Oswald Brown Writes – Laing should not be speaking for the FNM
By OSWALD T. BROWN
Former Minister of State for Finance Zhivargo Laing should be the last person to be giving the new PLP government advice, giving his track record in providing financial advice to former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, who was the Minister of Finance in the former FNM government.
It is unquestionably because of the mismanagement of this country’s economy by Laing and Ingraham that the new PLP government met the economy of The Bahamas in such bad shape after the May 7 general election. This is precisely the point that Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell makes in an article published in this morning Nassau Guardian, in which Laing urges the government to extend the 52-week pre-election jobs program instituted by the FNM as an election ploy.
In a statement he released, Mitchell noted that the Ingraham government allocated $25 million in the budget for the program “but then in a desperate attempt to save their party in office allowed the bill to run up to $4.8 million and counting.”
“Just over 100 days ago, his government was booted out of office for their wild and wooly running of the affairs of the country,” Mitchell said. “Their mismanagement of the economy necessitated a $500 million deficit, exceeding the road works program in New Providence by almost $100 million, and inflating the government payroll with gratuitous contracts to their friends and cronies.”
Obviously, Laing is jostling for position in the free-for-all battle that’s developing to determine who will comprise the leadership hierarchy of the FNM in the aftermath of the retirement of Ingraham, who controlled the FNM dictatorially as if it were his personal fiefdom.
In a press statement a couple weeks ago, former Labour Minister Dion Foulkes released a statement contradicted remarks made by Dr. Hubert Minnis, the appointed leader of the FNM, about the FNM’s past record of victimization. Dr. Minnis later admitted that Foulkes did not let him see the statement before he made it public. More likely than not, this is also the case with regard to Laing’s statement on the 52-week jobs program, which clearly should have been approved by Dr. Minnis, assuming that it was not.
The bottom line is that Laing would do well to try and repair his sullied reputation by explaining to the Bahamian people why, as a Minister of State, he was paid $6,000 a month more than the other Ministers of State and what was the extent of his involvement in the Mona Vie scandal that rocked the Ingraham administration only months after it returned to power in 2007.
Many of you may recall that before he abandoned the Marco City constituency in Grand Bahama to run for Fort Charlotte in New Providence, Laing was dogged by a “revival” of the Mona Vie scandal, which was a hot topic in 2008. The scandal centered around a decision made by the then Comptroller of Customs John Rolle to properly change the duty on the importation of Mona Vie, a nutritional drink, from 10 percent to 45 percent and the alleged involvement of the then Minister of State for Finance Laing in reportedly seeking to have that decision reversed. Laing’s sister-in-law was one of the importers of Mona Vie.
Questions were also raised about Laing’s brother-in-law being fast-tracked to become the Assistant Comptroller of Customs earlier year, despite the fact that there were a number of more well qualified senior customs officers. The questions were related to the fact that as Minister of State for Finance, Laing had responsibility for Bahamas Customs, and the issue of whether nepotism was involved became a widespread topic of discussion.