By Malcolm Strachan
ON May 10, 2017, the Bahamian electorate voted for a much desired change. The political culture of our leaders looking after their friends, family and lovers disgusted the majority of Bahamians who voted for Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and the Free National Movement to form the current government. However, after six months it would seem as though most Bahamians are succumbing to a pervasive feeling of voter dissonance.
Some of us are now wondering if we got it wrong. Certainly, the PLP had to go, and surely FNM sycophants would entreat us to be patient with the prime minister’s vision. But it would seem what many feared early on - Minnis being unable to fulfil the bold proclamations made from the campaign trail - appeared to be premonitions for the current situation.
The prime minister led the onslaught against the former government and declared he would lead a government that was for the people. He said his government would create jobs. He touted his government’s ability to be able to stem the crime epidemic. As what may have been one of his bolder promises, he said his government would introduce policies that would implement tax-free zones and remove VAT off bread basket items, among other unrealized initiatives.
However, none of these policies have yet to come to fruition.
Though it is still only six months into a relatively new term in governance, there is a collective grimace from the bad taste left in all of our mouths when we heard the prime minister’s plan to increase salaries of parliamentarians.
His initial announcement was met with outrage from the Bahamian people. The new and raw emotion is slowly turning to disappointment and mounting frustration, as we are all beginning to feel like we were again duped by a lot of disingenuous politicians.
In 2014, while the prime minister was still struggling to hold on to the leadership of his party, he said he would not agree to parliamentarians receiving a raise if he were the nation’s leader. The change in direction has left many of us feeling unsettled, as we have shown we have zero tolerance for politicians speaking from both sides of their mouths.
The prime minister must have underestimated the challenge that laid before him upon embarking high office. Not only does he seem to misunderstand the challenge, but also the responsibility – the same responsibility he referenced in his national address in July of this year, where he referred to politicians as servant leaders. Certainly, he must understand that as a servant leader it would be incumbent upon his government to ensure that policies introduced should be at the behest of the people that made him the prime minister.
After going on a crusade in the weeks and months after the election to paint the picture that the ‘cupboards were bare’ and the economy was on ‘life support’, an announcement that you intend to increase MPs’ salaries by the next Budget Debate portrays a government that must be disconnected from the reality it created with the numerous headlines of fiscal malfeasance on the part of its predecessor.
While the government has recognised the dire state of the economy, and has instituted austerity measures, which have led to lay-offs, a hiring freeze in the public sector, delays in tax cuts, and the like – how is it they expect the Bahamian people to respond to their reported plans to increase MPs’ salaries?
Bahamian people have been suffering a long time, and the last thing we need is a government that is not committed to fulfilling its promises.
While we submit that no time is the right time to increase salaries of MPs, the majority of Bahamians would agree that right now may be the most inopportune time to focus on such a parliamentarian-centric initiative. Each one of the 39 MPs knew what they were committing themselves to. Likewise, all of them made promises to their constituents when they asked for their votes. With the only thing being given to the populace having been the repeated regurgitation of how terrible the former government was, we are no longer amused.
Fair-minded advisors of the prime minister must caution him to walk back on those statements and impress on the Bahamian people his government is committed to doing the things they said they would. They must put an end to the mud-slinging, which is only increasing the temperature of the people and proving them to be a grouping not mature enough to lead the country.
There is still a dwindling hope this government can pull together and lead the country forward, but even that is diminishing by the second.
More and more Bahamians are peering into the soul of this government and asking: “What have you done for me lately?”
With no real plans and emotive, knee-jerk pronouncements becoming more commonplace from this government, they continue to dig themselves into a gaping hole at a very early stage in this term. They ought to be mindful there is one thing about Bahamian people that remains true: once you have spurned us, we may forgive, but we never forget. Moreover, we certainly will ensure you won’t forget as well.
The prime minister needs to make it clear to his ministers they must discontinue the PLP bashing, as it is becoming more politically suicidal.
It would be far more beneficial to listen to the Bahamian people. Their cries are distinct.
We need the economy to flourish and for jobs to be made available. Island Luck’s job fair made it apparent there are still many Bahamians who are unemployed. The government should be actively looking for opportunities wherever they may be within the country to create jobs for Bahamians. The monies the prime minister was able to pull out of his ‘magic hat’ ought to be used to improve the lives of Bahamians – not those he characterised as servant leaders.
In that vein, consider it an act of service; the same service each of them swore on the bible to carry out the day after the election.
The government should also avidly be working to get some of these young men off of the streets and doing something constructive to discourage them from mischief. The correlations between crime and unemployment are widely known.
Perhaps this can net a positive benefit for the government in its fight against crime, and also endear them to the people who desperately want to feel safer in this country.
Prime Minister Dr Minnis, who is known and respected as an intelligent man must know these things. He must know, that while we are still disenchanted with the PLP, that by no means extends a free pass to himself, nor his government. We knew what Perry Christie was – as Philip Galanis perfectly characterised him, ‘a man with form and no substance.’ And despite his struggles with the textbook skills needed to be a prime minister, the consensus feeling after the election was one of a renewed sense of hope for Dr Minnis to lead the country from its darkest period.
After five years where despair was the prevailing feeling throughout our country, the Bahamian people were able to find hope again.
Having endured the past five years, we cannot be blamed for our eagerness for things to take a turn in this country. Dr Minnis, given his repeated promises and separations of himself from traditional politicians, should fully understand our expectation for him to be able to deliver.
Don’t disappoint us, Mr Prime Minister. When referencing career politicians, you said it yourself - that you are not like them.
We, the people of this great country, beseech you not to become a politician now. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Else, you too, will be as a passing breeze in the political history books.
Now is the time to be a true servant leader.