FIRST on the election trail and then again once in office, tackling corruption was a theme that Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis kept returning to.
Even last year, he painted the Progressive Liberal Party as a corrupt group that believes it “owns” The Bahamas – saying that “they believe that the rule of law does not apply to them” and “they believe they can engage in corruption without consequences”.
Easy words to say but the high-profile prosecutions launched after taking office – of Shane Gibson and Frank Smith – have foundered. Predictably, the shoe is now on the other foot, with Mr Gibson and Mr Smith suing the government for malicious prosecution and suing for “exemplary damages”. Let us translate that from court speak – they want a big chunk of money, big enough to make prosecutors think twice before doing it again.
Mr Gibson is seeking damages for being “falsely imprisoned”. Mr Smith is suing even as he waits to hear the outcome of a Crown challenge at the Privy Council to his acquittal.
Mr Gibson also wants action taken against the police commissioner and a police officer who gave evidence at his trial, as well as the director of public prosecutions.
There was nothing as certain from the moment of acquittal as this lawsuit being filed. The substance of the complaints will be decided through the court process and it would be inappropriate to comment on the particulars of those now a new case is under way. But what is clear from this is that the Crown has taken a swing in two big cases and missed both times. Whatever the specifics of the weaknesses of the cases, neither was strong enough to deliver a guilty verdict. Both men walked free, acquitted of all charges.
One thing is for certain – we have not heard the last of this. The lawsuit throws up the claims again into the public eye, and more money will drain from the public purse covering the costs of the defence – even before any damages if any are awarded.
The Crown may be a little tarnished amid all this legal back and forth – but we hope amid all the claims and counter claims that someone is looking into how we got here, and how we go forward.
Meanwhile, the Minnis pledge on tackling corruption has nothing to show for it. Having launched his re-election campaign already, what will he have to show the public by the time the next vote comes around?
Guarding the purse strings
Don’t spend your hurricane money overseas! That’s Dr Minnis’ plea to residents who have had their homes wiped out by Hurricane Dorian.
Launching the Small Homes Repair Programme yesterday, he said grants ranging from $2,500 up to $10,000 depending on the damage to the property will be available shortly. But he had a caution to Bahamians, telling them to spend the money here rather than in Florida.
“This is important. We want to keep the money spent on this programme in the country. That will help Bahamian businesses.”
He said if residents in Grand Bahama cannot find what they need in Freeport, they can always go to New Providence.
Now, the $10,000 top award of a grant is for people whose homes have been destroyed – that’s not going to go a long way, and as a report last week showed The Bahamas as being the sixth most expensive nation in which to live, those dollars are going to run out faster. Considering many of the building supplies will be being shipped in anyway, we would not be surprised at all to see some people cutting out the wholesaler to try to make their money go further.
Instead, government will hold their hand as the purchase order only goes to approved vendors while tradesmen will need to be approved. Approved by who? And on what basis? There’s already been talk of a shortage of workers in Abaco, an approval process might shrink that even further.
It all feels a little like Big Brother is telling people what to do rather than trusting them with the ability to rebuild their own lives. There’s a little too much stick and not enough carrot – such as pushing incentives to reduce the cost of building supplies for people to make use of so they are not tempted to go to Florida instead because it’s cheaper.
Still, for people without insurance, that little money might just be the start they need to start rebuilding. We hope this helps them – but we also hope that there are other incentives the government can offer instead of just telling people how to spend their money.