By FARRAH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOREIGN Affairs and Public Service Minister Fred Mitchell said promotions granted in the last few weeks by the Minnis administration have been temporarily halted to give the new government an opportunity to review them to ensure nothing “nefarious” has taken place.
Last week, letters were issued stating that promotions at the Water and Sewerage Corporation, which should have taken effect on September 1, were now being put on hold.
Yesterday, Mr Mitchell told the press the action was taken “out of an abundance of caution”.
“What seems to have happened, looking at the actions of the last weeks of the (Minnis) administration, was that there was an attempt, it appears, and I don’t want to say it’s so until we actually know the facts, to put what we call a poison pill,” he said.
“So, the idea was that it would hobble any new administration and two things seemed to be in play. One is to offer an incentive for people to vote for the past administration and then secondly, (the) poison pill, so that presumably those who were promoted or hired were ‘supporters of the last administration’ and would therefore end up causing problems for the new administration.
“So, I think out of an abundance of caution, you can’t say that it’s all been rolled back, but an instruction was issued through Cabinet to simply put everything on hold until we can get an opportunity to have a look at what’s actually going on and then make decisions going forward.”
Mr Mitchell said when he assumed his office at the Department of Public Service, he found “stacks of promotions,” many of which he said he suspected were “long overdue”. He said in view of this fact, he did not want to put a “negative imprint” on the situation.
When asked how long the hold would be, he said he could not say for certain.
“I’m not sure,” he told reporters. “But in my case, I’m hoping the state minister is going to bring the paper on Tuesday because I don’t want people’s lives on hold and you have to be very careful. For example, you can’t assume that everybody who was promoted under the last regime was an FNM supporter or hire. You shouldn’t because it just doesn’t add up. And in a small society, everybody is connected to everyone so you don’t want to be inflicting harm or hurt on anyone and that’s the Prime Minister’s main focus at the moment. So, it’s just really to have a look at it and see that there’s nothing.”
Mr Mitchell said it was important to make a “distinction” between the routine public service jobs and political level jobs.
“The most obvious example is, of course, the foreign service, so everybody at the top of the foreign service - for example those who serve overseas - as a matter of routine have all submitted their resignations to the government and the government then makes a decision about whether to accept or when to accept those resignations,” he explained.
When asked if all of the promotions that happened in the last few weeks of the Minnis administration in the public service have just been halted temporarily, he said: “Yes, that’s a way to describe it, just to let us have a look at it because you don’t want anything nefarious to be taking place.”
Mr Mitchell was one of several government officials who accompanied Prime Minister Phillip “Brave” Davis on his trip to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.
When he was asked to elaborate on Mr Davis’ comment concerning the country’s need to have a bigger role in the foreign service sector he stated: “I think that our predecessors, our criticism of them was that they stepped back too much and were in the shadow of just a single actor.
“I’ve often said in the past that the United States and ourselves have similar, but not the same interests and even though they’re the more powerful neighbour and obviously the most important partner that we have, there is space for other actors. And we believe that we ought to utilise that space to the benefit of the country particularly since the sources of capital are very limited and given the debt (restructuring) that has to take place that the Prime Minister was talking about, we’ve got to shop around the world as opposed to one single actor, in order to resolve that problem.”
Yesterday, Mr Mitchell agreed his meeting with the US Ambassador to the United Nations was fruitful as the two countries have a “good working relationship”. He said besides the migration issue, one of the main topics of conversation concerned the question of vaccine equity.
Mr Mitchell also spoke to Mr Davis’ petition on behalf of Cuba which called for the removal of sanctions in the country.
“It’s not new. It’s been in every speech by every prime minister, including the last prime minister that we’re against the economic blockade or embargo against the Cubans. There is a practical reason for it (because) every time the blockade takes place...is that it pressures the refugee population out of Cuba which causes issues for The Bahamas,” Mr Mitchell said.
• This story originally stated, incorrectly, that Mr Mitchell met with the UN Ambassador. It has been corrected to say the “US Ambassador to the United Nations”.