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Millions For Smoke And Mirrors

THE 2013/2014 fiscal budget is supposed to be presented in Parliament in less than two weeks. The Budget is the most important group of Bills presented each year, and this year’s Budget will be particularly crucial because The Bahamas is facing a credit status review by Wall Street in September.

Unless our government has demonstrated what it has been called upon by Wall Street ratings agencies to do, we are almost certain to suffer a second sovereign credit downgrade; the first having occurred late last year. What probably did not help matters was that Wall Street was anticipating a Mid-Year Budget to make certain determinations about our progress or lack thereof in cutting debt, cutting expenditure and boosting revenue. The government refused to produce a Mid-Year Budget despite its announcement to the country and the world that it would do so.

The upcoming budget and sound governance should be our primary focus. Instead, the government has been working doubly hard at creating a series of smokescreens designed to distract us from what could be ahead for a country whose financial situation has deteriorated to the point of government workers going months without being paid.

And while government employees and government bills remain unpaid, we the taxpayers have reportedly paid out almost $1.5 million for the government’s two most recent sets of smoke and mirrors – their NIB report and their shambolic Gaming Bill.

The True NIB Scandal

The true scandal at NIB is that it appeared that the government attempted to snatch $20m of our NIB money in two separate transactions to share with their affiliates. Both these transactions were reported on in the press when termination letters and affidavits as part of the shakeup in NIB were made public.

The government attempted to take $10m to purchase the Finlayson’s City Markets Building at twice the building’s reported value. It also appeared that the government then attempted to carry out what I am told would have been an illegal investment of $10m in NIB funds into a “group” that includes noted PLP officials and stalwarts.

This is the scandal that has taken place at NIB since last year’s elections. From all reports, it was clear that both these transactions were thwarted because the Director of NIB Algernon Cargill was doing his job. I shall not go into specifics of these matters that are now before the courts, but will point out that the NIB “audit” that was not an audit of NIB at all, appears to have been a $861,000 smokescreen the government threw up to distract the Bahamian people from their plan to get at least that $20m.

The government chose an accounting firm wherein the Prime Minister’s relative is a partner, to conduct what they said would be an audit of NIB. Communications from that firm now reveal that the firm was not instructed to audit the National Insurance Board at all, but was instructed by Minister Shane Gibson to report on two matters – Algernon Cargill and executive bonuses that management at NIB received during the FNM administration.

Grant Thornton’s letters to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and National Insurance did not indicate an instruction though, to report on the bonuses that were given after the PLP took office. No surprise of course, because the report had nothing to do with NIB as an organisation, and everything to do with trying to create more ammunition to remove the stumbling block to what appeared to be plans to raid the real cash cow of the country.

Minister Gibson said that only he and one or two others in government had the “audit” report, then suddenly one part of the report – the part about Algernon Cargill – was leaked to certain persons in the media. Again, no surprise, because when a government leaks its own work to elements in the media, it does so to create and control the propaganda about that work.

The propaganda line was how much money NIB’s executive managers received in executive bonuses over a period of several years. And that propaganda line might have continued to work were it not for the fact that the government turned right around and issued a report on those bonuses whose cost totalled over $100,000 more than all those bonuses combined.

So several executives collect over $700,000 in executive bonuses over several years and that is a tragedy. But then the government gives over $861,000 in several weeks – not years – to a single firm partnered by the Prime Minister’s relative and that is fine, right? Even in their quest to do their usual wrong, this administration cannot manage to get their wrong right these days.

They tried to get $20m of our NIB money. They managed to get over three-quarters of a million to produce a “report” that simply replicated everything the government already floated last year to the public about this matter. So in other words, $861,000 of our money was spent on absolutely nothing of use for the Bahamian people.

Understand this. NIB is the big game in town right now for those whose mind is set on raiding the cookie jar that is the Bahamian people’s money. NIB is where the truly long dollars are. No new foreign direct investment is coming into the country thanks to the government’s lack of governance, people are jobless and customs duties are not being collected as they ought, so revenue is not coming into the Treasury as it could. There is only so much in the Treasury to raid.

So what must the government do? Take your eyes off their activities and try to put it elsewhere. They distract you with a “shocking” report that Minister Gibson turned right around and said had nothing new or surprising in it, all the while they try to figure out a way to resume their plans for the cash cow of The Bahamas.

Incidentally, while speaking to the media this week about the court matter involving Mr Cargill’s suspension from NIB, Minister Gibson said, “knowing Mr Cargill as I do, I know that he would not or will not lie to the courts”. Well, what a revelation. If you know he would not lie to the courts, you are suggesting you know him to be an honest man? Well, Mr Gibson, if you know that to be so, then what is your motive behind trying to make the country think he is the absolute opposite?

The motive is simple. Over three-quarters of a million dollars for a smokescreen report to help you forget that were it not for the NIB Director’s reported refusal to go along with what he knew wasn’t right, $20m of our social security money would already be gone from National Insurance.

The Shambolic Gaming Bill

The Bahamian people reportedly paid over a half-million dollars for this Bill, cut and pasted together by a South African consultant. I mention this detail at the outset because it exposes the absolute hypocrisy of why the government leaked this shambolic Bill to their elements in the media in the first place. And I call the Bill shambolic because it is a Bill the government never planned to table in the form it leaked.

Suddenly this Bill appears, with the media message that the Bill will be allowing our hotels to offer online gaming to their patrons – something web shop bosses are not allowed to do. The propaganda line therein? Foreigners are being allowed to do what Bahamians can’t and it’s just not fair.

If actual journalism went into the reporting of that purported Bill, this line of propaganda would not have been promulgated. Why? Atlantis, as one example, did not need that Bill to carry out online gaming – the government already gave them prior permission to do so and they are doing so now without the Bill even being tabled, much less passed. This is essentially because Atlantis is already in the business of casino gaming.  To conduct another aspect of that gaming did not require a brand new Bill hundreds of pages long drafted by a foreign consultant as if the Attorney General’s Office no longer drafts government Bills.

So since the Bill was not even needed to allow Atlantis to begin online gaming, what was the purpose of leaking the Bill? The purpose was for the government to try to create a controversy it could use as an out for its disastrous gaming opinion poll in January where Bahamians overwhelmingly rejected the government’s propositions put to them therein.

See, the government was convinced Bahamians were going to vote yes in that opinion poll. They didn’t. That left them in a bind because the numbers men, who also were likely certain they were on the path to “getting straight”, were probably none too happy with the results of that poll. Since then, at least one of them has come out to say business is now at a standstill due to patrons’ fears of police raids.

So the government needed an out. And the way to create that out was to float something to the public that would make them angry enough that they would protest against their own January “no” vote. What the government floated was the line about foreigners (the hotels) being able to get what Bahamians cannot.

To up the ante of the charade, Gaming Minister Obie Wilchcombe announced an historic legislative change in the Bill – work permit holders and permanent residents would now be able to gamble too. This would surely cause Bahamians to riot, right?

But remember now – it was the government who leaked its own Bill with all these controversial measures therein. Then one by one, government MPs and Ministers started coming out against their own Bill, demanding that equal rights be given to Bahamians. Sound fishy yet?

And remember – it is the Cabinet that started work on this Bill from last year so they obviously knew what was in it. But then they started coming to the public like the Bill dropped out of the sky, and they as supposed fighters for the rights of Bahamians, were opposed to their own Bill that they created.

They were hoping Bahamians would “see the light” and storm the gates demanding that they be allowed to conduct online gaming just like Atlantis. Translation? Give these Bahamian numbers men their licence too then just like you are doing for the foreigners. Good plan. It’s not working though.

The government later announced it would table the Bill on a day the House would not even be meeting, announced that the leaked Bill may not come to Parliament in its present form, and the charade continues.

An over half-million dollar smokescreen created by the government – to distract the country from governance and instead to once again put the country’s focus on helping them keep the promises they made to the country’s numbers bosses.

The NIB report, the Gaming Bill and let’s not forget the opinion poll that cost over a million dollars – millions in total for smoke and mirrors to deflect the attention of an increasingly angry electorate from the performance of an increasingly floundering and exposed government.

Sharon Turner
“According to Me” Tribune Column

Posted in Opinions

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