Miller and McAlpine feel ‘vindicated’ after Symonette revelation
Golden Isles MP Vaughn Miller and Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine said yesterday that they feel vindicated in their decisions to vote against the government’s resolution to lease space in the Town Centre Mall for the relocation of the General Post Office.
While Centreville MP Reece Chipman, who also voted against the resolution, said an admission by former Minister of Immigration Brent Symonette that he and Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis discussed the terms of the lease agreement while Symonette was still a member of the Cabinet, should be used as an opportunity to regroup.
Symonette and his brother own the mall.
Though Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has insisted that Symonette did not participate in any discussions on the government’s decision to lease space in the mall, last week Symonette referred to a private phone conversation with Minnis during which they discussed the deal, including the terms of the lease.
Symonette made the revelation on ZNS’ “The Conversation” with Shenique Miller, where he attempted to clear the air around his recent resignation from Cabinet.
“He validated that what we did was the right thing,” Miller said in an interview with The Nassau Guardian.
“He spoke of conflict of interest himself. This was before we voted.”
The government’s resolution, which was tabled by Minister of Transport and Local Government Renward Wells on October 17, 2018 and passed on October 24, does not allude to the conversation between Minnis and Symonette having taken place.
It reads, “Whereas, one of the beneficial owners of the said Town Centre Mall is a serving Cabinet minister, who did not take part in the discussions leading to the decision to accept the offer to lease portions of the building, which will be made suitable for the operations of the General Post Office at the expense of the landlord; which minister has nonetheless declared his interest.”
Miller said, “In my presentation, I made it clear that the only way that I could support the resolution is if he resigned his Cabinet position. It was clear in my presentation – either resign or divest.”
He added, “I’m waiting to hear the prime minister’s side, but based on his (Symonette’s) admission, he is saying he brought up the conflict of interest. That’s what he said, so I can hold him to that.
“And, so, this meant that when we voted against it, he knew we were right. But still, obviously, the resolution passed.
“So, for me, he validated our position.”
As he questioned why the lease has yet to be tabled in the House of Assembly, McAlpine said that it would be problematic if the conversation between Symonette and Minnis took place before the matter was discussed in Cabinet.
“I think history will show that we have been on the right page in regards to the battle with VAT, also in regards to the conflict of interest of the post office going into the property of Mr. Symonette,” McAlpine said.
He added, “I always felt from day one that it was a conflict of interest, and that’s what it is perceived to be in the minds of Bahamians.
“One of the things I want to know is: Was that discussion with Brent Symonette held before a Cabinet meeting? And if it was held after a Cabinet meeting, then I guess he would have been calling Mr. Symonette to discuss that the Cabinet had approved it going into his business, but if it was done prior, without a Cabinet approval…then I think we have a problem.
“And the problem then is that things purport towards favoritism. It speaks to a lot of the things that we fought against in terms of being able to be fair and to level the playing field, and it also speaks to all forms of conflict of interest.”
He added, “There’s a sense of what we campaigned against…It just doesn’t look good, and it doesn’t sound good in the eyes and the ears of the public.”
Chipman, who also voted against the resolution, said that while he does not feel vindicated, he hopes that the administration will use this as an opportunity to regroup.
“It is never vindication when you are a part of a team, where a pattern of inconsistencies of the interpretation of communication seems to overshadow intended good works,” Chipman said.
“I can only hope and pray that for the sake of my administration, we regroup and recommit to where meritocracy, pragmatism and honesty become the order of the day, for the betterment of our people and our country. All in the spirit of independence.”
Education: Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish