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A Lack Of Accountability

As I write this column, I find myself questioning: ‘Is the Bahamas truly a country only for friends, families and lovers of politicians and the politically connected?’ The hullabaloo about the apparent conflict of interest regarding Sir Baltron Bethel—the government’s chief negotiator, consultant and senior policy advisor—and his son Leslie Bethel, the Chief Operating Officer of RAV Bahamas, an entity that is a major partner in the Resort’s World Bimini project, comes to mind. Moreover, Leslie Bethel also happens to be the president and CEO of the Notarc Management Group which describes itself as a leading management-consulting firm that has, in recent time, been rendering consulting services and attracting possible investors to the Bahamas with whom the Ministry of Finance—and potentially Sir Baltron in his senior advisory position—might have to negotiate. This stinks and smacks of a possible conflict of interest!

I decided to delay the follow-up on my recent VAT column, until next week as I am speaking to a number of local technocrats and specialists who are advising me as to the technical/accounting aspects of VAT. However, the seeming conflict of interest in the Bethel and Bethel saga could not go unspoken of.

Yes, I have wondered if Sir Baltron Bethel has or had in the past provided or been in a position to directly influence or provide any advice on any foreign investment proposals for the Bahamas that his son, Leslie Bethel, may have been serving as a consultant? When Prime Minister Perry Christie is seen sitting around a dinner table having a major investment meeting with prospective foreign investors and with the son of his chief advisor also present—but acting as consultant to the investors—it gives the appearance of a conflict and invites speculation. Frankly, it appears that—given the nature of the lack of disclosure relating to Sir Baltron’s son being on Mr Christie’s recent trip and his role—the Bahamian people have a right to demand answers to whatever related questions we may have!

Is Leslie Bethel’s seeming prominence as a consultant—to prospective foreign investors—due to the fact that his father happens to have the ear of the Prime Minister?

Over the years, we—as a nation— have become indoctrinated by this notion, after a general election, that it’s “pay back time” or “jobs for the boys.”

Indeed, during the 1984 Commission of Inquiry into drug smuggling, one Junior Rolle made it clear to the Commissioners that “in his view membership in a political party only made sense when it provided financial or material benefit. In his opinion membership in the ruling PLP gave him and other PLP members entitlement to financial and other considerations.”

And so, Sir Baltron has now been brought back as a chief advisor to the Prime Minister as he was between 2002-2007 and his son is not only the Chief Operating Officer of a major investment partner in the Bahamas but he seemingly operates a company that attracts and brings investors to these shores. Hmmmmmmm!

Last year, Madame Publisher wrote in her editorial:

“We see that Sir Baltron Bethel – brother of former minister Philip Bethel — who was the Hotel Corporation’s chief executive officer at the time of the 1988 Commission of Inquiry into the workings of the corporation, is back in the Christie fold. Now in his eighties, he is the senior policy adviser in the Office of the Prime Minister. Supporters have described him as Mr Christie’s ‘right hand man.’ At the time of the hotel inquiry the Commissioners found that although Mr Bethel ‘did not suffer from modesty’ in describing the importance of his position, and despite board chairman, Sir Lynden Pindling’s ‘attempt to justify’ his appointment, ‘there was never any rational basis for it and it should never have been made.‘”

Several years ago, Mr Bethel was not exactly found to be a saint at a Commission of Inquiry. As a result of this, I questioned his nomination for the knighthood a few years ago, asserting that I felt that others who are more deserving of such ennoblement have been persistently ignored.

How is it that the Prime Minister’s most senior advisor’s son just happened to be one of those with the inside scoop on the largest investment currently being undertaken in the Bahamas?

I cannot fault Mr Christie for having an advisor—someone he trusts. In fact, he gets a pass for that. However, that does not extend to what is a very tenuous occurrence and that is, that Sir Baltron’s son—as a result of the stars and the moons aligning—would have so much influence on the Bahamas’ investment portfolio. Frankly, just as talk about just existing and that though it exists it must be seen to be done, the public concern about the apparent conflict of interest gives Mr Christie some pause.

I like Mr Christie, I find him to be a nice individual—however, the bottom-line is that his administration appears to be simply not on our run!

FNM Deputy Chairman Dr Duane Sands told me: “Over the last few days, we’ve seen clear evidence that every single Cabinet Minister’s response to questions about the trip and recent national happenings appears to couched in dismissive contempt. As the wheels fall off, instead of a re-dedication to service, there is a real perception that the Christie cabinet is looking to make sure that they hold on to the lug nuts. One can only wonder if the treasure trove of ideas has run dry because the rhetoric is now shallow and perhaps the team that helped them to generate their campaign message ought to be recalled so that they have some creativity in day-to-day management of this country.”

Indeed, the government needs to define whether both Sir Baltron Bethel and his son Leslie Bethel are providing services that the government of the Bahamas has opted to access. Who exactly is the consultant for the government of the Bahamas, with the role of helping the government to find new opportunities because both gentlemen appear to be consultants who are doing the same thing—one performing consultative tasks for the prospective investor and the other for the government?

For me, the apparent nepotism in this whole affair is of concern, as it is a plague from which we have suffered so tremendously in this country and it ought to be clearly avoided.

At the beginning, I asked if our little country is a country where only friends, families and lovers of politicians and the politically-connected thrive. When one looks at the Board appointments, the Senatorial appointments and a host of other governmental posts, the spectre of a Bahamian elite—now, a PLP elite—is as obvious as white sand, blue skies and crystal clear waters but nowhere near as beautiful! Indeed, many Bahamians—many patriotic Bahamians—find themselves deeply disappointed, maybe even disgusted, at what obtains in this machine that we call government today. Frankly, whether now or later, unless Mr Christie forces real reform within his inner circle, the people will make him pay!

Relative to Leslie Bethel’s appointment as Chief Operating Officer at RAV Bahamas, was any deal facilitated by his father or anyone else within the government?

How difficult could Sir Baltron truly be in negotiations between himself and his son? I have a son and I cannot imagine myself looking across the table and seriously seeking to outmanoeuvre him when—in my own heart—I am raising him to be much better than me on all fronts. So, how then is it truly representing my side when deep in my heart I know that I would not hustle him or, as we say, “carry him hard”? Even if I could’ve, how could I put his back against the wall around a table and then, later on, we all meet and talk and laugh about it and, perhaps, plan our next theatrical performance? After all, in the words of the great Shakespeare, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”, right?

That said, certainly Sir Baltron and Leslie Bethel would never be allowed to sit on negotiating teams around the same table, right?!

What’s most disturbing about the Bethel affair is that there’s no effort on the part of the government to even pretend—so the arrogance and the hubris of the administration seems to indicate that there’s no longer a need to be accountable to anyone, least of all the Bahamian public. Quite a number of them seem to have forgotten that they are servants and not masters of the Bahamian people and that, if nothing else, Bahamians deserve an honest accounting or explanation. The onus is on them, not us! And so, Mr Christie’s intemperate remarks at the airport which he sought to explain away as being due to irritation and fatigue ought not to have been the return words of our nation’s leader, particularly as he had just travelled around the world on the people’s dime, doing the people’s business. Just the facts, Mr Prime Minister!

By: Adrian Gibson

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