NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Former Attorney General Alfred Sears said yesterday the corruption trials of two former Cabinet ministers have set a precedence that could lead to retaliation from future administrations.
“The issue for me is that the exercise of the powers of prosecution, which for four years I exercised as attorney general, is a very critical and awesome power the state has,” Sears told Eyewitness News Online.
“It must always be exercised for the good of the society, the protection of the society, and it must be exercised fairly and most especially it must be manifestly, that is it must be perceived to have been exercised fairly.”
Last month, former Labour Minister Shane Gibson was found not guilty by a nine-member jury on all 15 counts of bribery brought against him.
Earlier this year, a chief magistrate threw out the corruption case of former Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) Chairman Frank Smith, ruling there was “not a scintilla of evidence to support” certain claims made against him.
Jamaican attorney Keith Knight, QC, who headed the defense of both Gibson and Smith, labeled the handling of the trails, “a travesty of justice”.
In the lead up to the 2017 General Election, the Minnis administration ran on an anti-corruption platform.
Soon after coming into office, several former Cabinet ministers and senior government officials were hauled before the courts.
The government also introduced legislation to strengthen the fight against corruption – the Integrity Commission Bill and the Ombudsman Bill.
Both bills remain stalled and await debate in Parliament.
Sears suggested yesterday that government must move to implement the Integrity Commission Bill and campaign finance reform in order to address the issue before the next general election.
“In light of these acquittals and dismissal and the growing public perception that there may have been victor’s justice involved, it is imperative that the government restores the confidence of the public and one way in which that can and should be done is the passage of the integrity bill,” he said.
Sears continued: “Kicking the ball down the road will only lead to a situation where you have with every change of government you will have another wave of retaliation.
“I think that this is the danger. When there is a perception and also the allegation of victor’s justice, I think that, as we have seen in many other countries, you run the risk of destabilizing the state by having with each change of government, another wave of retaliation because people feel aggrieved and feel that the mechanism of the state was used against them unjustly.
“So to avoid that there needs to be the kind of public institution put in place to remove certainly the investigation and I would go as far as to say even the prosecution to a specialized body that is immunized as much as we possibly can from the influence of the executive.”
He added that had the bill already been passed, “a lot of the erosion of public trust, may have been avoided”.
Last week, as he renewed calls for the resignation of several senior government ministers, Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip Davis once again warned Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis that “what goes around comes around”.
Pointing to a letter he wrote to Minnis in July 2017 immediately following the arrests of several former PLP politicians, Davis said, “I reminded the prime minister that where such abuses of power occur, the offending parties, be they police officers or politicians, need to understand that there will come a day of reckoning for them as well.
“What goes around comes around.
“When you set out to dig a grave for your enemy, dig two.”