A LETTER TO THE EDITOR
I note with interest your editorial of today’s date. I commend you for your call for greater national unity and assure you of my personal commitment thereto.
Please however consider that this Mona Vie Scandal is not just some administrative oversight, as your editorial appears to be suggesting. The facts are clear:
i) The Minister of State did wrong. Not once but on at least three material accounts, as follows:
1) He failed to have recused himself as was appropriate because relatives were involved.
2) His personal conduct throughout the relevant period has not been consistent with standards expected of a Minister, based on criteria outlined by his Government. This has extended to misleading Parliament itself a fatal error.
3) A dereliction of duty for failing to act on the basis of serious allegations of conspiracy within the Customs Department.
ii) The Prime Minister said Mr. Laing did “nothing wrong”. This is both serious and amazing. I will say more about this at another time, but in the interim list the following as reasons why it would be in the public’s interest for Mr. Laing to resign from Cabinet:
a. The overall maintenance of law and order in society is greatly influenced by public confidence that no-one is above the law; that there is “zero tolerance” for whoever does wrong and clearly the Minister did wrong – not once but in three material ways.
b. Mr. Brent Symonette was made to resign from the Chairmanship of the Airport Authority for just one of the three transgressions made by the Minister. More recently the Member of Parliament for Kennedy and Mr. Keod Smith, the then Member of Parliament for Mt. Moriah were made to resign as Chairman of The Gaming Board and Ambassador for the Environment, respectively, for being involved in a fight – another transgression which was less severe than the three transgressions of the Minister. Additionally, a former Minister of Immigration was forced to resign, essentially for what was perceived as inappropriate conduct. This Minister must not be treated differently simply because he is perceived to be a special favorite of the Prime Minister.
c. There is no creditable defense for the minister, especially against the backdrop of the most recent General Elections with pledges from his Party about lifting, not just maintaining public standards; about accountability and transparency; about closing the “cookie jar” and generally about “Trust in Government”. Continuation of Minister Laing will Shatter the Government’s ‘Trust Agenda’
d. Min. Laing’s immediate predecessors in office were the Hon. James Smith and Sir William Allen. Partisan political affiliations aside, most Bahamians would agree that each of these gentlemen assumed the role in the Ministry of Finance having already earned a wide and deep respect within the business community at home and abroad. Without in any way being disrespectful of Mr. Laing, the record would suggest that he did not begin his tenure with a comparable degree of stature. It was his challenge to earn it. His conduct in this Mona Vie scandal, so early in his tenure greatly undermines his potential to achieve that. And without it his effectiveness as Minister will be crippled. It is also relevant that this comes at a time when the country’s economy is itself seriously challenged by an obvious slow down – circumstances which require a Minister not distracted by the need to clear or defend his personal reputation.
Frank Smith MP