By ADRIAN GIBSON
Astoundingly, it seems that certain members of the governing Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) appear to be mired in an apparent and actual instances of conflicts of interest.
The recent so-called announcement about Baha Mar, the re-starting of construction, employee payouts and so on smacks of conflict. What is most glaring is the composition of the committee purportedly established “to administer the claims of Bahamian and other creditors of the Baha Mar group of companies.”
Surprisingly - or perhaps not so surprising - the members of the committee are former Minister of State James Smith, Grant Lyon (Liquidation Claims Advisor to the Government), Ms Yanping Mo (representative of the Export-Import Bank of China), Norbert Chan (representative of Deloitte) and Tiger Wu (representative of the China Construction Company of America).
Notably, the appointment of CCA executive Tiger Wu to the committee - a supervisor for the general contractor (CCA) - now makes him judge and jury in determining the scope of work done by local contractors and amount of money they would be paid. The conflict surrounding Wu’s appointment is only deepened when one considers the fact that CCA is a party to a conflict with Baha Mar developer Sarkis Izmirlian.
The government has clearly jumped on one side of the conflict and has now doubled down on their position by, in the first instance, sanctioning CCA to build another hotel while at an impasse with Izmirlian and, in the second instance, not objecting to the appointment of Wu to the oversight committee. What’s more, there remains no clarification - on the part of the government and/or the Ministry of Works - about the accusations of sub-par and shoddy work by CCA.
Nothing has been done to dispel speculation that CCA allegedly caused delays so that the developer could be so adversely impacted that the bank would obtain ownership of Baha Mar.
Even more, Committee Chairman James Smith told another daily that he learned of his appointment to the committee on Sunday, the day the government made the announcement. At the time, he said he had not spoken to anyone from the government officially about his appointment. What a shame! This demonstrates that the government is making up the rules as they go and this committee is nothing short of a sham.
According to an online legal dictionary, when it comes to conflicts of interest, one could fall into one of two categories. The online legal dictionary states:
“In certain relationships, individuals or the general public place their trust and confidence in someone to act in their best interests. When an individual has the responsibility to represent another person - whether as administrator, attorney, executor, government official, or trustee - a clash between professional obligations and personal interests arises if the individual tries to perform that duty while at the same time trying to achieve personal gain.”
On the other hand, relative to the appearance of a conflict of interest, it states:
“The appearance of a conflict of interest is present if there is a potential for the personal interests of an individual to clash with fiduciary duties, such as when a client has his or her attorney commence an action against a company in which the attorney is the majority stockholder.”
Mind-bogglingly, certain members of government are brazen in what can only be deemed the most glaring instances of apparent conflict of interest. Leader of the Opposition Dr Hubert Minnis is on record as having accused Allyson Maynard-Gibson, the Attorney General, of an “overt conflict of interest”.
Last year, Mrs Maynard-Gibson affirmed what many in the press, political circles and general public were murmuring: that her family had interests in retail at Baha Mar. However, though this was the case, the Attorney General led two government delegations to Beijing, China, for negotiations about the resort since the property filed for bankruptcy on June 29.
She admitted that her two daughters had leases to operate stores in Baha Mar before flip-flopping and asserting that her husband, Maxwell Gibson, owned the retail jewellery store chain that has been granted storefront leases at Baha Mar.
What’s worse, Mrs Maynard-Gibson has stated that the Prime Minister was aware of her family’s involvement with the resort.
And then there is my discovery this week of a company known as TCC Bahamas Ltd, which lists its corporate address as PO Box GT2737 Thompson Blvd, Nassau. TCC was the main contractor for the construction of the convention centre at Baha Mar.
Now, here’s the kicker. The President of TCC - as is also evident by his LinkedIn account - is purportedly one David Maynard, who happens to be the brother of Allyson Maynard-Gibson.
On March 21, 2011, The Tribune reported that then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said, at a Free National Movement mass rally, that while the PLP decried Chinese labour on the Airport Gateway Project, then Opposition Senator Allyson Maynard-Gibson was benefiting from the deal in her capacity as a lawyer.
Clearly, the PLP’s about-face on Chinese labour is demonstrative of the political hypocrisy that so hinders our political and socio-economic evolution.
The former Prime Minister said: “The PLP in the House voted against the Airport Gateway Road Project, they said they didn’t want the Chinese working on it. What they didn’t tell you is that the China State Construction Company has a lawyer, the lawyer is the lead PLP in the Senate - Allyson Maynard-Gibson.”
Interestingly, Mrs. Maynard-Gibson was the lead government negotiator, on the opposite side of the table, to purported clients that she had whilst practising at her law firm.
What’s more, Mr Ingraham said that whilst Mrs Maynard-Gibson was accusing the government of selling the country’s birthright through the controversial development of Bell Island, she was allegedly paid $650,000 by an LNG company that sought to lay gas pipelines in Grand Bahama.
In response to Mr Ingraham’s charges, Mrs Maynard-Gibson did not deny that CCA were her clients or that she had been paid $650,000 by an LNG company. She attempted to deflect, saying: “The attack is a smoke screen to distract from the issues of possible illegality, impropriety and conflict of interest in the Ingraham government.” Hmm.
Rather than sending Mrs Maynard-Gibson to negotiate with the Chinese, Prime Minister Perry Christie ought to have erred on the side of caution. Why did the AG and the Office of the Attorney General have to be the principal negotiator?
The public has a right to be cynical.
Was Mr Christie’s son, Steffan, one of the foremost realtors who helped to facilitate the sale of the British Colonial Hilton to CCA for the $250m Pointe development?
The public wants to know.
There have been tremendous innuendos about key members of the Christie government. A call has been made for the government to be transparent if any member in its ranks has any contractual interests in Baha Mar - from construction to stores to pool maintenance to landscaping and so on.
One of the biggest conflicts concerns the controversial ‘letter of intent’ scandal. The sub-plot appears to be much bigger than the current narrative.
When one looks at what has happened with garbage collection on New Providence, there appears to be an engineered takeover starting with collection, then solid waste management at the dump site and now on to waste to energy generation. This raises the question as to whether the public is truly cognisant of what has taken place right underneath our noses.
What happened to all the garbage trucks that were owned by the government? Weren’t many of them purchased between 2007 and 2012?
Why has the solid waste management contract, given to Renew Bahamas, not been revealed? The public dump is now managed by this entity and no one knows what’s in the contract.
And then there is the sordid affair with Stellar Waste to Energy.
On the face of it, all of this appears to be an organised power play to control a major revenue stream for waste management. Who controls the static garbage at the landfill? Where are the sanitation workers that once rode the government garbage trucks?
The final piece of the puzzle concerns the conversion of garbage to energy. That has led to an interesting piece of political theatre given the previous exchanges between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister and the firing of Renward Wells, who actually signed the letter of intent between the government and Stellar. We have had repeated promises of an explanation and yet there is none.
And, what about co-chair of the Urban Renewal Commission Algernon Allen? Wasn’t he/his firm listed on the original Stellar Waste to Energy website as their attorney? We took a screen shot of that original website.
And then there is BAMSI. I would need an entire column for the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute as that project is the hallmark for conflicts of interest. How were contracts allocated? Has contractor Audley Hanna - who built the original male dormitory but did not have insurance - repaid the government since it was burnt down?
What about former PLP minister Darrel Rolle and pastor Sam Greene who were given the contract to construct the female dormitory at BAMSI but are now the subject of major litigation?
And, of course, there is Peter Nygard who allegedly funded the PLP’s 2012 campaign by donating more than $5m. Here, we see a humungous conflict. Recently, although Nygard was filmed making disparaging remarks about the Prime Minister, we all observed as PLP members circled the wagons, enveloping Nygard in a protective political cocoon and brutally vilifying others.
Conflict of interest is a deep rooted challenge in local politics. We don’t seem to have a robust “conflict of interest standard”. Sadly, governance has been based, in large part, on political favours, greed, cronyism, nepotism, tribalism and a favourability for friends, family and lovers. We must do better.
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