By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis cannot on one hand insist he has a zero-tolerance approach to crime while at the same time promise to absolve the criminal liability of a group of men who protested at Cabbage Beach in 2016 resulting in damage to private property, PLP Leader Philip “Brave” Davis said yesterday.
As he castigated the prime minister, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) leader said the Free National Movement (FNM) has very often failed to separate political rhetoric from reality. This, he said, weaves a complicated web that is hard to get out of.
If he were in Dr Minnis’ shoes, Mr Davis said he would not have taken the same approach. Instead the Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP said he would have ensured he understood the situation in its entirety before making promises to absolve the men of any wrong doing.
Former Attorney General Allyson Maynard Gibson also underscored that no prime minister has the power to discontinue any criminal matter.
She told The Tribune yesterday the determination to discontinue or “nolle” a matter is a legal and not a political decision. The attorney general, on the advice of the legal advisors in the Office of the Attorney General, especially the director of public prosecutions, may decide to issue a nolle prosequi to end prosecution, she said.
Mr Davis has said he believes the matter will most likely be sent to the Prerogative of Mercy. The committee is headed by National Security Minister Marvin Dames. Asked about this yesterday, the minister said the body has not yet met but plans were underway for the first meeting to commence sometime within the first quarter of the year.
However Mr Dames was unable to give The Tribune an outright answer on whether it would consider this issue. Instead he several times insisted that if the prime minister promised to expunge the records of those charged in the matter, then it would be done.
“Well a lot of things are said on the campaign trail and that’s one of the things he said whether it was a mistake only time evolving can say,” Mr Davis said yesterday when he was asked whether he believed the prime minister was mistaken to have made such a promise while in opposition.
“Again it’s a matter of choices one makes,” the PLP leader added. “I would first of all before you make any statement, promises about any matter the first order one would expect was for you to understand the full import of the issues you are facing and then how it would be dealt with thereafter.
“I don’t know that Dr Minnis as the leader of the party before becoming prime minister understood all those details because quite frankly it was an issue that related to private property and the right of persons being able to access private property.
“When you deal with legal matters there is a balance one has to strike and you have to separate what I call political rhetoric from reality and very often and which seems to be the mantra of the FNM they don’t separate the two and hence they find themselves as it were weaving these webs that they catch themselves in and that’s the challenge yet again.
“If you ask me if I would have done that I would say no. I would have had to understand the full issues and there is a limit to protests. Everyone has a right to protest but you have to be responsible. It ought not to include criminal activity at all,” Mr Davis also said.
“The question is if you have zero tolerance for criminal activity then you can’t on the one hand have zero tolerance for criminal activity and then turn around and say I am going to absolve one from criminal liability.”
When she was contacted yesterday, Mrs Maynard-Gibson responded via email saying: “A take away from this is that we Bahamians must understand our legal system and the separation of powers. Also we must train ourselves and our children to gather information, ask questions and come to our own conclusions, based on facts – in and out of political season.
“The law of The Bahamas is clear- no prime minister has the power to ‘nolle’ a matter. That power is, at the moment, vested in the attorney general. As I have said, and other former attorneys general have said, the determination to discontinue or nolle a matter is a legal and not a political decision.”
She continued: “The attorney general, on the advice of the legal advisors in the Office of the Attorney-General, especially the DPP, may decide to issue a nolle. And, as the DPP has said, nolles are issued only where there is a constitutional issue or an evidential issue that adversely affects a matter.
“Observers should note that discontinuations - nolles - and other matters before the criminal courts up until May 2017 were placed on the Office of the Attorney General’s website. This open and transparent accounting to the public has ceased. Placing the information on the website gives the public information – the facts, from which we can make up our own minds – in and out of political season.”
On Tuesday, Press Secretary Anthony Newbold said Dr Minnis did not regret pledging to expunge the men’s records.
Ten people were charged, including for obstruction and disorderly conduct, in 2016 after they protested limited vendor access to Cabbage Beach. Some protestors tore down a fence that blocked the entrance to the beach not long after the government had announced the pathway would be opened for a period of time while it sought a resolution with the property owner.
As leader of the opposition, Dr Minnis said he “expected the charges to be dropped,” and if they were not he said “the records will be wiped clean” under an FNM government.
Many months later, the protestors have been in and out of court but have been unable to meet Dr Minnis so he could make good on his promise to them.