A grotesque abuse of public funds 

In the first budget debate, weeks after the Free National Movement’s (FNM) overwhelming victory at the polls in 2017, Cabinet ministers sought to blow the lid off what they characterized as corrupt practices and wasteful spending on the part of the Christie administration.

It was a continuation of the corruption narrative they had used rather successfully to topple the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) on Election Day.

Leading the effort in Parliament was then-Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister, who pointed tothe Christie administration’s “mismanagement” of the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI), the STAR Academy, and a primary school in Lowe Sound, Andros, as examples.

As that debate progressed, and as the term wore on, there were other revelations.

Then-Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis insisted that the FNM was different from the PLP, which he said had repeatedly abused the public purse.

With the tables now turned and the FNM in opposition –holding just seven seats in the House – similar accusations are being hurled at the party by those now in the seat of government.

Revelations made in the House by Minister of Labour and Immigration Keith Bell on Tuesday night were jaw-dropping.

The minister said the Minnis administration spent more than $500,000 to furnish the apartment of a Bahamian ambassador in Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic when Bahamians were losing their jobs and struggling to survive.

Bell revealed $12,000 was spent on a bed, $19,000 was spent on a rug and $14,000 was spent on a mirror.

Even the House speaker looked on seemingly astonished, asking Bell to repeat what he had said about the wasteful spending on the part of the former administration.

The Nassau Guardian yesterday viewed the document the minister tabled in the House of Assembly to support his revelations. The itemized breakdown of the cost of the furniture is simply stunning.

According to Bell, taxpayers were also left to pay a hefty bill as the ambassador stayed in a hotel while the residence was being refurbished. This cost $20,000 a month, he said.

The Guardian understands that the ambassador stayed at a hotel for a total of nine months.

Again, all of this was taking place in 2020, the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the tourism industry was shut down and the director of labor had estimated that unemployment was as high as 40 percent.

Statements by former Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield yesterday distancing himself from the matter were telling. Henfield said he “was as shocked as anybody else about the revelations”.

He called it an “indefensible abuse of public funds”.

“It’s indefensible that we would spend that amount of money to furnish any mission that we have anywhere in the world,” Henfield said.

“It speaks to … a systemic crack in the system which allows such indefensible abuse of public funds.”

Minnis, meanwhile, said Bell was being “totally disingenuous” and suggested there was “skullduggery with figures”.

Minnis should advise whose decision it was to sign off on payments for the upgrade of the ambassador’s residence.

That the former prime minister would seek to defend this level of spending is further confirmation that having him gone from office was a sound decision on the part of the Bahamian people.

Bell also suggested that a photographer, who had worked at the Office of the Prime Minister, had been approving Bahamas Public Parks and Public Beaches Authority contracts.

The revelations by the minister represented the latest effort by the Davis administration to remove the veil off what appears to have been abusive actions on the part of the former government.

While members of the public have a right to understand what those in office did with their tax dollars, we remind the current government that Bahamians also have a right to know how public funds have been spent since the PLP came to office nine months ago.

In this vein, we again state our view that the failure of the government to follow the Public Procurement Act to make the process of awarding public contracts transparent is simply unacceptable.

That it intends to amend the law is no justification for continuing to violate it.

Bahamians deserve transparency, not just when it relates to what the previous government did or failed to do, but as it pertains to the actions of those now charged with the responsibility of managing our affairs.

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