EDITOR, The Tribune.
IN a little under three months, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has flexed his muscles by terminating four parliamentary subordinates in the persons of Centreville MP Reece as chairman of the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation (AMMC); Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine as chairman of the Hotel Corporation; Bain and Grants Town MP Travis Robinson as parliamentary secretary in Tourism and Golden Isles MP Vaughn Miller as parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development.
Minnis was left with very little ultimatum, after the four Free National Movement (FNM) MPs defiantly voted against the government’s move to increase VAT to 12 percent. Minnis was in a no-win dilemma. Had he not reprimanded Robinson, McAlpine and Miller, he would have been perceived as being weak and timid. He has conjured up the courage to relieve the trio of their well-paid official duties, and now he is being labeled a dictator. All four FNM MPs voted their conscience like the late Carlton Francis, who was the minister of Finance in the Pindling administration. Francis resigned his Cabinet post after he had voted against the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) on the gambling issue in 1973. He didn’t wait to receive his pink slip from Sir Lynden, unlike Messrs Robinson, McAlpine and Miller, who apparently were unwilling to do the honourable thing and resign, as required by the Manual of Cabinet and Ministry Procedure.
Chipman, if the reader would recall, was terminated from the AMMC in March, over some matter which was never publicised. His dissent with the Minnis administration over its proposed increase of VAT comes as no surprise to the writer. If nothing else, Chipman’s opposition might have stemmed from a deep-seated need to obtain retribution due to his dismissal. In McAlpine’s case, it is now becoming obvious that the renegade Pineridge MP had been manoeuvring for months now in order to get dismissed from the FNM. I pointed out before that some FNMs believe that McAlpine’s goal is to become PLP leader and subsequently prime minister. McAlpine posted a photo of himself and four burly policemen who were clad in khaki. The senior ranking officers apparently delivered Minnis’ termination letter to him. Some are suggesting that the use of four high ranking officers for such a minor task may have been an overkill; and may have been aimed at embarrassing McAlpine. This latest saga involving the Pineridge MP may finally be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. McAlpine, in all likelihood, may finally defect to the PLP. I believe he has already mentally crossed the political aisle.
As for Robinson and Miller, I believe the duo when they said they were simply following orders from their respective constituents in Bain and Grants Town and Golden Isles, notwithstanding what is expected of them. Miller told The Tribune that a police officer escorted him as he returned his government assigned automobile. I recall a similar scenario involving former FNM Cabinet Minister Kenneth Russell, after he was terminated by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham in December of 2011. This practice comes off as a move to embarrass these terminated officials.
The constituents of Golden Isles and Bain and Grants Town were unwilling to accept Minister of Finance K Peter Turnquest’s reasoned explanation for increasing VAT. There has been a pushback against the VAT proposal by thousands of Bahamians, because people generally hate paying taxes. I too am not happy about the idea of paying 12 percent in VAT. But with The Bahamas’ planned accession to the World Trade Organisation; a $7.3bn National Debt; $800m in unpaid bills and obligations left behind by the previous administration; Bahamas Power and Light, Water & Sewage Corporation and Bahamas Air in financial shambles; Bahamas Nurses Union, Bahamas Union of Teachers and Bahamas Doctors Union all clamouring for a pay increase, the current 7.5 percent in VAT coupled with other tax revenues were simply not enough to break even, let alone obtain a minuscule surplus.
Each year dating back to the former Ingraham administration The Bahamas has had GFS deficits. So rather than kick the can further down the road, as the cash strapped Caribbean countries of Jamaica and Barbados have done, Turnquest and Co have decided to bite the bullet and aggressively tackle our messy financial situation. Jamaica’s dollar has devalued to $129 (JMD) to $1 US dollar. Barbados’ National Debt stands close to $1.9 billion, with an IMF team expected to visit that island country in early July to further assess the situation, as per Bajan Prime Minister Mia Mottley. No sane Bahamian would want our country to experience the same dilemma as Jamaica and Barbados.
When Turnquest spoke about The Bahamas’ precarious financial predicament, it probably flew over the heads of Robinson’s and Miller’s constituents. In most instances, our opposition to the introduction and increase of taxes is emotional.
Had the Minnis administration chosen to “kick the can” down the road, as previous administrations had conveniently done in the past, the constituents in Golden Isles, Bain and Grants Town and the remaining 37 constituencies will blame the government for the financial mess the country would undoubtedly find itself in come 2022. They are going to say that “Minnis mismanaged the economy.” Robinson and Miller should have tried explaining this to their constituents, if they hadn’t. The trio of Miller, Robinson and Chipman will undoubtedly encounter the temptation to defect from the FNM in order to support the PLP, as a way of getting back at Minnis for firing them. They may be even entertaining the notion of seeing the FNM pummelled in 2022 at the polls. All three have fallen out of favour with Minnis.
I can imagine the trio feeling some embarrassment over their ordeals. But I think the right course of action for all three is to remain within the fold of the FNM. Time often brings healing. Eventually, they will regain Minnis’ favour. Going to the PLP or becoming independent could spell the end of their political careers.
Freeport, Grand Bahama,
June 19, 2018.