ARE OUR politicians completely lacking in sense, or is it sensibility? Maybe they have screws missing in both departments.
From a government, whose members boasted in the run-up to last year’s general election, that — unlike the former FNM government — they put the needs of the people first, it would seem that, now secure in the seat of power, they are unaware of those needs.
Imagine in the midst of what has been called “the greatest recession in 80 years”, a first-term member of the House of Assembly Wednesday urged MPs to agree to the construction of a new parliament building. Even if the facility cost $50 million, the Government could find a way to pay for it, declared Fort Charlotte MP Dr Andre Rollins.
We find that comment, not only interesting, but callously ignorant of the times in which Bahamians now live.
Government, according to Dr Rollins, can find $50 million to pay for a fancy new assembly building. However, last year it could not find even a lower sum to continue the FNM-government’s 52-week programme – National Job Readiness and Training – to prepare Bahamians to fill jobs that would start to come on stream with the improvement of the economy. While learning, these Bahamians were earning a stipend to assist with their daily expenses. Many of them were placed in private sector jobs.
However, when the PLP — the “people’s party” — became the government in May last year, the job readiness programme was allowed to die at the end its 52-week term. These Bahamians, left jobless and without their training stipend, still faced rent, mortgages, school fees and other family obligations.
In September last year, this government’s own Social Services Minister Melanie Griffin admitted that poverty has been on the rise ever since the last PLP government, which ended in 2007.
Despite this, the people’s representatives found nothing offensive in asking for scarce finances to build an edifice to enhance their importance and cater to their human comforts. At such a time the suggestion is obscene.
Zhivargo Laing, former Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, urged the Christie Government to extend the job training programme for struggling Bahamians. He said that the money to do so must be available, “because tucked away in the Prime Minister’s own office budget is $25 million earmarked for nothing in particular”.
Yet, he said, “millions of dollars are being spent to provide jobs for PLP MPs and Senators by appointing the largest Cabinet in the history of the Bahamas. Invest that money in unemployed Bahamians, not PLP politicians.”
Mr Laing pointed out that that month PLP Ministers Brave Davis and Fred Mitchell were flying to Los Angeles spending thousands of dollars on plane tickets, hotel suites and parties to present plaques – money that could be better spent on “hurting Bahamians”.
In the 52-week programme, government had invested almost $50 million to provide more than 4,000 jobs for Bahamians.
Obviously, the PLP did not see the worth of the programme — the second during the FNM administration — yet during that period Bahamians did find jobs. For example, The Tribune has a reporter on its staff that trained in the news room for the 52 weeks. At the end of the programme, she remained on staff.
But yet while the people are hurting, parliamentarians in the House Wednesday moaned of the structure of the current 284-year-old building, which, they say, is not up to standard. They are now suspicious of the soundness of the building and their own security in it.
Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell said that a new complex is long overdue.
“I do not like to work in this building,” he said. “It is cramped. It is inadequate. It is too intimate and too accessible. It has long ago outlived its adequacy.”
We would suggest that Mr Mitchell will have to endure this inconvenience as long as his constituents are forced to tighten their belts and lower their expectations.
And, of all things, while many of their constituents are jobless, these politicians want parliament to appoint a select committee to review their own benefits and allowances.
These people are really bold. This is hardly the time to broach such a sensitive subject. They should recall that the report produced by the US researchers they engaged to discover why they lost the 2007 election reported that one of the reasons was that “there is a perception among voters that the PLP has become more focused on doing things that benefit its own politicians than for people”.
However, this time, having the numbers in the House that allow them to do as they please, and facing a weak opposition, they have become bold. However, unless they come to their senses, in the end the voice of the people will have the last say.