By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
TEX Turnquest, a former director of the Department of Lands and Surveys who was forced to resign in 2009 amid controversy over Crown Land grants, has been rehired by the government.
In a statement to The Tribune yesterday, the Office of the Prime Minister said: “Tex Turnquest, a former Director at the Department of Lands and Surveys who is now in the private sector, has been hired by the government under a services contract to work on specific land-reform related projects.
“Among the projects that Mr Turnquest is currently engaged with, include the continuation of the regularisation of long-term unauthorised occupation of Crown Land for individuals and families, and rectifying Crown Land lease agreements throughout The Bahamas.
“The land reform projects are part of the government’s ambitious initiative to ensure more Bahamians have greater access to Crown Land.”
In 2009, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham asked Mr Turnquest to resign after The Tribune published a series of articles showing that members of his family – including his mother-in-law – received grants of parcels of Crown land in Exuma. The beachfront lots were sold at less than $2500 each and later flipped to foreigners for a profit in the hundreds of thousands.
The revelations raised the spectre of impropriety, therefore a select committee of the House of Assembly was formed in 2009 to investigate the matter. That committee did not find that Mr Turnquest acted with malfeasance, but it questioned his judgment.
“The committee is unable to conclude that there was any malfeasance in public office with regard to this transaction,” the committee reported.
“Each of the grantees and the real estate broker denied that Mr Turnquest solicited money from them or induced the sales. Mr Turnquest denied receiving any money or soliciting any money from them… Given the constraints of time, your committee was unable to trace by looking into bank accounts to determine whether money ended up in the hands of Mr Turnquest from these transactions. Further the evidence does not suggest that taking of the grant was for the purpose of ‘flipping’ the land but rather a chance windfall opportunity occurred of which they all took advantage.
“The difficulty which none of the parties appeared to appreciate is that given the proximity of the relationship of the parties, the transactions were bound in the light of public scrutiny to raise in your committee’s view the reasonable suspicion that there was the intention of ‘flipping’ the land and of some malfeasance in public office. It is incumbent therefore that in the future as a matter of public policy rules ought to be put in place to prevent this kind of appearance of self-dealing. New rules could help to protect the officers in the public service from themselves, and from accusations of malfeasance and improper conduct. The existing rule of referring the matter of a public servant’s application for Crown land to the Public Service Commission does not seem vigorous enough or sufficiently probative.
“Your committee believes that the very least, Mr Turnquest’s explanations appear to be disingenuous and his behaviour does not accord with the standard expected of someone in the office of public trust that he held. His conduct should be further investigated.”
Mr Turnquest spent 37 years at the Department of Lands and Surveys. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is vice president and a chartered valuation surveyor at TR Associates Limited, a company that provides land services in the Bahamas.
For his part, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has repeatedly promised to reform the country’s Crown Land policies as well as the Department of Lands and Surveys which, critics say, operates inefficiently and without adequate transparency.