By AVA TURNQUEST
Chief Journalist of the Tribune
PINERIDGE MP Frederick McAlpine yesterday called on Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to report on his personal phone call with former Cabinet Minister Brent Symonette regarding the government renting part of the Town Center Mall, insisting on the fact that the matter could not be considered confidential.
Mr McAlpine said he felt the case had “gone too far” to consider reversing the decision, however, he said it was time to make sure it didn’t happen again.
He suggested that there might be evidence to support claims that Parliament was misled about the resolution on the deal.
“The current problem is that when the resolution was submitted to the House [of Assembly] and the penultimate paragraph said that there had been no discussion with the minister at the time. From what the former minister said, one can almost say that it seems that one can be led to believe that the House has been misled or that we have debated the premise of a resolution that has not been fully disclosed.
“I think we’ve gone too far to consider a recovery, but we need to put in place mechanisms to make sure that never happens again.
“People don’t want to hear from ministers, they want to hear from their leader. He didn’t call the ministers, he called out the prime minister’s name and the prime minister has an obligation to the people of the Bahamas to clear his name . “
The Town Center Mall lease controversy returned to center stage when Mr Symonette revealed earlier this month that Dr Minnis personally called him to negotiate the deal last year.
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to confirm the date of this call and further suggested that the confession made by the former minister amounted to a breach of confidentiality.
Yesterday, Mr McAlpine said he did not think the Bahamians found the OPM’s statement satisfactory, adding that the issue was now on Dr Minnis to report on what happened before the deal.
“You can’t cry for confidentiality,” McAlpine said. “The man was not in Cabinet, and he was not supposed to be there. So if there is a confidentiality issue, it would be on the part of the Prime Minister and not Brent Symonette.”
Mr. McAlpine also rejected his party’s argument that the former administration’s consideration of Town Center Mall as a post office site neutralizes conflict of interest issues.
The outspoken backbench MP argued that it would have been better to relocate the post office under the old administration despite the greatly reduced rate offered to the Minnis administration.
“If the PLP had done that, it would have been nice,” McAlpine said, “[Mr Symonette] was not a member of parliament or cabinet at the time, so this argument is null and void. The simple fact [Mr Symonette] is a member of Parliament and a member of cabinet, that is a whole different matter.
“It would have been much better for him to have it as part of the PLP… we wouldn’t be in this quagmire. Even if it was more money, the reality is it wouldn’t look like a conflict of interest. or anything untoward. Does this [Mr Symonette] is a Member of Parliament, but not so much as a Member of [was] a member of Cabinet, and the fact that he is known to be a major contributor to the party puts us in a bigger conundrum when it comes to this issue.
“Because [Mr Symonette] under the FNM regime, there are more questions than answers, ”said McAlpine.
“I want to hear this [Dr Minnis] has to say. The reality is I don’t know what my party thinks, we lost ground from day one. I have seen it, and what seems to be happening more and more is that our government does not appear to be a government that leans in trying to help the masses.
“You may not have increased VAT but so many other things that we are paying for,” he added, “you are killing the little man of this country”.
On Tuesday, Mr. Symonette said The gallery the matter had been fully explained.
“I have nothing more to add. My interest in Town Center Mall has been disclosed for years,” said Mr. Symonette.
“I’m not hiding anything, I’m just sick of answering questions about it.”