Archive | June, 2014

Attorney: Nygard consultation is meaningless

The notice calling for public consultation on the proposed further expansion of Nygard Cay is meaningless in light of the government’s failure to release any of the relevant information, fast-growing social and environmental advocacy group Save The Bays (STB) contends.

Attorney for the STB, Fred Smith, QC, praised what he called the government’s “small step towards increased transparency” in announcing a consultation period at all, but said his client cannot respond in time due to the complete lack of details about the proposal.

“The notice refers to various applications, yet no applications have been made available for inspection and it is not entirely clear what the nature of each application is, to whom it has been made and under what statutory regime,” said Smith in a letter to several government officials.

He asked that the government provide copies of all applications, supporting documents and relevant reports as a matter of urgency.

“…please do so by Tuesday, July 1, 2014, failing which and in any event, our client reserves all of its rights,” the letter said.

Smith also asked the government to confirm that no decision will be made on any application made in relation to Nygard Cay or the surrounding seabed without his client being given copies of all relevant documents and having adequate time to construct a meaningful response.

The letter, dated June 27, was sent to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works, Philip “Brave” Davis; Director of Physical Planning, Michael Major; and Town Planning Committee chairman, Wilshire Bethel. It was copied to several other senior officials, including Prime Minister Perry Christie.

STB was formed to protect the natural resources of areas around The Bahamas, including Clifton Bay, where there are concerns about the negative impact oil pollution from industrial facilities at Clifton Pier, and reports of unregulated development.

Under the former FNM government, Nygard Cay developer Peter Nygard was ordered to remove structures built without proper permits, and return the area to its original appearance. STB says there is no evidence any part of this order has been complied with.

Save The Bays Releases 3-Minute Nygard Cay Video, Reveals Theft of Crown Land, Commends Government for Seeking Public Input

COASTAL CREEP – The coastline of Nygard Cay has steadily expanded into the surrounding waters over the past three decades. A number of unauthorized methods have been used to claim large sections of seabed, to the detriment of the surrounding environment.

COASTAL CREEP – The coastline of Nygard Cay has steadily expanded into the surrounding waters over the past three decades. A number of unauthorized methods have been used to claim large sections of seabed, to the detriment of the surrounding environment.

Days before a public consultation process is expected to close, the fast-growing environmental advocacy group Save The Bays today released a video exposing some two decades of illegal land acquisition by dredging and filling activities by a foreign private citizen operating without permits and now requesting the right to expand.

The 3-minute video, prepared by Conch Salad TV for Save The Bays, shows close-up waterfront sights for the first time behind the gates of Nygard Cay, the exclusive and exotic retreat at the tip of Lyford Cay with tentacles into Clifton Bay. Activities at the cay, owned by Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard, have long aroused concern by civic organisations and neighbours, including residents of Lyford Cay, in addition to dive tour operators, fishermen and locals who are watching its impact on nearby Jaws Beach.

The video follows the history of dredging and trapping sand and reveals that ongoing activities were carried out without necessary permits. The issue drew renewed attention when a court issued a stop order until permits were in place following legal action by Save The Bays.

“Documents from Town Planning show that government officials have been aware of Mr. Nygard’s unregulated, un-permitted activities for 15-20 years,” says Save The Bays in the video, the latest in its investigation series.
Now, Nygard is applying to have permits granted retroactively which would allow him to claim ownership of land he accreted from the seabed. Estimates have placed the value of that land at as high as $35 million.

One of several structures built directly on top of a section of coral reef that used to be part of the ecologically significant network of marine life found in Clifton Bay.

One of several structures built directly on top of a section of coral reef that used to be part of the ecologically significant network of marine life found in Clifton Bay.

“Peter Nygard has simply been stealing Crown Land…Would any regular Bahamian be allowed to get away with this? The marine environment in The Bahamas belongs to the public. Nygard is stealing this resource and using it for himself and then destroying it,” according to the video which is available for viewing or downloading at www.savethebays.bs.

The video shows clips of massive museum-worthy structures of lions built atop coral reefs and a clear outline of land initially acquired in 1984 when Nygard purchased what was then called Simms Point and the nearly doubling of size since that time by means of trapping sand.

“But now, the government has decided to do what is right. Before granting any permits, the public has been given the opportunity to voice their opinion,” says Save The Bays, commending government for “allowing the public to have a voice.”

“We really hope people will take advantage of this opportunity to express their opinion before the consultation period closes on July 8,” said Bays’ CEO Lindsey McCoy. “Since the letters have to go to the Department of Physical Planning and they do not seem to have e-mail set up for receiving letters, we urge you to drop them off in person, get a receipt or e-mail to us at info@savethebays.bs and we will be happy to deliver them to the Department and e-mail you the receipt. This is a chance for Bahamians to defend the natural resources which belong to all of us and must be preserved for future generations. No one whether foreign or local should be allowed to destroy resources, develop private or commercial property without permits or take land that belongs to all of us.”

 

Watch the video via this link

Fred Smith calls on the public to send their objections to Nygard Cay Redevelopment to the government

CALL TO ACTION – Outspoken attorney Fred Smith and his team outside court. The Save The Bays legal director has urged members of the public to air their objections to an application that would lease illegally claimed land to Nygard Cay and allow further development of the controversial property.

CALL TO ACTION – Outspoken attorney Fred Smith and his team outside court. The Save The Bays legal director has urged members of the public to air their objections to an application that would lease illegally claimed land to Nygard Cay and allow further development of the controversial property.

Bahamians urged to submit objections to Nygard Cay expansion

Save The Bays director warns that the 21-day consultation period will soon end; says concerned citizens should air their views as soon as possible

All members of the public who object to the further expansion of Nygard Cay and the lease of illegally claimed land to its owner, Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard, should make their concerns known to both government and the media as soon as possible, outspoken attorney Fred Smith, QC, has urged.

Congratulating the Christie administration for holding a 21-day consultation on Nygard’s proposals, Smith said Bahamians must now stand together to prevent years of illegal activity from being retroactively approved.

“For decades, Nygard Cay has been recklessly developed without the proper approvals and permits. Successive governments have allowed the property to grow to double its original size by claiming land from the seabed, which is supposed to be the property and patrimony of the Bahamian people,” he said.

“Even worse, it has also blocked the natural flow of sand to Jaws Beach, causing one of the only public beaches left in New Providence to all but disappear.

“Every Bahamian should be opposed to this affront, one of the most blatant examples of the cancer called unregulated development which is eating away at the rights of ordinary Bahamians and relegating them to the status of second class citizens in their own country.”

Smith, legal director for Save The Bays – the fast-growing social justice and environmental advocacy group which has pioneered the fight against unregulated development throughout the country – warned that time is of the essence, as the consultation period will end on July 8. He urged Bahamians to take a stand now.

“Thanks to efforts of each and every member of Save The Bays, the government finally understands that the days of secret deals are over. They know we are willing to fight, all the way to the Privy Council and back, to prevent the backdoor negotiations with developers which so often lead to projects that degrade the environment and destroy the traditions, society and culture of communities throughout The Bahamas,” he said.

“Now is the time for every Bahamian concerned about preserving the unparalleled beauty and unique identity of this country to join us. We are calling on them to speak out, to object to what is happening at Nygard Cay, not just by writing to or calling the government, but also by writing letters to the editor and calling into the radio stations. We want this consultation to take place in the sunshine.”

Smith said the public and local media must also act as watchdogs to ensure the consultation is carried out openly, methodically and according to law.

“It cannot be allowed to descend into the kind of chaos and confusion that defined so many poor excuses for public consultation in the past,” he said. “This time, nothing should be held from public scrutiny, the process should be handled by the individuals legally appointed to do so and at the end of the day, clear reasons should be given for whatever decision is made.”

Comments, opinions or concerns about the proposed redevelopment of Nygard Cay and the leasing of land accreted from the seabed should be forwarded to the director of physical planning, P.O. Box N-1611, Nassau, Bahamas or faxed to 242-328-3206. You can also make your objections known by calling 242-322-7550/2 or 328-3202.

STUNNING Save The Bays Investigation – Nygard Cay

After many years of controversy, the government has finally requested the Peter Nygard apply for permits for the work that has been done and continues to be done at Nygard Cay/Simms Point. However, you can write to the Ministry of Works and share your input before his applications are accepted. Plans can be viewed at the Department of Physical Planning in the Ministry of Works Building (ground floor) Application #116140. All comments must be made by July 9th. Please send your comments on the permit applications to:

Director of Physical Planning PO Box N-1611, Nassau Bahamas or via Fax 242-328-3206
Phone 242-322-7550/2 or 328-3202

You can also copy the Prime Minister
Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield Centre
P O Box CB 10980
Nassau, N.P., The Bahamas
Fax (242)327-5806

 

 

Nygard Gave Money To Plp – Then Asked For Help Over Land Issues

Originally Published in The Tribune

June 24th, 2014

By: Rashad Rolle

 

BILLIONAIRE fashion mogul Peter Nygard pledged at least $45,000 to the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) in the early 1990s. And after highlighting his financial contributions to the party in a 1992 letter to Prime Minister Perry Christie, he requested that the then Minister of Agriculture, Trade and Industry use his position to help solve issues relating to his property and expansion plans, documents obtained by The Tribune show.

In the July 10, 1992, letter, the exposure of which promises to renew concerns about the propriety of the PLP and Mr Christie’s relationship with Mr Nygard, the fashion mogul wrote: “Obviously, this whole world is based on one hand helping the other and you know that I am prepared to do whatever is in my capacity to help out the Bahamas and the PLP party and of course yourself in any way I can.”

In the letter, Mr Nygard noted that he was given permission by the Department of Lands & Surveys to build “off” his Nygard Cay property onto the beach area, which is crown property. He asked Mr Christie to legally arrange to have that property included into his land and deeded to him.

He also asked that the government give him a certification noting a name change of his compound from “Simms Point” to “Nygard Cay.”

He wrote: “I would also appreciate getting a certification of this change by the government so that by the time Forbes magazine comes to do a story for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous ‘shoot’, that the name is official and he can use it in the promotion of the Bahamas and Nygard Cay.”

Mr Nygard also asked Mr Christie to help him solve the “outstanding” Golden Cay “rental issue,” noting that he was quickly running out of structural work at Nygard Cay.

The Tribune obtained no evidence showing that some of Mr Nygard’s requests in the letter were granted. Nonetheless, Mr Nygard hinted throughout his letter that he was entitled to benefits because of his contributions to the PLP.

He wrote: “Under separate cover, I have sent a pledge for the PLP party for $10,000. I understand that this brings my total pledge and contributions to the party and some of its members up to $45,000 – quite significant I think you will agree. I ask you now to help me bring to a final conclusion to a few ‘housekeeping’ issues before I come back.”

When asked if he and his party have ever accepted financial contributions from Mr Ngyard, Mr Christie in the past has not answered directly, saying that donors expect anonymity and that parties are not required by law to disclose their financial contributors.

When asked if he has ever made financial contributions to the PLP or Free National Movement (FNM), Mr Nygard in the past claimed he has backed both parties.

Last year, when pressed by reporters on the issue, he said: “I don’t know, I’ve been supporting people for the last 30 years. I don’t measure in terms of amounts of money. I’ve been a people’s person all my life and been supporting various causes. I have not been political. I’ve been a people’s person.”

The PLP’s alleged relationship with Mr Nygard has drawn strong criticism in the past.

Last year, FNM leader Dr Hubert Minnis was suspended from the House of Assembly in a highly publicised incident after he refused to withdraw statements he made in the House about the Christie administration’s alleged involvement with Mr Nygard.

Although he later told the press that he would bring an affidavit to the House proving that Mr Nygard gave money to the PLP, he never brought the documents.

In a separate incident, after Mr Nygard praised Mr Christie at an event last year when he was honoured by Jones Communications Network CEO Wendal Jones for his contribution to youth development, FNM Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner told the press: “We see now that there could very well be reason to believe that these foreigners are in fact in control, or appear to have some huge interest in what the PLP has done and is doing.”

Concerns about the relationship between the PLP and Mr Nygard were also raised after a video was posted to YouTube last year where Mr Nygard said he “initiated and helped to write the stem cell legislation” which is now law.

Noted attorney Fred Smith said yesterday that he is “shocked” by the letter Mr Nygard sent to Mr Christie. He said: “That was $45,000 in 1993 and yes, it was significant.”

“What I find embarrassing to my nation, is that Mr Nygard should have the unabashed audacity to throw this kind of political contribution into the face of a Minister of Government, now our Prime Minister, and then rub it in by asking for political favours,” he said.

“Obviously Mr Nygard thinks that he can buy political favours from my Prime Minister. I am very proud to see that my Prime Minister is not in Mr Nygard’s political donation pocket. Despite Mr Nygard’s historical financial contributions to the PLP and to Mr Christie, the Government published a notice in the Guardian on June 18, to embark upon a public consultation exercise to consider building permit applications by Mr Nygard at Nygard Cay.

“I am happy to see that my Government has not been for sale to Mr Nygard.”

He added: “I am proud that the Government, which is the trustee of our Crown Lands, is finally opening its books and not engaging in secret deals with developers, in particular someone like Mr Nygard who obviously thinks that because he donates money to a political party, he owns it.

“I am very pleased that the PLP has promised a new Freedom of Information Act which will be better and more transparent than what was already passed. With freedom of information and public consultation in the permitting process, pirates like Mr Nygard can no longer seek to take advantage of political friendships or financial support.”

 

Read original article here

Qc: Don’T Reward $35m Nygard ‘Law Breaking’

Originally published in The Tribune

June 25th, 2014

By: Neil Hartnell

 

The Government was yesterday urged not to reward two decades of alleged law-breaking by approving Peter Nygard’s new development applications, a well-known QC suggesting he had seized land worth $35 million without permission.

Fred Smith, the Callender’s & Co partner, said Nygard Cay’s near-doubling in size by almost three acres without the necessary permits/approvals had given its Canadian fashion mogul owner “an extremely valuable asset” at the Bahamian people’s expense.

While praising the Government for having “learnt its lesson” and subjected Mr Nygard’s applications to a 21-day public consultation,he was now checking this followed the proper legal procedures and process in planning laws.

Mr Smith, a director of the Save the Bays organisation, confirmed it and other environmental activists would now be assessing Mr Nygard’s applications, while expressing hope that “a new day of transparency has dawned” for the Bahamas’ development/planning process.

He suggested that Nygard Cay, and similar cases, provided evidence that showed “Bahamians will no longer tolerate secret deals or the wholesale give away of Crown Land for pennies”.

Mr Nygard’s permit applications for his Lyford Cay home involve a mixture of new buildings and the reconstruction of properties damaged during a 2009 fire. The notice published by the Government also referred to another application to lease Crown Land – likely the very same land already reclaimed from the sea.

Tribune Business exclusively revealed last week the contents of a government-commissioned study, which found that much of the expansion and construction work undertaken at Nygard Cay lacked the necessary government approvals and permits.

Buildings on the property also failed to meet “normal coastline construction standards”, while Town Planning’s ‘Nygard file’ showed that government officials had known of his law breaches for 15-20 years – and recommended prosecuting the Canadian fashion mogul as far back as 2000 – but failed to do anything about it.

Given this background, Mr Smith urged the Christie administration to avoid ‘rewarding’ Mr Nygard for his previous planning violations and Crown Land “trespass” by simply acquiescing to his permit applications.

“Save the Bays wishes the Government and Mr Nygard to respect the rule of law, and we do not want someone that by the Government’s own report has been breaking the law for decades to be rewarded,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business.

Nygard Cay has expanded from its initial 3.25 acres, when My Nygard bought it in the mid-1980s, to 6.1 acres today – largely via the reclamation of seabed Crown Land. The Government-authored report made clear this was done without the necessary permits.

“Based on comparable beachfront prices at Lyford Cay, and the fact it [Nygard Cay] is almost an island in and of itself, inaccessible to others and exclusive, I would venture to say the three acres on the beach are worth at least $35 million,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business.

“That it cannot be accessed by anyone else is an extremely valuable asset, and Mr Nygard obviously sees it as such.”

While backing the Government’s tentative moves to make planning/development “a more transparent, accountable and participatory process”, Mr Smith added that it seemed “hopelessly confused” over the public consultation it has announced for Nygard Cay.

“It’s wonderful to see that the Government has finally taken notice of the public cry for consultation, and we are now certainly prepared to look at the applications,” he added.

“We want to ensure the law is being followed in accordance with the legislation, and failure to consult has resulted in the scourge of unregulated and secret development deals which we say are bad for the Bahamas.

“We are very concerned to ensure that not only does the process of public consultation occur, but that it occurs properly and that the public are given adequate time to engage in informed and proper consultation.”

Mr Smith said what had happened at Nygard Cay and other controversial development projects was “just a drop in the bucket” compared to the many islands and marine habitats that had been damage by the Government’s “failure to adhere to the laws and hold developers accountable”.

Calling on Prime Minister Perry Christie, as minister for Crown Lands, to safeguard this for future Bahamian generations, the well-known QC said he hoped the Nygard Cay consultation was a precursor of the Government’s future intentions.

“It is fantastic that the Government now seems to understand that Bahamians will no longer tolerate secret deals or the wholesale giveaway of Crown Land for pennies,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business.

“A new day of transparency has dawned in the Bahamas on development, and the sooner developers – both Bahamian and foreign – appreciate this, the better.

“Embarking on a public consultation process is a great start, but one that must be concluded properly and with all cards on the table.”

 

Read original article here 

Nygard Prosecution Urged 14 Years Ago

Originally Published in The Tribune

June 19th, 2014

By: Neil Hartnell

 

Government officials recommended that fashion mogul Peter Nygard be prosecuted for Town Planning Act breaches 14 years ago, newly-released documents have revealed.

The documents, which have been assessed by Tribune Business, also show the Government was warned more than two decades ago about the potential damage that unregulated development by Mr Nygard and other Lyford Cay residents was having on the Bahamas’s reputation as an investment and second home destination.

A 1993 letter sent to then-Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham warned that many Lyford Cay owners were putting their homes up for sale as a result, with the Government told that “news spreads and people start to look for other destinations”.

The documents, taken from the Town Planning files, show that government officials have been aware of Mr Nygard’s unregulated, unpermitted activities at Nygard Cay for 15-20 years.

Yet the Canadian fashion multi-millionaire has seemingly been allowed to carry on without any interference, raising major questions about the seeming ‘impotence’ of the Government’s regulators to enforce the ‘rule of law’ and bring wealthy, politically-connected persons to heel.

The files, which were accessed as part of a government-commissioned report on activities at Nygard Cay, delivered on April 30, 2013, reveal:

The Ministry of Finance’s then-attorney, and now National Insurance Board (NIB) director, Rowena Bethel, was directed to prepare a “prosecution” of Mr Nygard, for Town Planning Act breaches at his Lyford Cay home, on September 13, 2000.

“A summary violations and files dealing are enclosed for ease of reference,” wrote Audley Greaves for the Ministry of Finance’s permanent secretary.

It is unclear whether such a prosecution took place, but this appears unlikely given that Mr Nygard’s construction activities have continued apace ever since.

Various complaints were made about Mr Nygard’s construction activities by individual homeowners and the Lyford Cay Property Owners Association throughout the mid to late-1990s.

The Department of Physical Planning issued two warnings to Mr Nygard in summer 1998, ordering him to stop enclosing the seabed (Crown Land) and “correct the situation” – something the Nygard Cay owner promised to do.

Charles Zonicle, on behalf of the acting physical planning director, told Mr Nygard in a June 16, 1998, letter to “discontinue all work” on a groin until the regulators made a final decision.

And, in a July 3, 1998, letter, Michael Major, acting director of physical planning, told another Lyford Cay resident that Mr Nygard had been asked to “correct the situation”.

That, though, appeared not to have happened. An August 10, 1998, letter to Mr Major by the Lyford Cay Property Owners Association, summarising a meeting with him, said no permit had been issued yet Mr Nygard “has ignored government orders by continuing construction”.

Nygard Cay’s neighbours were “concerned and alarmed” back then about the erosion effects to their property, but Mr Nygard had assured them that his activities would improve the beaches.

“Yet, even after the extent of the erosion became apparent, and government officials ordered a halt to construction of the breakwater, Mr Nygard has continued with construction,” the Lyford Cay Property Owners Association wrote.

Government officials were aware that Mr Nygard’s construction activities lacked the necessary permits from at least 1998 and 2000.

An August 24, 2000, memorandum from Michael Major, the now director of physical planning, to Audley Greaves in the Prime Minister’s Office, said of Nygard Cay: “Much of this activity is outside the scope of valid permits …

‘You will find that some work has been completed in violation of provisions of the Town Planning Act and the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of the Bahamas Act.

“Subsequent inspections discovered additional work (excavation) completed on the northern coast without permission, and storage of debris on the southern coastline.”

A 2000 report by Coastal & Environmental Consultants warned the Government that Mr Nygard’s unauthorised seabed reclamation was effectively theft of the Bahamian people’s real estate, namely Crown Land.

The report, which warned that Mr Nygard’s activities had stopped the westward drift of sand to replenish neighbouring Lyford Cay properties, noted “another disturbing development”.

It said that the placement of rocks in wire cages under the water “is an apparent attempt to append Crown Land on the Clifton Bay side to Mr Nygard’s property, as has already been done on the ocean side”.

The report added: “in summary, the damaging activities by Mr Peter Nygard should be stopped immediately and recent activities reversed.”

The damaging consequences for the Bahamas, from the 15-20 year failure of the Government to enforce the law in the case of Mr Nygard, and similar projects, were highlighted by a July 26, 1993, letter sent to then-Prime Minister Ingraham by Glenn Franklin, managing partner of Land Design of Nassau.

He wrote on behalf of a client, Alfredo Cuomo, who purchased a property in Lyford Cay as a retirement home, and had already donated a collective $200,000 to the likes of the Elizabeth’s Children Home and Lyford Cay Scholarship Foundation.

“Several people, including Mr Cuomo, are so upset by the destruction of the natural shoreline in Clifton Bay and Simms Point that they have put their homes up for sale,” Mr Franklin wrote.

“It is no longer possible to walk the shoreline because individual property owners have had marine construction companies build huge groins or landfills from their property line out into the water.”

Mr Franklin added: “Mr Peter Nygard’s total disregard for the coastal environment has disfigured Simms Point, and it no longer retains its natural Bahamian beauty, plus a huge groin out into the water blocks public access to the beach/

“We understand from our client that Mrs Vicky McGrath could not stand it any longer, and the only way she could get away from this incredible destruction of nature was to sell her house for under market value.”

Tow other owners were also said to have put their homes up for sale as a result, and Mr Franklin added: “In frustration and anger, our client has put his house up for sale. Mr Cuomo wanted to retire here. Instead, he has given serious thought to pulling his investment out of the Bahamas …

“As one European talks to another, news spreads, and people start to look for other destinations. Presently, our clients, as well as other Italians, are researching land investment opportunities in Cuba.”

Warning back in 1993 that Bahamians were also losing access to the shoreline, Mr Franklin concluded thus: “How many foreigners will continue to invest in expensive property if irresponsible people can build structures that will destroy other people’s treasured beachfront amenities?

“How much beach will be left where future Bahamians can stroll in the light of an evening sunset?”

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Nygard Free Ride May Be Over As PLP Forced To Fly Straight

In today’s “Between the Lines” by Nicki Kelly, the government’s relationship with Peter Nygard, and the work being done at Nygard Cay are discussed. Pick up today’s Punch to read the full article, and please send your comments to the government about Nygard Cay to Director of Physical Planning PO Box N-1611, Nassau Bahamas or via Fax 242-328-3206

Phone 242-322-7550/2 or 328-3202

You can also copy the Prime Minister
Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield Centre
P O Box CB 10980
Nassau, N.P., The Bahamas
Fax (242)327-5806

You can also email your comments to us at info@savethebays.bs and we will print them and hand-deliver them to the Department of Physical Planning for you.

All comments must be sent by July 9th.

Read the article via the following link: Between the lines – Nygard Free Ride May Be Over As PLP Forced To Fly Straight

VAT Proving to Have Positive Effect on Bahamian Electorate

By: Nicki Kelly

Between the Lines 

The Punch

 

Who would have thought Value Added Tax (VAT) would have such a beneficial effect on the Bahamian psyche.

VAT, and what it will mean for most people in the context of a spendthrift government and contracted economy, has acted like a shot of adrenaline through the body politic.  It has shaken Bahamians out of their political lethargy and galvanized them into finally demanding accountability from those in power, and those aspiring to power.

No longer prepared to wait five years, they are demanding transparency and accountability now.  Their anger and frustration has spawned a number of citizen activist groups that have coalesced around their demand for a Freedom of Information Act.

The former FNM government promised to produce such an Act, and did in October 2011, but the legislation was never made law for the same reason that the Christie administration has refused to do so.

Bahamian governments, as a matter of policy prefer to conduct business behind closed doors for obvious reasons.  To the Christie government’s chagrin this penchant for secrecy has come buck up against social media, which has been able to mobilize and unify Bahamians in a way that was never possible before.

Allied with this movement has been a re-energised print media that has finally awakened from its stupor and gone aggressively after the lawbreakers.  Judging from the howls of protest and complaint emanating from the government’s quarter, they are beginning to feel the heat.

Khaalis Rolle, a neophyte PLP MP and State Minister for Investments, was aghast that the Bahamian people should think so badly of politicians.  Social media, he said, had painted them as “bastard individuals who are worthless greedy and lazy.”

Deputy Prime Minister Phillip Davis accused the media of “taking delight in [en]flaiming the fire of discontent,” while Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe claimed that the media spent every day “looking to create a fight” within the ranks of the PLP in order to sell papers.

What is so upsetting for Messrs Davis, Wilchcombe and the rest of the political establishment is the amount of embarrassing information the media has been able to mine over the past year.

As I have said numerous times, The Bahamas doesn’t need a Freedom of Information Act, which the government would invariably use to frustrate all inquiries.  What it needs is aggressive journalists and a couple of Edward Snowdons.  We now have both.

In February The Guardian disclosed that Ishmael Lightbourne, the man handpicked by the government to steer the country through VAT, was himself a 20-year tax dodger who owed the government more than $115,000 in unpaid taxes.

When in May a House committee recommended that MPs be given a pay raise, The Tribune began digging to determine how many of the 38 had filed their financial disclosures since the 2012 election.

One nine of the 38 confirmed that they had done so.  At least nine ministers had not.  Nine other MPs could not be contacted and response from the rest varied from “no comment” to “don’t know” to “uncertain” and “due in days”.

The paper’s investigation had the desired effect, with Prime Minister Perry Christie and Opposition Leader Dr Hubert Minnis urging parliamentarians to “get straight” as the Public Disclosure Act carries a $10,000 fine and/or two years in jail for those who fail to file.

In addition if the offense involves the deliberate non-disclosure of a Senator or MP’s property the Court is also authorised to order it be forfeited to government, if the property is in The Bahamas or payment made equivalent to its value, if the property is outside The Bahamas (the value to be assessed or directed by the court).

The public disclosure expose was followed in mid-June by The Guardian’s confirmation of a two-year-old Punch story alleging that Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) chairman Leslie Miller owed the Corporation $300,000.  That figure, now quoted as $239,533, covers two family-owned businesses on Harold Road.

If defies all reason why the government would knowingly name a chairman of a public corporation a man who owes that corporation nearly a quarter of a million dollars.  But know it did, because Works Minister Phillip Davis, who has responsibility for BEC openly admitted he did when he told the House he had advised Mr Miller some time ago to bring his accounts up to date.

As for Mr Miller, his excuse was that “everyone’s accounts get high when the economy goes bad”, and that the “mission of the media and those they work for is to destroy black people in this country.”  The shamelessness of owning BEC at the same time as he was dining others to pay up their arrears appears to have escaped him completely.

Mr Miller insists he will not resign, and it is highly unlikely he will be fired because Mr Davis is himself oblivious to the implications and the example it sets for the country.

He has said that he is disappointed that Mr Miller’s records were made public because the didn’t think that was the way to do business.  “It’s not right for persons to expose other persons’ confidential information” he declared.

Here’s something for Mr Davis to ponder.  Had Mr Miller’s delinquency not been exposed, he would have continued on as before, instead of being shamed into forking up $100,000 in cash to BEC the day after The Guardian story broke.

Another question to ponder is why the money was paid in cash instead of a cashier’s check, and who was in a position to mobilize so much money at one time.  The answer is likely to prove very embarrassing for the government, as the legal limits for cash payment is $10,000.  Anything over that amount is subject to the scrutiny as to the source of the funds.

The dust from the Miller episode was still hanging in the air when all three papers revealed that Dame Marguerite Pindling, widow of former Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling, owed more than $300,000 in property tax on her Skyline Heights home.

Dame Marguerite, who is a front runner for the post of Governor General, accumulated the debt over a 14-year period.  The post of Governor-General carries with it a salary of $86,000 which is the same as the pension Dame Marguerite receives as Sir Lynden’s widow.

Disclosure of the debt has infuriated PLP stalwarts, who see it as a political conspiracy to undermine her appointment.  And once again the media has come under attack for exposing the truth.

The story “stinks” and its publication was “sick” said PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts, who now claims Dame Marguerite has made good on her debt.  The PM’s response was to plead ignorance of Dame Marguerite’s tax problems.  “I’ve never asked for a list of people in public life who are in arrears on property taxes,” he said.

It is that kind of dumb statement that keeps landing Mr Christie in hot water.  Had he bothered to check the debt status of potential government appointees he could have avoided the Lightbourne, Miller, Pindling fiascos.

The fact that he didn’t, speaks to his administration’s sense of entitlement.  “Journalism is supposed to be where you are protecting the interests of the country.  You are supposed to be fair to be people.  You’re never supposed to be using your ink to destroy people,” whined Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe.

As the government of the day the Christie administration should expect to bear the brunt of the media scrutiny.  The media didn’t do anything to the persons involved that they didn’t do to themselves.  And it was “protecting  the interests of the country” by exposing the government’s double standard.

If however, the media is to retain its credibility it must also focus its attention on the Opposition, which has its own quota of sinners.

The moral of the story is this.  As far as the Bahamian public is concerned, those who hold high office in this country are not private citizens.  Therefore they are fair game and nothing is off the table as far as their behaviour, taxes and disclosures are concerned.

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