By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE Department of Immigration is slated to get its own corruption unit in this upcoming budget to target longstanding allegations of bribery and other abuses by officers that have never been formally reported.
Immigration Minister Brent Symonette told The Tribune he hoped to create a better reporting environment with the introduction of a hotline for persons to come forward with complaints anonymously.
He flagged the upcoming initiative in an interview with The Tribune, underscoring the critical need to remove the spectre of corruption that has dogged the department.
"It's an issue that is supposedly happening here," Mr Symonette said.
"I hear on the street what you hear on the street. But no one is reporting it.
"We are in the process of doing a corruption unit here and that comes along with a tipsters number," he continued.
"The problem is if you need a work permit in this country, you're not gonna report an immigration officer for bribery. You know the clan here will never, in other words, for someone to report that I'm gonna have to give them citizenship and that was the problem we have with the Witness Anonymity Bill.
"You can't hide a witness in this country. You try hide me, you can't hide me."
He added: "We're trying to work on that (corruption unit) for the next budget year, we don't have to do that in the Immigration Act, we can do that policy wise."
A survey by Transparency International released last month revealed zero action was taken over the 6 per cent of bribery demands reported to authorities.
The Global Corruption Barometer survey found that despite "one in ten Bahamians" disclosing they had paid a bribe within the past year to obtain public services, few reported this corruption to law enforcement, claiming that corruption is "rooted in the fabric of Bahamian society".
Earlier this year, Bishop Simeon Hall advised members of the Haitian community against feeding on "the corruption sometimes found in the Department of Immigration."
His comments echoed longstanding allegations that officers solicit thousands of dollars in bribes from migrants.
When contacted by The Tribune, Bishop Hall said migrant victims refuse to name corrupt officers because they feared reprisal, like a denial of their application or revocation of their status.
The corruption unit will likely be staffed by seconding personnel from the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, Mr Symonette said.
The Immigration minister also addressed the US State Department's Human Rights Report, which noted the treatment of persons in detention as the most significant human rights issue affecting the country.
The US report stated foreign male prisoners frequently reported threats and targeting by prison guards, and referred to the allegation of a Bahamian-US dual citizen who reported in June that officials at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services placed a bag over his head and beat him with a golf club.
The report did not include any further information on the claim or whether it had been investigated.
Yesterday, Mr Symonette said: "I heard it on the news. The American Embassy has not come to me as the minister responsible for immigration about any issues in that report."