Wednesday, Apr 24, 2019
HomeNational ReviewThe FNM’s jokey commitment to transparency

The FNM’s jokey commitment to transparency

There’s a certain arrogance that tends to set in among some once they come to power, to the point where they forget what their obligations are to the people who elected them.

They often forget that the money they are spending is not their own, or that of their party but it is the Bahamian people’s.

A government that claims on the one hand to be committed to transparency and accountability cannot now come to the people and tell them it is none of their business how much money was spent on the foreign Queen’s Counsel who led the prosecution in the failed case against Frank Smith, the former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) senator who was accused of bribery and extortion.

The Office of the Attorney General hired Edward Jenkins, a British QC, in its attempt to prove that Smith abused his position as PHA chairman in the award of a $516,000 contract to Barbara Hanna, the owner of Magic Touch Cleaning Company, to clean the Critical Care Block of Princess Margaret Hospital.

The official opposition says Jenkins got paid a huge sum of money to prosecute a case that never should have been brought in the first place.

In her ruling on Friday, Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt found, “There is not a scintilla of evidence to support the fact that there was a meeting between Barbara Hanna and [Smith] prior to the award of the contract.”

The obvious question the media and others had after the magistrate threw out the case is what did it cost the Bahamian people to bring this matter in the first place?

Attorney General Carl Bethel has essentially indicated it’s none of our business how much Jenkins was paid (or is owed), although he sought to assure that it was “reasonable”.

“The matter [was] negotiated between him and the bureaucracy and the public prosecutions office. So I’ll have to double check on that in any event, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss his fees,” Bethel said.

“Please don’t allow this to become a political football. This is a prosecution.”

The government cannot cherrypick what it chooses to reveal to the public and what it doesn’t — unless of course we are talking about a matter of genuine national security.

Last summer, Minister of Works Desmond Bannister sought to embarrass former Bahamas Power and Light Chairman Darnell Osborne in a most petty fashion, claiming that she submitted her makeup bills for BPL to pay. He committed to making those bills public, but never did. 

In opposition, the Free National Movement (FNM) demanded that the Christie administration make public how much it paid gaming consultants around the time of the 2013 gambling referendum, and it also demanded to know how much was paid to National Health Insurance (NHI) consultants.

FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis said it was about transparency. He said the Bahamian people had the right to know how their money was being spent and how much of their money was being spent.

This is why ‘where the VAT money gone’ resonated ahead of the 2017 general election.

In opposition, Minnis declared, “The new Bahamas is a place where government must be transparent, acting in the best interest of all citizens. In the new Bahamas, there is no room for secret, clandestine governance. There is no room for backroom or under the table deals. Any stable democracy must be mature enough to give its citizens access to information.”

In the opening months of this term, the Minnis administration spent a great deal of time revealing how much the PLP administration spent on all manner of consultants and contracts. The FNM said the PLP had spent money like drunken sailors.

The attorney general himself pointed out in the Senate that the Christie administration had been guilty of “extravagant spending and wastage of public funds”.

Upon coming to office, the government announced a series of audits. It said the Bahamian people deserved to know how their money was spent.

In June 2017, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar revealed in Parliament that tourism consultant Ian Poitier was paid  “outrageous” sums of money for his work

He said the consultant was paid more than $400,000 a year.

There were many other revelations, including lucrative contracts for so-called PLP cronies. The Minnis administration was not shy about calling names either.

It seems this government now wishes to take us for fools. 

Jenkins’ compensation should not be a state secret. 

The government no doubt anticipates that revealing costs paid to Jenkins for a far from solid case would anger already incensed Bahamians even more. It is obviously hoping to quietly settle its bill with the QC and move on to other matters without answering to the people on how much was paid.

As one FNM supporter observed yesterday, “If they cannot be transparent on such basic things we know they are not going to be with big things associated with a so-called freedom of information law.”

In big matters and in small matters, the government ought to demonstrate that its stated commitment to transparency counts for something.

It is not only to be demonstrated when it makes the PLP look bad (or makes the FNM look good). It ought to be demonstrated in every single case.

How else are we to take the Minnis administrations seriously in matters of transparency and accountability?

Unless FNM ministers dug in their own pockets to pay Jenkins in their bid to make the charges stick against Smith, then they are obligated to report to the Bahamian people on this matter.

Enough of seeking to take the Bahamian people for fools. Our democracy has outgrown such insulting behavior.

Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the managing editor for the Nassau Guardian.

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