Op-Ed

Consider This | Where does the buck stop in The Bahamas? pt. 1

“The buck stops here!” – U.S. President Harry S. Truman

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking to you from the cockpit. We are very pleased to have you join us this evening on JetBlue flight 2394 from Nassau to Ft. Lauderdale. It is a beautiful night here in The Bahamas, and we can expect much the same weather in Ft. Lauderdale. We expect to have an early departure by approximately ten minutes this evening. So please sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.”

That was a flight that this author was taking on November 29, 2019. The person sitting across the aisle was watching the Battle 4 Atlantis game which was being broadcast around the world live from Paradise Island. I recalled that when George Markantonis, then president of the Atlantis resort, first launched Battle 4 Atlantis several years ago, how extremely proud I was. Now, several years later, this event was an annual fixture that millions around the world were enthusiastically watching. Then all of a sudden, the TV screen went black.

There was no explanation about what had just happened. However, several minutes later, the JetBlue captain bellowed over the public address system in the airplane, “I am sorry. I spoke too soon about an early departure. We were informed that Lynden Pindling International Airport has just closed, and I will attempt to find out what the problem is and how soon the airport will reopen.”

Approximately fifteen minutes later, the captain announced, “The airport is closed because of an island-wide electrical blackout. As you can appreciate, many flights are awaiting Air Traffic Control (ATC) approval to land and until we get ATC approval, we are stuck here. We will keep you updated on the progress in fifteen-minute intervals.”

As it turned out, JetBlue flight 2394 departed ninety minutes later, with airplane passengers oblivious to the extent of the power outage.

As I flew to Ft. Lauderdale that evening, I reflected on a sign on U.S. President Harry Truman’s desk in the Oval Office of the White House that said, “The buck stops here.” It refers to the notion that the president has to make the big, final decisions and accept the ultimate responsibility for those decisions.

Therefore, this week, we would like to consider this… Is there anyone in The Bahamas who is responsible enough to have a sign like that on their desk and ideally on whose desk should such a sign sit?

Recently, we have witnessed several events that have caused us to take note of situations for which The Bahamas government should be accountable, but for which they have refused to man up and take that responsibility. Let’s examine a few of them:

A real rush to judgment

Shortly after the 2017 general elections, and fully supported by the political directorate, members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force descended like birds of prey on the premises of the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation’s (BAIC) headquarters, armed with machine guns and masks. They were surrounded by the press, who had been invited to observe what could aptly be described as a rapid response exercise to a terrorist attack on the capital.

Dion Smith, the former deputy speaker of the House of Assembly, former member of Parliament and chairman of BAIC, was subsequently detained and arrested by the police.

This police action fueled a flurry of falsehoods in the public domain, especially on social media, about unsubstantiated claims of Smith’s malfeasance and misfeasance while in office and of the need to “lock up all PLPs”. This feeding frenzy by a misinformed public continued unabated for days.

As it turned out, Smith, who was initially accused of stealing BAIC property, was actually reclaiming items that belonged to him and removing them from the corporation’s premises after losing his seat in Parliament. Several weeks later, the police announced that there would be no charges against him because there was no evidence of wrongdoing: a classic case of a rush to judgment.

There was no public apology, no announcement of regret, no acknowledgment of a mistake made and no remorse demonstrated by the police force whose primary purpose and professional mantra is “to protect and serve”, especially law-abiding citizens. What is worse, there was no regret expressed by those responsible for directing the police to take such drastic action in this rush to judgment.

There was no recognition of where the buck stopped in this unfortunate fiasco.

Political prosecutions

Shortly after coming to office, the new Free National Movement (FNM) government initiated several investigations and criminal prosecutions against PLP (Progressive Liberal Party) politicians, alleging that they had engaged in corrupt activities while in office. Several prominent personalities in the upper echelons of the FNM tried to discourage the government from proceeding down this slippery slope, but those who heard their supplications did not listen.

During Frank Smith’s Magistrate’s Court trial, his defense team proved that the police investigating this matter tampered with and manipulated the evidence. The Magistrate Judge questioned the credibility of the Crown’s primary witness and the complainant and chastised government ministers for their apparent involvement in this matter. The magistrate determined that the Crown did not present a credible case for Smith to answer. The Court of Appeal upheld the magistrate’s decision. And still the government indicated that they would take this matter to the Privy Council in Great Britain.

To date, there was no recognition of where the buck stopped in the unfounded Frank Smith case or how many hundreds of thousands of bucks were disbursed from the Public Treasury to launch this political prosecution.

The second political prosecution, that of Shane Gibson, former Cabinet minister and member of Parliament, recently ended in a not guilty verdict on all counts from a jury that refused to accept the government’s case. No one in the political directorate has apologized for the tremendous embarrassment and immense injustice that was meted out to Gibson and his family for this ill-founded political prosecution.

There are also reputational costs associated with this travesty. The fact of the matter is that, in our system, although persons are presumed to be innocent until proven otherwise, even persons who are acquitted often bear the stigma of having been vilified by a system that unjustly accuses them of transgressions of which they are innocent.

There is equally an intensely human side that is intrinsically and integrally intertwined with this injustice. There is the loss of liberty, the disgrace of being unjustly charged and prosecuted and the enormous loss of time that is devoted to defending oneself instead of living one’s life, free of such provocations, distractions and interrogations. Then there is the terrible teasing and taunting of innocent children and other family members and the scurrilous rumors and vicious lies that one is subjected to because of the unwarranted and unjustified, trumped-up charges. This very often leaves deep wounds for many years and in many ways that are neither readily identifiable nor quantifiable.

There is a further, more imperceptible cost associated with such activities: the cost of discouraging and dissuading suitably qualified, well-intentioned persons from entering public life for fear of callous and corrupt insinuations and innuendos by uncaring, small-minded minions in our society and the political directorate. The innumerable costs of ill-founded and baseless political prosecutions are as long-lasting as they are incalculable.

The government, which has repeatedly claimed to be a government of transparency and accountability, has yet to provide an accounting of the enormous cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars of those political prosecutions, including the cost of the British Queen’s Counsels who the government engaged to prosecute the cases. Add to that the cost of the local legal prosecutors, police officers and court personnel who dedicated their attention to prosecuting these cases, and you wind up with quite a stunning amount. It leaves many to wonder, where does the buck stop in this matter?

Conclusion

As the cartoon Pogo used to say, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.” ln our society, we spend considerable time condemning and complaining about shoddy, mediocre service in all sectors, but when we hear the government complaining about the sub-par performance of the government and its corporations like they were ordinary citizens instead of people in power who not only can address the problems, but also fix the problems, we are forced to ask, “Where does the buck stop in The Bahamas?”

In part two of this series, we will examine at least ten instances of the government’s failure to acknowledge where the buck stops and what it must do to man up to its mistakes and missteps.

• 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 pgalanis@gmail.com.

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