By TYLER MCKENZIE
THE curious tale of the Progressive Liberal Party’s trip to Bermuda resurfaced in public this week – and despite it being several months on from the event, the official line has still failed to nail down all the answers.
Still, press secretary Clint Watson boldly declared: “That’s behind us.”
I’m sure he’d love the issue to be behind them – but it really cannot be as long as there remains a failure to answer several outstanding questions.
But first let’s look at this week’s update. Mr Watson declared that the PLP has fully reimbursed the Public Treasury for the party’s trip to Bermuda.
That trip was in October – with Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis and a delegation, including former Prime Minister Perry Christie and a number of PLP representatives – travelling on October 19 and returning the next day.
However, despite saying that the PLP has fully reimbursed the cost to the Treasury, Mr Watson was unable to give a precise sum.
“We’re trying to finalise the total amount,” he said.
If you’re trying to finalise something, how can you know that the full amount has been paid?
For that matter, we know how long the public service can take – but just how much time could possibly be needed to know how much a trip taken in October cost?
The government paid the bills – the flights, the hotel rooms and whatever else it promised to pay on behalf of the PLP – so how much did it spend? That shouldn’t be a very difficult question to answer.
Mr Watson added: “I think it’s close – from the records I have received – it’s just under $60,000 in total for the entire thing.”
What was not provided – and really should be made public – are receipts for the entire endeavour. And for good measure, let’s see the cheque provided by the PLP and evidence it has been deposited in the Treasury.
There should be a line by line accounting for how much the government spent on behalf of a private political organisation.
The Bermuda trip, of course, has caused questions from the start.
Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell – or was it PLP chairman Fred Mitchell, it’s hard to tell which hat he was wearing in this instance – said there was nothing unusual about the trip when questions were asked back in October.
He said: “It was a standard foreign affairs goodwill trip, not a political trip.
“The Prime Minister spoke at the convention of the PLP in Bermuda. The Prime Minister met with the premier and members of his Cabinet in Hamilton and exchanged views on housing, transport and our relationship within CARICOM.
“The Prime Minister met with the Governor of Bermuda and pledged to appoint an honorary consul in Bermuda for The Bahamas.
“The visit was a success on all levels. He was able to solidify relations on a party to party basis with the next generation of leaders of The Bahamas and Bermuda. He was able to visit the grave of Dame Lois. He promised that there will be further governmental exchanges on public transport and housing and disaster relief.
“There was nothing unusual about the trip whether in its financing or otherwise. There was a one hour delay on departure to fulfil a requirement of air traffic control, but this was resolved by the airline. The flight departed without incident and landed safely in Nassau two hours and some later.
“The standard procedure is for most if not all flights of the Prime Minister to be arranged through the Office of the Prime Minister. When settlement of expenses are done there is a reckoning as between personal expenses and public expenses. That procedure was followed in this case and there is nothing unusual about it.”
However, while Mr Mitchell sang one song about the trip, communications director in the Office of the Prime Minister Latrae Rahming sang another, who said that travel costs were covered by the PLP and any further questions should be directed there.
Mr Mitchell meanwhile fell back on his old tactic of always going on the attack rather than being defensive – accusing the FNM of failure on foreign policy, criticising expenditure on The Bahamas’ Embassy in Brussels and calling FNMs “trolls”. All of which are entirely irrelevant to the point at hand and which Mr Mitchell has not mentioned particularly since.
However, it is clear that there were two different answers about what kind of trip this is – and the fact that days later a cheque was produced from the PLP to cover the cost of the expedition shows that it seemed Mr Rahming was more correct than Mr Mitchell.
That cheque was for $24,000 – just over a third of what the final total cost has been according to the figures suggested by Mr Watson. Mr Watson did suggest that the decision for the money to be paid from the party rather than the government came from the Prime Minister.
As for the Free National Movement, first there was a call for all the documents pertaining to the trip to be released, then leader Michael Pintard accused the government of breaking the law by using public money to fund the trip, naming Section 30 (1) of the Public Finance Act. That says “no public officer nor public office holder shall commit the government to a financial liability or contingent liability unless specifically authorised to do so under this or any other Act.”
He said: “Finally, we make him (Mr Watson) aware that Section 111 (1) (a) of the PFM Act states that ‘a public officer, or other person with responsibility for public resources commits an offence of financial misconduct if, without lawful authority, that person willfully or recklessly (a) incurs expenditure or makes commitments for expenditure of public money.’ Clearly, advancing money for a trip by a political or any other non-government entity is not public expenditure as defined in the Constitution or any statute law of The Bahamas.”
He added: “Parliament has not appropriated any sums of money to advance to outside entities for travel purposes. Indeed, Parliament could not do such a thing. Given that this is unauthorised public expenditure, it qualifies under the PFM act as expenditure ‘without lawful authority’ and as such it constitutes an offence under Bahamian law.”
Essentially, if we are to believe what has unfolded, the government did not know what the final cost would be – and still doesn’t – but offered a blank cheque to the PLP. The decision for that to be a loan rather than outright payment appears to have been made after the fact by Mr Davis.
Is this service also available to the FNM? To the Democratic National Alliance or the Coalition of Independents?
So while the government would clearly like this to be behind them, it absolutely should not be – not until all the receipts are shown, the documents asking for the funding are published, and it made clear why this trip was allowed on public money, and whether laws were broken in doing so. If that isn’t done, the only people being taken for a ride are the Bahamian people.
TalRussell 2 months, 1 week ago
@Tribune's Comrade Tyler McKenzie, you're so mistaken as to rely on Mr. Watson, having read,
Section Brit'tain's 111 (1) (a) of the PFM Act states that ‘a public officer, or other person with responsibility for public resources commits an offence of financial misconduct if, without lawful authority, that person willfully or recklessly (a) incurs expenditure or makes commitments for expenditure of public money', ---- Yes?
LastManStanding 2 months, 1 week ago
The whole cabinet would have resigned over this scandal if we were not a banana republic pretending to be a civilized country.
Sickened 2 months, 1 week ago
The Minister of Finance should be jailed for using public funds for anything other than public expenses. Thieves in charge of our finances and NOBODY in the Ministry of Finance put a hand up and asked any questions??? People need to get fired over this!!!
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