3. Legal Regime
The government’s laws to combat corruption by public officials have been inconsistently applied. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively when applied. However, there was limited enforcement of conflicts of interest related to government contracts and isolated reports of officials engaging in corrupt practices, including accepting small-scale “bribes of convenience.” The political system is plagued by reports of corruption, including allegations directing contracts to political supporters and providing favorable treatment to wealthy or politically connected individuals. In The Bahamas, bribery of a government official is a criminal act carrying a fine of up to $10,000, a prison term of up to four years, or both.
The current administration has accused the former administration of inappropriate spending and misappropriation of millions of dollars, particularly during the state of emergency issued due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Emergency Power (COVID-19) Regulations, passed in March 2020, granted widespread powers to the government during the state of the emergency. For example, the legislation allowed the government to bypass normal spending rules and procurement processes, although it did require the government to present Parliament with reports of contracts and pandemic-related funding within six weeks of the expiration of the state of emergency. Despite the state of emergency expiring and being extended several times throughout 2020 and 2021, the former administration failed to report. The Emergency Power Regulations expired for the final time without extension in October 2021.
The new administration has called into question several contracts awarded to companies and individuals by the former administration under the Emergency Power Regulations and has ordered forensic audits of government ministries and agencies. Initial findings suggest significant misappropriation of funds. The former administration admitted it failed to report but denies allegations of corruption. The new administration also accused the former administration of $821 million in undisclosed liabilities and unfunded obligations identified in the former administration’s pre-election report. The former administration denies these allegations, explaining the reporting irregularities were due to differences in accounting methodologies.
As of April 2022, no criminal charges have been filed against members of the former government for these corruption allegations. The current government pledged any decision to prosecute would be supported by independently collected and verified evidence.
The Public Disclosure Act requires senior public officials, including senators and members of Parliament, to declare their assets, income, and liabilities annually. For the 2021 deadline, the government gave extensions to all who were late to comply. The government did not publish a summary of the individual declarations, and there was no independent verification of the information submitted. The campaign finance system remains largely unregulated with few safeguards against quid pro quo donations, creating a vulnerability to corruption and foreign influence.
In September 2021, the government enacted the Public Procurement Act (2021), which overhauls the administration of government contracts to improve transparency and accountability. Senior government officials have called for the legislation to be amended to reflect government capabilities and strengthened with new regulations. Though functional, most agencies with large procurement budgets do not utilize the existing e-procurement portal or registry. Senior Officials purport that the existing e-procurement portal requires modernization to improve functionality.
According to Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, The Bahamas ranked 30 out of 180 countries with a score of 64 out of 100. There are no specific protections for NGOs involved in investigating corruption. U.S firms have identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI and have reported perceived corruption in government procurement and in the FDI approvals process.
The government does not, as a matter of government policy, encourage or facilitate illicit drug production or distribution, nor is it involved in laundering the proceeds of the sale of illicit drugs. No charges of drug-related corruption were filed against government officials in 2021.
The Bahamas ratified major international corruption instruments, including the Inter-American Convention against Corruption in 2000, and has been a party to the Mechanism for Follow-Up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC) since 2001. The Bahamas is not party to the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.