Cronyism and Conflicts of Interest
Amid already widespread concern about the gaping black hole that has become the Bahamar negotiations, Friday’s revelation by the government’s chief attorney about her daughters’ business endeavors at the now stalled Bahamar development is the latest in what has become a long list of ethical violations on the part of members of this Christie government whose tenure in office has become synonymous with favoritism, cronyism and nepotism. The admission by the Attorney General (AG) is further a clear conflict of interest on the part of Allyson Maynard Gibson who in recent months has made a number of questionable decisions in her post as Attorney General.
During an appearance on a Radio Talk show last week, Mrs. Maynard-Gibson admitted that her two daughters held shop leases at Bahamar but simultaneously dismissed the obvious conflict of interest which exists. As a successful and tenured attorney and a veteran on the local political landscape, Mrs. Maynard-Gibson is all too aware of the need for all publicly elected officials to remain free from the perception of wrong doing. In the case of the Bahamar development, it is imperative to the ongoing negotiations that no government official – especially officials who represent the government in those negotiations – has direct or indirect ownership ties to the development. Since negotiations with principles at Bahamar began in early July, the AG has led two separate delegations to China and has served as the government’s lead negotiator. It is therefore both inappropriate and disingenuous for the AG to feign bewilderment as to where the conflict exists. Firstly, her revelation raises questions about how her children came to obtain those licenses in the first place.
Take for example a contest or promotion put on by a company in which a prize or prizes of significant value are offered to the winners. In nearly all cases, immediate or extended family members are often excluded from participating in an effort to reduce or eliminate the public perception of an unfair advantage. In this case, THE SAME RULES APPLY.
When pressed by the media, the AG insisted that her children did not benefit from her position and that she also received no benefit as a result of the lease held by her children. As a Cabinet Minister with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of that development and its principles though, how can the public be sure that she, at no point, used her political influence to secure those leases for her children? The truth is, we cannot know for sure, and therein lies the conflict.
Secondly, and even more disturbing than the AG’s dismissive tone regarding this very serious matter, was her insistence that PM Perry Christie was already aware of the situation. As the nation’s chief executive and a tenured attorney in his own right, Mr. Christie should have immediately recognized the potential for a perceived conflict and taken the appropriate steps to remove the said conflict. Instead, he did what he has always done. NOTHING. His inaction represents a complete desertion of the 14 point Code of Ethics which he devised back in 2002 to govern the behavior of government ministers and other high ranking officials; one of which called for ministers of government to divest themselves of any holdings or assets which could potentially create a conflict of interest while in office.
In the wake of Mrs. Maynard Gibson’s disclosure, the public is now left to wonder, are there other members of the Christie Cabinet with similar business interests in Bahamar and were those interests afforded to them purely because of their political influence? That said, it is incumbent on the PM to reveal that information sooner rather than later.
Sadly though, this is not the first such conflict of interest to be unearthed during this administration’s term in office and it has certainly not been the only questionable situation to involve the AG. Bahamians will likely remember the issuance of a Nolle Prosequi involving former clients of Mrs. Maynard-Gibson and more recently the example of MICAL MP V. Alfred Gray who received no more than a slap on the wrist for his alleged interference in a judicial matter involving his constituent. In her ruling, the AG failed to assign blame to anyone in that matter although it was clear that some level of manipulation took place to secure the release of the suspect in question.
And what of the obvious conflict of interest which was uncovered during the BAMSI insurance debacle? It was only after the destruction of a dormitory at that site that the public was made aware that the contract for that building was granted to a PLP Stalwart Councilor who neglected to adequately insure the structure eventually costing taxpayers millions.
Over the past three years there have been countless instances where members of government simply failed to do the ethical thing. Based on their track record, we simply cannot ignore the implications of that disclosure in the context of the already tumultuous Bahamar negotiations and the thousands of Bahamian workers whose lives still hang in the balance. It is imperative now more than ever that any and all personal interests be set aside in the interest of the whole.