What are the parameters of “Cabinet Minutes?”

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LETTER TO THE EDITOR
By ELCOTT COLEBY

Dear Editor

It was recently reported in the local press that a private and confidential letter was tabled in the House of Assembly that revealed doubts Mr. Izmirlian had about investing billions of dollars in the Bahamas. This touched off a firestorm of criticism between the PLP and FNM about the issue of confidentiality and transparency in public affairs.

The member for Fox Hill argued that this revelation sent a “chilling” message to any future investor that they cannot in fact put their negotiating postures in writing [to the Free National Movement government] because somebody is going to pick it up and violate that confidence, and it is very concerning.” I would take it a step further and argue that all correspondence between Cabinet and investors are part and parcel of cabinet minutes and therefore protected by law for thirty years. The tabling of these confidential letters is a violation of that law. Further it is a violation of the oath of secrecy taken by a minister when he or she is sworn in as a minister of the government.

In a press release to respond to the Honorable Member from Fox Hill, the chairman of the FNM stated that the confidential letter released by the FNM indicated that the PLP was “incompetent, ineffective and untrustworthy” during those negotiations. I beg to differ as the letter from the principals from Harrah’s clearly indicated that the FNM government was “incompetent, ineffective, and untrustworthy” and was partly responsible for their withdrawal from the joint venture. The letter states:
“When coupled with Prime Minister Ingraham’s comments to the House of Assembly yesterday, we do not believe that the land will be delivered to the joint venture as planned.”

The letter further states the following:

“As of today, several conditions remain unsatisfied and the Prime Minister has now publicly stated that he questions your financial wherewithal and ability to meet the deadlines imposed by the government both of which are crucial to the success of the project.”

The record showed that when the Prime Minister signed the amended heads of agreement with Baha Mar, he publicly stated that the project was good for the Bahamas. He then went to parliament and talked down the project thereby clearly shaking the confidence of the principals involved in the project; this kind of behavior has to raise questions of trust.

In the press release, Mr Ferguson indicated that “any confidentiality that may have been required at any point has long since fallen away, and the FNM government rightly decided to give the Bahamian people a full accounting after picking up the pieces and trying to straighten out the mess left behind by the PLP”. I disagree that a mess was left behind by the PLP. Again the record shows that the Baha Mar deal became a mess after the FNM government renegotiated it and made certain public and ill-advised statements about the project. As for the FNM government’s decision to “give the Bahamian people a full accounting,” I urge the FNM government to put those words into practice and give the Bahamian people a full accounting of the role of the Minister of State for Finance played in the reclassification of the Mone Vie drink. This action was described as both “inappropriate” and “illegal” by the former Controller of Customs.

Mr Ferguson is well advised that governments cannot be selectively transparent and accountable as it deepens cynicism and weakens trust and confidence in government by the citizenry.

The tabling of the documents does raise a legitimate question about the parameters of cabinets, what is protected by law, and what is fair game. A more constructive public engagement is necessary to reach a consensus on the legal interpretation of “Cabinets Minutes” and the rule of law.

Your etc.,
ELCOTT COLEBY