By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Cabinet minister yesterday said he was "dumbfounded" and "lost for words" over claims the Bahamian Contractors Association's (BCA) president had been forced out by political pressure.
Desmond Bannister, minister of works, told Tribune Business that neither he, the Government nor the Free National Movement (FNM) operates as suggested by now-former BCA president, Leonard Sands.
Mr Sands, in an e-mail and subsequent interview with this newspaper, blamed Omar Archer, the well-known political activist recently appointed as Contractors Registrar, for threatening that the BCA would face "dire repercussions" and be marginalised unless he resigned as its president by noon yesterday.
Having duly obeyed the "ultimatum" for the greater good of the BCA and its members, Mr Sands said he found it hard to believe that Mr Archer would be acting alone without the support of Mr Bannister in making his demands.
Mr Bannister, though, said the first he had heard of Mr Sands' resignation was when this newspaper contacted him yesterday. "I didn't even know he had resigned," the minister told Tribune Business. "I had no idea he resigned, and I certainly have not applied any pressure. I don't know if Mr Archer told him anything.
"This government doesn't work like that, and I don't operate like that. I'm not sure where he's [Mr Sands] coming from, but this government does not operate like that. I'm lost for words."
Responding to Mr Sands' accusations that a rival, younger group, the Move Forward Contractors Association, may be given more seats than the 60 year-old BCA on the board that will ultimately oversee the construction industry's self-regulation, Mr Bannister denied that was true.
While aware of the Move Forward group's existence, the Minister said it had "nothing like" the BCA's statutory Board or powers. He reiterated that the Construction Contractors Act gave the BCA the right to nominate six members from various disciplines within the Bahamian construction industry to the Board - something that is enshrined in statute law and can only be changed by Parliament.
"I'm not sure where Mr Sands is coming from," Mr Bannister repeated. "I'm dumbfounded. I don't operate like that, and the FNM doesn't operate like that."
Mr Archer, too, told Tribune Business he was unaware of Mr Sands's departure until contacted by this newspaper. He denied the former BCA president's allegations that he was directly responsible for the threats and his forced resignation, adding that he was a government employee and could not intervene in the Association's affairs.
"That's news to me," Mr Archer responded, when contacted by this newspaper about Mr Sands' resignation e-mail. "That's on him. Any form of resignation would have to come through the BCA."
Denying the claims of his, and the Government's, interference, Mr Archer would only add: "I have no dealings with the internal workings of the BCA. I work for the Government, not the BCA." He declined to comment further.
Mr Sands, in his resignation e-mail, said he had no choice but to comply with the demands for his resignation as "the survival of the BCA" was at stake. Addressing his executive Board, he wrote: "I recognise that this was not a decision that you wanted, but one that we must comply with for the survival of the Bahamian Contractors Association, as was made clear to us all.
"I would wish to say that the attempt to silence my voice in no way will silence the voice of the BCA. The BCA has always, and will always, fight for the rights of Bahamian contractors to ensure that they are afforded an equal opportunity to have access to work in their own country."
Confirming his resignation from the FNM also, Mr Sands added: "I would like to express that I am extremely saddened by the events of the past few days as a young professional in this country. For the better part of my life I have fought to uphold the tenets of our democracy which, unfortunately, I am left to question today. For democracy to function, there should always be opposing voices and the right for those voices to be heard.
"The political party of which I was once a candidate believed in freedom of speech, and the right of individuals to express their views even if those views are opposing to the powers that be. However, today I find myself with no other option but to also tender my resignation from the Free National Movement with immediate effect."
Mr Sands regretted that the Construction Contractors Act had yet to be brought into effect due to the delay in appointing its oversight Board, and hit out at Mr Archer, adding: "Appointing a Contractors Registrar with no prior experience in the construction industry has further complicated matters as the industry is bracing itself for the possible impact of WTO.
"The BCA has been the sole voice fighting for more opportunities for local contractors, promoting educational development and ensuring best practices across the entire construction industry in the Bahamas."
He added: "We have single-handedly over the last 40 years advocated for the now-passed Construction Contractors Act. This Act seeks to revolutionise the entire industry and bring contractors and construction up to the professional standards of our fellow colleagues, the architects and engineers.
"This work has not been without its challenges, but we have always found a way to overcome them for the greater good of the country and the industry at large."