A DAY after Deputy Prime Minister K Peter Turnquest said the former government diverted more than $40m from a $150m hurricane relief and recovery loan to win the most recent election, Opposition Leader Philip “Brave” Davis denied the allegation saying he was “confident” the Christie administration used the money for its correct purpose. To suggest otherwise, Mr Davis told reporters outside of the House Of Assembly yesterday, suggested the former government committed a criminal offence, which he called “damnable”.
Calling the remarks an “egregious assault” on not only his integrity, but that of his colleagues, Mr Davis said he was advised some were seeking legal advice, suggesting the assertion was damaging. He said he too would ensure he used every available remedy to ensure the matter was corrected.
He said Mr Turnquest’s revelations in this regard was an attempt to “vilify, demonise, and scandalise” the former administration.
However, when Mr Davis was asked whether he could give an account for how the money was spent he said this was not his job. Instead he told reporters this was a task for the deputy prime minister who had all of the documents related to the hurricane money in his possession.
In a statement Tuesday, Mr Turnquest said the government suspected the untraceable $42m from the hurricane fund was spent in a failed bid to buy the election.
He was responding to Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper who said in a statement over the weekend that Mr Turnquest was irresponsible for saying the government cannot locate $42 million of the $150 million the Christie Administration borrowed following Hurricane Matthew last year. Mr Turnquest had made that revelation in Parliament last week.
“I am confident,” he said following the morning session of the House Assembly where he attempted to raise the matter, but was unsuccessful.
“First of all monies don’t walk out of the Treasury. Once the funds are in the Treasury and in the consolidated fund there are processes that have to be employed to have it expended.
“That’s what they need to look and if they have some commentary as to how it was expended then fine, but to leave it out there as though funds were used to buy an election as to (say we) commit an offence with it is damnable.”
He also said: “The message that they were sending through the irresponsible public utterances of the minister of finance is that we misappropriated funds, diverted them for the use for which they were not intended and that is an egregious assault on the integrity particularly my integrity and all of those of us who would have served around the Cabinet table and is a breach of my privilege.
“The Speaker did not allow me to pursue the matter this morning and I am following his directions and so at the next sitting I will bring the matter and raise it as a breach of privilege.
“I am certain and have been advised that some of my colleagues are now seeking legal advice because the effect of him being able to say that we took $42 million to buy an election that suggests we have committed a criminal offence. That’s what he is saying. It cannot just be left in the minds of the Bahamian people and in the public as such and I intend to pursue whatever remedies that’s available to me to ensure that is corrected.
“In fact it was very irresponsible of the minister of finance to say those things. The minister of finance has called into question his own fitness to be minister of finance for him to be able to just spout these egregious statements without more.
“He ought to be able to say how then is he arriving at the conclusion that $42m was used for the purpose of buying the election. What are the particulars that he is looking at to inform that view? It is very irresponsible.
“He is the minister of finance that is why we are having some of the challenges from the international observers today because of his continual irresponsible utterances. They talk down the economy. Talk down the fiscal state of the economy when he knows and has the information and the material right before him and he could look at it.”
While the House was in session earlier in the day, Mr Davis stood on a point of privilege to raise the matter. When Speaker Halson Moultrie questioned him regarding the grounds for this point the Cat Island Rum Cay and San Salvador MP said he had tried unsuccessfully to reach the Speaker to inform him of this intention.
It is House rule for the Speaker to be notified of such points and to be provided with the intended communication before it is presented during the session.
A defensive Mr Davis said he took exception to the stories in both news dailies, which carried headlines from Mr Turnquest’s statement on Tuesday suggesting the former government committed criminal acts.
As he attempted to make his argument, seated MPs heckled and shouted he had no grounds for the motion and that his attempt was a show of “grandstanding”.
Responding, Mr Davis said he did not view his rebuttal as such, when he was being criminally accused.
Ultimately, Mr Moultrie did not allow Mr Davis to continue on the point of privilege because these rules were not followed. However, he said the MP would be allowed to present the matter at a later session once the Speaker is appraised prior to the commencement of the session.