''Corruption Threatens Economy''
''Every government of the Bahamas, because of our political history, has a paramount duty to do everything in its power to avoid the very perception of sleaze, influence peddling or corruption,'' says Bethel
Saying that corruption threatens the economic success of The Bahamas, former Attorney General Carl Bethel, now chairman of the Free National Movement, on Thursday called for an independent ethics committee to review allegations of impropriety on the part of parliamentarians.
Mr. Bethel said the committee should not be a parliamentary committee, but should be comprised of respected civilians.
"Every government of the Bahamas, because of our political history, has a paramount duty to do everything in its power to avoid the very perception of sleaze, influence peddling or corruption," he said.
"There is no doubt in anybody's mind that the Progressive Liberal Party in the last election was elected on a clear mandate to bring an end to what they said was corruption in public life."
Mr. Bethel, who was a guest on the Radio Love 97 talk show "Issues of The Day", brought up the involvement of Progressive Liberal Party Senator Philip Galanis, who was an equal partner in Island Fresh Dairy Limited, which requested $30 million in government land for its project.
"When the prime minister announced this proposal in November, Mr. Galanis was still an equity owner in this business," Mr. Bethel said. "That raises a question, on what basis that could have even reached the stage where it could be announced by the prime minister and spoken of as though it was an ongoing matter."
While Mr. Galanis said Tuesday night that it is not unusual for an attorney or an accountant who helps to set up a company to hold shares in that entity, the FNM Chairman, who is also an attorney, said, "Most professionals know that it's very rare for, let's say, a lawyer who forms a company to own a share in equity...They would not be a beneficial owner."
Mr. Bethel said that the FNM never suggested that the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation actually owned any equity in the company, but the documentation seemed to indicate that BAIC would own equity.
He said the opposition has a constitutional duty to ask questions where there are questionable circumstances.
Meanwhile, demanding an immediate apology from the leadership of the Free National Movement for comments made Tuesday regarding the involvement of Mr. Galanis in the dairy business, Progressive Liberal Party Chairman Raynard Rigby on Thursday called the statements "another evil, wicked and devious plot by the FNM."
However, Mr. Bethel told the Bahama Journal that there is no need to apologize when one is speaking truth.
The FNM said in a media release that the fact that Mr. Galanis was first a consultant and then an equal partner in Island Fresh Dairy was evidence of conflict of interest and influence peddling.
But Mr. Rigby said that the issue was a dead one and the FNM was trying to create controversy out of nothing.
According to the Island Fresh Dairy business plan, BAIC's stake in the company would have come in exchange for granting land for the operation, a practice Mr. Galanis has pointed out is not unusual.
Mr. Rigby said that the FNM is desperate and misguided in seeking to use the issue to point to an alleged violation of the PLP'S code of ethics.
"The fact of the matter is that the government has not approved any such project involving Island Fresh Dairy," he said. "It is of no surprise that the FNM would stoop to a nasty and cheap game with the sole intent of attempting to discredit the integrity of the Government of The Bahamas."
Island Fresh Dairy was announced by Prime Minister Perry Christie at his party's national convention last November as one of the projects that would help drive economic prosperity in Abaco.
Mr. Rigby said, "The fact that its leader, Senator Tommy Turnquest, wishes now to withdraw the accusations and say that they were merely asking questions about the proposed investment is a lame attempt and a feeble effort to justify the factual basis on outlandish accusations against the government and the party."
Mr. Rigby said the FNM has an obligation to put the evidence in the public domain showing that an approval had been obtained by the principals of Island Fresh Daily.
"We say to them today, in rather frank and categorical terms either put up or shut," he said. "The PLP remains committed to the core principles of good governance, accountability and integrity. As the Prime Minister has said on numerous occasions, we are a party that will not allow corruption to enter our midst."
Mr. Rigby said that the FNM was dishonest, misleading and politically irresponsible to suggest that the government has already approved the Island Fresh Dairy project.
There was, however, indication from one official of the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation that the company's request for government land was likely to be approved.
In a letter he wrote to the president of the company on July 29, 2003, former Executive Chairman of BAIC Sidney Stubbs said, "I would like to confirm to you that in principal this objective can be achieved."
Mr. Rigby said after two years, the PLP administration is satisfied with its efforts to ensure that integrity is returned to public office.
On Wednesday, Mr. Galanis refuted the FNM's claims that the dairy project has been approved by the government. He said the proposal was submitted to the Ministry of Financial Services and Investments last November and is still being considered by that Ministry.
He told members of the press that he was initially one of the project's six shareholders and later sold his interest in the project and now has no affiliation with the proposal.
Mr. Galanis said he gave up his interest in the company because he did not think he would be able to maintain his proportionate ownership in the investment.
The Bahama Journal