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‘Embassy’s spending followed protocol’

FORMER Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.

FORMER Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.

By EARYEL BOWLEG

Tribune Chief Reporter

ebowleg@tribunemdia.net

FORMER Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and former Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield were at odds yesterday over spending that took place under their administration to furnish and decorate an ambassador’s residence in Brussels, Belgium.

On Tuesday at Parliament, Labour and Immigration Minister Keith Bell revealed that a total of more than $1m had been spent, calling it an “indiscriminate callous haemorrhage” of the public purse. This included monthly accommodations in a hotel for an ambassador at a cost $20,000 per month, while the furniture and decor cost the government $550,000.

 Yesterday, while Mr Henfield said this level of spending was “indefensible” he said he had no idea it had gone on.

 Dr Minnis meanwhile said Mr Bell had been “totally disingenuous” in making the accusations. Dr Minnis said Brussels was an expensive place and the ambassador would not have acted outside of established protocols by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He said ambassadors did not have access to money. He also said ambassadors live in hotels until proper permanent accommodations are found. These hotels, he said, must have a certain standard of security among other things.

 For his part, Official Opposition leader Michael Pintard said ambassadors are unable to approve funding and questioned who approved the spending.

 While Mr Bell did not name the ambassador, Dr Minnis identified Maria O’Brien as the official. She was appointed ambassador to Belgium and head of mission to the European Union under the Minnis administration.

 The Killarney MP explained the rationale for the expenditure.

 He told The Tribune yesterday: “Governments put together budgets, governments have policies, and they have protocols. Ambassadors themselves don’t spend money like that. They don’t have access to money. When individuals travel, they’re placed in a hotel until proper accommodations are found.

 “The accommodation must meet certain security standards, etc. That ambassador was placed in a hotel. I realise that Keith Bell was making noise about there being $20,000 being spent for a month - that’s 660 per night. Brussels is extremely expensive.

 “The accommodation would have been contracted by real estate agents where they would show you various different places ensuring that they meet security standards, etc. In terms of furnishing selections, etc, there’s a policy. There’s a protocol where you must have a bid. These are then subsequently approved, etc, within the budget.”

 He also stated: “Everything still has to stay within the budgetary framework of The Bahamas. That is why we have a budget and that is why we are discussing a budget. Every ministry has a budget. Brussels is very, very expensive. There are policies and protocols you can’t step out of that and, therefore, they would have followed the policies and protocols as established by the ministry.”

 He went on to also defend Ms O’Brien’s work to establish the embassy. He said she played a “pivotal” role in assisting the country in being removed from the blacklist.

 Pressed if the expenditure was justified, the former Prime Minister replied: “What I’m saying is (look at) the policy and the protocol. What they need to do is look at the policy and protocols because what I can tell you is that what we have found is salary for one particular country, let’s say what an ambassador may get in Florida may be totally inadequate because of the cost of living in Brussels and these are matters that have to be addressed.”

 However, he admitted Mr Henfield would have not known about the funds in the budget because the minister does not necessarily sign off on it, pointing to the secretary and financial officers who run the ministry.

  On the other hand, former Cabinet Minister under the Minnis administration Mr Henfield said if the accusations are true, the revelations speak to a systematic failure in the system.

 Mr Henfield said: “If the accusations are true as reported by Mr Bell, it is to my mind, indefensible the use of public funds, which speaks to a systemic failure in the system and it must be investigated so we can correct it from ever happening again in the future.”

 Mr Bell alleged on Tuesday that some of the more costly purchases included middle chairs for nearly $40,000, a rug at $18,475, $14,000 for a lamp and $10,000 for a mahogany scroll among other purchases.

 “If something like this can happen outside the regular knowledge of the ministry, as I’m told if it is as reported, we must find a way to fix the system to prevent it from ever happening again,” Mr Henfield added.

 Asked the appropriate action if it is found that there was wasteful spending, he answered: “I think the Auditor General likely has reported on it and so we await to see what findings (there are) for it and the recommendations that come from the Auditor General to see how we fix it and prevent it.”

 The Tribune reached out to the embassy, but did not receive a response up to press time.

Comments

mandela 2 years ago

No rational explanation can be given for such spending, and yet we can't afford as a country to build a Prime Minister's residence. All we are doing is playing petty politics. The former government was a disaster right from the start.

M0J0 2 years ago

Kudos to Mr. Henfield for being a man. If only Mr. Pintard could be one also.

tribanon 2 years ago

The Killarney MP explained the rationale for the expenditure.

Merely by trying to defend the indefensible, the very arrogant and tyrannical dumb-arse Minnis is proving that he not only had knowledge of these most wasteful expenditures relating to the ambassador's apartment in Brussels, but more than likely was directly involved in their approval. And both Henfield and Minnis know full well that it was Minnis and not Henfield who took a 'special' personal interest in overseeing these most outrageous and ridiculous expenditures of the people's funds.

And don't expect Keith Bell to be nearly so forthcoming about all the outrageous, ridiculous and wasteful expenditures of the people's funds that cruel Davis has taken a 'special' personal interest in overseeing, let alone the mega-millions of dollars Fwreddy Boy Mitchell is spending like a drunken sailor on most government-owned properties outside The Bahamas that fall directly under his ministerial portfolio as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Yes indeed, Fwreddy Boy fully expects to have the use of many well-appointed 'love nests' in other countries. LOL

ThisIsOurs 2 years ago

"who took a 'special' personal interest"

thats exactly what this is looking like.

TalRussell 2 years ago

The historical culture of Minnis's Red Shits governance embodies 'his and Pintard's' excusing away as 'protocol' of the pictures currently streaming online from capturing the interiors Our Colony's 'Gold-Plated' Embassy over in Brussels as to the kinds luxurious furnitures' and toiletries a million+ Sand Dollars from the vault PopoulacesPurse did buy to ensure the comfort of our resident Ambassador identified as Her Excellency Comrade Sister Maria O’Brien did "follow spending protocol. Okay Minnis, Pintard & Henfield, boldly produce written down on paper proof that such 'Followed Protocol Directive' did exist. ― Yes?

ThisIsOurs 2 years ago

Did you miss an "R"? lol

TalRussell 2 years ago

When I was in one of those miss an "R" moments whilst preppin' my Brownies cannabutter batch and waiting for the oven to preheat to 240°F― Yes?

LastManStanding 2 years ago

The real question here is why do we need an ambassador to Belgium in the first place? I can understand maintaining diplomatic ties with the European Union, but there are far too many "embassies" and "missions" that serve as nothing more but a drain on the Bahamian taxpayer.

The Bahamas is a diplomatic nobody and that is not going to change any time soon; keep a few consulates in key cities like New York, Miami, Toronto, London where there are a decent amount of Bahamians in close proximity, but there are too many money pits disguised as diplomatic missions that are draining money for no return.

ThisIsOurs 2 years ago

"The real question here is why do we need an ambassador to Belgium in the first place"

you know how nosey Bahamians are at home. Everybody want know who stopping over. The further away the better

ThisIsOurs 2 years ago

So nobody in Brussels could find a nice mirror for less than 500 dollars? I wonder if Minnis ever look into that 12000 dollar mirror, and other things, in person , to see if he got value for dollars

ThisIsOurs 2 years ago

The FNM should have removed Minnis the night of the election.

DWW 2 years ago

card carrying FNMs now wishing they didnt screw LBTs Pooch

cliffgpinder 2 years ago

If protocol was followed then said protocol needs updating; the spending of citizens' tax $ was careless and without regard for prudence.

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