By Malcolm Strachan
THE Bahamian political playbook must have tattered dog-ears on pages revisited by politicians old and new – “when in doubt, distract the Bahamian people with something the previous government did!” Its predictability and overuse has become so exhausting in our culture. Notwithstanding this practice in the broader political spectrum, our politicians certainly don’t ring up the scoreboard for style and creativity points.
With the disastrous bungling of the Oban deal centre stage and members of government pleading for the whole ordeal to be forgotten by the Bahamian people, it was a fine time to play a trump card. We imagine most administrations keep a few of these in their back pockets to throw a smoke grenade to distract the public when times our desperate.
Certainly, with the embarrassment being felt by the Minnis administration in the middle of the Oban controversy, the timing could not have been better.
The Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) has made headlines in recent months from high ranking executives being sent home and then quietly being brought back to its most recent “stinker”. The disgust felt by the average Bahamian hearing about all of the stunning revelations coming out of the corporation was widely felt. However, if we are honest with ourselves, are we really surprised?
From the time of the Pindling administration, members of the government lived like modern day kings among us. Leaving tabs at restaurants, extraordinary bills and secret lists at utility companies have become the status quo. And surely, we shouldn’t be surprised that any of this went on under Emperor Christie, with his history of overseeing slack administrations.
Yet, our desire for the ‘sip sip’ too often causes us to take our eyes off the mark. While we wanted to know every damning act the previous government did during their tenure, it is no good to us when the current government cherry-picks when it wants to be transparent and plays the blame game nearly a year into their term.
It doesn’t look good for any administration to throw a previous one under the bus, while committing similar acts right before our eyes. Can you imagine the campaign rhetoric that would have come from Dr Minnis had the same Oban blunder took place under Christie?
Perry Christie would have been roasted on a stake after all of Minnis’ accusations of the former prime minister’s back-handed dealings with his “Chinese allies”.
Therefore, how could Prime Minister Minnis, sitting next to an admitted fraudster, as he signed Oban’s phantom principal’s signature as it was his own not be seen as blatant hypocrisy? How can the supposed honourable men and women in his Cabinet not be seen as complicit?
They have not only let down the people of Grand Bahama, but they also have lowered the brand of Bahamian politics with this tainted project.
When it all boils down, our prime minister sat next to a self-confessed criminal and serial bad actor to execute a hoax before the Bahamian people, which he has yet to address the nation on.
In the meantime, all eyes our set on the WSC scandal, much to the desire of the government. Naturally, this gives them some time to get their ducks in a row and strategise how they can smooth over yet another stumbling block for the Minnis-led government.
When will our elected leaders learn they will gain more respect and less disapproval by being honest and transparent in the business of governing the nation? Especially for Prime Minister Minnis - who was the champion for accountability and transparency - to be lacking so greatly in soft skills pertinent to the job is politically suicidal.
Only ten months in and similar murmurings to those when he was fighting for his own party’s leadership are already being circulated – both within his party, as well as the country. People are already questioning under what circumstances can the prime minister be ousted after consecutive missteps on his part.
However, the overwhelming numbers the majority has in Parliament make it highly unlikely such a scenario where the prime minister receives a no confidence vote could ever come to fruition. Furthermore, our elected officials place higher value on kissing the ring than upholding their allegiance to the Bahamian people.
What is even worse at this juncture in our political climate is the Opposition is on track to be even weaker than the previous one. Phillip “Brave” Davis has all the political capital within the party, but does not stand a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming prime minister.
Already as party leader, he has become a laughing stock. His selective amnesia has many wondering if he needs to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find his way home. Further, the WSC findings have done nothing to help his, nor the PLP’s credibility, as the Bahamian people still are bitter towards the former government. Moreover, his ascension to party leader has only further damaged the credibility of the ineffectual Opposition who struggle to remain relevant.
Essentially, the Bahamian people are the real losers here. When we look across the aisle at leadership options, the lack of viable alternatives are beyond disappointing. For so many of us who want to see the country move forward, we are between a rock and a hard place with the brunt of the heavy lifting falling on our shoulders.
When reality sets in and we realise that May 10 has not even come back around yet, it may be disheartening for some among us.
Certainly, we must consider how bad it was prior to getting rid of the PLP. The Bahamian people want a government it can trust, but the state of fragility we are in does not give room to the consistent amateur lapses in governance that have come under the Minnis administration in such a short time.
With every mistake made by the government, you almost feel sorry for the Cinderella Man – Minnis.
Nonetheless, Prime Minister Minnis has brought a lot of the backlash he has been receiving on himself. If we recall, he gave a lot of lip service when he toured the archipelago during election season. Thus far, we’ve yet to see something that separates the prime minister from what we’ve grown tired of. Despite promises not to, he has come before us with a recycled style of leadership that he does not wear well.
For now, we only hope a jolt of something – anything – happens and the prime minister just figures it out. Unfortunately, we know that it simply doesn’t happen like that.
Now, with the European Union making good on their promise to place us on the blacklist after the government led us to believe they’d taken the necessary steps to curtail such a scenario – here we are again doubting their word and unclear how we will be affected.
As the government will now have to explain to the Bahamian people why the passing of the Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information Amendment Bill, 2017; Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information Amendment Regulations, 2017, and the International Tax Cooperation Amendment Bill, 2017 did not help us avoid the blacklist, we hope they can walk and chew gum at the same time.
The citizenry still wants the government to execute on immigration, stimulate economic activity through deals that are good for the Bahamian people, and govern the country well – most importantly, come to the fore on Oban. Hopefully, they do not use the headline-grabbing drama at WSC and the uncertainty associated with being blacklisted as an opportunity to sweep Oban under the rug.
As we have seen before, dangerous precedents can be set when governments are allowed to run the country as they please. The lack of a strong opposition places the responsibility on all the Bahamian people to set aside political party allegiance and hold this government accountable.
Governing is not supposed to be an easy job. Thus, it is incumbent upon us to ensure we are deriving the optimal value out of our elected members of government.
Every indiscretion we’ve witnessed – be it scandals or secret deals – we also play an integral role in allowing our government to carry on with the nonsense they’ve grown so accustomed to.
We must remember we voted these men and women to do our bidding. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, this gets lost and we lower the bar on our expectations of good governance.
Perhaps, not until our leaders realise that we mean business, will things change. We thought we made our message clear with the last government. However, the Minnis administration are showing signs they are becoming too comfortable.
Hopefully, if and when he addresses the nation, he approaches us with humility and is honest with the Bahamian people.
He must realise he is receiving poor counsel, as droves of people who have been questioning his aptitude, are also now concerned with his integrity and character.
With every passing week, his stock is plummeting – and fast.