Conflicts of interest and integrity
One global issue that never goes away is that of integrity, and companion issues like conflict of interest. Wherever power exists there is temptation to use access to power for one’s own personal gain or benefit, or for the benefit of friends, family or significant others. It is a basic human challenge that the public abhors until the same members of the public ascend to positions of power and influence. We do not like it because it is not right, and it creates an unfair advantage to some at the expense of others.
There are laws and mechanisms in place to deal with these issues and the length of time that laws have been in place, yet, the years of public outcry never seem to cause the issue to go away. Successive governments in The Bahamas have faced this issue and continue to face this issue even today. In our local news, we have been bombarded with fresh allegations of breach of trust and potential breaching of laws. What does this mean and how do we address this issue to finally have some resolve where public trust and confidence is restored?
I am not personally aware of any laws that have been broken, but what seems to be alleged is the appearance of impropriety and it is this cloud that can potentially devastate administrations. The specific issue at hand today involves the awarding of two contracts to entities of related parties to persons associated with the current administration.
The awarding of the contract for the post office relocation is the first and the alleged refinancing of a BPL generation project is the second. If there are laws in place that have been broken, I believe the law will follow its course and redress will take place. If no laws were broken, then the issue turns to the appearance of advantage or impropriety.
It would seem to me that our present government should have realized the potential public backlash. If there was a case to be made for the necessity of the post office contract being awarded to a business related to a sitting cabinet minister, the case should have been made that there was no viable alternative, and presented in the strongest terms to avoid the appearance of something nefarious.
I do not believe that a viable solution should be denied because a Bahamian is rich or from a certain background, because to do so would violate the principle of equal opportunity. Every project should be judged or seen to be judged on its individual merit, and factors such as race or wealth should be secondary as it can have the effect of negating legitimate opportunities for both black and white wealthy individuals. Merit should be first, and merit with transparency and then other factors come into play.
The other issue is that of appearance and public sentiment. If there is no impropriety, but there seems to be an appearance of impropriety, the governing party would have to factor the loss of public goodwill that comes with this and determine if it is worth it and if there is another alternative that would reduce the potential damage. There is a scripture in the Bible that warns us too: 1 Thessalonians 5:22-24 – “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” If we are not doing evil but the appearance of evil exists, it can be just as damaging as if evil has been committed.
The other question on this issue is: ‘What would each of us have done if we were in the same position.?’ Would your integrity survive the challenge of a conflict of interest question if you were in power? This question cannot be dismissed because it seems that every administration faces the same issue. The only way to prevent it from happening in the future is for those of us who are on the outside to be able to say unequivocally that if we were in the same position we would act differently. Do we have the integrity to survive conflict of interest issues if placed in the same position?
We may not be in power, but we all face these issues on a smaller scale. How are we dealing with this in our daily lives? If we cannot survive the same test in our personal dealings how can we say that given access to power, we would act differently? The point is that we must have strong laws in place to protect against issues such as conflicts of interest and if laws are broken penalties should follow. If no laws have been broken but public trust has been breached, then the offending parties will have to live with a different type of justice. On the other hand, if we cannot show that we have a track record of maintaining integrity in the face of daily conflicts of interest on a smaller scale, then it is likely that we will be no different when we have access to higher positions of power.
The Bible states that we should each examine ourselves so that when we judge we realize that we could be in the same position if our heart cannot survive the daily challenges of life – Galatians 6:4.
But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 1 John 3:20-21 – In whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.