Oswald Brown Writes
By OSWALD T. BROWN
It is now official that Minister of State for Finance Zhivargo Laing’s brother-in-law, Alfred “Milo” Stubbs is the new Assistant Comptroller of Bahamas Customs in Freeport, Grand Bahama.
This was confirmed in a memorandum dated December 19, 2011, from retiring Assistant Comptroller Lincoln Strachan to “all staff” of Customs in Grand Bahama, a copy of which I obtained today.
“On the 1st of January, 2012, I shall begin pre-retirement leave, leading to my retirement from the Department on 31st July 2012 after forty three (43) years of service,” Strachan wrote in his memorandum. “I therefore take this opportunity to thank you for the wonderful association we have had over the years.”
The memorandum adds: “I especially wish to thank you for your support during my tenure as the Assistant Comptroller of Customs for Grand Bahama and Walker’s Cay. Your continued support is expected for my successor, Mr. Alfred Stubbs, superintendent. As this is the season when Christ is being manifest to the world anew, I can think of no better way to say goodbye than to wish that the joys of Christmas and the peace of the Christ Child be with you now and always.”
Ordinarily, this would be considered just another formal memorandum from a retiring head of a department to his staff, but the eyebrow-raising aspect of Strachan’s memorandum is that Laing’s brother-in-law reportedly was fast-tracked to be in the position to succeed Strachan as Assistant Comptroller of Customs.
Indeed, Bahamas Customs officers were said to be very disturbed about the promotion of Milo Stubbs to Assistant Comptroller of Customs, given the fact that Laing, in his capacity as Minister of State for Finance, has responsibility for Bahamas Customs. This has led to charges of nepotism by some Bahamas Customs officers, who question Stubbs’ rapid rise to the position to become Assistant Comptroller.
In fact, Stubbs reportedly leap frogged over several senior and more experienced customs officers to be appointed to the position. Two years ago groups of Customs officers in Grand Bahama and New Providence reportedly sought legal advice from Grand Bahama-based lawyer Fred Smith and New Providence-based lawyer Wayne Munroe to find out if they had legal grounds to contest Stubbs being fast-tracked to become Assistant Comptroller of Customs after he was reportedly given a double increment and promoted to Customs Superintendent.
“The fact that his brother-in-law is the Minister of State for Finance, who has responsibility for Bahamas Customs, certainly gives rise to charges of rank nepotism,” one Customs officer said. “This can’t be right, and it obviously has had an effect on morale in Customs.”
This is not the first time that charges of nepotism have dogged Laing. Back in 2007, questions were raised in the House of Assembly by Frank Smith, PLP Member of Parliament for St. Thomas More, related to the alleged intervention by Laing after the then Comptroller of Customs John Rolle changed the duty on the importation of Mona Vie, a nutritional drink, from 10 percent to 45 percent.
According to information that surfaced at the time, Laing’s sister-in-law, who was one of the importers of Mona Vie, complained to him about the change in duty, and Laing reportedly requested that the Secretary of the Revenue look into the matter. Subsequently, the Comptroller of Customs allowed the lower rate of 10 percent to remain in place until the new budget process.
Due to legal constraints that prohibit press reports on lawsuits still pending before the courts, press scrutiny and further investigation into the mushrooming Mona Vie scandal were curtailed after Laing filed a defamation lawsuit against St. Thomas More MP Smith, retired Customs Comptroller Rolle, and Bain and Grants Town MP Dr. Bernard Nottage, then leader of the Opposition Business in the House, who conducted a comprehensive review of the allegations and concluded that “the Minister (Laing) is in a clear position of conflict of interest.” Laing’s lawsuit, however, remains among the backlog of cases still pending.
The revival of the Mona Vie scandal certainly appears to have created a dark cloud over Laing’s political future and this latest claim of nepotism is bound to raise further questions about his stewardship as Minister of State for Finance, given the fact that he and Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, in his capacity as Minister of Finance, are widely blamed for the poor state of the country’s economy because of their mismanagement of The Bahamas’ finances.
These are among the reasons believed to be responsible for his shocking announcement several weeks ago that he would not seek reelection as the MP for Marco City, but would rather try and be reelected to the House by running for the Fort Charlotte constituency in New Providence.
Sources say that Laing decided to abandon Marco City after he did a survey of the area in the aftermath of the constituency changes, which were structured by Prime Minister Ingraham to make it easier for him to win in Marco City, but the survey concluded that he would be badly beaten by PLP Marco City candidate Gregory Moss.