NASSAU – Senator Fred Mitchell has demanded an apology from Finance Minister K Peter Turnquest, saying his comments regarding the former Christie administration’s handling of $42m from a $150m loan borrowed in the wake of Hurricane Matthew were “misleading”.
Last month, Mr Turnquest told parliamentarians the Minnis administration was only able to trace $108m of the hefty loan. Following this revelation, the deputy prime minister in a statement said the government suspected the untraceable $42m from the hurricane fund was spent in a failed bid to buy the election.
At the time, he was responding to Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper who said Mr Turnquest was irresponsible for saying the government could not locate the funds following Hurricane Matthew last year.
But when the deputy prime minister was pressed further on the issue last week, he seemed to back pedal on his previous pronouncements, suggesting to reporters the funds were in the Consolidated Fund.
“He told the press last week when they were pressing him about it, that ‘am I speaking Greek, it’s right in the Consolidated Fund where they said it was,’” Mr Mitchell said in a video uploaded to Facebook and posted on a page affiliated with the senator.
“The ‘they’ he was referring to was the Progressive Liberal Party and that’s a fact. We said it wasn’t lost. He said that we diverted the money away from its purpose to pay for our campaign. That turned out to be a gross untruth and he needs to apologise to the House for misleading the House and to the Bahamian public. This is not something the minister of finance should be saying. All along the money was right there.”
Last week, when the East Grand Bahama MP was asked how the search for the unaccounted funds was going, he responded: “I’m not trying to find $42m.”
He added: “What we are doing, what we have done, is that we went through expenditures that were identified as hurricane related and we tallied all of those.
“So that’s what we have. Now we will continue to go through that process to see if we can find more. Maybe we will. I don’t know.”
Asked to clarify whether officials are still searching for the funds, he said: “When asked for clarification on whether a search for the $42 million is ongoing, Mr Turnquest said: “No, because ain’t nothing to find.”
He added: “Am I speaking Greek? The money is in the Consolidated Fund, just as they said.”
Official Opposition Leader Philip “Brave” Davis also took exception to Mr Turnquest’s earlier allegations insisting his parliamentary privilege was breached. As a result, he requested the matter be referred to the House of Assembly’s Committee on Privilege.
However, House Speaker Halson Moultrie rejected the request saying the deputy prime minister’s remarks did not constitute a breach.
And as he rejected the request for this matter to be investigated, Mr Moultrie explained there must be much more than just hurt feelings or the anxiety of fleeing when no one is chasing.
Mr Moultrie said he was not satisfied a prima facie case for referral was established, adding the comments were not made within the confines of Parliament.