Hon. Philip Davis, Q.C., M.P.
Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, thank you for coming this afternoon.
I hope that you and your families are safe and well.
I have just returned from a few days traveling in the Family Islands.
I want to be as clear as possible: across this country, there is terrible suffering.
I have never seen so many Bahamians hurting so badly at the same time.
It is absolutely clear that we need to step up immediate relief to families and we need a roadmap for the way forward. People need help now, and we need to rebuild our economy so that it is more fair and more inclusive.
The FNM government is not capable of doing either of these things.
They are not focused on helping Bahamians through this emergency.
They are completely disconnected from reality on the ground.
And they do not have a plan for the way forward.
They are focused on deception and re-election, instead.
Everywhere I go, here in Nassau, in Grand Bahama, in our Family Islands, Bahamians have the same question for me – how come the government is bragging about how much money they spent, but none of it reach me?
All those millions, where did they go?
You know what? I have the same question.
Because even though I represent the fine people of Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador in the House of Assembly, the government has not provided me or my constituents an explanation for how they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars during this time.
Time and again, the Prime Minister has extended the state of emergency in this country.
That means since last March, Hubert Minnis has had the power to reward favoured FNM insiders with contracts – without being transparent or accountable and without having to defend his decisions to the public.
You can see why he’s so eager to continue operating without Parliamentary oversight.
But the Emergency Orders also require him to lay a report before Parliament detailing his expenditures within six weeks of the expiration of a proclamation of emergency. He has not done this.
In the House of Assembly, last Wednesday, we pointed out that the government has been quick to punish Bahamians for even the most minor violations of the Emergency Measures. Think of the coconut vendors. Think about the family going to the pump to get water.
This government has issued over $150,000 in fines just this month alone, between the 3rd and 27th of January, and made 247 arrests or citations.
Yet the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance is himself in breach of his own regulations, for failing to produce a report on his spending.
When I said that in the House on Wednesday, you could have heard a pin drop. They didn’t have an answer, because there is no good answer. Then they spent a few days scrambling, and yesterday they had their Attorney General issue a laughable statement trying to get their man off on a technicality.
Yes, the same Attorney General who let the emergency orders lapse by mistake during a pandemic.
Their argument, which they accompanied with ridiculous legal threats, amounts to this: the Prime Minister didn’t issue an Order to waive the procurement rules — he just ignored them, without issuing the Order. And therefore, he wasn’t obligated to report to Parliament how he’s spent the people’s money.
Yes, I’m serious. That’s their argument.
This is the response of a government who spent their last campaign promising transparency and accountability.
The anti-corruption non-profit group Transparency International has said COVID-19 is not just a health and economic crisis, but a corruption crisis as well. In a new report they talk about the importance of ensuring that funds for COVID treatment and relief are “not lost to corruption and reach the intended recipients”.
So this anti-corruption organization has precisely the same concern as Bahamians I’m talking to every day – where’s all that money? How come it’s not reaching Bahamian families?
Transparency International recommends that countries ensure open and transparent contracting, stating: “Rushed and opaque procedures provide ample opportunity for corruption and the diversion of public resources. Contracting processes must remain open and transparent to combat wrongdoing, identify conflicts of interest and ensure fair pricing.”
The IMF, too, has identified this as an area of concern in The Bahamas. That’s why in their new Article IV report, they say that the Auditor General is conducting an audit and will report irregularities or abuses and recommend appropriate legal proceedings.
This might sound complicated, but it’s not. The Prime Minister has been operating behind closed doors. He does not appear to want to disclose which expenditures were made, with which suppliers. If he’s got nothing to hide, let him show the people how he’s spent their money, and exactly who has profited from this pandemic. Surely it shouldn’t take months to tell us?
Minnis should understand that he and his government have lost all credibility on this issue. They are in no position to promise reports that will come sometime later — sometime down the road. They have broken every promise they’ve made on accountability and transparency.
This is the problem for the government. Elections are coming, but they have lost the trust of the people. And they have failed in so many ways, across so many issues. They have broken their promises and set new records for incompetence.
Their plan for winning re-election, despite their historic unpopularity, is to run a campaign in the shadows, with lie after lie on social media, especially concerning Peter Nygard.
Let’s talk about Peter Nygard. He was a longtime resident of The Bahamas, who now stands accused of the most horrific crimes against women. I want to be clear: as a father of daughters, as a Bahamian, I am appalled by these extremely serious charges.
Peter Nygard contributed to both political parties, to many charitable causes here, and to regattas across the country. Those contributions do not in any way excuse his behavior. But nor are the many recipients of his contributions responsible for his behavior.
In no time during my tenure as Deputy Prime Minister was there ever a criminal complaint made to the Bahamian police about the matters he is now charged with. Had there been, an investigation would have been launched immediately.
In fact, to my knowledge, the first time complaints of this nature were brought to the police was in July of 2019, under this government.
The FNM got themselves mixed up in a feud between two billionaires who hated each other. Their former Chairman was forced to resign when he was caught on tape trying to solicit false testimony. To be clear, no PLP official is named in the criminal indictment.
None of this tedious nonsense has anything to do with what we need to do as a country, to get ourselves out of this emergency, or to get people back to work.
Thousands of Bahamians have no near-term prospect for work. Many of our children have effectively lost a full year of school, with no plan from the Ministry of Education to catch them up or address the learning gap. The reconstruction in Abaco and Grand Bahama is stuck, not moving forward. People who didn’t have savings are sinking, trying to hold on. People who had savings are burning through them fast, up all night wondering what happens next.
Who honestly believes that Peter Nygard is relevant to the myriad of challenges facing the Bahamian people? We all accept that these are very serious allegations and the women deserve justice.
As Hubert Minnis is weaving his deceptions, the country is sinking under the weight of an economic crisis made worse by his incompetence and indifference.
Five more years of Minnis and this FNM government? No way.
I am confident that Bahamians are going to reject the hidden spending, the corrupt deals for FNM insiders, the lies and the incompetence — and choose change, compassion and progress instead.