By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel confirmed instalment payments from the government are still being made to “whistleblower” Jonathan Ash for a debt the Minnis administration found on the books upon taking office.
“There is nothing untoward about these payments,” Mr Bethel said in response to a question from reporters yesterday outside Cabinet Office.
Mr Ash is the key witness for the crown in separate bribery cases against former Labour Minister Shane Gibson and former Housing and Environment Minister Kenred Dorsett.
Mr Bethel’s comments come after an alleged document purported to belong to Ash Enterprises went viral on social media. The document itemised five payments of $30,000 to Mr Ash, totalling $150,000. The payments are alleged to have dated back to April 2018; however, it is unclear whether any payment was made this month.
While the document did not name Mr Ash nor his company, and does not say what any of the payments were for, Mr Bethel yesterday confirmed its contents.
The Tribune asked Finance Minister K Peter Turnquest to reveal the works for which Mr Ash was still being paid. He said these were “old bills”, but referred this newspaper to put the question to Mr Bethel who made the confirmation.
Mr Bethel said: “I have seen and heard (about) a post on social media calling into question certain instalment payments being made to Jonathan Ash who is a whistleblower and I have to say that there is nothing untoward about these payments. They are instalment payments on an acknowledged debt that the Ministry of Finance met on its books when we came to office.”
However, Mr Bethel said this matter gave rise to a wider question the country must come to grips with.
He was referring to the treatment of whistleblowers and a decision as to what should happen to these people who rely on government contracts as a way of life.
Recognising present legislation does not go far enough in protecting these people, Mr Bethel said the government intends to bring forward a full Whistleblowers Protection Act.
He further insisted these comments were general and not regarding Mr Ash’s role in an open case involving former Labour Minister Shane Gibson, or any other controversial matter being adjudicated.
Mr Bethel continued: “How do we treat whistleblowers? The whistleblowers protection provision in the Freedom of Information Act provides a measure of protection for those who are in some kind of gainful employment, settled employment.
“We have to decide what we do with persons who are whistleblowers who may have a different employment method whether it is by contracting with the government or otherwise.”
“The government will bring forward a full Whistleblowers Protection Act to clarify this because we have to decide as a people what society you want to live in. If we say that we are opposed to corruption then whistleblowers should not be given an economic death sentence when they step forward and reveal alleged acts of corruption, they have to live to.
“What I say is not directly related to Mr Ash or any matter of controversy in any court in this country it is a general statement gleaned from dealings in terms of experience in seeing what has happened to persons who have stepped forward broadly in our society.
“There have been persons who have been driven to the point of bankruptcy because once they reveal an alleged act of corruption they have been unable to secure any kind of contract or remunerative employment in this society.
“We can be judgmental as a people some times and this has adversely affected and proves to be a real disincentive in the effort to fight against corruption at all levels of our society.”
“So there has to be a clear signal by the government that we as a society must do what is necessary not to provide a disincentive to people who want to be honest and who want to help in creating we hope a more civil and just society.
He continued: “So those are my comments and I hope they will be understood as being necessary for us to have a reasoned mature and progressive view as to how we would wish to see the further development of Bahamian society.
“If we want to engage in a fight against corruption we must not make it absolutely impossible for persons who reveal it to survive,” he added.
The public first became aware of substantial payments Ms Ash was receiving ahead of the 2017 general election last year in a riveting speech by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis in the House of Assembly.
Dr Minnis at the time revealed he was “astonished” to learn that not only did Mr Ash receive more than $8m to clean up New Providence in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, but that he was able to receive multiple cheques in one day on two separate occasions.
There were 46 transactions made to this vendor through several of his companies and he also received $151,000 on May 9, just one day before the election, Dr Minnis said.
At the time he said this along with other “shocking” information, would be passed on to Auditor General Terrance Bastian for investigation. It is unclear if this actually happened.
Dr Minnis said Mr Ash pocketed a total of $8,113,908.24.