By MALCOLM STRACHAN
DESPITE Prime Minister Minnis’ lack of nationwide fanfare, on May 10, 2017, he and the Free National Movement formed the next government of our commonwealth. His campaign was established on tenets of transparency and accountability. Essentially, it did not take rocket science to know that a lack thereof was chief among the reasons we had enough of the previous government. The Free National Movement probably could have campaigned on anything and safely become the next government.
Truly, it is a testament to how terribly bad things were under the Christie-led government. It gives credence to how much the citizens of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas desired and needed change.
But this time, for the first time, the anti-politician, “the common man’s man”, was in charge. Revelations of malfeasance certainly set a tone that the current government meant to reveal the business of governance. They released the appalling allegations of extortion and corruption involving some members of Christie’s cabinet to satisfy the thirst of Bahamians who had long been convinced of the shadowy dealings of the previous government. But the question still remains, as it is still fairly early in Minnis’ term – will the business of governance be as accessible when it pertains to his government?
Prime Minister Minnis, at every opportunity, talks about his government being one of transparency and accountability. Further, when sworn in, he charged that he and his government would be committed to servant leadership. In that vein, there have been issues that the people have raised in the national discourse to which the government has responded, but to what end?
As the calendar year changed, the most controversial issue of the day was surprisingly not immigration. Instead, it was marital rape that was at the centre of the national debate. Many conflicting views depicted the polarisation of the issue, even as members of the government did not share the same perspectives on the matter. Attorney General Carl Bethel, among those who were skittish on the conversation of making marital rape a criminal offence, later came back saying that the government must respond to the desires of the citizenry.
He noted that the government was working on a draft bill and would release it for wider public consultation from church leaders and civic society.
As newscasts from various media houses revealed that the Attorney General was in Geneva relaying to a UN conference details of developments the Bahamian populace had been waiting to hear from the government on – marital rape among them - there was a deep sense of betrayal that was felt by many.
Nothing about this felt like servant leadership. Nothing felt like transparent governance. Rather, it felt like familiar feelings of dismissal and being taken for granted by a government full of empty promises and campaign rhetoric.
The Attorney General’s defensive response also fell far short of being redemptive, to say the least. His claims that the government circulated the draft bills to civic society and church leaders have also garnered some well-warranted backlash.
Bahamas Christian Council President, Bishop Delton Fernander, for one, claims to have had no knowledge of a draft bill and was very disturbed with the government’s handling of this matter, deeming it an act carried out “in bad faith”.
Civil society groups such as the Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) and Equality Bahamas have also chided the government for presenting the draft bill to the UN Human Rights conference prior to going through a period of general public review.
In some ways, it can be viewed as a form of scapegoating on the government’s part. To pretend as if it is okay to share draft bills with executives in a handful of groups as a reflection of the thinking of broader society is not the way for the government to go about ingratiating itself to the citizenry. It shows a complete disregard for public input and is definitely not aligned with transparency and a government that knows who it is accountable to – the Bahamian populace.
The Bahamian people, for far too long, have felt like mere outsiders – eavesdropping on the national conversation – with decisions being made at the highest levels. This serves as the biggest of the proverbial “slaps in the face”, as the electorate constantly feels swindled out of their votes. Certainly, promises of it being a “people’s government” would ensure that the people should not be surprised to learn about the government’s presentation of matters that have implications here at home at a UN conference abroad.
Furthermore, as the people would have been traumatised by our last government, the current government should not underestimate the volatility of a spurned people – especially when they have been consistently reminded that there was no love affair between the Bahamian people and the prime minister.
Prime Minister Minnis’ political success is hinged to the failure of Perry Christie – no more, no less. Had the Progressive Liberal Party not been as half as bad as they were, there are no guarantees that the Minnis administration would be calling the shots today.
He must always be mindful to govern as a prime minister constantly cognizant of how fleeting power can be, as the stage was set for him by his predecessor, who we can all agree became oblivious in his political twilight.
Platforms like talk radio and the proliferation of social media have all increased the citizenry’s engagement on national issues. Long gone are the days when the political establishment could capitalise on the ignorance of the Bahamian people.
No doubt, there are still many complexities that come along with national issues being transformed into legal precepts to which guidance is required on the part of the government. However, the Attorney General must understand, that this is less about him purposely trying to hide something from the people – which we should not sensationalise, as it would only dilute the core issue with the handling of the dissemination of information. This is more about promises made by his prime minister - promises of transparency and accountability.
As Attorney General, naturally he may view his actions as innocently fulfilling an obligation to the UN. But being a Bahamian first, he should also be able to acknowledge the obvious sensitivities of the public feeling as though this could have been a more inclusive process.
Perhaps the Attorney General sees the public’s desire for full transparency on national matters as micro-managerial. We are not certain. However, as long as the prime minister maintains that his government is one that promotes transparency and accountability, Attorney General Carl Bethel – who did not share the campaign stage and utter such rhetoric - still has a clear mandate to follow.