By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A governance reformer last night said the deputy prime minister will have to “make the call” with the Prime Minister as to whether the $27m “bogus loans” accusations will become too big a distraction.
Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance’s (ORG) principal, emphasised to Tribune Business that K Peter Turnquest was “innocent until proven guilty” as the allegations levied against him by Fred Kaiser, his former employer and business partner of more than 20 years’ standing, had not been decided by the Bahamian court system.
Suggesting that the allegations by themselves were not sufficient to merit Mr Turnquest’s resignation as deputy prime minister and minister of finance, Mr Myers argued that the more pressing concern was whether he could remain focused on addressing The Bahamas’ fiscal woes amid the furore surrounding Mr Kaiser’s claims.
Should Mr Turnquest and the Minnis Cabinet decide the distractions were too much, and he elect to step down, the ORG principal said this would be an “honourable thing to do” and not amount to any admission of guilt given that the Supreme Court has yet to rule.
“He’s innocent until proven guilty,” Mr Myers argued, “and that needs to be repeated. The statement of claim is just that; it’s a statement of claim. It doesn’t mean it’s the truth, it doesn’t mean it’s not the truth. The more mature of us are going to recognise that. The court is there to decide that.”
Mr Turnquest was not named as a defendant in the “statement of claim” issued by Mr Kaiser’s companies, although he was central to the allegations raised. The businessman, who has a residence in Freeport, is claiming that Mr Turnquest “conspired” with another former business partner, Captain Randy Butler, to defraud him of almost $27m via “some kind of bogus loans”.
Legal sources have suggested Captain Butler and his attorneys are likely to apply to the Supreme Court for permission to add the deputy prime minister as a third-party defendant amid the fall-out and mess that has resulted from the collapse of their three-way business partnership.
Mr Myers, meanwhile, said the potential “distraction” caused by Mr Kaiser’s allegations - and whether it would impact Mr Turnquest’s ability to function as minister of finance - were of greater concern given The Bahamas’ perilous economic and fiscal position.
“The disappointing part, and that is the reality, is that given the circumstances and incredible amount of pressure the country faces financially, anything that distracts the minister of finance from his duties is a concern,” he told Tribune Business.
“There’s no doubt the minister of finance has a very full agenda, and a full-time job. The need for someone to pay full attention to financial matters is significant given our circumstances with Dorian and COVID-19. We need the best and brightest at the table 100 percent focused. We need his undivided attention.”
Mr Myers said Dr Hubert Minnis and Mr Turnquest, together with the Cabinet, would have to determine “how much of a distraction” Mr Kaiser’s allegations will be when it came to the deputy prime minister functioning as minister of finance.
“If he resigns he’s not guilty,” the ORG chief added. “He’s just done the honourable thing, and recognised the gravity of his position. It’s just a statement of claim. Paper doesn’t mind what you write on it. You have all sorts of reasons why people make statements of claim.
“Peter has, in troubled times, done more to right the fiscal position of The Bahamas than many before him. He enacted the Fiscal Responsibility Act, and he has reported in a reasonable time. For the most part he has done a commendable job dealing with some very difficult fiscal issues.
“I’d hate to see him distracted. It should be his and the Prime Minister’s decision how big a distraction they think that will be because without a doubt we need somebody focused. I hope he can maintain that focus because God knows we need it. The guy in that seat needs to be focused,” he added.
“If this thing is going to somehow distract him, it’s not that he should resign because he’s guilty. It’s because he recognises he has to defend himself, and it’s going to be a distraction and will not serve the country’s interests to be distracted in this fiscal position. It should be his and the Prime Minister’s call.”
The Prime Minister yesterday said it was still “deliberating” how it will handle the claims against the deputy prime minister, but Mr Turnquest following his defiant statement on Thursday has given no indication of stepping down.
Only the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has been demanding his resignation. The Democratic National Alliance (DNA), for whom Captain Butler ran as a general election candidate in 2012, has been silent thus far.
Several observers have argued privately, though, that Mr Turnquest should step down in the interests of the country, government and the FNM. They say the nature of the allegations by Mr Kaiser – fraud, financial irregularities and accounting improprieties – would make it increasingly difficult for Mr Turnquest to remain as minister of finance given that they directly impact his credibility as the nation’s chief financial officer and tax enforcer.
The same observers said the matter threatens to be a big distraction that will overshadow the Government’s remaining tenure while giving the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) ample ammunition to use.
They also argued that it could impact The Bahamas’ dealings with the international credit ratings, plus the likes of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Inter-American Development Bank, European Union and Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).