In the country’s rush to taste blood and make the guilty pay for corruption, greed and graft, reports flying out of the Auditor-General’s office in the last week have been juicy teasers, tantalising pieces alleging, at best, financial indiscretion and at worst, blatant disregard for anything but the most self-serving gratification. The reports, commissioned by the government following the May 10 election and prepared by accounting firm Ernst & Young (E&Y), have fueled headlines six columns across with stories spilling from Page One to inside pages filled with enough tasty tidbits to keep a reader entertained and engaged.
The problem is that in the rush to expose, we are running the risk of exploiting.
Already, Minister of Works Desmond Bannister felt it necessary to apologise for the report that could have inadvertently cast aspersions on the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works Philip “Brave” Davis when Davis turned out to be the man who put the brakes on a runaway machine.
According to the stories leaked first to this paper and later more broadly, the E&Y report charged that Davis’ brother’s company, Al D’s Roofing & Construction, was awarded two contracts by the board of BEC while Davis was responsible for that utility. Further, it stated the DPM’s brother was not the lowest bidder. In the first instance, the Davis company submitted a bid of $199,000 while the low bid was $118,816, yet the board with Leslie Miller as chairman ignored the lower bidder and awarded the contract to Davis’ brother’s company.
In the second instance, the company bid $41,417 while the lower bid came in at $36,400, but again Davis’ brother’s company was awarded the contract. Davis, who is now the Leader of the Opposition, stood up in the House of Assembly Wednesday vehemently denying nepotism, declaring his only involvement in the process was to put a halt to it. Davis was firm, stating when he learned contracts had been awarded to someone in his family, he instructed the BEC board through proper channels to cancel them immediately and said no one in his family should be awarded a contract by any of the agencies, divisions or entities for which he held responsibility.
The first day’s headlines were followed a day later by the apologies from the government, explaining the report was incomplete and that the auditors were not aware of the cancellation of the contracts.
The media, including this paper, did nothing wrong in the reporting. The Tribune, like others, delivered the news of the day with background to give it substance and context. The messenger delivered the message and never once hinted that the then Deputy Prime Minister was attempting to cause his family to benefit from the position that he held. The same was the case with the E&Y report - it pointed no fingers at Mr Davies, rather at Mr Miller for using his “influence” on the contracts process at BPL. Even when Mr Davis told Mr Miller to half the contracts to his brother, Miller didn’t recognise why the minister was so concerned.
What is frustrating for us is in the confusion over Mr Davis’ role - which could have been avoided by immediately informing E&Y of his actions to cancel his brother’s contracts - no one is asking any questions of Mr Miller. Why not? His use of “influence” and “circumvention” of process are detailed by E&Y but everyone is avoiding the subject.
Just 24 hours after the BPL report appeared new headlines appeared, this time the Auditor General’s report alleging infractions in procurement for the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, though carefully not pointing the finger at anyone.
Dating back to 2013, prior to the installation of the new Commodore this year, and specifically in 2015, a home-based business that had only renewed its licence a few months earlier was awarded more than $1m in orders for weapons and ammunitions. In addition, it said, Customs could not find records for two of the shipments, a statement that invites imagination. Did Customs lose the papers or did the weapons and ammunition get “lost” in shipping and could dangerous weapons be on the streets now?
We know a little something about the procurement process and the complex, copious procedures that involve the United States or other vendor countries and their requirement for end user agreements.
It is highly unlikely, if indeed not impossible, for anyone in the RBDF to have executed orders for more than $1.2m in weapons without those orders going to the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of National Security and/or the Cabinet. As for missing weapons, every weapon or round can be traced to its owner or vendor by its serial or lot number. If any weapon had escaped and been used in a way other than that intended for national security, that weapon would have been identified. Because that has never happened, chances of Customs finding the papers are greater than chances of the RBDF losing shipments and leaving weapons lying about on the streets. Nevertheless, the country has every right to expect the Minister of National Security to provide an update on that matter.
The Tribune is a staunch supporter of prosecuting culprits and criminals to the greatest extent of the law, especially those who violate the trust the people of The Bahamas placed in them when they went to the polls to choose who would govern them for at least the next five years. But please - in your eagerness to slake the thirst of those crying out for just desserts, do not rush and get it wrong or the lack of trust will be on the other foot and then who will we believe?