A major plank in the 2017 Free National Movement election campaign was multiple allegations of political corruption by Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) ministers.
We are, therefore, surprised that only three cases have been brought against PLP ministers and one former member of Parliament (MP).
We took note of the arrest of Dion Smith, former PLP MP and chairman of the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation, by gun-toting police shortly after the general election, purportedly for theft by reason of employment.
Formal charges were never brought against him.
Then, Frank Smith, former senator and chairman of the Public Hospitals Authority, was arrested on charges of bribery and extortion.
He was taken to court handcuffed and shackled. In court, the prosecution’s file was not available. The case was adjourned to the next day, requiring Smith to spend two nights in police custody.
At trial, the magistrate found that a prima facia case had not been made and discharged Smith.
The Court of Appeal upheld the magistrate’s decision.
In its judgement it said: “One would have thought the prosecution would have led evidence from Mrs. [Barbara] Hanna (the principal prosecution witness), for example, as to when her cheques cleared, secured and adduced into evidence her bank’s record as to the breakdown of the currency she received, that is 50 $100 notes or 40 $100 notes and 10 $50 notes, etc. paid to her three days after each cheque is shown to have cleared as that would have buttressed her testimony and strengthened the prosecution’s case.”
Then, Shane Gibson, former minister of labor, was arrested on 36 charges of bribery and extortion and also paraded on his way to court with hands and feet shackled.
On an application for the charges to be dismissed due to “gross prosecutorial misconduct”, Justice Indra Charles stated: “In my opinion the Applicant (Mr. Gibson) faces very serious allegations of corruption in public office. He should be tried. Public confidence in the criminal justice system is more likely to be shaken if the Applicant is not tried.”
At his trial in the Supreme Court, the jury, after two hours of deliberation, found Gibson not guilty.
Sufficient evidence to charge does not mean sufficient evidence to convict.
The principal person in framing the charge against Gibson, Deborah Bastian, was not called as a witness. Nor has she been charged as a co-conspirator.
No evidence was led to show or prove that monies allegedly given to Bastian were received by Gibson.
And, no evidence was led to rebut Gibson’s statements to the police about political donations.
The prosecution relied on the evidence of a single, credible witness, Jonathon Ash, a co-conspirator.
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, responding to a question at a Rotary Club luncheon, recently opined that elections settle most matters unless there is strong evidence of criminality. He was taken to task on social media. Some may now nod their heads in silent agreement.
We do not agree with the leader of the opposition Philip Davis’ contention that the prosecution ought not to have proceeded. That claim was clearly dealt with by Justice Indra Charles in her ruling.
We believe that the prosecution was handled badly in both Smith’s and Gibson’s cases. The action against Dion Smith was reprehensible.
Overzealousness led to inadequate investigations and a rush to proffer charges.
Charges of bribery against members of Parliament do not have a commendable history of convictions in The Bahamas.
In the 1950s, bribery charges against an Abaco MP, Frank Christie, failed to result in a conviction.
In the 1970s, bribery charges against Earl Thompson, chairman of the National Insurance Board, similarly failed.
The only conviction for bribery was that of former Acklins, Crooked Island and Long Cay MP Wilbert Moss.
The attorney general, who engaged three English queen’s counsels to prosecute these cases, cannot hide behind the director of public prosecutions.
In prosecuting political adversaries for action taken by them in office, an attorney general must always guard against undermining public confidence in decisions about prosecutions.
Finally, we opine that if Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis thought that the successful prosecution of PLP politicians would be his ticket to re-election, he needs to think again.