Last week, this newspaper revealed that a number of parliamentarians had failed to meet the deadline for declarations in accordance with the Public Disclosure Act. This is inexcusable.
The failure to disclose evidences a lack of accountability in public life that gives license to others in society to ignore the law, smudge the facts, and neglect obligations.
Each member of Parliament was required to disclose financial information to become eligible to be candidates in the September 2021 general election. We do not accept, therefore, that any successful candidate is unaware of the legal requirement for parliamentarians to declare their net worth and liabilities annually.
That a reverend gentleman, appointed to head the commission, meant to receive and report on the financial submissions of parliamentarians would seek to excuse their non-compliance is also inexcusable.
Surely, the new chairman of the Public Disclosure Commission does not believe the nonsense that passed as his commentary: “ … There are persons who are new members of Parliament who aren’t unaware and, as a result, some persons are just finding out … ”
Then, to add insult to injury, the prime minister’s press secretary declared that in fact all the MPs were aware of their obligation, but they got “caught up” in other matters.
One tries to imagine a student giving that excuse to a teacher regarding a homework assignment not completed and submitted on time; or to consider the consequences for an employee telling his employer that he knew what was expected of them on the job, but that he got “caught up” in some other matters. Neither is likely to get very far. And so should be the fate of offending members of Parliament.
In recent days, also, there have been reports of large-scale deforestation and unauthorized occupation of Crown lands along Carmichael Road. We were surprised, therefore, that the minister for the environment, Vaughn Miller, a reverend gentleman, admitted that he had considered breaking the law in regard to his interest in acquiring Crown land.
Thankfully, he did not do so. Still, his statement will be used by some to excuse illegal behaviors of others who occupy and develop Crown land without required permissions.
Crown land and access to it has been a means of promoting both economic development and economic empowerment for decades. Most hotels in The Bahamas were constructed on Crown land creating the largest percentage of private sector employment in the country.
So, too, subdivisions here on New Providence and countless others around our country including the city of Freeport in Grand Bahama, were developed on Crown lands.
Concessionary rates applied to Crown land to be used for residential and business purposes have made significant numbers of Bahamians land, home and business owners, on plots of legitimately acquired Crown land on every island in the Bahamian island chain.
Thriving businesses along Gladstone Road and Carmichael Road and housing subdivisions in South Beach, Sea Breeze, and Imperial Park are but a few of many examples of legitimate development of Crown lands on New Providence.
Most farms in The Bahamas were also developed on Crown land, leased for that purpose.
Reports over many decades suggest that the Department of Lands and Surveys is seriously understaffed, underfunded and in urgent need of modernization of land management processes. We believe that these reports are accurate.
None of them, however, justify the unlawful occupation of what is publicly held land for the enrichment of a few. Nor do they justify the construction of business and residential structures on lands identified as farm land to be leased but not granted, for agricultural purposes and to remain in the bank of public lands for the benefit of future generations.
And certainly, they do not justify illegal deforestation and the development of unapproved subdivisions. Such actions pose serious threats to our environmental sustainability which we ignore at our own peril.
The minister would do well to associate himself strongly with defenders of the law rather than offering solace to those intent on breaking it.