Two experts have conceded that the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) administration erred in its decision to purchase a major piece of real estate from the family of a Cabinet member.
President of the Transparency Institute of Guyana, Dr Troy Thomas and Political Analyst Dr David Hinds are adamant that government should have “stayed away” from the planned acquisition of Deluxe Cinemas which is owned by the family of Foreign Affairs Minister Charles “Max” Fernandez.
Dr Hinds, who also serves as an Associate Professor of African and African American studies at a Guyana-based University, also called for a strict code of conduct, with sanctions, to regulate business relations between governments and ministers.
“If you have clear codes of conduct, then you are very clear the government will know you can’t go there and those who are engaged in business will know that you can’t go there,” he said.
Dr Hinds deemed it wrong and unfair for the government to provide bailouts for its members of parliament, and that residents should not sit back and accept such behaviour from those who are called to lead.
“If you want to do business [and] stay in business, don’t get into government,” he added. “You can’t want it both ways. I think that it is time in the Caribbean, that we draw the line because this kind of preference and corruption is really draining a lot of resources to a precious few in the society.”
Eyebrows were raised last week when it was revealed that the Cabinet had agreed to purchase Deluxe Cinema, owned by the Fernandez family, to turn it into a Performing Arts Centre.
Members of the public, including the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) raised concerns over the buy-out being a conflict of interest and that government did not wait for the property to go on auction.
Dr Thomas said the minister in question has a double responsibility, by virtue of his position as a public figure and a shareholder, to come out and address the issue.
“It’s almost impossible to escape the conflict of interest issue and I would say that the government should not have done it,” Dr Thomas said. “They should have sought an open process; they have a responsibility to the people.”
In October last year, the Deluxe Cinema, located on High and Cross streets, was listed among several properties up for foreclosure by Antigua Commercial Bank.
The company has been known to encounter financial difficulties from time to time, especially since the introduction of the Caribbean Cinemas Megaplex 8 entertainment centre on Friars Hill Road, which officially opened its doors in June 2010, and increased the options for cinema patrons.