EDITOR, The Tribune.
Kindly permit me to share my views on the disclosure by the Public Service Minister that the government has decided to settle a dispute with the former NIB director in connection with a decision taken by the previous administration to effect his termination
Let me say at the outset that my commentary here is not intended to be an assessment on the merit or demerit of the above mentioned dispute or any particular case, but to share my views generally on what has been a disturbing pattern by the government (present and past) in addressing disputes involving individuals or entities who were the subject of some form of disciplinary measure or dispute with a previous administration (contractual or otherwise).
It was reported in the press recently, that the Minister with responsibility for the Public Service & the National Insurance Board, when asked what was the amount paid by the government in settlement of a dispute with a former NIB director, replied “No, I can’t discuss that, that’s his personal business,”
First let me say that a dispute with the government of The Bahamas in which the government is being called upon to yield to certain demands which require the use of public resources (monetary or otherwise) to meet such demands is not a matter which the government should cloak as being an individual’s personal or private business.
The right to be told of the settlement amount and the reason therefore.
Save in extreme cases of National Security or an order of a competent court, where the public purse is used to settle a dispute (contractual or otherwise) between an individual or entity and the government, the public is entitled to know the amount paid to settle such disputes as well as the relevant terms and conditions that is or will become a contingent liability on the public purse.
I accept that there may cases where the government relative position in a dispute may be so blatantly weak and unsustainable, that a claimant may enjoy a position to demand or dictate the settlement terms and condition, which could include some measure of confidentially.
However, in the case to which the Minister referred, I am not aware of any information which would suggest or lead one to reasonably conclude that the government was in such a position.
Perhaps, this is where proper disclosure of the relevant details by the minister would have been helpful to the public.
Having said the above and in the absence of proper disclosure by the Minister, I see no reason why the Minister should have found it necessary or acceptable to withhold such information from the public. The public have a right to be told how much of the public funds were used to settle the matter and why the government found this to be a suitable case to settle in whatever amounts that it did and why. A generally disturbing practice.
Again, not referring specifically to the case referred to by the Public Service minister, it has become a strategic practice, widely employed by individuals who are politically connected to allow a dispute (contractual or otherwise) which they may have with one administration to remain passive until the political party to which they actively and publicly support comes to power, confidently knowing that they will then find a listening and supportive ear to obtain a favorable settlement.
As a matter of fact the politics in this country is such, that if one government terminates the services of an individual or fails to honour a contract (for good cause or not) all the individual has to do is throw his or her support behind the opposition party and when the opposition gains power, the individual is bound to be rehired in some capacity or the individual is made good on (paid for) a non-performed or under-performed contract.
The blame for this disturbing practice is not to be placed at the feet of the individuals concerned, but squarely at the feet of the government and more particularly at the feet of those politicians who seek to engage, justify and/or endorsed this commercially egregious practice.
Notwithstanding, it may be the view of many, that the case to which the minister referred, may fit this pattern, it is not my suggestion here that such is the case nor do I suggest that it is or was the intent or modus of the individual to whom the minister referred, to engage in such a practice.
The broader issue. Generally, there are too many instances where Ministers and Chairpersons of Statutory Boards or Commissions (past and present) make public announcements, which involves the use of public funds for various contracts and consultancy engagements, and when question on the cost of such engagements or funds expended on such contracts, curtly reply that they would not rather say at this stage or it is a private or confidential matter. This is unacceptable and should be vigorously condemned
This practice in refusing to disclose how public funds were spent and in what amounts, only leads to corrupt speculation and rumors by members of the public.
In some cases the public have every right to view such evasive response in such a manner, as it is often the approach taken by politicians and chairpersons who themselves are embarrassed by their decision to have spent public funds in such manner and in such unreasonable amounts. They are also seeking to avoid public condemnation of their decision.
More troublesome though, this is the method often employed by individuals seeking to cover some corrupt or ill-advised act.
In conclusion, the above comments are not to be construed in any manner as assigning or imputing any corrupt conduct or practice to or on the part of the Public Service Minister or the former NIB director relative the settlement referred to by the Minister or in any other matter whatsoever.
CLAUDE B. HANNA
September 30, 2018.