Consider This | The corruption narrative
“The corruption of each government begins almost always with the corruption of its principle …” – Charles De Montesquieu
Several weeks ago, we took issue with the prime minister’s comments during the Free National Movement (FNM) government’s second anniversary church service; not so much for what he said, but the venue chosen for his comments.
The prime minister used the occasion at Cousin McPhee Cathedral AME Church to characterize the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) as “a party of mass corruption”.
We questioned the appropriateness of the venue for the prime minister’s politically divisive comments, which were more appropriate for an audience at a political rally than a church.
Recently, we reviewed the recurrent and rampant cases of corruption that characterized the hegemony of the United Bahamian Party (UBP), established by the “Bay Street Boys” in 1958 and in power until removed from office on Majority Rule Day on January 10, 1967.
We have, therefore, debunked the prime minister’s erroneous suggestion and the frequently uninformed narrative that political corruption began with the PLP. The historical record conclusively confirms that that distinction belonged to the UBP and its founders, that group of wealthy Bahamians called the “Bay Street Boys”.
Therefore, this week, we would like to consider this: contrary to the prime minister’s assertion that the PLP was “a party of mass corruption”, were there instances of political corruption under FNM governments?
Webster’s dictionary defines “corruption” several ways: “a dishonest or illegal behavior, especially by powerful people (such as government officials) or an inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (such as bribery) the corruption of government officials.”
A third definition is that corruption is “a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct”.
The many faces of corruption
Political corruption wears many faces. It arises in instances where politicians engage in dishonest or illegal behavior or offer an inducement for a person to commit an improper act in order to obtain a benefit.
Political corruption also occurs when a person who holds a position of public trust conducts himself in a manner that subverts a legal proscription or refuses to comply with established norms of politically acceptable behavior.
Proven corruption under the FNM
There was at least one documented instance of corruption under the FNM. That prominent case involves the 2016 conviction of an FNM member of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation board for bribery-related charges stemming from the Alstom SA/Bahamas Electricity Corporation scandal.
Conflicts of interest under the FNM
Under FNM governments, several instances of conflicts of interest and inappropriate conduct have arisen involving high-level public officials.
In 2001, Brent Symonette resigned as chairman of the Airport Authority for the conflict of interest in awarding a contract at the airport to a paving company in which he had an interest.
Bahamians also recall that several years ago, Dr. Hubert Minnis, while minister of health, had a contract with the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA). Although Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham advised him to have the PHA move out of his facility, PHA continued to rent the building on a month-to-month basis.
This breach could easily have been rectified by the minister obtaining parliamentary permission to have such an interest in a contract with the PHA, permission that the FNM-majority Parliament would not have had any difficulty granting.
These two examples do not rise to the level of political corruption, but they do constitute instances of conflicts of interest.
Inappropriate conduct and ethical breaches
Bahamians will not soon forget The Nassau Guardian’s revelation that an Oban official signed the signature of a company executive on the heads of agreement last year for an investment that has so far produced nothing for Grand Bahama.
No minister condemned that action.
Oban has continued to raise more questions than answers regarding the bona fides of that deal and its promoters.
More recently, two current FNM Cabinet ministers — Dr. Duane Sands and Marvin Dames — were judicially condemned by a magistrate for their interactions with the key witness in the bribery and extortion trial of former Public Hospitals Authority Chairman Frank Smith, who was acquitted.
There is also continued concern about the circumstances surrounding the alleged unjustified termination last year of the chairperson and certain board members of Bahamas Power & Light (BPL).
A detailed analysis of the allegations contained in the statement of claim by Darnell Osborne, et al is deserving of a comprehensive exposé in this column once the matter is no longer sub judice.
Bahamians will be shocked at the allegations by the former BPL chairperson, formerly an ardent FNM supporter.
Public disclosure failures
The Public Disclosure Act requires all members of Parliament to file their personal finances with the Public Disclosure Commission by March 31 each year. Members of Parliament of both major political parties have repeatedly ignored this legal requirement with impunity, notwithstanding that there are legally prescribed penalties for such breaches.
No less than a former prime minister admitted publicly that he had failed to comply with the act. Right-thinking and law-abiding citizens are left to wonder how it is that average citizens are expected to obey our laws while public officials can regularly ignore them with impunity, over and over again.
The political corruption narrative
The FNM has successfully framed the narrative that the PLP is a corrupt party. In part, this success has resulted from the response of former prime ministers to charges of corruption levied against their colleagues.
While no one has ever accused either Ingraham or Perry Christie of corruption, their response to charges of corruption of their colleagues has been decidedly different.
Ingraham has been uncompromisingly decisive and resolutely intolerant when confronted with such charges. On the other hand, Christie has been tremendously weak and indecisive, more tolerant and more prepared to give second chances to the most egregious offenders.
Therefore, the public is left to accept the FNM’s narrative. We will await Minnis’ response to charges of corruption by his colleagues as they will likely arise during his tenure.
Additionally, given the well-documented conflicts of interest and questionable behavior involving FNMs in government, how could the prime minister be comfortable with boasting that the PLP is “a party of mass corruption”?
Furthermore, while the prime minister is busy accusing the PLP of corruption, which has not been proven in any court of law, he has failed to deliver on a significant FNM campaign promise.
The Integrity Commission Bill was tabled in Parliament in October 2017 and shelved. The bill details acts of corruption, including the behavior of public officials with respect to the award of contracts and soliciting or accepting any personal benefit or providing an advantage for another person by doing an act or omitting to do an act in the performance of his or her functions as a public official.
We have heard nothing serious about this bill since it was tabled.
We should resist buying into the narrative that political parties are corrupt. They are not. It is the individuals in those parties who are the ones to succumb to corrupt practices. For this reason, it is vitally important for all political parties to exclude anyone who has been known or reasonably suspected of corruption from being considered for public office.
Over the decades, the many faces of corruption, inappropriate conduct and ethical breaches, especially of the political sort, have littered the Bahamian landscape.
With the ascension of each new government, there will always be political cronies, financial supporters and run-of-the-mill hangers-on who expect to bountifully benefit from a new administration.
To many, politics has always been a game of compromise, of give and take, of quid pro quo. Some Bahamian politicians and their backers have perfected the art.
The real danger for any new administration, and the country as a whole, is that government officials often find themselves in situations where they are reminded that “the quid came before the pro”.
In essence, now that they have achieved their objective of taking the reins of government, politicos are often reminded who got them there, who funded their campaigns and, by extension, who should benefit from such “investments”.
Such is the anatomy of political corruption, which has existed for millennia. It often begins with an innocent offer from a patron to assist a budding politician who is driven, at least in the early days, by a desire to do good for the people.
However, like the serpent in Eden, the politician’s eyes are opened by the tempter about how much “good” can be achieved, if only he is prepared to compromise his principles.
Sadly, such compromises are the beginning of the end of political innocence, because there is tremendous truth in Montesquieu’s observation that, “The corruption of each government begins almost always with the corruption of its principles…”
• 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 [email protected].
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