By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
DEPUTY Prime Minister K Peter Turnquest yesterday defended St Anne’s MP Brent Symonette against conflict of interest claims he says are unfair and baseless.
Underscoring a lack of maturity, Mr Turnquest said it was very unfortunate the country could not celebrate the advancement of successful people regardless of their background as speculation over Mr Symonette’s shock Cabinet resignation went viral.
“As far as I am aware,” Mr Turnquest said, “there was never any instance where former minister Symonette made any intervention or asked for any favourable consideration with respect to any project that has been awarded.
“I think that is a very, very unfair label that has been put on him. It is not backed up by any shred of fact, and again it is very unfortunate that we as a community have not grown or matured to the point where we can see successful people advancing and celebrate that success, regardless of the background is.”
Mr Symonette resigned two weeks after it was announced that a company with ties to his family - Bahamas Hot Mix - was awarded a contract to upgrade runways at Lynden Pindling International Airport.
LPIA’s announcement set off a social media firestorm, and renewed longstanding claims of self-dealing leveled by the Official Opposition.
It follows the government’s decision to rent the Town Centre Mall at a cost of around $900,000 per year to house the General Post Office. The building is partly owned by Mr Symonette.
Mr Turnquest continued: “The fact of the matter is, these companies employ Bahamians and the suggestion that because he has decided to enter public life, that his family ought to suffer, or the employees of these entities ought to suffer, I think is a very disingenuous and a dangerous position for people to take.
“Again as far as I am aware, never once has former minister Symonette asked any minister or prevailed on any decision with respect to any of these contracts. They’ve won them as far as I understand, fair and square.”
Mr Turnquest spoke with reporters on the sidelines of Yamacraw MP Elsworth Johnson’s swearing-in ceremony as the new minister of financial services, trade and industry and immigration.
The East Grand Bahama MP said Mr Symonette spoke often about his plans to retire at the age of 65 in personal conversations, adding he wished more Bahamians would think about succession in this manner.
He thanked Mr Symonette for his “tremendous contribution” to the government and people of the Bahamas.
“His record of service is certainly one that is marked by advancement and process, innovative and creative ideas,” Mr Turnquest said.
“Certainly, he and his entire family have a made a tremendous contribution to the development of this Bahamas and I think, certainly on behalf of myself, we are grateful for that service and the sacrifice.
He continued: “Being in public life is not easy. You are subject to so much unfair attacks and criticism, which I think in his case, is the epitome of what can happen and is unfortunate.
“But be that as it may, he has remained dignified and above the fray and I think that’s to his credit and to his family’s credit.
“We certainly wish him well as he continues to represent the people of St Anne’s and contribute to the public life and private sector of this country,” he added.