10 things we did not get answers to in 2022
‘New day’ govt leaves us in the dark on many issues
When it comes to transparency and accountability in office, administrations often talk a good talk, buy into their own hype and obfuscate while failing to be truly accountable or transparent.
“Accountability and transparency” are often convenient declarations, but many times we are met with obscurity and spin in our demands for information.
While the Davis administration has kept its promise to hold regular press briefings, and while many Cabinet ministers are accessible to media, there are often questions we never get answers to, and, it appears, never will.
Meanwhile, the establishment of infrastructure to give effect to the long-delayed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) hampers the ability of media and the general public to access information they have a legitimate right to.
It appears that it will be some time before we can actually begin requesting information under this critical piece of legislation, which was passed during the last Christie administration.
In addition to unanswered questions, there are numerous pledges that Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Davis, while in opposition, indicated would be fulfilled early, but have yet to receive attention.
Consider, for example, Davis’ declaration in March 2021 that a PLP government would hold televised hearings into the affairs of Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) if elected.
He said at the time, “there is no accountability; there is no transparency” regarding BPL.
Davis is now prime minister.
There still is no accountability or transparency on important BPL matters.
In no particular order, here is a list of some key issues we never got answers to or full accountability on in 2022.
Last we heard, the Office of the Attorney General had reached a tentative agreement with former BPL Executive Chairperson Darnell Osborne and two other former board members, Nick Dean and Nicola Thompson, who sued BPL and the government for unfair and wrongful dismissal after they were fired from the BPL board in 2018.
The government has made clear that it will not reveal to the public information on such settlements.
In addition to BPL, these settlements included the settlements arrived at with the now-Commissioner of Police Clayton Fernander and Deputy Commissioner of Police Leamond Deleveaux, not long before those men took up their appointments.
Fernander and Deleveaux were among eight senior police officers forced on leave by the Minnis administration in 2019, and later reassigned to areas within the public service that were an insult to their stature as senior officers.
The men sued the government after they were sent on leave.
We never received a report on whether a settlement was reached with Assistant Commissioner of Police Ken Strachan who also sued the government and whose case was pending at last report.
The Office of the Attorney General also reached a confidential settlement with Financial Secretary Simon Wilson, who was sidelined by the Minnis administration, which had instructed him to take leave.
Wilson was back at the Ministry of Finance bright and early after the PLP was re-elected in September 2021.
In yet another matter, the government in March reached a settlement with former PLP Cabinet Minister Shane Gibson, who alleged that he was falsely imprisoned and maliciously prosecuted.
The government did not reveal the amount of that settlement, but Gibson’s lawyer, Anthony McKinney, KC, confirmed to us that the settlement was $2.5 million.
In November 2019, Gibson was acquitted of bribery in the high-profile case.
There is no doubt that the government would have kept that settlement secret, as if it is no business of the public.
Former PLP Senator Frank Smith has also sued the government for malicious prosecution.
Smith, former chairman of the Public Hospitals Authority, was acquitted in February 2019 on bribery and extortion charges.
We expect to learn that the Davis administration will also settle his case, and a similar case involving former PLP minister Kenred Dorsett.
The director of public prosecutions issued a nolle prosequi in Dorsett’s corruption case in March, after the key witness, Johnathan Ash, indicated his intention not to testify.
The three former parliamentarians were taken to court in 2017 within months of the Free National Movement’s election.
Gibson’s and Smith’s acquittals and the failure to try Dorsett’s case over the course of several years also did tremendous harm to the FNM’s brand.
The taxpayers are left on the hook.
The Davis administration has also failed to fully account for the award of contracts as mandated under the Public Procurement Act passed in 2021 under the former administration and enacted just before the general election.
The excuse was that the legislation is “deficient” and “unworkable”.
The Davis administration’s noncompliance with the law comes after the Progressive Liberal Party in opposition, led by Davis, excoriated the Minnis administration for its failure to submit to Parliament a report on the details of the expenditure, suppliers for the goods and services procured and the reasons those suppliers were chosen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In October, the Davis administration tabled the Public Procurement Bill, 2022, with Prime Minister Davis saying the act passed by the former administration was rushed through the consultative and legislative process. (Never mind the fact that the PLP in opposition voted in favor of it in the House).
As for the new procurement bill, Davis said it now stacks up against similar legislation from other countries, especially in the way it includes language that brings equity to the types of people and companies who receive government contracts.
He said government intends to receive comments from civil society on the new legislation, and said multilateral financial institutions were already consulted and their contributions incorporated into the bill.
The House has not yet passed the amendments.
We still are in the dark over millions of dollars in contracts entered into by the government, which has continued to disregard the law it supported in opposition.
Recently, the government made it clear to grocers unhappy with a gazetted expanded breadbasket list that disapproval of the law is no excuse for violation of the law.
It, however, continues its own violation of the Public Procurement Act.
3. Travel accounting
For the Progressive Liberal Party, a potentially problematic narrative has taken hold regarding the prime minister’s penchant for travel.
“Gone again” is taking hold in the way that “late again” became synonymous with Perry Christie when he was prime minister.
Davis is indeed right in saying it is important for The Bahamas to have a seat at the table at important forums where critical decisions are made that impact our future.
Back in May, Davis also told Parliament that as prime minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis lacked the confidence to travel on the country’s behalf.
He has boasted in Parliament that when he travels, he gets results, but when Minnis traveled, he had no traction.
The prime minister’s press secretary, Clint Watson, meanwhile, has arrogantly claimed that Davis is in demand across the world.
A laugh at best.
Since he became prime minister, Davis has traveled to Rwanda, Egypt, Angola, Bermuda, United Arab Emirates, the United States (multiple times, of course), England, Scotland, Jamaica and Belize. Did we miss anything? We probably did as it is very hard to keep up.
Many wonder whether all the travel is necessary.
Last month, we reported that government travel for the first three months of the 2022/2023 fiscal year is up by $2.3 million compared to the same period in the previous fiscal year.
The Davis administration budgeted $14.9 million on travel and subsistence for the current fiscal year compared to $10.6 million in 2021/2022.
The $14.9 million allocated by the government is higher than pre-pandemic levels.
In 2018, Davis, leader of the opposition, lashed Minnis for traveling with “Gussiemae” delegations, and for failing to fully account for the travel.
While we do know that the Davis administration is spending more on travel, the full accounting Davis had sought from Minnis for all his trips is also absent now that the shoe has changed foot.
In October, The Nassau Guardian stumbled upon a Royal Gazette online story which reported that the Bahamian prime minister and a delegation were in Bermuda and had attended a convention of Bermuda’s Progressive Labour Party, which the PLP in The Bahamas views as a sister party.
Given that it was clearly a political trip, which inappropriately included OPM Permanent Secretary Creswell Sturrup attending the political convention, we inquired about who funded the trip.
We were initially told by Office of the Prime Minister Director of Communications Latrae Rahming that the Progressive Liberal Party covered the costs, though PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell suggested otherwise.
The government later admitted that the public purse had paid for the travel, and said the PLP reimbursed it for the cost of the Western Air charter.
Speaking to the issue in Parliament, Davis later waved it off as no big deal and also claimed that given the controversy, he will reimburse the treasury for his own travel to Bermuda.
Weeks later, The Nassau Guardian asked Watson, the press secretary, whether the treasury was reimbursed for all costs associated with that trip.
We suspect the government thought that issue was dead.
Watson said on November 27 he expects the PLP to fully reimburse the government “within two weeks”.
More than a month after Davis made his statements in the House of Assembly, we still do not know whether the full payback occurred and received no accounting on the matter.
We are not surprised. Are you?
5. Pandemic spending
In August, Prime Minister Davis said the government wanted to complete several audits and give individuals impacted by them an opportunity to respond to what is going to be released before making public a report into pandemic spending during the state of emergency as required by law.
The minister of finance was required to lay a report in Parliament within six weeks of the expiration of the state of emergency, which ended last year November.
Asked in August when the government intends to bring that report, Davis, who is the minister of finance, said, “Well, we are far beyond six weeks, right? We’re almost a year since the expiration of that. … We have been doing several audits on some of the spending.
“We do have some results, but we think that before we release those, those who may be impacted by it would have an opportunity to respond to what we’re going to release.
“There are a number of still unanswered questions and we are still attempting to get responses of persons who are engaged in, for example, the food program and some of the other spending.”
Davis said the report will be released at “the appropriate time”.
Under the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Regulations, 2020, “The minister of finance shall within six weeks of the expiration of the proclamation of emergency lay a report before the House of Assembly detailing the total expenditure of the goods and services procured; the suppliers of the goods and services procured; [and] the reasons for the use of the suppliers of the goods and the providers of the services.”
At the end of 2022, more than a year after the state of emergency ended, we guess it’s still not the appropriate time.
6. A plan for NIB
While there is much we can add to this reporting on matters that remain outstanding at the end of 2022, we would use up too much newsprint to lay it all out.
It would be remiss of us, however, not to include here that we are ending 2022 without the Davis administration outlining a plan to save the National Insurance Fund from depletion in a few years.
It is a matter that does not seem to have gotten any real focus from the distracted prime minister this year.
As he did in March when he reversed a Bahamas Power and Light announcement that the fuel charge was increasing, he has also kicked the National Insurance Board (NIB) can down the road.
The fund is now just five years away from depletion without any action, according to the timeline that was outlined in the latest actuarial review of NIB, dated January 2022.
Up to June, the prime minister had not yet read that report.
The matter of the actuarial review of the National Insurance Board and its recommended rate increase to save the fund from depletion in 2028 was first raised by Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister Myles LaRoda, speaking to reporters on his way to Cabinet back in April.
But Davis said there is no imminent increase and his administration will be “innovative and creative” to ensure the financial sustainability of NIB.
Eight months after his declaration, we still have no plan to save NIB.
7. Accusation against Coleby-Davis
We also end the year not knowing the outcome of the police’s investigation into an allegation that Minister of Housing and Transport JoBeth Coleby Davis struck a police officer with her car earlier this year.
In July, the prime minister said in the House of Assembly he was satisfied with Coleby-Davis’ explanation that she did not hit the officer with her car at a carnival event in May.
Davis was responding to former Prime Minister Minnis, who called for an update on the investigation into the allegation.
In October, Commissioner of Police Fernander said an update on the probe would be provided “very shortly”.
It has been over two months since he made that statement.
8. The fate of Grand
In November, Lucayan Renewal Holdings Limited (LRHL) announced that the agreement to sell Grand Lucayan resort on Grand Bahama to Electra America Hospitality Ltd. (EAHL) for $100 million has collapsed and that discussions were taking place “with a well-capitalized entity” that has expressed its interest in acquiring the property.
Back in May, the government said Electra had committed to a $300 million development of Grand Lucayan and that a sale would be concluded in 120 days, but after several extensions to the due diligence period, LRHL finally stated that it has reached the end of the line with EAHL.
We do not know who the “well-capitalized entity” is that LRHL is or was in talks with and we do not know the status of those talks.
Grand Lucayan has been a noose around the necks of taxpayers ever since the Minnis administration foolishly bought it from Hutchison Whampoa in August 2018 for $65 million.
As the year ends, the fate of Grand Lucayan remains up in the air.
9. FTX political donations?
As the year draws to a close, we are watching the dramatic events connected to the collapse of crytocurrency exchange FTX, whose decision to set up headquarters in The Bahamas was touted by the current prime minister and members of his administration as a major win for our country.
As the lawyer for the disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried fought unsuccessful yesterday to secure bail for him, the eyes of many in the international media were trained on The Bahamas.
FTX Digital Markets was incorporated in The Bahamas in July 2021, and registered as a digital asset business under the DARE Act.
In opposition, former Minister of State for Finance Kwasi Thompson expressed his disappointment in Parliament that FTX was not incorporated in Grand Bahama, his home island.
Since planting roots in The Bahamas, FTX donated money or valuable items like computers and tablets to multiple charities, schools, churches, the police force and the cultural community.
After the FTX collapse, Prime Minister Davis said his party received no contributions from FTX.
But we have no campaign finance law that mandates any reporting of donors and donations, notwithstanding promises made by the Christie, Minnis and Davis administrations to bring such a bill.
While we know of at least one PLP MP (Pia Glover-Rolle) who received a donation of 10 laptops for her constituency from FTX in July, we might never know the extent of FTX’s donations to politicians or whether any donations influenced the favorable treatment it received in The Bahamas before or after the last general election.
Meanwhile, in an unsealed indictment yesterday, US federal prosecutors charged Bankman-Fried with violating campaign finance laws in the United States.
10. BPL hedge issue
The issue of the Bahamas Power and Light hedge and the failure of the Davis administration to execute hedge trades last fall has turned out to be one of the more damaging issues for the government of the day.
Its failure to be forthright and provide a full accounting on this matter has left it looking foolish, incompetent and far from trustworthy.
We have heard so many versions of what transpired in relation to the fuel hedge, it has left our heads spinning, and as the year ends, we still do not have a proper and full accounting to Parliament on exactly what transpired and why certain decisions were made.
At the center of this whole sordid affair is Minister of Works Alfred Sears, whose accounting on the hedge issue has been contradictory.
One thing is clear, Parliament has been misled. Sears has suggested there was no intention to mislead.
Still, the Davis administration is under fire as pressure mounts on the issue.
Last week, we reported that after repeatedly saying he had no knowledge of requests made by the BPL fuel hedge committee for the trades to be executed to lock in oil prices, Sears for the first time publicly acknowledged that he had in fact received emails making those requests.
Sears made the acknowledgement at a press conference after a reporter asked him to respond to Opposition Leader Michael Pintard accusing him of misleading the House of Assembly on the matter.
Pintard has over the course of many weeks contended that the Davis administration’s failure to approve the execution of those trades resulted in the substantial increases in BPL’s fuel charge that customers will see in coming months.
The prime minister, seemingly distracted by his efforts to build a personal brand internationally, has said he knew nothing about nothing on this matter.
Well, nothing from nothing leaves nothing.
As the year ends, there are still more questions than answers on this and many other critical issues.
Will 2023 bring the answers?