By TYLER MCKENZIE
THE story of Alfred Sears and his slow steps toward admitting that he had indeed misled Parliament is a curious one.
I have been firmly of the opinion that Mr Sears is one of the genuine people in politics. There are people who go into politics and you look at them and think they’re there for the money, or the importance, the influence. Mr Sears has always seemed to be more thoughtful and sincere about his commitment to serve in politics.
Back in 2016, when he launched a “listening tour” around the islands as part of an ultimately unsuccessful bid to become leader of the PLP, he raised a number of issues of genuine concern, and wasn’t afraid to criticise his own party. At one point, he criticised the failure of the PLP to follow its own constitution, saying that such a failure compromised the party’s “integrity, viability, resilience and nimbleness”.
He called for the party a financial auditor, and said there should be “an annual report of income, expenditure, campaign contributions and expenses and balance sheet to the National General Convention”.
Mr Sears has always shown a sense of care about doing things the right way, about being transparent about the process, and about accountability.
In fact, he launched a 26-page manifesto, in which he laid out a plan for core values that would “commit us to honest government, Bahamian servant leadership, giving priority to the interests of the whole over the interest of the privileged few”.
He offered himself as “a transformational servant leader and change agent for the Progressive Liberal Party” and called for “transparent, efficient, accountable and limited government”.
He quoted not once, but twice, former chief justice Sir Burton Hall saying: “We are convinced that Bahamian society is more threatened by a pervasive culture of dishonesty, greed and a casual disregard for social norms and formal regulation than it is by crimes in the narrow sense previously described.”
He talked of the need to establish an independent Integrity Commission to investigate alleged acts of misconduct and corruption by public officials.
It was a thoughtful, thorough document that put the emphasis on doing things the right way, and rebuilding with an eye to the future.
That his manifesto and his candidacy for leadership were rejected by the party does not make his suggestions any less valid – or any less appropriate for today.
Which brings us to the situation we have now – which as I say is curious indeed.
Last month, I wrote about the question of whether or not the House had been misled by the comments Mr Sears made about BPL and the fuel hedging policy that was on the table.
That revolved around an email from October 9, 2021, that Mr Sears now says he “did not recall having received”. He had been asked about it in the House by FNM leader Michael Pintard and said he was not provided with such information.
Mr Pintard tabled the letter from then CEO of BPL Whitney Heastie. As that sat sizzling in public view, things began to change. First, Mr Sears said that actually a Cabinet paper on the BPL fuel hedging trades did exist. It was addressed to the Ministry of Finance, and the ministry decided to reject the recommendation. The move was said to be “not in the interest of the country at that time”.
The importance of this is that the failure to sign up to more BPL fuel hedging caught the country on the hop when fuel prices soared – and the increased bills happening right now is the price we all have to pay.
As for Mr Sears, last week he said: “I did not recall having received that email. And I stated that I wrote BPL, and I also wrote the PS (permanent secretary), and I asked: ‘Could you refresh me and did I receive it?’ I didn’t get a response, a confirmation.
“For several weeks, I was in New York, and I took a day and I brought my old iPad. I went back personally and did a search, and I found that I did receive – I think it was on October 9 – I did receive an email with the attachments. It would have gone on to be sent on to the financial secretary which is normal because they are the technical review in terms of financial clearance. It really was to access a loan which is managed by the Ministry of Finance.”
Just let me reiterate here, the matter he was questioned about in Parliament was easily found by a search of his personal email for the time that was already established. The email was forwarded to the Ministry of Finance for review – and it was for a matter that involved tens of millions of dollars. Weeks had also passed since the question was made.
Mr Sears added last week: “The Leader of the Opposition made the allegation again. I could not sit there, knowing that the first representation I had made was not correct and, as is my duty, I got up and I stated on the record of the House of Assembly that I had done a search of my email and I had found the email of October 9, 2021, and the response of the financial secretary. I stated it on the record because it was incumbent upon me to correct the previous statement that I had made.”
So Mr Sears recognises that he was wrong, and he recognises the importance of putting things right.
Meanwhile, a draft Cabinet prepared by the Ministry of Finance and dated September 30, 2021, suggests Mr Sears had also been briefed before that October 9 email. That paper said: “The Ministry of Finance has also shared this Cabinet memorandum with the Minister of Works and Utilities to provide his comments at the [Cabinet] table.”
Last week, government sources said that the reason the fuel hedging strategy wasn’t pursued was because the government and BPL lacked the $40m in available funds to finance the deal. Simply put, there was a $246m loan due to mature and no funds to repay it.
So there appears to have been a process of receiving the information, deliberating on it and coming to a conclusion – again on a matter involving tens of millions of dollars.
And Mr Sears tells us he had no memory of that. And that’s how he came to mislead the House.
If that is accurate, he needs to resign. We cannot have public servants failing to correctly inform the House over decisions made and advice received on multi-million dollar matters.
The Parliamentary norm when the House is misled is to resign. The Alfred Sears who twice quoted a former chief justice about the danger of disregarding social norms would probably have agreed.
There is no reason Mr Sears cannot come again to the decision-making table. But his own actions would not sit well with his own previously-expressed opinions.
The Mr Sears who campaigned to become a servant leader would agree. He has to go.
JackArawak 3 months, 2 weeks ago
not going to happen. Banana's for everyone
themessenger 3 months, 2 weeks ago
He might surprise us and resign, unlikely as it sounds, which would put a whole new meaning to “Honorable” as it relates to our politicians.
birdiestrachan 3 months, 2 weeks ago
He said he had no memory Pintard bought that subject out of the blue strachan it is to bad you folks did not ask your shepherd to resign when he planed and call a press conference to have a forged document OBAN SIGNED
Mr Sears is a good man doc can not drag Mr Sears old shoes , you all know that , empty barrel Pintard why did his GOVERNMENT NOT SIGN THOSE PAPERS IF THEY BELIEVE THEY WERE SO IMPORTANT THEY SIGNED EVER THINK ELSE
birdiestrachan 3 months, 2 weeks ago
Mr whitney Heastie why did he not notify the FNM , it was close to the election is he the man who was hired after the FNM government treated mrs Osborne so very bad remember what Mr banister had to say , Heastie lost his job Mr Sears did nothing intentionally he is not that type
Sickened 3 months, 2 weeks ago
Mr. Sears was certainly a good man but like most good men who go into politics, the system has destroyed him. Absolute shame. :( He's had a little angel on one shoulder and the entire weight of the PLP cabinet on the other. One saying confess and the other pressuring him to protect yet another huge and expensive blunder. Unfortunately in The Bahamas evil has again prevailed.
DonAnthony 3 months, 2 weeks ago
I agree. I had more respect for Mr. sears than any parliamentarian, but he misled parliament and the Bahamian people and his explanation is unbelievable, either he truly missed the email and the whole issue of hedging ( which means he is horrifically incompetent) or as is most likely he is straight up lying. Either way he needs to resign. The sooner the better.
sheeprunner12 3 months, 2 weeks ago
Brave has never forgotten that 2016 run ............ Sears will always be in the crosshairs of the Wizard from Cat Island.
Sears does not need to be in Parliament or politics to make a positive contribution to society. He better resign from the Brave Cabinet asap if he doesn't want to have his reputation eternally tainted by this rogue regime.
birdiestrachan 3 months, 2 weeks ago
Mislead parliament check the doc and Mr Pintard the amount of savings change daily and the doc he has become a great big joke when he speaks all laugh Mr Sears is a good honorable man when no one is watching how does one conduct themselves Mr Sears conducts him self as if he knows his God is watching him, Pintard pull that story Mr Sears might have overlooked because it was so close to the election
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