PM accused of conflict over Bahamas Ferries shares

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Prime Minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis.

2017 statement shows Minnis is third largest shareholder

Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin yesterday accused the government of indirectly subsidizing Bahamas Ferries Limited, a private company in which Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has shares.

“By and large, Fast Ferries is in the mail boat business,” Hanna-Martin declared during debate on two amendment bills aimed at changing the dormant account regime.

However, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Renward Wells refuted the claim, stating that while a subvention is paid to “specific mail boat operators”, the government has no standing contract with mail boat operators.

Responding to Hanna-Martin, Dr. Minnis confirmed he has shares in Bahamas Ferries, Commonwealth Brewery Limited, CIBC First Caribbean, among other entities in The Bahamas and abroad.

However, he stressed, “I am not involved in the management, the day-to-day assessments of any of them, full stop.”

According to documents obtained by Eyewitness News, Dr. Minnis has 305 shares in Bahamas Ferries, the third largest shareholding.

An annual statement dated March 2017 shows that the top two shareholders at the time were The Symonette Group Limited with 2,021 shares and V. Shipping Limited with 2,020 shares.

Hanna-Martin said she knew of at least two government-subsidized mail boat operators, who have partnerships with Bahamas Ferries.

“It is unthinkable that the Fast Ferries company, which is a multi-million-dollar commercial entity is a beneficiary of a subsidy from the public purse,” she said. “[That is] unheard of.

“There are at least two company’s benefitting; they’re benefitting from this partnership in this way.

“I cannot believe the government is subsidizing Fast Ferries in this country.

“A larger issue is the domination of this company in Family Island routes which is driving out traditional mail boats.

“This is what they’re doing. They’re driving them out of business and then they’re entering partnerships with them.

“I know what’s happening. I saw it happening… The member for Southern Shores knows.”

Rising to his feet, Dr. Minnis repeated, “I have shares in many companies; both [in] The Bahamas and throughout the world. I do not know anything about the day-to-day running of any of them, full stop.”

Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis said while he accepts Dr. Minnis has no involvement in the day-to-day operations of the company, once it comes to the prime minister’s attention that the company in which he has shares, has an interest in a government contract, he has a duty to find out.

Davis said if Dr. Minnis confirms that to be the case, he must come to Parliament and request to be exempted in accordance with law.

Wells said there is no evidence to support Bahamas Ferries approaching the government for a contract.

“If Fast [Ferries] has approached a mail boat operator or if a mail boat operator has approached Fast [Ferries], that is a completely different scenario than what the member is currently putting forward — as if Fast [Ferries] has approached the government of The Bahamas for a contract,” the minister said.

Under Article 49 of the constitution, a member of the House shall vacate his seat if he becomes interested in any government contract unless the member, before becoming interested in such a contract or as soon as practicable after becoming interested discloses his interest and the House agrees to an exemption.

To Davis, Dr. Minnis said, “I have said I also have shares in CIBC. I can recall that government would have been involved in borrowing money from CIBC.

“Government never came to me and asked whether there was a conflict you know.

“I had nothing to do with it. The government got the money.

“So, was that a conflict too?”

Davis replied, “Certainly”.

Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell, the former minister of Transport, added that no new mail boat contracts have been signed under the Minnis administration.

“During my tenure, I had several meetings to begin the negotiations for the renewal of contracts, so I am not aware of any new [contracts],” he said.