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PLP hypocrisy and a picture of greed

Prospective candidates for the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) have gotten advice from a former MP and minister whose questionable conduct capped off a chaotic and tumultuous term in government for his party.

Jerome Fitzgerald’s remarks at the special call meeting in Marathon for aspiring candidates on Monday night were quickly shared with the media, but one wonders what the PLP could possibly have been thinking to seek to place the spotlight back on a man whose actions have been tremendously harmful to the PLP brand.

The circulation of Fitzgerald’s speech by the party comes as it seeks to place the focus on the governing party, which it has accused of lying, abusing the prosecutorial system and betraying the trust of the Bahamian people.

But thoughts of Fitzgerald conjure up much of what disgusted Bahamian voters to the point where they delivered an embarrassing and wholesale rejection of the PLP on May 10, 2017.

Fitzgerald in office became the poster child of PLP greed and abusive conduct as he deeply embarrassed the party in his quest to secure lucrative contracts for his family’s business from Sarkis Izmirlian, while he was the developer for Baha Mar.

On Nomination Day in 2017, The Tribune published a series of emails in which Fitzgerald shamelessly begged Izmirlian for those contracts. The then MP later danced awkwardly as he went to nominate, failing miserably in an obvious attempt to show himself as a politician unbothered by those revelations.

His colleagues — then Prime Minister Perry Christie, then Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis and others — refused to condemn his actions, with Davis declaring that Fitzgerald was the PLP’s man in Marathon and the party fully expected him to win the election.

He lost to the Free National Movement’s (FNM) Romauld Ferriera as the wave washed most of the Christie Cabinet from office.

While he was in Cabinet, Jerome Fitzgerald was also the face of the PLP’s violation of the people’s trust when he, as the member of Parliament for Marathon, sat silent for more than a year after the government received a report from consultants who warned that residents in the constituency were at risk due to a fuel leak from the Rubis gas station on Robinson Road.

When we pressed him on why he did not inform his constituents of the possible dangers, he declared, “I would have been fired (from Cabinet).”

Fitzgerald in office did not always practice what he preached on Monday night.

He advised those prospective candidates: “Remember, this is a sacrifice of time, treasure and talent. It is a commitment of service above self. The road will not always be easy, but never lose sight of the fact that you are here to make a meaningful contribution to both Marathon and our wider Bahamaland.

“As with any meaningful career, work with strategy and diligence, keep your commitment and, for goodness sake, refrain from making empty promises.”

Prospective candidates can learn a lot from Fitzgerald’s time in office; they can learn how not to behave in public life. That is the most valuable lesson he can teach them.

Fitzgerald failed to demonstrate his stated commitment to service above self when he was busy looking out for his family’s interests.

Ahead of the election in 2017, Ferreira said, “Any child who was taught the difference between right and wrong can see Jerome Fitzgerald clearly violated the Cabinet rules of procedure.”

Ferreira noted that Fitzgerald abused his power.

“The evidence is publicly available,” he said. “The question is, why does he still retain his job? Why has he not done the honorable thing and resigned his office? And if he is unwilling to accept responsibility, then why has this embattled prime minister not fired him for the good of the country?”

The silence of colleagues like Davis, the now PLP leader, spoke volumes.

Today, Davis speaks of his supposed intolerance of questionable behavior by those in office, but many people remember his failure to condemn Fitzgerald’s actions in office, and also his silence after the media revealed that Shane Gibson, at the time minister of labor, had accepted thousands of dollars in “contributions for community projects” from Canadian fashion tycoon Peter Nygard between 2012 and 2013.

After its loss in 2017 and its change in leadership, the PLP committed to change, but it is finding it difficult to sanitize its image.

This is because those who were in the chair when the image was being sullied either participated directly in tarnishing the brand or by their silence condoned it.

Many Bahamians, even those disappointed by the Minnis administration, still remember the egregious actions of those who governed us less than two years ago.

They still remember how Davis, Christie and others turned a blind eye in the face of obvious questionable conduct, self-dealing and other abusive actions in government.

Some PLPs were busy serving themselves, as opposed to practicing service above self.

Davis cannot now distance himself from the nightmarish run of the Christie administration. He was the number two guy in a government that protected its own, scoffed at demands for accountability and transparency and insulted the intelligence of voters, who voted for what they believed would be better governance and who demanded such.

It is difficult for the PLP to present itself as a reformed organization with Davis at the helm, pretending not to remember the many insulting and condemnable actions of the past administration.

It is difficult for the party to present itself as a reformed organization with people like Fitzgerald giving advice to the next group of PLP candidates.

And it is difficult for the PLP to be taken seriously in its obvious fake outrage over the conduct of FNMs in office.

It lacks the moral authority to do so.

Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of the Nassau Guardian.

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