Nassau, Bahamas — A series of devastating blows of ugly truth have rocked the Free National Movement Government and public perception of the Administration is at an all-time low. Like Bruce Golding, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham faces the biggest challenge of his political career and he may be wondering why he went back on his word not to serve more than two terms as the nation’s chief. His Cabinet Ministers have a tarnished public image and his team has failed to give him that squeaky clean image that he had hoped for. Instead, Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette tops the list of poor public perception, and there are growing concerns about his monopoly of businesses in the Bahamas.
Renown journalist Daniel Okrent’s latest published works, “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” reveals that the DPM’s father, Sir Roland “Pop” Symonette gained his wealth through illegal bootlegging, earning what is equivalent today to some $210 million. The book says Sir Roland erased the stain of bootlegging from his name by investing his money in legitimate businesses to become Premier of the Bahamas in 1964.
His son will not face the same luck. DPM’s Symonette’s stains will not be so easily erased by a not-so-forgiving public, which has matured and learned to expect more from politicians. The Symonette family fortune, estimated at nearly $1 billion, has assets in so many facets of Bahamian society that what is being revealed abut the financial kickbacks the Symonette family receives from the Bahamas government may only be the tip of the iceberg.
When the FNM Administration came to power in 2007, one of their initial major projects was the Nassau Harbour Port Improvement Project. Mr. Symonette and Environment Minister Earl Deveaux must have had the twinkle in their eyes as the documents were signed, because to date, Bahamians have yet to benefit from this project. While it did take the shipping frenzy away from Downtown, it left an eyesore on Bay Street, which has yet to be revitalized. Latest reports indicate that DPM Symoentte earned $60 million from that project. Due to the fact that Minister Deveaux was the front man and was pushing the project, it can very well be expected that he, too received kickbacks from his Cabinet colleague for bearing the pressure of the press and the public, as well as the group protests led by Senator Jerome Fitzgerald.
Mr. Deveaux was in charge of the project when the father of his daughter’s three children was allegedly granted a $2 million contract to provide fill for Symonette’s company, Bahama Hot Mix. Mr. Deveaux is the biggest let-down to the public because of the amount of dredging that has occurred during his tenure as an environment Minister, in situations that were far from transparent. These included the port development as well as the dredging of harbor marinas by the Aga Khan IV and former Lyford Cay resident, hedge fund billionaire Louis Bacon.
While Symonette and Deveaux are in the hot seat for ignoring all conflict of interest signs and raking in loads of cash under the guise of Government Projects, it can be safely assumed that these multi-million dollar kickbacks have benefitted Mr. Ingraham and the rest of the Cabinet as well. But Mr. Ingraham’s dictatorial style of leadership may mean that only certain ministers in his Cabinet could be involved in what may be an attempt to secure personal financial gain before the PM’s retirement.
The shady Cable and Wireless deal that has yet to benefit the Bahamian public was a case of conflict of interest openly admitted by the Prime Minister, who still allowed the sale even after nepotism and non-disclosure was uncovered. The Cable and Wireless case is also a classic example of the rich benefiting in this FNM term of administration while the poor suffer. Thousands of BTC phone card vendors were unceremoniously removed off of the streets within less than a year of being given BTC permits, sings and vests authorizing them as street side vendors. The government released unemployment statistics which could not account for the thousands of vendors who were removed from the streets around that time.
Disillusionment and crime are the result of such an action, and the massive rise in crime indicates, through police reports, that many of these are drug related cases. Those who once peddled drugs turned to roadside vending as legitimate means of income, and now have turned back to drug peddling, robbery, retributions and extortion as means of survival.
Meantime, the PM reportedly told a boat captain while he was out fishing and was asked about crime: Ï can do something about the roads. I can’t do anything about crime.” If the PM feels he can do nothing about crime, then maybe this is why he hasnt come up with the answers we Bahamians desperately need about crime fighting and prevention.
He said he could do something about the roads, but even the New Providence Road Improvement project is a mess all over the capital with no end in sight. Even the engineering of the roads seem off to the average Bahamian who uses commons sense.
Digging up all of the roads at one time also contributed to the rapid spread of the Dengue fever, as water collected and sat untreated and ignored by Minister of the Environment Earl Deveaux, who did not come up with equitable solutions to the scourge. Deveaux should have had garbage collectors working overtime to clean up the streets, while the Department of Environmental Health Services should have been commissioned to clear mosquito hazards from properties and abandoned buildings while treating any water sitting in ditches along the dug up roads.
With everything being dug up, from the shoreline to the harbor to the streets, there is serious cause to believe the warnings of Pierre Dupuch, son of Sir Etienne Dupuch, and of FNM heritage. Dupuch believes strongly that the Cabinet is benefiting from millions of dollars selling the fill from the Bahama Islands, which is amongst the most prized in the world, earning top dollar. Veteran journalist Steve McKinney has long called for an investigation into what has happened to all of the fill that has been dug up from major investments all across the Bahamas during the FNM term of Administration.
The FNM has proven what critics have long suspected – that under their leadership, the rich would get richer, while the poor would get poorer and situations would become much worse for the disenfranchised. This time is reminiscent of when PM Ingraham claimed that whoever won the Referendum he called would win the election. When he contradicted himself and came back to power, he gave the public a chance to see his nakedness, as he attempted to step up onto the altar of the greatest Bahamian population to date, currently held by the Father of the Nation, Sir Lynden Oscar Pindling.