By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE US State Department identified the government’s ineffectiveness at implementing corruption laws as the reason officials engage in illegal practices without consequence, citing a vulnerable contract procurement process in a newly released report.
In its 2015 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in this country, the US said the government procurement process was “opaque” given that there was no requirement for open public tenders or allowance for award decisions to be reviewed.
The report noted that there were “frequent” reports of government corruption during the year, but did not give specific examples.
“The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity,” the report says.
“The procurement process was particularly susceptible to corruption, as it is opaque, contains no requirement to engage in open public tenders, and does not allow award decisions to be reviewed.
“In October the government charged a former state energy-company board member under the Prevention of Bribery Act, the first significant case brought under the act since 1989.”
Former board member of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, Freddie Solomon Ramsey was charged with four counts of conspiracy to commit bribery and 14 counts of bribery allegedly committed between 1999 and 2003.
The allegations are related to a widespread scheme involving tens of millions of dollars in bribes to countries around the world. They were brought to light in late 2014, in a US Department of Justice report which said that French power company Alstom SA allegedly paid more than $300,000 to a BEC board member to influence contracts to a French company between 1999 and 2003.
On the subject of corruption and government transparency, the Human Rights Report also took issue that there was no independent verification of annual public disclosures from senior public officials, and called the annual submission rate “weak” unless it was an election year.
Financial disclosures must be turned into the Public Disclosures Commission (PDC) by March each year.
According to the Public Disclosures Act, a summary of the declarations shall be published in a gazette and any person who does not comply with the law is liable to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or imprisonment of not more than two years.
In 2014, Prime Minister Perry Christie informed the House of Assembly that the PDC had expressed concern over the widespread failure of officials to comply with legislation mandating the turnover of annual financial declarations. According to Mr Christie, the PDC reported that “a number” of present and former parliamentarians and senators, along with senior public officers, had failed to submit declarations as mandated by law.
The State Department echoed much of last year’s report, which pointed out that there was not a dedicated government agency that specifically monitored allegations of government corruption.
The 2015 report again pointed out that the government had yet to issue regulations that would implement the 2012 Freedom of Information Act or take other steps to bring the legislation into force.
The FOIA was passed in early 2012 by the former Ingraham administration, months before the last general election. However, there was no date for enactment.
When the PLP assumed office that year, it said the legislation needed significant tweaking before it could be enforced.
In May last year, the government released a draft of a revamped version of the legislation.
The new bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament by November.
This is not the first time the United States has criticised this country’s government contract bidding process.
In the US State Department’s 2015 Investment Climate Report on the Bahamas - released last June - the US criticised the Bahamas for “lack of transparency” in government contract bidding processes, with American companies complaining about “undue political interference.”
In that report, the US warned potential Americans and other investors that there are “significant challenges” to doing business in this nation.