First, the Frank Smith trial ended with him walking away a free man, and now the Shane Gibson bribery case has ended the same way. Both men are not guilty, both cases leave questions for whether the charges should have been brought in the first place based on the evidence that prosecutors presented.
Both of the trials were high profile - there can be no other way to describe accusations against former senior politicians - and one would think that before presenting such charges, the best legal minds would comb over the details to ensure there would be no accusations of using the law to take on political enemies.
Instead, that’s exactly what emerged yesterday, with PLP leader Philip ‘Brave’ Davis, saying the case was “the political party in power taking advantage of its position”.
There appears to have been significant flaws in the cases being brought - from changing of lawyers to reliability of witnesses. After all, in the Smith case, one witness was described by Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt as “manifestly unreliable” - and bizarrely she was given a $1.9m contract for cleaning less than three months after charges were brought.
It is notable that Shane Gibson did not need to speak in his own defence - the jury deciding the evidence against him was not strong enough and finding him not guilty on all counts without needing to hear any words from Mr Gibson. Not a single count.
The FNM promised to crack down on corruption - but the cases brought since then have ended up with no guilt being proven. Instead, they are left with the failure of another high-profile case - are they, as the PLP claim, using the courts for political retribution? What process is going on behind the decision to go ahead with a prosecution that has ended up with two strikes? Are those making the decisions to prosecute weighing the evidence as they should, or rushing ahead before the case is ready and all the evidence is gathered?
There are many questions raised by these cases - but a complete failure to establish guilt on even a single charge must make prosecutors consider whether the cases were strong enough to bring at all.
BPL gives us no reason to trust
If fighting corruption was one pillar of the FNM’s election campaign, then transparency was another - and there’s precious little sign of that when it comes to the plan to take $20-30 a month more out of your pocket to pay for BPL’s debts.
Minister of Works Desmond Bannister stood up in the House of Assembly yesterday and revealed the plan to charge that amount of money to BPL customers each month for ten months, starting next year.
He didn’t say if this would be a percentage of your bill. He didn’t say if it would be a flat charge. He didn’t say a lot.
He did say the increase would be “short-term” and that it would be wiped out in 2021 when the cost of generation is expected to decrease thanks to more efficient engines. But does that mean the charge will be scrapped then? Or just that the bills will come down by that amount so it will balance out? If the latter, then it is not a short-term charge - few people will be pleased to know the expected savings will be wiped out by the extra they have to pay. Promises were made of significant cuts to bills - not that we’d end up paying the same amount.
The extra money that BPL is borrowing, it turns out, will be to pay for a second phase of Wartsila engines - but where has the deal with Shell for a new generation plant gone? That was supposed to be paid for by Shell, but why has that seemed to show little progress since the memorandum of understanding was signed?
For much of this year, the Bahamian people has suffered from power outages. The very least that BPL - and minister Desmond Bannister - owes the public is a full and complete presentation of our current situation. People need to know how much they will have to pay, what they’re paying for, what has happened to promised schemes, and why it has come to this.
We live in a time when accusations of corruption have been made against recently serving politicians, when the $150m deal to buy new ships for the RBDF is being probed amid bribery allegations - so the starting premise should be to tell the public everything.
And yet, as people are being asked to fork out another $20-30 a month to bail out BPL, we are left instead with vague explanations. We cannot leave this to trust. Trust is how the BPL debt got to where it is in the first place.
We should also note that as we prepared to go to press last night, BPL was being slapped with a $229,535 fine by URCA for its failure or refusal to provide URCA with information it requested relating to the fire last September that caused significant damage to its power generation capacity and the ongoing blackouts.
If BPL can’t be trusted to give answers to a regulatory authority, then they have no reason to ask us for our trust. If you want our money, you’re going to have to show us precisely why we’re paying - and what we’re getting for it.