Pintard hits out over immigration shakeup

The government has yet to make any announcement regarding the changes at the highest levels of the Department of Immigration, but Opposition Leader Michael Pintard is accusing the Davis administration of victimization over the removal of the acting director of immigration, who had privately sounded the alarm on what she suggested were improper and even illegal actions relating to the handling of immigration and citizenship matters.

The Nassau Guardian reported on Friday the acting director, Keturah Ferguson, was being placed on leave and offered an early retirement package, and that former director, William Pratt, who retired from the public service in 2021, is being returned as immigration director.

The Guardian also reported on Friday that Deputy Director Dwight Beneby was being considered for or offered a package for early retirement.

Again, no explanation has been provided on the leadership changes at the department.

Pintard is accusing the Davis administration of placing a higher value on loyalty to the PLP brand of politics than on good governance and ethical leadership.

“Nothing makes this more obvious than the replacement of the senior leadership in the Department of Immigration after members of the leadership team acted in defense of the Bahamas constitution, the laws of The Bahamas and the sovereignty of The Bahamas,” the opposition leader said in a statement.

He charged that it is clear that the veteran public servants were being “victimized” because they expressed grave concerns to the permanent secretary about the actions of the now former minister of immigration, Keith Bell, who was recently reassigned by the prime minister as minister of housing and urban renewal.

In July, Pintard read at a press conference the correspondence written by Ferguson to Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Immigration Cecilia Strachan on January 18, 2023 about a directive given by Bell to release a group of Chinese nationals found to be residing at the British Colonial Hotel in downtown Nassau without any legal status in the country.

Ferguson wrote that she finds it “very disconcerting when directives of this nature are continuously received”.

She added that the type of action displayed by Bell “is demoralizing to the immigration officers, in particular, who are trying to do their jobs as mandated by the law”.

In that correspondence, the acting director also stated, “It also appears that the expatriate has more rights in The Bahamas than Bahamians.”

She said Bell’s action was “a show of disrespect to the chair of director of immigration”.

At a Free National Movement event in August, Pintard also read the contents of an email written by Ferguson to Bell and Strachan on July 13, 2022 about people being sworn in as citizens of The Bahamas without renouncing their citizenship of other countries as required by law.

The day after the email was made public, the Ministry of Labour and Immigration released a statement saying the policies currently in force at the Department of Immigration concerning renunciations have been in place for over a decade without change or amendment.

Several other documents from the Department of Immigration’s files also leaked into the public domain purporting to show questionable practices and decisions related to immigration matters, including citizenship grants.

It is unknown who leaked the confidential documents from the department.

In July, Prime Minister Philip Davis promised “a comprehensive review” of the checks and balances regarding how immigration decisions are made in The Bahamas.

He also said at the time, “I want everyone to understand that when civil servants share the names and personal details of individuals from files in the custody of their department, they are in violation of the law, and they have breached the public trust.

“People who share their private information with the government of The Bahamas, in departments across our ministries, should be able to do so with confidence that they will not find their names being shouted at press conferences or thrown around to score political points.”

He said it is fundamentally important that Bahamians have confidence that every immigration matter is handled fairly, in accordance with the law, and in the best interest of The Bahamas and the Bahamian people.

In his latest statement on these matters, released on Friday, the opposition leader said immigration breaches have caused citizens, residents and international observers to wonder to what extent these decisions were being made to gain political advantage or personal benefit.

“Given the widespread outrage, you would think this administration would tread carefully in how they deal with whistleblowers,” Pintard said, adding that the public servants in questions had acted on their conscience, dutifully making the Bahamian people aware of Bell’s “pattern of interference”.

“Instead, the Davis-led government was more concerned about how the revelations found themselves in the public domain. Rather than address the revelations of bad behavior, some public servants were placed on administrative leave and others were threatened to be transferred or fired.”

Pintard said, “These are not actions by a government committed to accountability and transparency.

“… The prime minister promised the Bahamian people a different brand of politics and governance. He promised to govern for all Bahamians and in the best interest of all Bahamians; he has failed miserably in doing so.”

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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