By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Sarkis Izmirlian ally yesterday urged Prime Minister Perry Christie to “show some spine and fire” his Minister of Education over revelations that he tried to exploit his Cabinet position for private advantage.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, the FNM’s Freetown candidate, told Tribune Business that the e-mail exchanges between Jerome Fitzgerald and Mr Izmirlian were “irrefutable evidence” that the Minister was trying to “enrich himself and his family”.
Calling on Mr Fitzgerald to “do the honourable thing and resign”, Mr D’Aguilar, a former Baha Mar Board director under Mr Izmirlian, warned that the disclosures suggested there is “something fishy in the Bahamas” and could deter foreign direct investment (FDI).
“The honourable thing for Mr Fitzgerald to do would be to resign,” Mr D’Aguilar blasted, “as there’s clear evidence he was soliciting business from a foreign investor to personally enrich himself and his family.
“It’s irrefutable evidence he was trying to solicit and strong arm a foreign investor to give him money. He was, a best, trying to get money for his family business and, at worst, trying to get money to pay his father’s medical bills.
“No if’s, and’s and but’s about it. He [Mr Fitzgerald] can squirm all he wants, but the honourable thing to do would be to resign,” the FNM candidate added.
“He can try and ride the storm, but it’s disgraceful, deplorable and embarrassing to the nation that a Cabinet Minister is so openly asking an investor for money.
“When you go into public service, you go to serve, not to strong arm people to give you money. This gives the impression that there’s something fishy going on in the Bahamas.”
Mr Fitzgerald, responding to the furore via the Government’s Bahamas Information Services (BIS), sought to ‘dead bat’ the revelations while not denying the e-mails’ authenticity.
He again denied that he held contracts with Baha Mar or its affiliates, while also trying to disconnect the link between himself and Bahamas Cargo & Logistics, his family’s customs brokerage business.
Mr Fitzgerald said he did not own any shares in the company, which he conceded was formed by his father.
However, the e-mails obtained by The Tribune clearly show Mr Fitzgerald ‘hustling’ on behalf of Bahamas Cargo & Logistics, his father’s company, to obtain contracts and business from Baha Mar and its general contractor, China Construction America (CCA).
The e-mail exchanges, dating from 2013 and 2014, took place before Baha Mar’s descent into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but after Mr Fitzgerald was appointed to the Christie administration’s Cabinet as minister of education, science and technology.
His actions, as shown by the e-mails, blurred the lines between his family’s private business and his role as a Government Minister, who is supposed to act in the public interest at all times. They effectively show he was using his Cabinet position to help his family gain a financial advantage.
Mr Fitzgerald was nominated yesterday as the PLP’s candidate for the Marathon constituency in the upcoming elections, and both his statement and the party’s ‘non-reaction’ show they are likely to try and ‘shrug off’ the claims.
As a result, Mr D’Aguilar challenged Mr Christie to fire his Minister of Education, suggesting that the Prime Minister was “too old” and weak to do so, especially with a general election imminent.
“Mr Christie, show some spine and fire someone,” Mr D’Aguilar blasted. “This man was trying to enrich himself at the expense of the Bahamian people.
“You’re not prepared to discipline Cabinet Ministers holding their hands out for favours. It’s fishy business when you come to the Bahamas.
“He’s been caught, as Hubert Ingraham would say, with his hand in the cookie jar. It’s just deplorable; he should never, ever have done something so blatant. Watch Bradley Roberts try to defend that. I’m waiting to see what spin he puts on that.”
The revelations concerning Mr Fitzgerald are likely to be especially problematic for Mr Christie given that he has been grooming the Minister of Education, Science and Technology as a potential successor as PLP leader.
Mr Fitzgerald was placed on several key Cabinet committees and sub-commitees, including those dealing with the Hawksbill Creek Agreement negotiations and the Baha Mar dispute.
In the e-mails revealed by The Tribune, the Minister was expressing his eagerness for Bahamas Cargo & Logistics to provide brokerage and trucking services for the Baha Mar project, and remain the property’s brokers of record, from mid-May 2013.
He wrote to Mr Izmirlian: “I am aware that interior materials have began to arrive for the hotel. I would really appreciate it if we could be appointed your official broker for June 1, 2013.”
He also sought business for his family’s limousine services, adding: “Also with regard the limousine business we are ready to meet with your people anytime.”
By early 2014, Mr Fitzgerald was seemingly becoming increasingly frustrated that the business was not materialising.
He told Mr Izmirlian: “Unfortunately, despite all efforts by you and promises to me by Daniel Liu (CCA’s vice-president) that we would receive the brokerage and trucking work, we have not apart from a one-time deal to move 40 containers. I do not know why, I am disappointed, but I have accepted it and moved on.
“I know that the interior furniture and fittings should begin arriving shortly and I would really wish to now establish a relationship between Baha Mar and Bahamas Cargo and Logistics Limited (BCL), where all ports of entry can be advised that BCL is to collect the paperwork and clear shipments for Baha Mar.
“It is my hope that the relationship will continue when the hotel opens and we will again be the broker and trucker for this property as we were for so many years.”