Consider This | Stupid is dangerous, pt. 1
“Stupidity makes you dangerous — to yourself and everyone around you.” — Jennifer Lee Carrell
A storm is brewing on the horizon. Tropical storm and hurricane conditions, to which we have become accustomed, normally provide us advance notice and the warning signs of potential devastation. The problem is that, in the case of the storm of which we speak, there are few visible indications that we are at risk of the possible destructive consequences of its effects. This storm has the potential of drastically degrading our democracy, our culture and our way of life.
Over the past two years, since the installation of the new government, there have been several developments that can be described as stupid at best and, at worst, potentially devastatingly destructive to our democracy.
Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider this… Are we at risk of becoming impervious to dangerous threats to our democracy that have developed from some of the actions and decisions that have been taken by the government?
Abusing the organs of the state
Since the FNM came to office, the police and some politicians have demonstrated a propensity to abuse their office and terrorize our citizens. This phenomenon first surfaced with the offensive manner in which the police abused their power, resulting in their unjustifiable arrest of former Parliamentarian Dion Smith.
In the case of Dion Smith, the former deputy-speaker of the House of Assembly, former member of Parliament and chairman of The Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC), shortly after he and many of his colleagues lost their seats, and fully supported by the political directorate, members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force descended like birds of prey on the premises of BAIC headquarters, armed with machine guns and masks. They were surrounded by the press, who had been invited to observe what could aptly be described as a rapid response exercise to a terrorist attack on the capital. Smith was subsequently detained and arrested by the police.
This police action fueled a flurry of falsehoods in the public domain, especially on social media, about unsubstantiated claims of malfeasance and misfeasance by Smith and others while in office, in an impetuous initiative to ‘lock up all PLPs’. This bloodlust by a misinformed public continued unabated for days.
As it turned out, Smith, who was initially accused of stealing BAIC property, was actually reclaiming items that belonged to him and removing them from the corporation’s premises after losing his seat in Parliament. Several weeks later, the police announced that there would be no charges against him, because there was no evidence of wrongdoing. This was a classic rush to judgment and amounted to a stupid, unwarranted action by the one institution in civil society whose mantra and paramount raison d’etre is to “protect and serve”, especially law-abiding citizens.
There was no public apology, no announcement of regret, no acknowledgment of a mistake made and no remorse demonstrated by the police force. What is worse — there was no regret expressed by those responsible for directing the police to take such drastic action in this rush to judgment.
This was the first disturbing indication of a stupid course of action that foreshadowed that the organs of state were going to be employed to retaliate against former politicians.
Shortly after the Dion Smith kerfuffle, the state decided to prosecute three former parliamentarians for corruption. Since their arrests, Frank Smith, the former chairman of the Public Hospitals Authority, was discharged, and the bribery and extortion charges against him were dismissed. The remaining two former Parliamentarians await their day in court.
In her judgment in the Frank Smith case and in discharging him of all charges brought against him, the judge ruled: “The court, having regard to Barbara Hanna’s (the accuser) demeanor, found her to be discredited and her evidence manifestly unreliable. Together with the inconsistencies of the witnesses and inclusive of the key witness, I do not consider that a sufficient case has been made out to lead a defense.”
The judge further questioned the veracity of the evidence of telephone call logs that were produced by the police and introduced into evidence by the prosecution. Regarding the call logs, the magistrate determined that “the call logs were likely manipulated to create a false impression that the accused was constantly calling Barbara Hanna, when in fact it was the reverse.”
On the basis of the evidence, the judge’s ruling and Smith’s acquittal, it is clear that this was a case involving the premeditated and calculated manipulation of evidence by agents of the state against one of its citizens. It was a despicable and disgraceful attempt to permanently destroy his reputation, his good name, his professional standing and his freedom. But for Smith’s financial capacity to launch a successful defense against those charges, the state might have succeeded.
This entire fiasco has unambiguously exposed that this was a political prosecution and an abuse of power and an abuse of office by the state.
It is absolutely unfortunate and a compounded abuse of power and office that the government has appealed the magistrate’s ruling in this case. This appeal represents nothing more than a desperate face-saving act by a government that should never have brought this matter to court in the first place.
Following the failed political prosecution, the attorney general maintained that the government will not provide the public with an accounting of the enormously excessive, wasteful cost of this political prosecution. This from a government that came to office with the pledge of accountability and transparency.
The Nassau Guardian editorial
On Friday, February 15, The Nassau Guardian published an editorial titled “PLP theatrics over the top”. In that editorial, the author noted that the PLP was “whining” over the prosecutions that the government initiated against several prominent PLPs since coming to office. It observed that, “Being a member of the PLP does not grant any person immunity from investigation and prosecution. The PLP must accept this.” We fully agree and, if there is plausible, not manufactured, evidence against former PLP operatives, there is absolutely no reason why such persons should not face the full weight of the law.
The editorial continued: “During the last PLP administration two high-profile FNMs were prosecuted, convicted and punished. Former Senator John Bostwick was convicted of ammunition possession and fined. Former FNM Senator Fred Ramsey was convicted of accepting bribes and fined. Ramsey likely avoided prison due to his age and poor health.”
“When these FNMs were arrested, prosecuted, convicted and punished, the FNM did not whine, fuss or complain as the PLP is doing. The men presented their defenses in court, and the court made its decision.”
We respectfully submit that these latter cases and circumstances are not analogous to their PLP counterparts. In the case of Bostwick and Ramsey, those were not political prosecutions. During their ordeal, not one person, not even the FNM leadership, questioned whether the police had manufactured, altered or manipulated evidence against the accused. There was no rush to judgment. No ministers of the PLP government were ever involved or implicated in the FNM prosecutions, except the attorney general who had a responsibility to decide whether these matters ought to proceed.
Today it is you, tomorrow it could be me
If we are going to safeguard our fundamental form of democratic government, it is vitally important to be ever vigilant against the abuse of power by those who hold high office. We must never forget the words of Martin Niemöller, the Protestant pastor, who came to abhor the Nazi dictatorship of Adolf Hitler.
“First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Corruption and abuse of power, which are frequently manifested in government stupidity, demean, damage and depreciate our national fabric and our democratic institutions. We must, therefore, nurture the national fabric and jealously safeguard those democratic institutions, lest they are abandoned to persons who will stupidly abuse them for their own selfish, personal and political agendas, creating a Bahamas we would neither recognize nor want for our children and the generations to come.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.