In these columns last week we took the Free National Movement government to task for a sense of drift that seems to have developed recently despite its good start in office six months ago.
One reason for this impression has been an apparent lack of coordination within the government itself together with a lack of adequate public communication in relation to its policies, activities and achievements,
A week later, the situation is already looking rather different following a number of satisfactory developments.
First, there has been some backtracking on the important issue of an increase of parliamentarians’ salaries which we had drawn attention to and which the prime minister’s Press Secretary has now announced will be linked to an improvement of the economy. In a damage limitation exercise, this has brought to a close, at least for the time being, the furore following Prime Minister Dr Minnis’ earlier unwise pronouncement on the subject.
Given the principle of Cabinet responsibility, it is important the government should speak with one voice; and this makes it all the more important for his Press Secretary to be more proactive in articulating official policy. Conveying the government’s intentions and plans promptly and accurately to as wide an audience as possible is a vital function – as a means of supplementing official statements with further information -- since the FNM’s fortunes will depend on the public’s perception of its performance over the coming years.
A second significant development just revealed by the Press Secretary is the plan to establish a ‘Deliverables Unit’ early next year. This will be tasked to keep a check on official projects and initiatives across-the-board and help to ensure progress is made in implementing them. Judging from the fortunes of a similar body in a previous British government, the success of such a unit will depend on the degree of co-operation it receives from officials in the ministries it is scrutinising and this, in turn, will depend on how strong a lead is provided by the Prime Minister.
Another example of welcome progress is the government’s approach to the long-standing issue of the difficulty of doing business in The Bahamas. This has been a major concern for many years, but until now different administrations have declined to address it seriously. With our excessive red tape and inefficient bureaucracy The Bahamas is now ranked 121st among 190 countries in the World Bank’s index of the ease of doing business.
The private sector has been complaining consistently about our onerous and poorly functioning regulatory regime which presents a challenge for business owners to carry out even the simplest tasks without obstacles and delays. Clearly, in order to streamline the existing system there should be major reform through decentralising the decision-making process and instituting proper time frames for action together with greater accountability so that those officials who are failing to deliver can be identified.
The government’s response so far has been encouraging. According to reports, it has started drafting legislation to improve the ease of doing business with a view to stimulating economic growth and job creation – and the remarks last week by the minister responsible for financial services, trade and industry and immigration about creating conditions that “facilitate the ease of doing business in an open, innovative, productive and competitive environment” will be music to the ears of the business community. Equally, the government’s commitment to push for full membership of the World Trade Organisation by 2019 is another indication of the Minnis administration’s intention to liberalise and deregulate the economy as a whole.
A further example of this government’s new transparency about its policies and actions is the Deputy Prime Minister’s helpful explanation earlier this week of the circumstances of its successful efforts to raise capital in the international markets and his speculation about the possible change of our “junk” status by the ratings agencies.
These various recent developments reflect well on the government and should be widely welcomed. We must also hope it will continue to improve its communications skills so that its policies and achievements are fully explained and widely disseminated.
As one of Britain’s prime ministers famously said, “a week is a long time in politics”.