By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
FREE National Movement Leader Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday called for the “immediate” enactment of a Freedom of Information Act, saying the government’s failure to enact the legislation is to cover up all of the “sweetheart deals” it has made with its “Chinese allies” and others.
Chief among those “sweetheart deals,” Dr Minnis said in a statement, would be the details of the recent sale of Baha Mar and its assets to Perfect Luck Holdings Ltd, a special purpose vehicle created by the Export-Import Bank of China (CEXIM), the resort’s $2.45b secured creditor. Dr Minnis said the FNM is both “concerned and troubled by the lack of transparency and details of the PLP’s secret dealings with the Chinese.”
The Killarney MP also questioned if Prime Minister Perry Christie has shared the details of his “secret deal” with his Cabinet colleagues or if he is “still withholding” that information from them. If the latter is true, Dr Minnis submitted that Mr Christie may be reluctant to do so because he may be “afraid of an embarrassing leak from his PLP leadership like the debacle he encountered with his hurricane tax proposal.”
Similarly, DNA Leader Branville McCartney criticised the governing PLP for continuing to “drag its feet” on the matter, charging that without the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Bahamians are “left to live with and through the negative effects of the back room deals struck with various special interests.”
Mr McCartney also called it “utterly disingenuous” for the government to assert that the reason for the delay in bringing forth the anticipated legislation is due to “unforeseen setbacks” caused by Hurricane Matthew. He said rather than “create excuses,” the government should “work quickly” to ensure that any deficiencies in the current legislation were addressed “in a timely manner”.
However, Mr McCartney surmised that the government would likely table the legislation in the weeks before the general election, “once again stopping the clock on full scale implementation”.
Last week, the Office of the Prime Minister confirmed a Tribune Business report published earlier this month, which said that Deloitte and Touche receivers sold the resort to a special purpose vehicle (SPV) owned by CEXIM. Once Baha Mar has been completed under the ownership of the bank’s SPV, the “second” or final sale will occur, it was previously reported.
However, this revelation, coupled with Mr Christie’s confirmation that he has not spoken to his Cabinet about the sale to Perfect Luck, and that the matter would only be dealt with by Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson and himself, reignited questions over the particulars of the deal, and what concessions were granted to make it possible.
“The continued lack of transparency from (Mr Christie) on the secret Baha Mar deal he struck with his Chinese allies, shows the need for immediate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) legislation to be enacted in the Bahamas,” Dr Minnis said in his statement. “The PLP government has been promising to enact FOIA legislation for the past four and a half years but just like every other promise this government has made, it was just empty rhetoric.
“The PLP does not want a FOIA enacted because then all the sweetheart deals they have made would be unveiled. It’s clear that the prime minister and the PLP have shown a complete disregard for the Bahamian people and their wishes.”
Earlier this week, Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald, who has responsibility for the legislation, said although it was initially intended to have the bill tabled in the House of Assembly by “late October 2016,” the bill will likely be tabled before the end of the year “due to the unforeseen setbacks caused by Hurricane Matthew.”
For his part, Mr McCartney said the DNA is “by no means surprised” by the delays in implementing the FOIA, charging that the government “could care less” about the importance of “such mechanisms in the execution of good governance and the overall development of our country.”
However, he slammed the Christie administration for using the hurricane as a “new excuse to hide behind.”
“More than 90 countries around the world have already enacted some form of Freedom of Information resulting in enhanced democracies,” he added. “Elected officials must be made to account for every action they take in the name of our developing democracy.
“It is clear, however, that this administration is taking a page from the former government and will likely table the bill in the weeks before the general election once again stopping the clock on full scale implementation. These are the actions of an incompetent and irresponsible government.
“A responsible government would not create excuses about why the legislation cannot be implemented; rather they would work quickly to ensure that any deficiencies in the current legislation were addressed in a timely manner.”