Editorials

Vulnerabilities to corruption 

The United States (US) Department of State’s 2022 Investment Climate Statement on The Bahamas once again shines a light on the slack systems that leave the door open for corruption.

This remains the case even after the election of a new administration last September.

The report observes that laws to combat corruption by public officials have been inconsistently applied.

It notes there was limited enforcement of conflicts of interest related to government contracts and isolated reports of officials engaging in corrupt practices, including accepting small-scale “bribes of convenience”.

“The political system is plagued by reports of corruption, including allegations directing contracts to political supporters and providing favorable treatment to wealthy or politically connected individuals,” the report states.

It notes that while the Public Disclosure Act requires senior public officials, including senators and members of Parliament, to declare their assets, income and liabilities, annually, for the 2021 deadline, the government gave extensions to all who were late to comply, but did not publish a summary of the individual declarations, and there was no independent verification of the information submitted.

The report points out that the campaign finance system remains largely unregulated with few safeguards against quid pro quo donations, creating a vulnerability to corruption and foreign influence.

Additionally, the investment climate statement notes, too, that the Public Procurement Act was enacted last September to overhaul the administration of government contracts and improve transparency and accountability, but most agencies with large procurement budgets do not utilize the existing e-procurement portal or registry.

“US firms have identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI and have reported perceived corruption in government procurement and in the FDI approvals process,” the report states.

The Davis administration has said it will amend several laws, including the Public Procurement Act, but the report notes it has provided no timeline.

The Bahamas still lacks an Office of the Ombudsman and has not fully enacted its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Legislation to support an Integrity Commission and campaign finance legislation have also been delayed.

The investment climate report calls the absence of transparent investment procedures and legislation problematic.

The Bahamas, meanwhile, is increasingly viewed as corrupt; the country’s score in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index has dropped seven points since 2012.

Like the Minnis administration before it, the Davis administration committed to transparency and accountability and pledged to strengthen the legislative framework in this regard.

The former administration made very little headway.

It did pass the Public Procurement Bill toward the end of its term and enacted the law just two weeks before the general election.

It did introduce early in its term the Integrity Commission Bill and the Ombudsman Bill, but left those pieces of legislation on the shelf without any action whatsoever.

It was slow to move on FOIA’s enactment and failed to establish the promised ombudsman office. It also claimed it would bring campaign finance legislation to regulate money in campaigns.

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration has made pretty much identical pledges, though these matters are not priority items.

Prime Minister Philip Davis reiterated yesterday that his focus is on alleviating the suffering of Bahamians weighed down by high inflation. He was speaking in the context of promised changes to citizenship legislation, but it also suggests good governance bills are not now the focus.

If the Davis administration is serious about transparency and accountability, as the prime minister likes to claim, it would not wait until too late in its term to prioritize these bills.

Some of them — like campaign finance legislation — are likely to be politically dicey and controversial. 

While Davis has said a PLP administration would bring a campaign finance bill, we do not believe there exists any political will to introduce this kind of law.

Likewise, as we have repeatedly stated, there is no urgency to bring promised amendments to the Public Procurement Act, undoubtedly because it would upset the age-old system of political patronage.

There is also no great rush to amend the Public Disclosure Act as promised in the PLP’s “Blueprint for Change” because politicians are not anxious to pass legislation that would shed more light on their personal finances and establish a system to mandate greater integrity on their part.

Good governance laws are important tools in eliminating vulnerabilities to corruption. 

When will the Davis administration demonstrate it gets that?

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