Attorney General Maynard Gibson Speaks to the Budget 2012/13

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Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson

The May 2012 Election was about change. Bahamians voted for Vision 2030.

The FNM made the recession worse:

1. The FNM has failed to put Bahamians first.  They borrowed massively for infrastructure spending, but then directed the money to foreign contractors and workers instead of Bahamians.  The infrastructure spending – paid for by a big run-up of national debt — should have resulted in more jobs for Bahamians and more spending in the Bahamian economy.

2. The New Providence Road Improvement Project is vastly over budget and behind schedule, resulting in business closures, lost jobs and the worst cost overruns in the history of The Bahamas.

3.  The FNM was slow to respond to the recession’s effects, waiting to roll out training and jobs programmes in the months before an election.  This failure to invest in Bahamians means too few Bahamians continue to have the skills they need to compete for good jobs.

4.  Grand Bahama has suffered from years of unthinkable neglect.  There has been no vision, no plan, no strategy and no leadership.

5. The FNM imposed major tax increases on Bahamians – even as other governments across the world were easing tax burdens to help citizens and business owners through tough times.

6.      The FNM also raised taxes on tourists, even as the number of visitors was declining and competition from other countries was increasing.

What the FNM did to the economy is the Bahamas is unforgivable. As has been said, the FNM epitomizes incompetence.

The FNM members frequently blame the economic woes on the recession.  They take no responsibility for anything. I am going to read two quotes from the Prime Minister’s first budget communication on 25th November, 1992.

“Furthermore, these budgetary problems were allowed to develop at a time when a prudent Government would have recognized that cautionary measures should have been in place to meet any likelihood of a major recession in the US economy, and to cushion the resultant impact on our tourism driven economy.” He went on to say later in that same communication the following:

“It cannot be said that those who were responsible for managing the economy did not know hard times were coming, they just chose to ignore all the indicators.”

This is exactly what the FNM did – ignore all the indicators. They created a mess.

When the country could least afford more debt, the FNM heaped more and more debt on Bahamians who will have to pay for it into the next generation.

The road works were a major factor in the FNM making the recession worse. They were not a stimulus. A stimulus would have been dividing the roads into parcels and giving the contracts to Bahamian road builders. Not digging up the entire Island at one time, shutting down Bahamian businesses and putting Bahamians out of work. This destroyed the middle class. It caused hundreds of Bahamians to lose their homes.  Not only were they badly managed, the contracts were poorly negotiated with no provision for increase in oil prices, and badly negotiated penalty clauses.

It has been said that some of the FNM candidates negotiated with the FNM for the mortgages to be paid off before they became candidates.  I find it strange to hear people from a party who would secure their own homes, to turn around and complain about a program from a compassionate government that is negotiating with banks to save the homes of Bahamians.  Too many Bahamians lost their homes because of the FNM policies.

No one should be surprised though, this is the same FNM that had this to say about national insurance in 1974 during the debate on national insurance:

·    Get them out before the wreck this country

·    National insurance – death is the benefit

·    National insurance is a big rip off

·    National insurance is a beautiful name for income tax

·    National insurance could cause economic crisis

And this is the same FNM that knowing the condition perilous condition into which they thrust the economy issued approx $23M in contracts just before the election. Members in the other place and citizens have condemned what they view as an attempt to buy votes.

We have said that we will put in place laws to ensure that never happens again.

I am delighted that Bahamians have given the PLP the mandate to effect change for the people. Over the past 5 years, the FNM has thrust The Bahamian into the worst condition in living memory.  And they have abused the public purse in a way that is simply unimaginable – all to cling on to power.

In the months before the election they spent almost $23 Million in their desperate quest to reelected.

When the light of history is shone upon the FNM’s performance, the words “inept”, “incompetent” “mismanagement” “failure to put Bahamians first” will inevitably continue to come to the lips of Bahamians.

As they were touting “trusted leadership” they were busy handing out contracts days before the election.

[THE CONTRACTS THAT WERE WITNESSED BY PARKER AND PINTARD AND THE REMARKS MADE IN HOA ABOUT THEM]

Days before the election and on the day of election they issued employment letters. People were sent to a department in my portfolio to work when the FNM knew or ought to have known that there was no money to pay them.

Contracts were issued to known FNM supporters with no or no adequate remit and measurement for performance.

One of the FNM’s chief propagandists, if not the chief propagandist was issued contracts worth millions of dollars. My enquiries as to the remit of this contract and the means by which performance is to be measured have drawn blanks.

Similarly, the FNM issued a contract for court services worth millions of dollars to a known supporter. This contract again does not set out any standard by which performance is to be measured.

Madam President, Bahamians have heard that the economy is in much worse shape than we ever could have imagined.

We will have to work harder and smarter and be even more creative to deliver on our promise for change.

Very importantly, notwithstanding the terrible state of affairs in the economy there are no new taxes. Not one new tax in this Budget.

Law and order is the most pressing and serious matter affecting Bahamians.  We are in crisis.

The PLP was the only party to launch a comprehensive crime plan during the last election. Project Safe Bahamas addressed the entire spectrum from prevention to detection and prosecution to rehabilitation.

Key planks of Project Safe Bahamas, including UR, Saturation Patrols and SJ have already been launched.

The administration of justice is also much worse than we could have imagined.

If the FNM had not cancelled and relaunched a gutted UR, we know that crime would have been lower than it is now.

Who can forget the young man whose life was snatched away as he tried to run for safety into the UF office, not realizing that it was closed. Some tough decisions need to be made to effect efficiency in the administration of justice.

My enquiries reveal that we do not know how many criminal and civil cases are before our courts.  An audit is being conducted to determine how many cases are before the courts and how many are in a state of readiness for trial. This analysis might involve discontinuing cases. For example, if witnesses are no longer available, then the case may need to be discontinued.

Swift Justice was relaunched on 6th June 2012.

We would like to be clear that by the Swift Justice Initiative, the Government is committed to:

·      Concentrate on the effective management of serious cases (especially murder) from the Investigative stage.

·      Have all murder cases committed since May, 2012 tried within a year.

·      Have persons who attack a member of a disciplined force, a judicial officer or any other person involved in the Administration of Justice tried within six months.

·      Review existing murder cases to determine those which are heinous in nature and warrant the death penalty. These cases will be dealt with expeditiously at every level in the Courts.

·       Ensure that backlog cases are put in a state of readiness and prosecuted expeditiously.

·      Implement the Integrated Justice System to establish automation and connectivity of all the stakeholders in the Criminal Justice System.

·      Revitalize and strengthen the Witness Protection Programme.

·      Reporting regularly to the public.

·      Providing the means by which we can advise victims when accused have been released on bail.

Record keeping produces unreliable results.

·      Bail

·      Matters before the courts

·      Management of those matters

Notwithstanding what was said before in this place, we do not know the total number of civil matters before the courts and we do not know the total number of criminal matters before the Courts.

Bail

It is a matter of grave concern that we are unable to advise the total number of people out on bail and the offences with which they were charged before they were released on bail. Indicators are that there are more than 400 people on bail accused or charged with murder. Our goal is to have this information available at the click of a mouse.

My enquiries reveal that there is much room for abuse in the system.  For example, if the lawyer for Mr. X who charged with murder applies for bail, Mr. A, his lawyer, goes to the bail office to get a date. The bail office opens a new file for Mr. X’s bail. Mr. A, the lawyer goes before Judge 1 with the new bail file. Judge 1 may refuse bail. 4 weeks later, if the lawyer goes back to the bail office, another  new file is created. The Lawyer then appears before Judge 2, who, with a new file in front of him is not aware that bail was refused 4 weeks ago. Judge 2, not knowing that Judge 1 refused bail a few weeks ago, might grant bail. This is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. It clearly leaves room for abuse [including corruption].

We have asked that so far as the interests of justice allow, all relevant agencies keep one file on the same accused. This would enable decisions in relation to the accused to be made with all pertinent information in the possession of the decision maker.

Also we are making every effort to compile accurate lists of those out on bail for various offences. It is our intention to make these lists publicly available. Bail is granted in public. We believe that victims of crime have the right to know if and when persons accused of perpetrating crime are released on bail.

Citizens’ involvement in Swift Justice

We believe that swift justice is something to which citizens, including victims of crime and those accused of crime are entitled.

Persons accused, if they assert their innocence, want to have their names swiftly cleared.  Victims of crime want swift closure.

Since becoming Attorney General I have met many people who are deeply concerned about how long matters are taking to be tried. Their lives and their family’s lives have been forever changed by the crime. Many of them feel that the system does not adequately protect the rights of victims of crime. We must never forget that every time that a matter is set down and does not proceed, innocent people, families, experience again the deep pain of that crime. They are frustrated by trials being adjourned because witnesses don’t turn up, or the accused does not have a lawyer, or the accused is not in court and others incidents, many of which are avoidable if there is proper coordination of all agencies and if we are determined not to let persons “play the system”.  Victims have rights.

To further enhance the delivery of Swift Justice and the involvement of citizens as stakeholders, we intend to reimplement an advisory committee to the Minister.  I am a servant of the people and I want to ensure that as much as I can I get feedback from the people about what we are doing and about on their feelings about Swift Justice.

Madam President, we in The Bahamas are fortunate to have committed Judges whose integrity is unimpeachable. They sit ready to hear matters. Justice is too frequently not served when matters to not come on for trial.

We believe that the Case Management Rules recently promulgated by the Chief Justice will enhance significantly the administration of justice.

Swift Justice and Integrated Justice

I believe that most Bahamians agree that the stakeholders in law and order should coordinate and collaborate as much as possible. The ultimate way for swift integration and collaboration is use of technology.

Madam President, regrettably, the FNM abandoned the Bahamas Integrated Justice Information System (BIJIS), and thereby the significant progress that was made.  This software was to be used to facilitate integrated justice.  It was designed to track civil matters from the filing of a writ all the way through to the Privy Council.  And to be able to track criminal matters from arrest to the Privy Council.

In the 21st century Bahamas technology is an essential tool in the administration of justice. The Royal Bahamas Police Force has already obtained Integrated Justice software. This year we expect the OAG and the Courts to also obtain the same software so that all stakeholders can maximize efficiency using technology.

Some of the tangibles that Integrated Justice will achieve at the click of a mouse are:

1.   all stakeholders will be able know the state of readiness of matters;

2.   double booking of matters by lawyers will be avoided;

3.   double booking of police witnesses will be avoided; and,

4.   timelines will be more easily met.

Magistrates Courts

The Nassau Street Magistrates Courts are now occupied. It is a source of concern that there is not an office in the complex for security. This matter is being addressed.

Regrettably the complex was opened without proper attention being paid to matters such as general security and the proper location of prosecutors. These matters are also being addressed.

We also expect this year to enhance security at the Magistrate’s Court in Eight Mile Rock, Grand Bahama.

We note the request for a Magistrate in Andros and one Exuma. These requests are being given serious consideration.

Court Reporters and Swift Justice

The Court Reporter’s Unit is critical to the administration of justice.  The performance of the Unit impacts Swift Justice. The prosecutors at OAG are not able to prosecute matters the subject of completed preliminary enquiries until transcripts of the enquiries are completed.

The performance of the unit also impacts the civil courts.  It is simply unsatisfactory for litigants to wait for sometimes more than a year to receive a transcript.

Serious consideration will also be given to the implementation of digital recording, following the successful pilot project done in  2006/7.

Our young people should be aware that there is a very significant future in Court Reporting and a great demand right now for Court Reporters.

OAG and Swift Justice

Clearly Mr. Speaker, the Office of the Attorney General is a key stakeholder in Swift Justice, a term used here in its broadest sense. Victims of crime want to know that prosecutors will be prepared and will act swiftly in their matters. Those waiting for opinions from OAG want to swiftly receive them as those opinions impact the lives of people. International agencies want swift responses from OAG. Our actions may impact justice in another country. People who used to own the land now Sir Milo Butler Highway and the Charles Saunders Highway are waiting for OAG to advise the government so that they can get payment for their land. Members of this place, on behalf of their constituents want legislation to be swiftly prepared.

It is my goal and that of all the legal officers for the Attorney General’s Office to be as good as or better than most of the large law chambers in the country. We want to become this country’s pre-eminent law chambers, as I sincerely believe we ought. Additionally, the office has set out to reform the minds, the culture and thinking of not only the legal officers to the notion of pre-eminence but also the entire staff. To this end we will conduct a series of workshops and seminars, designed and focused on the business of improving and changing the current culture to one that is all about achieving excellence and reaching a state of  pre-eminence.

Madam President, all lawyers in OAG do not have computers. The library does not have necessary texts. And all lawyers do not have access to legal search engines. Again, this is another example of the misplaced priorities of the past administration.

Legal officers will have available to them computers to assist with their case management and case scheduling. OAG is creating its own internal network to enhance intra office communications and communications with government, data sources and other private and international bodies.

New Policy on Pupilage

We shall reinstate the policy on pupilage that was cancelled by the FNM.

This new policy therefore will allow my office to engage such persons for the duration of their pupilage. Upon completion, the office would then make a determination as to whether it wishes to offer them permanent employment as Assistant Counsel or not.  For the lawyers who are Civil Servants, the intention is that upon completion of their pupilage, they would return to their respective employment as In-House Counsel.

REGISTRAR GENERAL

·      essential agency

·      birth – death and all in between

·      immediately 4 thrusts:

o     WIPO – meet all international standards

o     Companies

o     Deeds and Documents

o     Maritime marriages registry

[SPEAK HERE ABOUT DESTINATION MARRIAGES, BAHAMIAN ENTRPRENEURS AND REGISTRARS NOT MARRYING PEOPLE BETWEEN 9-5]

·      With private sector committees [PPP]

·      Reduce to a bare minimum, if any, marriages conducted by the Registrars
·      Move to engagement of the full complement of Registrars

SPEAK HERE ABOUT FINANCIAL SERVICES ESPECIALLY BAHAMIANS TRAINING ABROAD AND THE POTENTIAL TO TRANSFORM THE BAHAMAS.

YOUNG PEOPLE/YOUTH MANDATE

We have a  comprehensive youth mandate. You will hear our new generation speaking about it as they speak about their Ministries.

The Prime Minister is coordinating youth efforts between various ministries to ensure that overall youth master plan is being executed in timely fashion
We will reinvigorate the unprecedented public prvate sector partnership that existed during the 1st Christie administration – coordinating and incentivizing the creation of new programs for youth by members of society/corporate Bahamas  acting in conjunction with Government.

This is what doubling the investment in education and training means – like after school academic programs, sports programs, mentoring programs, art programs, dance etc.

THE DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM

We will also see a youth thrust in the social services arena.

Young entrepreneurs will experience the focus on them through BAIC, the Development Bank, Mortgage Corporation all of whom have an entrepreneur development and support mandate.

“I believe the crime problem today is a result of not enough of this type focus 10 years ago. We will make progress, but we are going to find it challenging to curb activities of this large group of criminals that our society has created. Swift Justice can help, school policing can help, urban renewal can help, education and training can help, more police can help, but there are just so many criminals. Targeted/organized/aggressive youth efforts is going to be a very important way to ensure that less criminals are created 10 years from now. And not only that, in the process we will create a lot more inspired, educated, exposed, young leaders.”