INTERVENTION THE SENATE
BY SENATOR FRED MITCHELL
OPPOSITION SPOKESMAN ON
LABOUR, FOREIGN AFFAIRS &
20 DECEMBER 2000
AMENDMENT TO THE DRUG ACT
Mister President, there is the temptation to try to deal with the minutia of these bills. I intend to resist any such temptation. I am not going to be one of the lemming jumping over the cliff behind the Pied Piper in the House of Assembly named Hubert Ingraham who believes that when he says jump we must say how high. I say enough already. What I intend to do is deal only in broad strokes about a fatally flawed and incompetence policy and policy making apparatus that has landed us and will continue to land us in a mess until this crew is removed from office. There is no salvation for them and their leader; they are all condemned to the fiery furnace of political ignominy.
Broad strokes are all that this Parliament s presently constituted can really do with regard to any of these Bills. I believe that most of us cannot say what it is we are being asked to pass here. In fact, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet barely know what is in these Bills. And given how this matter was rushed into this place and the time constraints that we are given to consider it, the Bahamian people should not expect me, and I am sure do not expect me to be any kind of expert on the minutia of these Bills.
One thing, we know and by that I mean Mister President the larger Bahamian public is that we have a Government that has given up the sovereignty of this country, sold us down the drain, sold out their friends, sucked up to our enemies, and jumped through hoops in a misguided policy to please the outside world that will only lead to the ultimate lean years for this country. Their rationale for their folly is that they are trying to save The Bahamas. But what will they be able to say at the end of their tenure in office next year but that they performed an operation. The operation was successful but the patient died. I am not going to agree or participate and be complicit in the murder of The Bahamas as I know it by this worthless Government.
These Bills are a cobbled up effort which we will be asked and mark my words Mister President, we will be asked within a few weeks to come right back here and amend all of these pieces of legislation because the whole thing was put together so quickly that there is probably an error on every page.
But back to the broad strokes. No legislator should sit in this place and sign on to legislation that the or she does not understand, the full ramifications have not been explained, and for which some provisions will be blatantly unconstitutional and are also contrary to the culture of the Bahamian people to the extent that the provisions are virtually unenforceable. I can tell anyone within the sound of my voice or who may ultimately read this that this Government can pass any crazy bill it wishes but The Bahamas does not have the capacity or the talent or the money to enforce any of this legislation. And within a year the Americans who demanded this in the first place will be pulling their hair out because nothing will have happened. We will be exactly where we are today - perhaps worse but certainly no better.
And while the PLP supports any measures to defeat drugs and money laundering, it would be foolhardy to sign on to measures about which we are absolutely blind, and that are ill advised and that offend the constitution.
The measures about which I speak are the new Drug Act; the new Proceeds of Crime Act and the other bills designed to get at money laundering and drug trafficking. I gather that we are to discuss the other set of bills as a financial package, and I shall have more to say then about those and the folly of that policy. But to a large extent the comments will eb the same. We are engaged in an unprecedented assault on private property and the right to privacy that we must be extremely careful before we sign on to its provisions. And people must come to accept that by these bills, privacy is again going further out of the window. And people have privacy, that is the right to control information about themselves for many reasons. One of those reasons is security of the person. And with every thing in this country being like a sieve anyway, to officially sign on to giving everyone in the bank your personal business will be an absolute nightmare. But that is the regime that has now been introduced. You virtually have to jump through hoops to start a bank account.
And I am suggesting that the measures that we are affecting will damage our economy and may lead to a result that is worse than the cure.
Mister president a lot of silliness has been spoken by the members of the Government with regard to why these measures are necessary and what they are to accomplish. But what we know is that two major announcements by the Prime Minister within the past year indicated that these measures were designed to mollify the world outside that The Bahamas was serious about fighting drug trafficking and money laundering, and that we were serious in helping the developed countries collect their taxes. That last one about collecting taxes has got to be the silliest thing I ever heard since the whole reason for our banking industry is to help people not pay taxes in their country if they can legally avoid it. But now that is out the window, so just what will be have a banking sector for. Why will we need to hire all these well-educated and well-heeled Bahamians? What are they now to do? Is this not a complete betrayal of the middle class by the FNM Government that the middle class put in power because they were tired of the PLPís calls to nationalism?
Mister president, it is this senatorís personal view and personal view only that we could have gotten a better deal had we had a better negotiator. We have already painted the scenario of our Prime Minister embarrassing this country by going around Europe like a grovelling mendicant with his cap in this hand asking the bigger bosses how high to jump. The having gotten his instructions from Washington and the European capitals, he comes back to Nassau the overseer of the plantation and puts the whip to our backs. But I think mister President the slaves are going to revolt.
And that is how I see this. The Bahamas is like a plantation with absentee owners just like the days of the Lord Proprietors. These new proprietors live in the capitals of Europe and America, and they dictate the terms of how we should live decide how much money e ought to get. In charge of the plantation is the slave owners equivalent of the overseer. His job is to keep us in check, and he is more brutal than the master himself could ever be. He has to be because he sees every one threatening his position. That is our Prime Minister in my view.
He is a cruel overseer. He brooks no opposition and manages to intimidate every Black run institution in this country. Every one kowtows to him. This is apparent in the Church and nowhere is it more apparent than in these called Fourth estate, the press. Look at how a first class institution like the Nassau Guardian has come to rack and ruin under an intellectual deficient, social climbing, prevaricator of an editor who doesnít know how to distinguish his own political opinions from the news. And we have some of the finest young Black talent running the paper and none of them would stand up and say what is happening here is wrong.
But of course that is where Black people run the show, and they do in every other press institution in this country except The Tribune. There, white people run the show, and of course the Prime Minister knows better than to try and threaten them. First of all his inner psychology would not allow him to do so because he accepts that they are his betters, and secondly they would not be intimidated any way because they come from an historical position of power. And so the Opposition, while opposed by The Tribune editorially at least gets a chance to be seen.
I say also Mister President that we could have gotten a better deal if our chief negotiator and Prime Minister did not have this inner sense of insecurity about dealing with people of a different hue whom he believes are his social betters. We saw how when dealing with Sol Kerzner, he grinned and capitulated to everything he was asked to give up. So it would be no surprise to any of us that this what happened with our national patrimony. That was just a foretaste of what was to come.
Now the whole country has been sold down the drain. And the evidence is there of the insecurity from the very start. Remember the ĎI come from nothing, I donít want nothingí speech? Remember in those early days? Thankfully we donít have to hear that mantra anymore, about how he was born out of wedlock, every time he got up on a platform, talking about the circumstances of his birth. Who cares? Every man or woman stands on their own two feet for what they are. Neither this senator nor any of my colleagues makes any judgement of man or a woman because of his or her birth. It is what you accomplish in this life that matters, how you rise to the occasion. But every time he opened his mouth, you know Iím so and soís outside son. You should be proud of what you are.
Just think Mister President, of all the Harvard graduates in the country (not this one course), all the Cambridge graduates all the Oxford graduates all the graduates from all the many high centres of learning around the world and this gentleman Hubert Ingraham conquered them all and they canít move him. He is the boss, and yet despite all of this, there is that innate insecurity which apparently he cannot conquer.
And some have argued that it has to do with the treatment he received at the hands of those who were his social betters in the island that he grew up in, the island of Abaco. That somehow the discrimination that he suffered there must have something to do with it.
But whatever it is he negotiated a bad deal for us, and we now have to suffer the consequences of this bad deal.
I hear the US Ambassador intervening in the domestic affairs of The Bahamas time and time again. Not one peep from the Government of The Bahamas. Oh they are happy for it. Itís because the US Ambassador is saying something that is supportive of them. But what about the other side of the coin?
Think about this Mister president, if he is allowed to get away with saying good things for them today, how can they argue when he lambastes them tomorrow? They cannot open their mouths. For our part as an Opposition party, we have discharged our obligation by pointing out both privately and publicly that we think that these interventions by the US Ambassador are undiplomatic, ill advised, inappropriate and border on interference in the internal affairs of The Bahamas.
Is it not ironic, Mister president, that the US Ambassador is praising the Bahamas Government for toughening up the drug laws? These laws will put people away who are involved in a new crime called a Continuing Criminal Enterprise in the case of summary conviction for up to five years and a $500,000 fine and in the Supreme Court 40 years and a 750,000 fine. Where will they have to go but in prison at Fox Hill.
Now the irony is that the same Government that the Ambassador represents publishes an annual report every year in which it routinely lambastes The Bahamas Government for the state of the prison and being inhumane and cruel. So what is this? And the Government of The Bahamas has no intention of improving conditions in the prison where the food is unsafe and unsanitary, where the water in the prison is poisonous so that those who drink it suffer routinely from diarrhea, where the trafficking of illicit material goes on unabated; where the place is obviously not safe or secure, and where bribery and corruption can flourish.
The US Ambassador's latest intervention in Bahamian domestic affairs was to support the call of the Attorney General for the death penalty for drug trafficking to minors. Now Mister president, normally this is the time when you recuse yourself from the chair because of who the attorney general is, and my comments are going to be sharp, shocking and to the point.
I have no comment to make on the death penalty itself. You all know my views on the subject and the country is quite clear about what my position is. But when I read the comment, I said to myself: it is better to be quiet and be thought a fool, than to open oneís mouth and people know that you have said a foolish thing. That statement was a foolish statement to make, not because of oneís position on the death penalty but because one has to ask oneself the question: just who exactly is Janet Bostwick trying to fool?
Her statement can only have been said for headlines. If she were serious when the Bill was discussed in the cabinet she could have used her considerable influence as attorney general and one of the foot soldiers of Mr. Ingraham to amend the law and provide for the death penalty for drug traffickers. In fact, if I had the time I would help her out and frame an amendment to this presentation that we are debating to provide for an opportunity for her colleagues to vote on such a provision today so that we can see how serious she is. She has a friend in the senate, who could leave his position as the arbiter of the debate and when I move it, he could second the motion. I wouldnít vote for it but my vote would not be important, what would be important is to see how the FNMs in here would vote. Not one of them would have the courage to vote for it, and we may put them to the test.
And so we know that it's just foolish posturing. Idle words being spoken to gain headlines. But the US Ambassador is impressed by such nonsense. And what is egregious about the expression of support is that it appears designed to bolster this regime when it is at its lowest ebbs with the Bahamian people. It seems designed to say, ĎAmerica is with the FNMí. Any foreign Government ought to be careful about that. And we know that if this were Moscow or the United Kingdom, no such intervention would have been made. The comments would have been much more circumspect, but you know how different they are from us. We are small and they are big, we are in the darkness and they are in the light. There is resentment about the comment, not to the roots of resentment about the United States but that an agent of their Government would speak in an inappropriate way.
Now I have a theory about why The Bahamas Government and its supporters wonít say anything about it. You see, we are all afraid that the US Government is going to arbitrarily take away our visas for speaking out against them. And you know, we would die - all of us, including the Prime Minister, if we couldnít go to Miami to go Christmas shopping. As Cleve Eneas, God rest him, said before he died, it is the inalienable right of every Bahamian to go to Miami.
But Mister President, the American visa process is an arbitrary and capricious one. It is supposed to be quasi judicial but most Bahamians have the impression that it is arbitrary and that it is granted as a favour to international travellers. Never mind all this stuff about free trade and open borders. If our leaders were clever enough they ought to try and bargain visa free access into the United States in exchange for all this stuff about free trade. Perhaps our citizens would be overjoyed that we actually accomplished something in the negotiations.
But every one is afraid of losing this visa, and it informs all our public policy. When the Hon. A. Loftus Roker became Sir Lyndenís National Security Minister he said that his policy was informed by the fact that he did not have the right to take any action that would cause the Bahamian citizen his ability to travel to Miami. And one supposes the Ingraham Government has taken that to the extreme, because no one is more nationalist than Mr. Roker and he managed to balance the two matters.
And that is all we say, you stand up for the country on your hind legs; not bow down like a low-down dog and surrender in the face of every demand.
And in any event, it seems to me that it doesnít matter what you do, you canít please or influence the national policy of the United States toward foreigners coming into their country. They demand open borders for your country but the same is not reciprocated. I took a trip from Bimini to Watson Island in Miami last weekend on Chalks. It was a pleasant journey until we had to get through customs, and all 17 passengers on that plane were given the thorough once over. The type of passport meant nothing - going through all the suitcases and the clothes and opening all the packages, asking leading questions.
One poor lady who happened to be black, fat and dressed perhaps a little too sexily, with the biggest pair of breasts I have ever seen trying to fit into a halter top happened to have some passports in her possession and that caused her to have to answer a million questions about why she was travelling with them. And they were trying their best to be pleasant, but they were searching and searching, and finally she was allowed to get into the country.
But I remember travelling on another occasion in a rainstorm from Watson Island to Bimini and could not land in Bimini. We had to turn back. We landed in Miami. When we arrived, Customs and Immigration had packed up and gone. And we walked through the airport and into a waiting cab and went straight to our hotel. No formalities, no nothing. Strange country.
So Bahamians are on the hit list of suspects anyway, regardless of whether our Government is good or bad. Because certainly all seventeen of these people on that flight from Bimini could not have been suspected of carrying contraband.
Mister President, the regime of the drug and financial bills, will put more stress and strain on the Judiciary. In fact, Magistrates are to be given considerably more power. They are to get the power to order the confiscation of in the words of the statute: "A court shall order to be forfeited to the Crown in addition to any other penalty provided by this act- a any personal property which has been used in the commission of or in connection with an offence under this act or b) any personal property received or possessed by any person as a result or product of an offence under this act whether or not any person has been convicted of such an offence."
Now there is an interesting provision, even if you have not been convicted, that is if you are acquitted, the Crown can still get your property. And this is a mandatory penalty.
Remember now this is the same Prime Minister who got up in the House last week and said that it was a mistake taking the discretion away from the Courts. That they had abolished mandatory sentencing, and given discretion back to the Courts.
Pray tell what is to happen to the proverbial third party who obtains property without notice of the fact that his predecessor in title was involved in drug trafficking. Surely this turns the whole law of ownership on its head. If someone does not have notice, how can that personís property be taken away from him by an order of the Court without any right to represent his interest. And the provision which follows: "the Minister of Finance may, in his discretion, and after any proceedings under this Act are concluded, entertain and give effect to any moral claim to, or in respect to any real or personal property which has been forfeited to the Crown. "
Now get this, the Minister of Finance will sit and mull over whether or not your moral claim to the property is to be considered in order to get it back. What is a moral claim? The Minister apparently decides. Does any Minister have a right to decide what a moral claim is? And further, what about a legal right to the property, the minister does not have to take that into account in making his determination. This is a pernicious piece of legislation.
And this is important because no doubt at some time in our lives it is going to affect some people we meet or know. I have said in another forum that when the US Ambassador or his colleagues meet the Prime Minister in these high level talks, they ought to ask him about some of those persons who were his generals and supporters on his way up. It may convenient for him to forget his friends now or what he said to all of us who knew him then, and I wonít say. But I havenít forgotten. But the fact is that at one point, the rationale throughout this country was that as long as the drugs donít stop in The Bahamas there was no problem, and some public leaders supported that. Thatís all I have to say on the subject. If you donít believe me then ask Loftus Roker.
Now I started out this section talking about the power of Magistrates. First of all, something must be done to improve the pay and working conditions of Magistrates, the tools with which they work. The poor folk do not even have copies of the laws of The Bahamas, so half the time they donít know the law under which they are operating.
But I wish to point out something that is far more pernicious and that is the quality of the intellectual talent at the Magistrates level. There are many Magistrates who can easily advance to the Supreme Court bench. But there are equally some Magistrates who see themselves simply as arms of the Executive and never see or recognize the presumption or innocence. From the moment the accused walks into the door, the magistrate gives the impression that you are guilty and it is their job to ensure that the state gets to keep you in prison or that some money is exacted out of you.
This is all the more so since the Government is now desperate for money, and it appears that Magistrates have been given their marching orders to exact the heaviest fines they can to increase the revenues in the Government's coffers. One Magistrate has been in the drug courts for so long; it is time that she is moved. She has become so jaded in her approach that the quality of justice suffers. And in her court in Bank lane, she and counsel are constantly arguing, most times about the manner in which she speaks to counsel which does not border on rude but is simply rude.
Surely this is not the kind of justice that we want to promote in this country.
Mister President, The Bahamas Christian Council has intervened in this debate on the fight against drugs. In the person of its president the Rev. Dr. Simeon Hall, a friend of mine, it has called on the PLPís chairman and the Member of Parliament for Grants Town to join in the fight against alcohol. On the face of it that is the right and the duty and the responsibility of The Bahamas Christian Council to fight for the moral good of the country.
But whether the president knows it or not, the comment appears to this side to smack of pure out and out politics. In other words, it brought back the memories of his appearance at a public rally for the Free National Movement just before the last election, which sent a signal to the country about a switch in allegiance.
Now I want to be very careful here what I say. I wish the President to think about such future interventions and what the unintended consequences of them might be.
First, the bills were debated over a long period of time, and it wasn't until Mr. Roberts scored points off a Minister of the FNM Government that the President of the Council found his voice to denounce the consumption of alcohol.
Secondly, no distinction was made by the President over the fact that it is the Government of The Bahamas who has the power over the distribution and taxation of alcohol, not Bradley Roberts. And further, and a fortiori, liquor is a legal substance for sale in The Bahamas.
Thirdly, if the comment were not intended to be a partisan and pro- FNM comment, then why was it not pointed out that Dwight Sawyer, who works for the Bacardi Company the largest producer and distributor of spirits in the country, but who also is the chairman of the FNM has a duty to fight alcoholism. Similarly, Mr. Neko Grant, the Member of Parliament for Lucaya, is the Chief Operating Officer for Burns House, why was the point not made to him? Mr. Roberts is in fact no longer involved in the day to day operation of Burns House.
Lastly, Mr. Roberts has throughout is life led with regard to drinking a life of moderation, and has practiced that moderation and has promoted that moderation. And indeed whether one drinks alcohol or not, it is a matter of personal choice.
And so the interests of the Christian Council are harmed in my humble view by comments that appear designed to enter into a partisan debate to slant the argument in favour of one side or the other. Now if that is the intention, then fine; but there are consequences to the efficacy of the Christian Council after that.
So the Council and its spokesmen ought not be fearful but understand that when someone or some party is faced down in public, then its supporters have a problem with that institution.
So you see, I remember mister president once when I was engaged in a protest for the PLP, I was on Fort Charlotte burning the Cabinet in effigy. A few weeks after the fact the Roman Catholic Bishop as he then was Lawrence Burke wrote me a private letter and castigated me as being irresponsible for advocating violence in the society by burning those men in effigy. I responded privately. I think that is how such an intervention ought to go if one is serious about affecting the way politicians behave. And as a result of that letter, I inform my behaviour accordingly. Rev. Hall could be so much more effective by such an approach with Mr. Roberts.
And of course, Mister President I support Bradley Roberts 200 per cent. He has been an effective Opposition member. He has the whole Cabinet scrambling to defend themselves. He is doing a great job and he is to be encouraged.
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