Prime Minister’s Remarks Cause for Concern

christieIt is widely known that Ishmael Lightbourne was the managing partner of one of The Bahamas’ most prestigious accounting firms. He had, and possibly continues to hold, ownership interest in a high-end accessory shop in downtown Nassau.

Lightbourne, for whatever reason of his own making, was ousted or forced to resign from his position in the accounting firm.

Sometime after the first Christie government came to office in 2002, the prime minister and minister of finance, Perry Christie, gave Lightbourne a three-year contract for a job reserved for a Bahamian at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.

The job is very well paid. Because the World Bank is an international financial institution, its employees are not required to pay U.S. income tax on their salaries. The post held by Lightbourne would have had other financial benefits attached including health insurance and a housing subsidy.

When Lightbourne returned to The Bahamas at the conclusion of his three-year contract with the World Bank, he sought employment with the Ministry of Finance. My information is that the former FNM government gave favorable consideration to his application but did not agree to engage him in the end because Lightbourne’s former firm was unwilling to provide him with a favorable reference.

Now Prime Minster Perry Christie tells us that he agreed to engage Lightbourne as his tax advisor on the implementation of VAT because he wanted to give the accountant, who had fallen on hard financial times, a second chance.

Lightbourne’s first second chance from a Christie government would have been his comfortable contract employment as The Bahamas’ representative at the World Bank. That makes this new advisory post at the Ministry of Finance a third chance for Lightbourne.

It is curious that the prime minister would agree to engage Lightbourne in our Ministry of Finance as a tax advisor when he could not get a favorable recommendation from his former firm.

We must believe that Lightbourne lost his position in the accounting firm because of some action on his part. The thousands of Bahamians who lost their employment through no fault of their own as a result of the Great Recession will be justifiably envious of Lightbourne’s good fortune. They might all be asking when they can expect the government to find them a first “second chance” to make a respectable salary.

I was also alarmed to read Christie’s admission of interfering in the private operations of a banking institution to stop them from repossessing his tax consultant’s residence. It seems that Lightbourne had defaulted on, or was about to default on, the home mortgage for his residence, the residence on which he has also refused to pay real property tax for as many as 10 years.

The greatest hypocrisy in the entire misadventure of the Ministry of Finance engaging Lightbourne was displayed by Lightbourne himself when, at town meetings on VAT, he suggested that a special court should be established to deal with VAT cheats once the new tax is introduced.

Some 17,000 Bahamians lost their jobs in the Great Recession. Many of their employers reported that they were excellent employees. Their jobs had simply disappeared in the recession – through no fault of their own. Many thousands of those newly unemployed Bahamians defaulted on their home mortgages and lost them. They must now be asking why the prime minister did not make a call to their banks on their behalf.

Many others left unemployed by the Great Recession continue to struggle to hold on to their mortgaged homes. They must be asking when the prime minister will make the call to their mortgage holders for them.

The prime minister by his admission in the House of Assembly has confirmed what many in the public have long suspected – that is, that the PLP uses its position of influence and power to extract financial benefits and favors for selected PLP supporters.

During the 2012 election campaign the PLP made huge promises about rescuing all those Bahamians who were losing their homes through mortgage default because they had lost income as a result of the Great Recession. They made a special pitch to single Bahamian women who were heads of their households. But, if my memory serves me right, the PLP government’s Mortgage Relief Programme assisted exactly one family other than Lightbourne. The promised reworked program meant to help at least dozens more has yet to make an appearance.

The prime minister’s admissions in the House of Assembly and his decision to engage as an advisor in the Ministry of Finance an individual who could not get a favorable recommendation from his former firm, raises serious questions about his fitness to hold the high office entrusted to him by the people of our country.

By: Kirkland Turner