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“BRAZEN CORRUPTION”- Minister in Conflict, Says FNM MP

Screenshot 2018-10-25 at 10.58.34 AM

In a scathing attack against corruption in government,  the Member of Parliament for the Golden Isles  constituency Vaughn Miller said yesterday that the Free National Movement government’s resolution to lease the Town Centre Mall from a Cabinet Minister  “is a continuation and perpetuation  corruption.”

In his lengthy debate on the resolution, the maverick backbencher said, “the core issue here is the chronic inability of successive Governments of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas to maintain the public offices where public servants have to perform their duties to the public.

He said the decision of the government to bring the resolution to Parliament seeking  approval is a brazen  insult to his integrity.

“Over the years there has developed a culture, where publicly owned buildings and office spaces are allowed to deteriorate for years without sound repair, until dilapidation reaches a crisis point.

“An emergency situation is then created, where it is patently clear that staff must be moved immediately.

“And it is this contrived emergency that is used as justification to run to the private sector to lease office space.

“In the hustle and bustle of dealing with this contrived “emergency”,  politicians seek out party-loyal landlords, by-passing standard practices and safeguards, and brushing aside any objections, because of the “emergency”.
Invariably, Mr. Speaker, all the governments of the Bahamas have, by and large, leased from their political associates, irrespective of race, class, religion or creed,” said Mr. Miller who was fired as a Parliamentary Secretary when he voted against the government’s decision to increase the rate of Value Added Tax recently.

He told  the  House  of Assembly, “all the governments of this country, since Independence, have failed miserably to maintain the People’s real estate assets; and many constructed government buildings have been found to be sub-standard.”
He said, “right across the street from us, the Adderley Building in front of the Churchill building, where Cabinet meets, has been condemned for years. Old shutters have been seen hanging dangerously on one hinge from the 4th floor at the height of Junkanoo parades. And cars parked next to this building have been damaged by falling pieces of concrete during heavy rains.

“Then there is a dilapidated office complex The  Rodney Bain Building, just South of us on Parliament and Shirley Streets, where the Registrar-General was housed. It has been abandoned now for years.
“Now it stands unkept, unrenovated and ridden with vermin while the People’s money is being spent to rent office space for the Registrar-General in privately owned quarters.

“We have the Immigration Department, a most interesting example, in leased premises on Hawkins Hill, where the government has paid rent for decades.  I’m almost sure that the Government could have built its own Immigration office complex with all of this rent money.

“We have the Passport Office that moved decades ago from public offices on Bank Lane and Bay Street, and has wandered from rented space to rented space to their present location on University Drive,” said the MP.

“The Ministry of Tourism, from the time they left the run-down public offices opposite The Hilton Hotel on Bay Street, many years ago, has gone from rented space to rented space also. Many people are not even sure where Tourism is now,  their having moved, like a jumping jack, from one landlord to another, for literally an entire generation.

“Agriculture recently left the government-owned Levy Building on East Bay Street and split in two, with one half going to rented space in the Out Island Traders Building on East Bay Street, and the other half going to some obscure building at the foot of the hill on Gladstone Road and only the ground floor of the Levy Building is now being used.

“Very recently,  Road Traffic moved from the Clarence A. Bain Building to the National Stadium because the structure was allowed to deteriorate and now remains an empty eyesore with a ghost town look.
“There are too many more examples of this culture and at some point the public needs to know how many government-owned buildings have been allowed to rot while tens of millions of dollars annually is being squandered by the practice of renting private offices.

“The renting of private office space should be the exception, Mr. Speaker, not the rule,” he said.

Mr. Miller noted that, “successive governments of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas never implemented a plan for the upkeep and construction of public offices. Many of these officers from time to time over the years have been declared substandard by the very people working in them, and the major complaints have been mold infestation,insects, rodents and poor ventilation. Very little attention has been paid to the health standards in these offices.

“The provision of office space for public servants has been a racket for years and we have all accepted as the norm that the people who pay in the end are the ever-trusting voters who, for generations, have just been hoping and praying for decent leaders.

“Bahamian voters are hoping for men and women in Parliament who do not take joy in scheming to get their paws in the public purse; men and women who would not act like greedy pigs at the public trough or like untrained dogs in the master’s meat shop; men and women who are instinctively abhorred by conflicts of interest in the conduct of public affairs; enlightened, upright men and women of character who did not come to thief,  but to bring relief.

“This is not some half-baked theory that I have come up with just to provide an argument against this Resolution Mr. Speaker.
No! Quite to the contrary!

“The Resolution itself is an indictment against all the Governments for this scam, this system of corruption by neglect,” Mr. Miller said,

“Mr. Speaker, we see clearly in paragraph 1 of the Resolution that the building on East Hill Street was ALLOWED to deteriorate; it was DELIBERATELY neglected, by successive Governments, PLP and FNM, for a number of years; and dilapidation developed to such an extent that Paragraph 2 of the Resolution states that the Post Office staff took repeated industrial action complaining that conditions were inhumane and insufferable.

“Yet, Mr. Speaker, nothing was done. There was no urgent concern on the part of any Government, for years, about the health issues, particularly black mold infestation.

“So, the crisis became deeper and more critical, bringing the matter closer and closer to a precipitous point, where the Government responding to this so-called “emergency” created by wilful Gogernment negligence and deriliction of duty, suddenly began frantically to look for an alternate site.

“So, the argument now is that we need to find a place urgently; and in the urgency, we should dismiss propriety and transparency and integrity; we should not concern ourselves with avoiding “the very appearance of evil”. We do not have time to search for and inspect possible sites. Time has run out on us and our wilful neglect.

“And fortunately Mr. Speaker,our good Cabinet Minister has an ideal building in an ideal location, which he is offering at ideally very attractive rental rates.

“All during the years of deterioration and staff industrial action, no serious attempt was made to repair the Post Office building incrementally and to identify a temporary re-location site, if that was indeed necessary, earlier in the process.
The questions then are:

I). How many other Government offices are run-down or are running down?

II). How long have they been in this state of disrepair?

III). What efforts have been made to effect incremental repairs immediately?

IV). What efforts are being done to address ALL the black mold infestation in ALL Government offices?

V). Does Cabinet have a budgeted property management plan for all government offices?

VI). Is this plan effective enough to reduce the Government’s wasteful propensity to lease office space from the private sector, while its own properties lie empty and condemned?

“In the very marrow of this culture of successive governments allowing the People’s buildings to deteriorate and then running to the private sector to rent space, is foul and putrid corruption.

“Simply put, you donate money, time and support to a political party, the party then wins the election, and the TREASURER of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas pays you back in rental fees,” the freshman MP said.

He said, “ enmeshed in the fabric of this culture of corrupt and deceitful mis-management of the People’s assets, are indelible, dingy stains of kick-backs, inflated rental rates, craftily worded clauses that exempt the landlord and make the tenant liable one hundred percent; and other nefarious manoeuvres.

“But  since we, the Free National Movement majority in the House came to power on an anti-corruption campaign, I have no choice but to condemn this pernicious practice and call on all Free National Movement Members of Parliament to resolve to do the same.

“We cannot sit here claiming that we are opposed to corruption, yet we are planning to support this resolution which is a continuation, a perpetuation and indeed a perpetration of an age-old, well-greased corrupt practice.

“If  we in the FNM are against corruption, then we must be against it in every shape, every form, every apparition, every manifestation, every where and every time!

“This resolution is peculiar, in that a Cabinet Minister, not a back bencher, is involved.

“Following the execution of the lease, he will be called upon to make joint decisions as to public funds to be used for the complex, as well as public funds for the refurbishing of the old office.

“Clearly the minister ( Brent Symonette)  will be in a constant state of conflict of interest.

“Would not the minister rationally want to get the best deal for his company?

“Would he rationally not wish for his company to expend as little as possible as the landlord, and make as much as possible from the tenant?

This is just sound business practice,” said Mr. Miller.

He  stated, “once this resolution would have passed and the lease would have been executed, the Minister would no longer be just a “Minister in Cabinet”, but a silent and empowered negotiator for his company, every time matters relating to the post office building comes up.

“By tradition, he would be expected to excuse himself from these specific decision-making processes and sessions; but then, he would be rendered useless as a Minister as far as all matters relating to the Post Office are concerned; and the Treasury would be paying him a portion of his salary for nothing.

“In other words, we cannot have Ministers who are so conflicted that they cannot attend Cabinet Meetings because matters that they are involved in, are being discussed.

“Further, a Cabinet Minister, whose tenant is the Government, would be privy to information that other landlords would not have.

“Such a Cabinet Minister would be unfairly advantaged. Unlike any other landlord, he would know, in minute detail, the Government’s future lease requirements, not just for the Post Office, but for all other accommodations. He would know how much Government is prepared to spend; the price the Government is looking for; the type of premises Government would wish to have; and last, but not at all least, this Minister will know what the other landlords, his competitors are offering.
“So he will be fully informed and fully empowered to out-bid everybody else and get the contracts.

The Minister will not be able to resolve this conflict, if this Resolution is passed and the lease of the Town Center Mall is executed.
“We will all be fooling ourselves in believing that one man can serve two masters.

“Mr. Speaker, This resolution is unbelievably offensive because it seeks to perpetuate a vile corrupt practice.

It is too brazen as old people would say.

“There is no shame in this shameful act, Mr. Speaker.

We in the FNM seem to be saying that corruption is defined as wrong-doing in public office, when the PLP is doing the wrong.

“This resolution is offensive because it reeks with corrupt, foolish arguments to support the wicked transfer of money out of the People’s Treasury into the pocket of a Cabinet Minister, boldy and brazenly, and without shame, in broad daylight.

“All the Cabinet Codes of Ethics ever written, all the Articles of the Constitution ever enshrined, make clear that Cabinet Ministers must have ONE STREAM of income coming from the Treasury; and that is his salary and all the allowances.

“Check yourselves, Ministers! If you have or are contemplating having more than one stream of income, other than your salary, coming from the Treasury, you are breaking the rules; and that is a grave error of immorality, corruption and thievery.

“The Treasury has had too many leaks for too many years! As fast as the people can pour in the VAT and the other license fees and taxes, it is being sucked out through well-established pipes and conduits, into the pockets of a few, yea, even Cabinet Ministers!

“And this has been going on for so long, without any check, that politicians now seem to think that this aberrant behavior is normal.

“The effrontery, the brazenness of Cabinet in bringing this Resolution to the House of Assembly, for me to vote on, is an insult to my integrity.

“It’s an insult to my sense of what is right and what is wrong; an insult to what is proper and improper, what is moral and immoral.

“I have not come here as a representative of the independent, sovereign and God-fearing voters of The Great Golden Isles Constituency, to legalize corruption, or to sanction corruption, or to perpetuate corruption!

“I did not come to thief, I came to bring relief!

“After careful consideration of this whole matter, Mr. Speaker, I have come to the conclusion that the only condition under which I would give critical support to a Resolution for the Government to lease the Town Center Mall, which is partly owned by the Minister, is that he resigns his Cabinet post and join us here on the back bench to avoid the obvious, ugly and evil conflicts of interest that he will be faced with.

“Or Mr. Speaker, since it is alleged that the Mall is for sale, the good Minister may wish to completely divest his ownership in the entity  and  sell all of his shares, not to family members or members of special interest groups, but in limited amounts to every day, ordinary, indigenous Bahamians who look like me ( not necessarily tall, but similar complexion), Black.

Make it a public offering! Can you imagine local, common, average, Black Bahamians having a legitimate share in the ownership of the People’s Post Office?

After all it is The People’s Time! Isn’t it?

It is never too late to do the right thing  and  send the right message throughout the Commonwealth of The Bahamas!

“Throughout history many leaders of nations and  persons in positions of authority had the capability to do some things that were egregious and or immoral  and did not have the moral restraint to cease or desist (eg., Slavery, Apartheid, etc).
Let history judge us as a group who exercised moral restraint & integrity in challenging moments like these, ” said Mr. Miller.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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