By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Christie administration entered into a ten-year, multi-million-dollar lease agreement with relatives of a sitting Cabinet member, Grand Bahama Minister Dr Michael Darville, and its decision not to publicly disclose the agreements has drawn accusations of hypocrisy from Public Services Minister Brensil Rolle who now has responsibility for leases.
Darville’s Wholesale Limited owns property on Gladstone Road which is being used as offices for the National Training Agency. Separate contracts, each establishing ten-year leases, were signed in 2013, 2014 and 2015, totaling $10.6m.
Dr Darville’s brother, Carl Darville, is the president of the company. His late father, George Darville, signed the contracts as the company’s secretary. Dr Darville has said he has no interest in the company. Mr Rolle nonetheless contrasted his administration’s handling of the Town Centre Mall lease with the Christie administration’s handling of the leases involving Dr Darville’s relatives.
The Town Centre Mall, used to house the General Post Office, is partly owned by St Anne’s MP Brent Symonette. The agreement was inked while Mr Symonette was immigration minister; he resigned from the post earlier this month citing personal reasons.
The Progressive Liberal Party has attacked the Minnis administration for leasing the mall while Mr Symonette has an interest in the building. Parliament passed a resolution permitting the lease last year but Mr Symonette sparked controversy this month when he revealed he discussed the leasing arrangements for the mall with Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, a revelation that appeared to contradict the resolution.
Although Dr Darville had no interest in the Gladstone Road buildings, Mr Rolle believes the previous administration should have brought a resolution to Parliament, a belief he admitted is not based on the Constitution.
He said: “They’ve pushed the argument that Brent did not do certain things. We contend that Brent did everything within the constitution and within the rules. He was leasing a building to the government of the Bahamas. He disclosed he had an interest in the building. Once he disclosed his interest he said he could not participate in any discussions on whether we will lease the building. The hypocrisy of the PLP is primarily that one of their own had a lease for a close family member and they did not say a word. A politically exposed person was involved but nothing was said and they didn’t come to Parliament.”
Through the Department of Social Services, the government under the Christie administration also leased property from another brother of Dr Darville, Paul Darville, who owns Renaldo Investments. It is not clear when those contracts were signed and when they will expire but the Ministry of Public Service has budgeted $298,624.92 to lease the properties for the 2019-2020 fiscal period.
“Let’s dismiss leasing the training agency,” Mr Rolle said. “Look at Grand Bahama. Darville was the minister responsible for Grand Bahama and this took place in Grand Bahama. Notwithstanding the fact that it was leased through the Ministry of Public Service, the fact is anything coming out of Grand Bahama passes through his hands.”
When contacted this week, Dr Darville rebuffed Mr Rolle’s claims, telling The Tribune he had nothing to do with leasing of any of the properties.
“This was even brought up during the election campaign,” he said. “We debated this in the House of Assembly before because this has been in and out of the House. In fact, one time the debate was so intense that Melanie (Griffin, then social services minister) had to come to my defence and say I had nothing to do with it, that it was strictly a technical matter. There is no conflict of interest whatsoever. This is all a red herring to deflect from Brent.”
Article 49 of the constitution and Cabinet manual and procedures govern the conduct of elected officials when they or their close relatives have business before the government.
Article 49 requires that parliamentarians resign if they become interested in a government contract unless the House exempts them when they have declared their interest beforehand. Cabinet manual and procedures requires that ministers declare their interests or those of their immediate family when they have business before the government.
Opposition Leader Philip “Brave” Davis said there are no parallels between Mr Symonette and Dr Darville’s matter because one had an interest in a business and the other did not.
“If Darville had an interest,” Mr Davis said, “he would’ve had to declare as the law requires but he did not. The issue here really is whether he participated in the decision and my recollection is he did not. A public declaration is only necessary when you have a personal interest in the contract. In that case you have to get Parliament to excuse you.”
Moreover, Mr Davis said Cabinet’s code requires that the interests of a minister or their close relatives be disclosed to Cabinet, not to the public.
“Cabinet code and procedures demands that you have to disclose the interests to the decision-making body and thereby you will be excused from participating in the decision-making process,” he said. “It is Cabinet’s manual so the disclosure is to Cabinet colleagues.”
It is not clear if the contracts of Dr Darville’s relatives came before Cabinet. Mr Rolle suggested that under the previous administration, leases may not have generally come before Cabinet.
In statements yesterday, PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell said: “The former minister has reported that he has and had at all material times no pecuniary or other interest in these buildings. He was not a party to the leases, nor is he now, nor does he have now, nor did he have at all material times in the past any pecuniary or other interest in the buildings or the leases.
“The former minister also reported that he played no role in the negotiations, nor Cabinet decision in connection with the buildings or the leases. There is no conflict. This is an attempt to compare the conduct of Brent Symonette to the case of the former minister. The cases are not the same. Mr Symonette is declared to be the owner of the building leased to the government. Mr Symonette was involved in the negotiations to lease the building...it was Brent Symonette who admitted to (talk show host) Shenique Miller that he told the prime minister that the Town Centre Mall deal was a conflict of interest. Later, the entire FNM parliamentary caucus voted to approve a House resolution that was a lie. The prime minister and Brent Symonette knew that they were misleading the House, so all statements coming from the FNM are necessarily tainted with credibility issues.”