Saturday, September 18, 2010

Environment Minister Earl Deveaux and Prince Karim Aga Khan lV's helicopter

The Cabinet Minister and the Prince's helicopter
tribune242 editorial

THE PLP never cease to amuse us.

Knowing the party's own free-ride history, we were surprised members would have the temerity to venture into the debate on whether Environment Minister Earl Deveaux should have accepted Prince Karim Aga Khan lV's helicopter to fly him to a meeting with the Bahamas National Trust at the prince's Bell Island development.

The prince's proposal to develop his private island, located within the environmentally sensitive Exuma Land and Sea Park, is now before the cabinet. In the public eye the reason for the flight made Mr Deveaux's helicopter ride precarious.

There were those who believed that Mr Deveaux's acceptance of the prince's hospitality was a conflict of interest.

Of course, the PLP quoted Prime Minister Ingraham's "standards of conduct for ministers of government", which was prompted by Mr Ingraham's alarm on becoming prime minister to find the extent to which the free-wheeling practices of some ministers and civil servants during former prime minister Perry Christie's administration had been honed to a fine art.

"Ministers must avoid accepting any gift or hospitality, which might appear to compromise their judgment or place them under an improper obligation," said a PLP press release quoting from the Ingraham code of conduct.

On the face of it, it would appear that Mr Deveaux had committed an unfortunate indiscretion.

However, Mr Christie also had codes of conduct for his ministers, which were more honoured in their breach.

One only has to speak with Bobby Ginn, the Grand Bahama developer, who at that time had applications before cabinet and/or various government departments, to find out how many times his private aircraft was made available to members of the PLP administration.

It was Mr Ginn's plane that flew Mr Christie to the Cleveland Clinic when he had his medical emergency. Mr Manuel Dias is another one who should be able to recall how many times he accommodated a PLP minister in his private aircraft, as for Mr Gerado Capo of the Bimini Bay development, he should also have many stories to tell of how he routinely had ministers, civil servants and even board members flown back and forth in his private aircraft when his controversial Bimini development was being discussed.

"As a matter of fact," commented someone from the Christie era, "investors flying around PLP ministers and civil servants had reached an alarming level." So alarming, in fact, that when Mr Ingraham became prime minister and saw what was happening, he had to apply the brakes.

However, as another person recalled, the use of private planes by Ministers and other MPs has a long history in the Bahamas -- not all of it with ulterior motives. It was just the accepted practice that if the developer wanted a minister to see what he was doing, he often sent his plane for him, offered him lunch and flew him home.

And now to Minister Deveaux. The Friends of the Environment had invited Mr Deveaux to Hope Town for an early morning premier of a documentary on the "Lionfish Invasion." However, Mr Deveaux had to be back in Nassau that morning to catch an Executive Flight support aircraft to get him to his Bell Island appointment in the Exumas. There was no way that he could fly to Abaco, see the documentary, and get back to Nassau in time to meet the Bahamas National Trust members and Ministry staff to make the scheduled flight to Bell Island. This is where Prince Karim stepped in. The Prince offered his helicopter to fly Mr Deveaux to Marsh Harbour, then back to Nassau to pick up the waiting team, and on to Bell Island. It seemed a practical solution, and Mr Deveaux accepted the hospitality.

Someone who perceived conflict of interest in this arrangement called The Tribune. The next morning a photograph appeared on The Tribune's front page showing Mr Deveaux leaving the Prince's helicopter. Mr Deveaux knew exactly what this meant. Being the man of honour that he is, he did what we expected. He went straight to the Prime Minister's office and offered his resignation.

And the Prime Minister also did what we expected under the circumstances. Recognising that there was no way that a helicopter ride could influence his hard working Minister's decision, or buy his integrity, he refused to accept the resignation.

But, of course, there is that public perception. The cabinet now has to sit down and rethink the rules, so that the public will not have an opportunity in the future to have a set of circumstances occur from which it can draw the wrong conclusions.

September 17, 2010

tribune242 editorial