Sir Lynden Pindling in 1990 as he roundly condemned his once admiring protégé Fred Mitchell, who had by then left the PLP and formed his own political party. Sir Lynden, dismissing the young lawyer as a “flag burner”, predicted that those “who burn the constitution one day, would bury the people another day”.
Like retired Justice Jeanne Thompson, whose letter is on this page today, we are appalled at how “this attorney-at-law and self-professed human rights activist has the temerity to attempt to flout the rule of law and begin an assault against the independence of the judiciary”.
Fred Mitchell, now Foreign Affairs Minister and in charge of the Immigration Department, seems to want to make this department the last word on the movement of people, not only within these islands, but to and from The Bahamas. Of course he will be the little Commissaire. If he gives his approval, you stay, if not you go. Apparently with no recourse to the courts of justice.
When Baha Mar CEO Sarkis Izmirlian dared complain to Prime Minister Christie about the problems that were crippling the completion of the $3.5 billion resort, Mr Mitchell found it offensive that a foreign resident should speak to his Prime Minister in such a manner. Mr Izmirlian was not being offensive to anyone. He was crying out for help to save this country’s future and the jobs of thousands of Bahamians. If Mr Christie had had the wisdom to listen to what he was being told at the time by the developer, Baha Mar might not be deteriorating on its foundations today. But no, he obviously listened to Mr Mitchell. And Mr Mitchell found it “offensive” and “incompatible with the status of someone who is not a Bahamian citizen” to be giving his prime minister such advice. In the name of protecting his long-suffering prime minister from the perils of a foreigner, Sir Lynden’s potential “dictator” went so far as to recommend that Mr Izmirlian consider taking the appropriate steps “to live elsewhere” if he cannot conform with the expected conduct of “economic guests.”
“They talk down to Bahamians,” Mr Mitchell complained. “They criticise the politics of the country. They threaten to corrupt immigration officials to prevent their removal from The Bahamas.
“It is as though people like this want to invite us out of our own country; that the privilege which has been extended to them to work and live here has been abused,” he continued. “It is therefore no surprise then that an investor, because he has the word billionaire behind his name, would have the temerity to believe that he can challenge the leader of our country on political grounds.”
Prime Minister Christie, who many claim is over reliant on his budding Commissaire, can’t imagine the affect that these words have had — and continue to have – as he allows Mr Mitchell to persist in rattling the cages of now frightened foreign residents.
Residents who have lived here for a number of years and consider the Bahamas “home” — HOME, not “home” away from home — are writing letters to express their sudden unease. They no longer feel secure. Many who were considering second homes in The Bahamas are turning away and many of their friends are advising them either not to come, or to make their final decision after the 2017 election.
As if Mr Mitchell does not already have enough power, he has now decided to go to the House with amendments to ensure that the Department of Immigration has the final say on who has the right to stay and live in The Bahamas. Is the Immigration Department to be the only agency in this country that has the right to exercise its will on both Bahamians and foreign residents with all of them being denied the protection of the law against unfair — and even illegal — treatment?
Referring to the Bruno Rufa case in Freeport, Mr Mitchell found the Supreme Court judge’s ruling that a Canadian was unlawfully deported from The Bahamas a “challenge to the authority of immigration”. Yes, so what? Thank God someone can challenge Sir Lynden’s little dictator.
This clash with the law has even drawn Mr Mitchell in as a defendant in claims being made by convicted drug “king” Samuel ‘Ninety” Knowles who is seeking $70m in damages for the “emotional and mental torture” he is suffering as a result of his “premature” extradition to the United States almost ten years ago. “Ninety” points an accusing finger at Mr Mitchell alleging that he was one of those who arranged to hand him over to the US before his pending case could be heard in a Bahamian court. We hold no brief for “Ninety” Knowles, who is in a correction facility in Butner, North Carolina, but it is true that the was extradited before he was to appear in a Nassau court for a habeas corpus hearing a month later. We don’t doubt that Knowles would have eventually ended up in the US detention centre, but it is true that his court date was ignored. He claims that his extradition was in violation of his constitutional rights under the Treaties and International Law and Universal Declaration of Human Rights Freedom and Liberty Provision.
However, the next few weeks should be interesting as Mr Mitchell unravels for the public the mystery of the case of the two Cubans who were released by the Supreme Court after being unlawfully detained for almost three years. Mr Mitchell claims that they are “national security risks” and says he will ask for an investigation into “how a court was persuaded that two people that the government believes with cogent evidence are a security risk, were released into the general population of The Bahamas”.
It is true the Attorney General’s office did not object to their release when the court asked its opinion about them being a security risk. But there is a bizarre twist to this story.
Read Adrian Gibson’s article on today’s front page to discover who recommended their release.
Yes, life would indeed be tragic if it weren’t so funny!