By Alicia Wallace
NO matter how low we set our expectations, there seems to be surprise, embarrassment, and frustration at every turn. There has not been much to celebrate in recent weeks, the increase in Value Added Tax bringing a muddy tinge to our reality. It puts everything in a different perspective. We do not think about anything without considering the 12 percent VAT added onto it, or the twelve percent VAT that should cover it. This is about more than grocery. It is about management of funds, yes, but also about government operations and the way resources -- especially human resources -- are used.
We are more watchful, critical, and vocal when it feels like the money is coming directly out of our pockets, and it is. From the decision not to appoint new parliamentary secretaries with a reason -- that the positions are unnecessary -- pointing to a waste of $90,000 to reneging on the commitment to host the IAAF World Relays and, at the same time, claiming the Bahamian people "accepted" the VAT increase, the Prime Minister is obviously determined to do as he likes whenever he likes and create false narratives while refusing to acknowledge criticism.
Cabinet shuffle on our dime
The cabinet shuffle came at an unexpected time. This administration has not even been in for 18 months and we already have ministers and permanent secretaries moved from one ministry to another. How is this beneficial to the Bahamian people? Is it cost-effective? Does it increase productivity? Is it a morale boost? There is no reason anyone can find to support this move.
When asked to explain the reason for the shuffle, Minnis said, "It gives individuals exposure and experience in all the different ministries. That's why I don't have any ministry. I have no ministry so I can look at all and learn about all."
This raises even more questions. Why is the Government of The Bahamas in the business of offering work-study placements? We all know cabinet appointments are rewards to the faithful and the spineless. Prime Ministers treat those who have supported and spoken no ill of them with favour in the form of an additional salary. They would have us believe it is too much to ask for some consideration to the qualifications and experience suitable for each post.
It is clear that the intention is not to put people where they will perform best, or give ministries the benefit of experienced ministers. Minnis said, "Individuals are moved and they become knowledgeable in certain things. There is no so-called pre-training before you engage in a post. You learn and you become very good."
Well, thank goodness for that. As long as the Ministers are benefitting from these educational experiences, right?
Of course most appointments depend on the limited range of education, skills, and experience of members of parliament elected, but due consideration to the optimal mix should be a part of the nomination process. There is no excuse for using government ministries -- responsible for areas critical to our economic, social, and physical wellbeing such as health, education, youth, sports, culture, and tourism -- as training grounds for people paid tens of thousands of dollars from the public purse. This is an insult and an outrage.
Minnis: Looking and learning or primary duties only?
As for the statement that Minnis has no ministry so that he can "look at all and learn about all", similar concerns arise. Minnis is not the Prime Minister so he can get paid work experience in numerous fields. It is doubly troubling when we bring to mind his 2017 explanation for having no ministerial portfolio which is quite the opposite of this new line of reasoning.
"I made this decision in order to perform my primary constitutional duty as prime minister. This primary constitutional duty is the coordination and oversight of the Cabinet of The Bahamas," Minnis said.
There is a difference between looking at and learning about all ministries and performing the primary duty of the Prime Minister. He should be able to entrust ministers with the task of overseeing their ministries and the departments therein and communicate regularly with the permanent secretaries, department heads, and cabinet. There is no reason for the Prime Minister to be intimately involved in every ministry, and no explanation for the waste of resources in reassignments and loss of productivity due to unnecessary, often disruptive changes.
Minnis said it himself. "You go in, you read, you understand, and many instances you become better than who was there, sometimes you're not."
A more believable version
Maybe we choose to buy the "exposure" story because it is easier to accept that the Prime Minister really thinks governance is a game of musical chairs, or appointments are collectible items and his people need to get as many as possible. What if there is another version of the story? Recall the appointment of Lanisha Rolle as Minister of Social Services and Community Development. People were not happy about it; least of all the people who celebrated the upgrade of The Bureau of Women's Affairs to the Department of Gender and Family Affairs in 2016. The establishment of the department felt like a step into the 21st century, but Rolle's appointment was disappointing at best, terrifying at worst. She had already made it clear that she did not stand with the women's rights advocates in The Bahamas.
It was, as expected, a disaster. The RISE (conditional cash transfer) programme was discontinued in less than two months, never to be discussed again. Little, if any, information was provided to the press on this or any other issue. Regular meetings with women's organisations suddenly stopped. It became more difficult for members of civil society to get information. The then Minister of Social Services and Community Development outright refused to meet with many stakeholders. It seemed every single thing needed her approval, and this resulted in very little being done, and last-minute announcements of events like National Women's Week and International Women's Day.
We learned from observation that her brand of empowerment, for women and those living in poverty, was the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps variety. There have been reports of her blatant disrespect of others and intentionally impeding progress on new and existing projects. She was certainly ill-suited to this ministerial portfolio, and it took far too long for her to be moved. Now, the question. Was this the real reason for the cabinet shuffle? Did Minnis finally get the memo -- that Rolle needed to be moved from the Ministry -- and choose other people to move at the same time in hopes that it would be less obvious?
If this is not the case, it is quite strange that the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture lost Michael Pintard. It is odd that only four ministers are being shuffled. The others must be just as deserving of the "exposure" Minnis is giving out at our expense.
There is more than enough happening -- and not happening -- to upset us. One of the most frustrating is certainly the lack of honesty and integrity that would prompt leaders and representatives to plainly state the reasons for their action. Lay out the logic behind decisions. It is not good enough to give a quick response to move on to the next question or end the engagement. Bahamian citizens must demand to be treated with respect. After all, we are the employers. We pay 12 percent VAT. That has to count for something.