By MALCOLM STRACHAN
LAST week the entire nation got the opportunity to hear from its leader as Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, as promised after winning the election, gave his first National Address as Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. Bahamians home and abroad listened intently to hear what cures the good doctor has in store to reverse the fate of a country that many feared was on the path to terminal illness under the previous administration.
Prime Minister Minnis had some very salient points in his address. Throughout his speech, you can hear his appeal to two distinct audiences – the Bahamians that wanted to rid the country of Perry Christie, as well as the international community in the form of credit rating agencies and potential investors that listened keenly to the new CEO’s vision.
No stranger to complexities based on his long medical career, the unassuming underdog that overcame all the doubters and naysayers now sits atop the mountain and is tasked with pulling the country out of the economic rubble it was buried under by the former administration.
Accordingly, during his address, he focused on “outlining the critical challenges” we face as a nation, as well as sharing his vision for what his government intends to do about it. As has been done on many occasions since May 10, Prime Minister Minnis reminded us of the quagmire that we are in and how we got here. While this may become a broken record for some, it is also very important to note, as the road that we are about to travel will bring along with it discomfort.
Prime Minister Minnis is fully aware of this, and he is appealing to the men and women of this country to also understand that difficult decisions must be made. Unfortunately, we may not always like the medicine, but growth requires a dose of discomfort. The nation’s social and economic health demands it.
To this end, the prime minister prescribed various cutbacks in his government’s plans to divert the country’s course from economic ruin. Freezing hires in the public sector, 10% expenditure cuts in all government ministries and announcing that all contracts exceeding $100,000 will not be renewed all present a painstaking reality. However, these actions may be necessary as the government tries to manage the fiscal nightmare left by its predecessor.
While we struggled to make ends meet, we had to witness the overindulging extravagance on the part of the previous administration that jet-setted around the world like royals on the people’s dime. The prime minister’s promise to reduce the number of government vehicles and foreign travel are a much appreciated step on their path to fiscal prudence.
Without getting too giddy, one must admit that the prime minister is displaying all signs that he is a stickler for fiscal responsibility and law and order. This is refreshing for a populace that has had its prospects ravaged by corruption under a lack of strong leadership in recent times.
Now that we’re trying to pick up the pieces, we need someone who is willing to ‘gut’ the system and rid Bahamian politics of those only using it as a platform to promote their own selfish agendas, while those who place their trust in them suffer. Minnis, though it is still early in his tenure as prime minister, is showing that he is committed to cleaning up politics and elevating the people of The Bahamas.
Let’s face it – at this juncture where corruption has hobbled our economy, what can possibly be of more importance?
With this in mind, amid the recent extortion and bribery developments, Prime Minister Minnis took the opportunity to echo to his government, along with the local and international community, that he will not tolerate any misfeasance under his watch.
Corruption and violence have been two of the biggest inhibitors to our economic growth. Both deter and destroy human capital and as the country becomes more unsafe to live, many talented young people are either declining to move home, or emigrating to other countries.
Prime Minister Minnis must be mindful of this, as he too, spoke to the need for us to focus on our greatest natural resource – the people. People must be made to feel safe and as though they can thrive.
In so doing, he acknowledged that for the government to succeed, it must be in concert with the people – an educated people with a renewed priority on family and community. The prime minister expressed a focus on the same – acknowledging that education and training are “at the heart of economic reform”.
Included in his vision for the country’s economic reform, he also recognized that there is a dire need to diversify our industries, and while we would like to hear more of his plans in this regard, we must also understand that in the short-term that we have to water the seeds that will harvest the fastest.
In this vein, tourism has been our golden goose for as long as we have been an independent nation. Prime Minister Minnis affirmed his government’s commitment to supporting Baha Mar and Atlantis, as well as our broad tourism product offering throughout the family islands.
In totality, Minnis’ address gave us a sense of what direction the government intends to go in. It also signals to Moody’s, S&P and the IMF that his government is serious about improving our fiscal situation.
However, two questions that were left on the table - how and when – still remain in the minds of most citizens.
We still want to know timelines and concrete plans from the nation’s leader. However, Prime Minister Minnis has done enough to build some trust from those that elected him on May 10, but after everything we’ve been through and what was foreboded in his address last week, we still require complete partnership. We would like to feel in the loop throughout the entire process - not just twice a year when we hear from our prime minister.
Although much of what we’ve heard from the Leader of the Opposition since receiving his new title has been enough turn even the hardiest stomach, he did make a few valid points in his response to the National Address.
Once you can get beyond the normal self-justifying, apologetic tenor that we’ve seen in most PLP statements since being in opposition, you may find some substantial points. While the prime minister’s address did not lack as much as Davis asserted, we can agree that there is still a great need for the public to hear more focused plans and less ambiguity and broad speech.
Nevertheless, what we received was still a good start. We were made to understand where we are, and some of the difficulties that are to come. Hopefully, as the government is nearer to rolling out its plans, more information is shared with us.
For now, we must all exhibit patience and follow the doctor’s orders.