Christie Reponds to Prime Minister’s Support of Laing

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FULL Statement by Rt. Hon. Perry Christie MP
Leader of the Progressive Liberal Party

I have had the advantage of reviewing the statement made by the Prime Minister in support of the Minister of State Zhivargo Laing.

The Prime Minister’s statement was issued following upon the release of the comprehensive review of this matter by my Party which was issued on Wednesday 26th March.

Our review concluded that without question the Minister had placed himself in the position of approving the reduction of the customs duty on a specific product imported and sold by his sister-in-law. Mr. Laing made that decision at the request of his brother, Tyrone Laing, and for the benefit of his sister-in-law. The conflict of interest is clear.

The Prime Minister has condoned the wrongdoing of his minister. He has embraced every single aspect of the wrongdoing by adopting uncritically all of the misplaced arguments of his Minister of State.

The Prime Minister in his statement has mixed up the facts in a way that is bound to confuse and mislead.

The Prime Minister said: “The Minister at no time changed a customs duty rate. Neither the Minister nor the Comptroller of Customs is empowered to change customs duty rates.”

No one in the PLP alleged that the Minister changed the customs duty rate.

The facts are clear on this point.

The drink Mona Vie belongs properly and lawfully in a particular category.

It was moved by Customs from the wrong category which attracts 10% duty to the right category which attracts 45% duty.

The Minister’s relatives complained to the Minister in September 2007. The result was the Minister penned instructions to keep the product in the wrong category.

The Prime Minister’s statement masks the real issue. He suggests as his Minister did that because there were other complaints about the rate of duty on the drink at the time of the complaint made by the Minister’s sister-in-law that the Minister acted for the public good.

The record is clear.

The complaint was initiated formally by his sister-in-law. There was a follow up complaint by his brother over the telephone to the Minister of State. The Minister acted through his own hand and that of the Secretary for the Revenue. The Secretary for the Revenue directed Customs not to collect the correct rate of duty. The direct and intended beneficiaries of Mr. Laing’s intervention were his brother and sister-in-law.

That is the plain unvarnished truth.

The Prime Minister should explain to the Bahamian people what it is about this case that is fundamentally different from the case of Brent Symonette when he was made to resign over his conduct in awarding a contract at the airport to a company in which he or family members had a personal interest.

Even if the Prime Minister is correct, which we do not accept, that Minister Laing had the power to act as he did, the question still remains whether that power was properly exercisable by him in circumstances involving a clear conflict of interest between his public duty and his private interests, namely his interest in helping out his brother and sister-in-law.

In the case of Mr. Symonette it was not a question of whether or not he had the power to act as he did, but rather whether he could properly exercise that power in a way that involved serious conflict between his public duty and his private interests.

In summary then, the Minister of State must explain why he did not remove himself from any aspect of this decision. His decision aided his family members. What happened was wrong. No explanation by the Prime Minister can correct this. If Mr. Laing fails to act, the Prime Minister must do the right thing.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Let us start by simply saying, we at Bahamaspress.com hold ‘NO Political Bias’ on this website, that is for publications like the Tribune to practise bias editorials. We have viewed comments from both sides and can say and join the Prime Minister and ask the question, WHY WAS THE RATE CHANGE IN THE FIRST INSTANCE? Perhaps even the PM is exposing something sinister here. Many Bahamians are still unaware of the open practises of ACCOUNTABILITY. And, Minister Laing should have advise his senior about the matter before dealing with it like this. What is amazing is the fact that the minister cannot present a single letter by another vendor of the ‘Mona Vie’ other than that of his sister-in-law which did raised this matter with the Customs Department. Those other complaints have not been forthcoming nor presented by the minister. That brings further questions to this incident.

    And, if this can happen to a drink [Mona Vie], Imagine what can happen with the importation of a commercial generator, building supplies and other items. Parliamentarians are to provide FULL DISCLOSURE ON MATTERS, and not simply walk halfway through matters where national focus have been applied.

    My final point is this, the PLP has been no different on this, Bahamaspress.com can remind you that back around 2005, the customs department raided a trailer of beverages and other items, many cases of foreign liquors in Andros. The items were seized and confiscated, however, Mr. John Rolle never announced who was the owner of those illegal untaxed items. The items belonged to a Cabinet minister’s brother who sat in the Christie PLP administration.

    Bahamaspress.com is not about foolishness Roland, we are about exposing corruption wherever we find it. We are about exposing the truth wherever it is hidden and bring it to the fore. Zhivargo Laing was wrong in this, and we can go deeper in his practises of this kind of meddling, but would leave that for another time.

    Bahamaspress.com
    Editor

  2. As a person following this story,it appears that what is going on here is purely political foolishness. The course taken by Laing is the correct one and the party can better spend its time doing more constructive opposition work. Any fool with a little bit of sense knows that what the Comptroller did was wrong and no matter how he frame his response he is still wrong. Laws are made by parliment not individuals outside parliment and certainly the comptroller has never sat in those halls. Also as members of parliment who should be making the law,what the Comptroller did should make you all wonder why there are so many things wrong in this when people can be law unto themselves. So stop trying to justify foolishness and get on with being the best representatives of the bahamian people.although not

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