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INSIGHT: Was the House of Assembly misled?

ALFRED Sears pictured in Parliament previously.

ALFRED Sears pictured in Parliament previously.

By Malcolm Strachan

HERE’S a name you thought might have disappeared from the political map of the world – Boris Johnson. Bear with me, though, this isn’t just about what happened in faraway Britain.

The former British Prime Minister resigned after a snowball turned into an avalanche. It all started with parties being held in Downing Street, the street which holds the major offices of the British state, including the Prime Minister’s office and official dwelling.

There were no parties, insisted Mr Johnson. Nonsense, no such thing. There were, of course, parties.

He denied it in Parliament on December 8, 2021, then on May 25, 2022, he insisted that the rules were followed, even though they weren’t, and he said on December 8, 2021, that there “was no party” (there was).

Photos soon emerged of Mr Johnson at gatherings, raising a glass in front of people and with a table full of wine bottles nearby.

Now, Partygate, as it was called, was not the ultimate reason Mr Johnson was forced to resign – that was another in the series of scandals he seemed to bumble his way into. But it did matter.

Official probes were launched as to whether or not he misled Parliament. And if he is found to have done so, he could end up having to face a by-election in his constituency. He could, in short, lose his seat for having not told Parliament the truth.

Which brings us to The Bahamas. Sorry it took so long getting here, but as our Parliament derives much of its rules and standards from the British Parliamentary system, it was worth the detour.

Because now there is a question over whether our own Parliament has been misled.

Minister of Works Alfred Sears and Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis have both commented in the House on the issue of fuel hedging trades by BPL.

The question was whether or not they had received any briefings on carrying out hedging transactions.

On October 26, Mr Davis said of the hedging trade suggestion: “No recommendation came to me, and the Minister for Works said there was no such information coming to [him] - There was no such recommendation that I was aware of.”

He added: “I received no advice or recommendations, saw no papers in that respect. I never saw any. None reached my desk, and as far as I am aware, it did not reach, the minister will speak for himself, that never happened.”

That same day, Mr Sears said: “Not only was I not provided, but what this honourable member for Marco City [Michael Pintard] has failed to disclose … is that what was on the table was a rate reduction bond to borrow $500m.”

He added: “I can say for the record that no draft Cabinet paper prepared by the honourable member or any of his colleagues has been presented to me.”

FNM leader Michael Pintard tabled a letter written by then CEO of BPL Whitney Heastie discussing the hedge programme, but Mr Sears said that he did not recall receiving the document, and that it was only a description, not a recommendation.

And yet, last week, Mr Sears said that actually, a Cabinet paper on the need to execute fuel hedging trades was addressed to the Minister of Finance, and the ministry decided to reject the recommendation.

He said: “The Ministry of Finance in October (2021) made a determination that the proposal that the honourable member [Pintard] is referring to was not supported.”

It was deemed that the move “was not in the interest of the country at that time”.

The deal is under the spotlight because not carrying it out exposed the country to higher oil costs when global prices surged. Mr Davis ultimately spoke in a national address about rising costs at BPL that the public – you and me – would have to carry in our bills.

On Friday, Mr Pintard called on Mr Sears to resign.

In a gathering in the parking lot outside the Office of the Prime Minister, he said: “The Minister of Works and the Prime Minister on their feet in the House of Assembly denied that they got any briefing notes, they were not advised of any recommendations that could have saved the Bahamian people what we now believe to be over $100m that we are on the hook for.”

He added: “The Minister of Works was even more egregious, his transgression wasn’t just by judgement and not accepting solid recommendations. His transgression was seeking to cover up the bad judgement that he and his colleagues, and certainly the Minister of Finance, has the greatest responsibility.

“The bottom line is he made the point that the Prime Minister and he were fully aware. I don’t believe there’s any other recourse for that minister, but to resign, it is the appropriate thing to do.”

There are two parts to this – the wisdom in declining the trade is one part, and while that may be the part that hits us all in our pockets most directly, it is the second area that most directly affects Mr Sears’ future. Hedging strategies are essentially a bet on what future prices will be – in hindsight we could have done better, but gazing into the future doesn’t have 20/20 vision.

That part is whether or not Parliament was misled.

Now some of this will come down to details over how exactly you interpret each part of what was said – and sometimes it seems like Parliamentarians are habitually vague in spelling out exactly what they mean.

But when asked if there were briefings or advice on BPL’s fuel hedging strategy, it was denied. And it turns out there was a letter from Mr Heastie, and it turns out there was an entire Cabinet paper with a recommendation which the Ministry of Finance decided to reject.

We get it. Admitting that you made a decision that ended up costing people a lot of money – directly in their BPL bills – is not a thing you want to do.

But accuracy and clarity should be sacrosanct in the House. The House cannot conduct its full business without the full light of day. Decisions and discussion should be based on what actually happened – good or bad.

Over in Britain, it would have looked bad for Boris Johnson to be partying while the nation was locked down under COVID rules. One rule for him, one rule for everyone else, that was how it looked.

But it wasn’t the parties themselves that could cost him his seat. It was whether or not he misled the House over them. Whether he broke the rules.

Have our leaders misled our House? If they don’t believe they have, then let us see every document and every communication. Who was advised, who decided, who saw the recommendations? Then, in that full light of day, we can see if there is merit in Mr Pintard’s call for a resignation.

Comments

ThisIsOurs 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Its a bit deeper than whether they misled the house.

The questions I have, how does a cabinet paper get written? Who requests it? Was it this one started before or after the new govt came in? Then after its completed what process does it go through? Addressing a letter to a minister or the Prime Minister doesnt necessarily mean the minister or Prime Minister reads it. Someone at the gate determines what they do and do not see. So Id like to see the journey of a generic cabinet paper and then the journey that this paper took.

The bigger question I have in light of the debacle on price control, minimum wage, BPL and FTX is who is really running the country, or corunning the country. I get the impression that Brave Davis just read what was put in front of him, he did not even known that 38 products he spoke of were actually 38 categories translating into 3000+ items, the basics of the analysis. Im not suggesting that Mr Davis isnt working there are a thousand issues other than these 4 that he has to attend to, but these were big ones with a huge impact. So who made these decisions? Was it Fitzgerald or Wilson or someone else? Thats the danger, and it always was, the man who has the leaders ear, the man behind the curtain.

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birdiestrachan 6 months, 1 week ago

There seems to be some confusion , Mr Pintard is also confused he will do well to address the domes and the food programme he is running over with advise it is to bad he had none when doc was in power strachan comes to his rescue

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birdiestrachan 6 months, 1 week ago

As for Mr Sears resigning Mr Pintard should stop talking foolish if he continues he will be labelled a great big fool he is coming close he should take note

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