By MALCOLM STRACHAN
AS we brace ourselves for the impending reality of increased taxes, the government’s confirmation that it will proceed with the 4.5 percent VAT hike has left many Bahamians feeling disheartened. While the likelihood that they would have come back this week more amenable to consultation after having heard the public uproar was low, many people still had hope.
However, as fate would have it, the Bahamian people would have no such luck. The minister of finance is seemingly unbending on his plan to balance the budget in three years notwithstanding the cost to the populace and his political future.
He and the prime minister swear by this being the best move for The Bahamas, even if it is not the best move for Bahamians. Many see this as a crushing blow to the economic growth we experienced last year, with consumer purchasing power likely to be severely contracted in a matter of a few weeks.
Bitterness pervades the archipelago. Yet, we all must recognise that we did not have to be here.
The last election was one where the general feelings of anger, resentment, disappointment and exhaustion led us to vote out the Progressive Liberal Party. While the incoming government was welcomed with open arms, the Bahamian people were adamant that they did not want another dose of Perry Gladstone Christie.
Former Democratic National Alliance Leader Branville McCartney, who was at times a viable consideration for the next prime minister, arguably ruined the chances of his party becoming the next government when he accepted a position in the Senate from Loretta Butler-Turner during her brief stint as Opposition Leader.
As history would soon record, the DNA, for a second straight election, did not win any seats. Although some of their candidates’ messaging resonated with some voters, the chance for the PLP winning the election was too great to gamble away votes.
Now here we are a year later, in a situation McCartney would have described in picture perfect fashion in the lead-up to the election: “The PLP and the FNM, they are two sides of the same coin.”
Ironically enough, where this government promised transparency, we’ve been met with more secrecy. Where we were promised good governance and accountability, we have continually seen the politicisation of issues and blaming of the former administration. We were promised a vision, but the government continues to show us that they lack a cohesive plan. Perhaps most disappointing is that we were promised that it was the “people’s time”, yet the poor people, while gaining tax relief on some breadbasket items, will still incur taxes across the rest of the spectrum.
It feels as though the Bahamian people have been bamboozled again.
Though, if we give the government the benefit of the doubt and accept that they feel they are doing the best thing for the people of The Bahamas, does it not show a grave disconnect between the populace and the supposed “people’s time” government?
We have arrived at a point as a people where we’ve become so accepting of abuse. Preposterously, citizens among us serve as de facto publicists - explaining away the government’s errors. How is it that we hear more from ‘Joe Public’ regarding the prime minister’s contradictory statements on taxation than the man who made the assertions himself?
Make no mistake, we are where we are as a nation for much of our own folly. Surely, the manner in which we vote has lowered the standard of our political leaders – flip-flopping between two parties every five years.
While having a few other viable options would be beneficial for the electorate, it would still not be enough. Truthfully, the citizenry has impeded its own growth in this regard, as we have proliferated nonsensical ideals like those found in staunch party supporters.
No doubt, the FNM has greatly decreased its chances of being a two-term government by its decision to increase VAT to 12%. Even though, the three-year plan to balance the budget a year before an election year will arm them with a victory and the funds to spend wildly in campaign mode, the disdain for this government grows by the moment. These strong feelings towards the government captures the pain and suffering the Bahamian people have experienced since The Great Recession.
The FNM’s 2017 election slogan, “the people’s time”, was music to the ears of many that wanted to feel hope. The forgotten in society felt, for the first time in a long time, as though the tides were about to turn and life would be better. All things considered, while he lacked many soft skills, the sentiments that the prime minister rose up from the inner city endeared him to the downtrodden.
Now, people feel as though they were manipulated by the prime minister.
The betrayal that the Bahamian people feel is so strong that it can make us dangerously emotional. Undoubtedly, it is this betrayal that the Progressive Liberal Party, who have yet to make any steps to reform its party, are banking on to recapture the government in 2022.
Certainly, in their current iteration, the Bahamian people want no part of them. However, where does that leave the electorate? The DNA has not been able to remain relevant enough throughout a five-year period for the majority of Bahamians to consider them as a worthwhile option.
While some personalities in the nation’s third party are greatly respected, the 2022 election will likely meet Bahamians who have some of the same fears with regard to how they vote. Whoever is the alternative to the nation’s two longest existing parties will have to engage the people as soon as possible to have a chance.
They have to insert themselves into the national conversation and share their ideas with the country – even at the cost of the government or Opposition stealing them. Without a doubt, this is necessary for the DNA, or any other political faction with aspirations of forming the next government.
Likewise, we, the Bahamian people have to break our mindsets of political allegiance. We must understand that great change will require an even greater leap going forward. Surely, one thing we can be certain of is that more of the same produces just that - more of the same.
Assuredly, if we continue to vote in the two schools of thought that we’ve seen over the last 40 odd years, we will continue to have the same type of leadership where we feel we’re on the outside looking in.
While we wade through the rough waters that may lie ahead, let us do so with a goal in mind to create a better future for ourselves and our children in 2022.
Will the nation’s next leaders please stand up?