The missteps taken by the Free National Movement (FNM) government in implementing the government’s decision to move the general post office to the Town Centre Mall continue to mount.
We were astounded to read the response from the minister responsible for the post office, Renward Wells, to questions from the media regarding the tabling in the House of Assembly of the now executed lease of space in the mall. We were likewise stunned that he refused to comment on whether or not the former Cabinet minister and part-owner of the mall, Brent Symonette, had been involved in discussions surrounding the lease.
Wells indicated that the tabling of the lease was a matter for Cabinet and he evaded any comment on Symonette’s role, claiming that everything that needed to be said on the matter had already been said in the House of Assembly and that in any event “…no one disagrees that the post office is in the right place”. That is not the point, minister.
The FNM has for decades touted its credentials as the party of transparency and accountability; the party which brought government in the sunshine following decades of compromised secret deals under governments led by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
Clearly, Wells does not share with the FNM, the party to which he now pledges loyalty, an understanding of transparency and accountability in government. That he is inexplicably the fifth most senior Cabinet minister and leader of government business in the House of Assembly for an FNM government, is baffling on several scores.
Wells was dismissed from his post as parliamentary secretary in late 2014 for signing a letter of intent (LOI) with a company seeking a contract with the government in relation to the development of a waste-to-energy plant at the New Providence Landfill.
Questions posed on the subject by the then FNM leader of the opposition and now prime minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis, seeking information on the authorization or lack thereof for Wells to sign the LOI, remain unanswered up to now.
At the time, the questions went unanswered by the then PLP minister of public works and now leader of the opposition, Philip Davis. They remained unanswered also after Wells’ dismissal by then Prime Minister Perry Christie, his crossing the aisle to join the FNM, his becoming an FNM candidate in the 2017 general election and, having won election to the House of Assembly, his appointment to a plum post in the FNM Cabinet.
Wells behaves as if the standards for transparent, accountable and responsible government do not apply to him. So far, his colleagues in the government are aiding and abetting his efforts to keep information from the Bahamian people.
Wells would be well-advised to accept that there remains much about the mall lease that needs to be made public.
Aside from the unanswered questions regarding the timing of the prime minister’s telephone conversation with Symonette, the public needs clarification on how the lease was negotiated.
Wells advises that the rental is $900,000 per annum. Symonette put the rent at $700,000. Which is accurate?
Symonette has spoken of an advance to the government of $500,000. Was this financing for the purchase of new postboxes? And what of real property taxes for space rented for the post office at the mall?
We understand that a draft lease for the mall space was sent directly to the Office of the Attorney General, bypassing the normal route through the Department of Public Service. The attorney general recently advised that the lease was sent from his office to the Treasury Department for execution. Was the Department of Public Service ever involved in finalizing the terms of the lease?
All these questions may be answered in the lease document.
We expect that, in the absence of appropriate responses from the minister responsible for the post office, either the minister for the public service, Brensil Rolle, or the minister of finance, Peter Turnquest, who each hold responsibility for aspects of all leases concluded by the government, will see their way clear to provide the information to the public.
One expects that Minnis, the leader of the FNM government, is also offended by Wells’ inadequate responses to questioning by the media and that he will act to right his ship.
He might, at the same time, address the other elephant in the room: Bennett Minnis’ diatribe against members of the opposition party.