by Larry Smith
Another email popped into my inbox last week from retired politico Pierre Dupuch. In most cases, I scan these messages quickly and move on - they are poisonous political rants with no constructive proposals or substance, and it is obvious that Dupuch has a "thing" about his former leader in the FNM, Hubert Ingraham.
But this one caught my eye because it purports to deal with concrete 'facts' that have been percolating for months in the form of a monstrous conspiracy theory.
One of the most important functions of responsible journalism is to clarify such controversies so that the public is not deluded by ignorant or conniving individuals who set themselves up as authorities or champions, often in the pursuit of hidden agendas.
And frankly, I wanted to see for myself if anything Dupuch had to say on this matter was worth listening to. So I decided to take a closer look at the various allegations.
The main thrust of Dupuch's November 17 letter was a sinister FNM plot to give citizenship to thousands of Haitians so they can swing newly gerrymandered constituencies in the upcoming general election.
As near as I can tell, this mythology was first raised back in March by an anonymous propaganda website called Bahamas Press, which masquerades as a news site.
This was clearly a cynical effort to exploit the average Bahamian's palpable fear and loathing of illegal immigrants, and it managed to gain some traction through the rumour mill.
In July, Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette (who is in charge of the Immigration Department) felt obliged to respond to these claims, insisting that nothing unusual was going on. He pointed to the Christie administration's approval of 2,083 citizenship requests; 1,582 permanent residency permits, 2,286 spousal permits and 22,839 residency permits from 2002 to 2007 as evidence of comparability.
But the PLP continued to spread the myth by accusing the government of dishonestly pursuing a "massive regularisation plan" just before the election. And somewhere along the way, the figure was inflated by other political hacks on radio talk shows and online chat sites to over 10,000 Haitians being granted citizenship.
Also in July, Bahamas Press and the PLP began railing about a government giveaway of land and housing to Haitian squatters in order to buy their votes. This came after plans were announced to rebuild and regularise an illegal subdivision known as Mackey Yard, which had been destroyed by fire a few months earlier.
Dupuch first picked up on these allegations in August: "What is going on now," he said, "is raw, nasty politics being played just before an election hoping that it will give them victory...And no matter what a bad job the government has done and no matter how the real Bahamians want to get rid of them at the polls, the government will win. And there goes democracy!"
He went on to make further unsubstantiated claims that a number of JPs "are prepared to supply the witnesses and sign birth certificates for the right price in order to facilitate a citizenship application for an undocumented foreign national. While I am not certain that this is true, I assume that members of the government are aware of it. "
Earlier this month Symonette released official figures showing that the Ingraham administration had regularised 783 people this year, and had granted citizenship to some 1,927 non-Bahamians from 2007 until mid-2010 - roughly comparable to the number approved by the Christie administration during its term.
But numbers for the second half of 2010 were not included in the total. Symonette explained the gap as follows: "When this issue arose it was related to the 13 people hired on a special project. I worked out the figurers going backwards to cover the time they were at Immigration. I had previously worked out the figures to mid-2010 in another exercise. I will pull the staff off their normal work now to do this work."
He provided the final figures just before the deadline for this article. Ctizenship was given to 498 people - of which 186 were Haitians - in the second half of 2010 (July-December), bringing the total number of citizenship awards to all nationalities for the period 2007 to the present up to 3,208 - about a thousand more than the number approved under the last PLP administration.
Many among those given citizenship were children who had lived here all their lives, spouses of Bahamians, and children under 18. Relatively large numbers of Jamaicans and Americans were also included in the citizenship figures.
In his most recent letter, Dupuch sought to link his grossly exaggerated citizenship claims to the Constituencies Commission report, which PLP spokesmen say amounts to a massive exercise in gerrymandering - the redrawing of constituency lines to ensure an election advantage for the party in power.
He repeated the unsubstantiated claim that some 5,000 citizenships had been given out by the FNM - and even said this bogus figure had been confirmed by Symonette himself - a complete falsehood.
He then went on to connect this outrageous claim to the then unpublished Constituencies Commission report, which he presciently branded as "the worst case of gerrymandering I've ever witnessed" - again, without citing any evidence whatsoever.
The Commission's report (when it did become available) recommended three new constituencies on New Providence plus the elimination of five existing ones. One constituency on Grand Bahama will also be eliminated, reducing the total number of seats in parliament from 41 to 38.
The constitution mandates a review of constituencies every five years. The Constituencies Commission (which includes a supreme court judge) looks at the number and boundaries of the constituencies, taking into account the number of voters, the needs of sparsely populated areas, and the ability of elected members to maintain contact with voters from a wide geographic area.
For those who may not recall, in 2007 (under the Christie administration) the Constituencies Commission issued its report well after the constitutionally mandated five-year period had elapsed - the first time this had ever happened. The FNM did not agree with the Commission's report in 2007.
Back then, one new seat was added to the parliamentary total (from 40 to 41 seats). Four constituencies were abolished, and five new ones were created on New Providence, and the boundaries for seats on Grand Bahama and Andros were redrawn.
It is also a matter of record that the Ingraham administration sought to create an independent Constituencies Commission in 2002 (one that excluded parliamentarians), but the PLP cynically opposed the referendum proposals (after supporting them in the House) and they were voted down by the electorate.
A constitutional review commission subsequently appointed by the Christie administration recommended the same thing (an independent boundaries commission), but the PLP never bothered to pursue it.
Now Dupuch and the PLP are supposedly upset that today's government-appointed commission is making constituency changes - as all other governments have done before an election.
"Take 10 shaky districts," Dupuch argued, "and put 500 of these newly created Bahamians in each of them (referring to the alleged 5,000 regularised Haitians), and the seat is suddenly no longer shaky; it belongs to the government that gave them the citizenship. Need I say more?"
And to cap it all off, he compared Symonette's statement about doing his job as Immigration minister to the defence offered by Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials following the second world war - they were only following orders. Talk about hyperbole!
The only point I want to make here is that we should always be suspicious of folks who switch deep allegiances and strongly held positions overnight.
It is one thing for your views to evolve over time and after due consideration. I experienced that myself when I came to reject my youthful association with communism.
It is quite another to express diametrically opposite opinions over a relatively short period and shout them from the rooftop - as Pierre Dupuch and former Guardian editor Oswald Brown have done.
In such circumstances, something else has to be at play - and usually that something is either a personality clash or a failure to get what one wants.
Of course, both these gentlemen have the right to hold and express any views they wish. What they don't have the right to do is expect the rest of us to act like fools and take them as credible commentators.