By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) leader yesterday said the US government had issued “a damning indictment” of the Bahamas’ governance through its criticisms of corruption and a non-transparent public sector procurement process.
Branville McCartney told Tribune Business that the comments, contained in the US State Department’s annual human rights report, threatened to “sully” the Bahamas’ international reputation and deter much-needed foreign direct investment (FDI).
Urging Bahamians to wake-up, the DNA leader said the entire country should be “very, very concerned” at the report’s assertions when it came to alleged ‘corruption and lack of transparency in government’.
Acknowledging that the US had highlighted an area where all Bahamians knew the country was weak, Mr McCartney said it was the entire nation - not just the Government - that would “suffer the consequences” from any potential fall-out.
The DNA leader suggested the US report also hinted at the Government’s lack of progress in addressing these issues, given that they had been raised in previous US State Department publications.
“I think last year they said the same thing,” Mr McCartney told Tribune Business. “They spoke about the Government not being transparent, and that they ought to be more open when it comes to awarding contracts.”
Addressing the latest report, he added: “That’s damning of our government. That’s an indictment against our government for the US to say that, and they said the same thing almost a year ago.
“That tells me nothing has happened, and ever since the US said that a year ago, there’s been no progress at all. They feel that the Government is not going about things the right way, which is something we already knew.
“The Government seems to have ignored their recommendations to operate properly, and be open, transparent and accountable.”
The concerns voiced in the latest US State Department report largely echo what was contained in its ‘Investment Climate’ reports on the Bahamas for the past two years, Both those documents expressed similar concerns about public sector contract tender/bidding processes, and the associated lack of transparency.
However, the human rights report’s language is much stronger. It said: “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. There were frequent reports of government corruption during the year.
“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.”
The US State Department report said last year’s charges levelled against a former Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) Board member represented the first case to be brought under the Prevention of Bribery Act since 1989.
That case was only initiated following the US Justice Department’s successful prosecution of French energy group, Alstom, over a worldwide bribery and corruption scheme.
Tribune Business revealed how Alstom, via intermediaries, had paid $300,000 in bribes to ensure it won a contract to supply BEC with a new generation unit. It was only following this newspaper’s report, and subsequent public pressure, that the Attorney General’s Office swung into action and picked up the trail created by the US investigation.
The Government was tight-lipped on the contents of the US State Department’s human rights report yesterday. Both Khaalis Rolle, minister of state for investment, and Michael Halkitis, minister of state for finance, did not return Tribune Business communications seeking comment on its contents.
However, Mr Halkitis has in the past repeatedly emphasised that the Government is in the process of reforming public procurement in line with international best practices, something that would also improve transparency.
The US report did not cite any specific cases of corruption, or problem Government contracts. However, much of the information will have been sourced from, and funnelled through, its Nassau Embassy, and it will have received any complaints from US companies relating to public procurement tenders.
“It could be very damaging in terms of deterring persons from investing,” Mr McCartney added. “I know that for a fact.
“Investors have told me personally that they will nor invest in this country until this Government is removed. They have told me that personally.
“This report just speaks to it. It certainly deters international investors, and job creation, from the Bahamas. It causes a decline in the economy, causes it to regress and stagnate, and the reputation of the country continues to be sullied. It’s a sad thing.”
Mr McCartney said the US seemed to have given up being polite in its concerns about the Bahamas, and added: “What else can be said when America makes a comment like that?
“It’s very telling. It’s not just telling on the Government, but the Bahamian people. We suffer as a result of that. We suffer as country.
“We continue to go down the spiral, and as it is now, we’ve coming very close to falling off that cliff. We’re very close.”
Mr McCartney said several public officials had escaped punishment for infractions that became very public, and added: “We as Bahamians must realise it must not continue.
“If it continues, we Bahamians will suffer the consequences even more. It’s not a good thing. I hope the Bahamian people see the light.”