Maturity needed with political appointee contracts
When a political party wins a general election it has the responsibility to form a government with people it thinks would advance its interests. The permanent employees in the public service work for the state. While they power the bureaucracy the party in power needs its senior people to be part of government in order to get things done on its behalf.
It is normal and necessary for administrations to bring in advisors and consultants. Politicians are usually not experts in the areas they are assigned to. They need the help of experienced and capable people to set policy and to ensure things get done.
Administrations should be responsible when bringing in their people to advise, however. In The Bahamas political terms are for up to five years. No contract should be given to a political advisor that goes beyond the term. And advisors should offer their resignations automatically if their administration loses an election.
There was controversy recently regarding the contract of Sir Baltron Bethel, the former senior advisor to former Prime Minister Perry Christie.
Sir Baltron had his contract with the government extended two weeks before the May 10 general election and his salary was increased from $140,000 to $200,000 a year. That salary increase was retroactive to January 1, 2016.
The contract was renewed a year in advance of when it was due to expire.
If Sir Baltron carried out the functions of the most senior advisor to the prime minister, the salary of $140,000 per year was reasonable. It’s debatable if he needed a raise to $200,000 per year.
The abusive things the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration did were the raise weeks before the election and the contract extension beyond the party’s term in office. These were misuses of power and abuses of the public purse.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis listed the Sir Baltron contract as one of several objectionable contracts his administration would not honor, challenging the contract holders to take the government to court.
Minnis is trying to make a point but he may not have a legal basis for his position. Though the PLP administration by convention should not have extended Sir Baltron when it did and for the period it did, he has a valid contract with the government of The Bahamas nonetheless.
Denying him the payment and forcing him to court may cost the government to have to pay extraordinary legal fees in addition to what is owed in the contract if it loses the lawsuit. It would likely be cheaper to just pay him what is owed.
It is difficult to make laws and rules to stop administrations from giving sweetheart contracts to supporters. That is why it is so important to elect people you believe to be trustworthy and reasonable. Once in government they have the power of the pen. If they are honest people they’d mostly do honest things. If they are corrupt people they’d mostly do corrupt things.
The last administration abused the public purse in many ways. The people knew what the PLP was doing. That’s why they voted the party out in a historic manner.
There will be more revelations in the months to come. The PLP was more concerned with self-interest than doing the people’s business. We hope a long period in opposition changes the party for the better.