By Malcolm Strachan
IT HAS been almost 18 months since the Free National Movement became the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and many of us are still struggling to figure out just who this government is. What is their brand of governance? What will we remember them for? Will it be for taking a savvy campaign catchphrase and turning it into a punchline? Or as the government that unabashedly increased the tax burden on its citizenry?
Time will tell, but for now, with little to no understanding of what this government’s identity is, the parts we are able to piece together do not bode well for this administration’s legacy.
If we look to our American neighbours – whether you like, love or hate them – both presidents Trump and Obama had consistent messaging throughout their tenures. President Barack Obama, certainly the more widely favoured of the two, campaigned on change and a belief that if all citizens came together that they can make their country a better place. On the other hand, his successor, President Donald Trump, makes decisions on the premise of “making America great again”.
It is very hard to ascertain any decision our government has made that reflects it being “the people’s time”. Perusing any local social media, one can find comic relief using the government’s campaigned slogan. Whether the populace is determining that it is the people’s time to suffer, or questioning which people the government are referring to, neither assumption speaks well of this government.
Also, as disjointed as their self-perception may be, we can surmise that neither of these perspectives would align with how the government views itself.
We have all heard by now the dissenting voices from within Parliament on the government’s decision to increase value added tax, as well as renting space in the Town Centre Mall from Immigration and Financial Services Minister Brent Symonette. Members of Parliament for Pineridge, Bain and Grants Town, Centreville and Golden Aisles have echoed the wider community in this regard.
Interestingly enough, the Free National Movement conclave which took place on Friday and Saturday was organised with the aim of getting all party members “on the same page”. Although FNM chairman Carl Culmer insisted this exercise was not done to target dissenting voices from within the party, it is highly doubtful that some form of intimidation was not at play. Particularly with Culmer’s response indicating that freedom of speech is fine in certain forums and not others, one must wonder who decides these forums? And why, if you’re a backbencher whose obligation is to the people that voted you in, does there have to be a forum in which you can disagree with a decision made by the government in the first place?
Certainly, it doesn’t seem like any secret to the Bahamian people that certain individuals in this government are very insecure and sensitive to any form of criticism. The prime minister has gone so far as castigating the media at a press event for the way they do their jobs – which is not bestowing praise upon him every chance they get.
He, too, beyond firing three of the four MPs after they voted against the government’s decision to increase value added tax, executed his own attack on McAlpine, who has been his harshest critic.
The prime minister has also not been alone in cracking the whip on dissident voices within the camp.
Founding member of the FNM Maurice Moore has on multiple occasions lashed MPs Fred McAlpine, Travis Robinson, Reece Chipman and Vaughn Miller for views on government decisions.
Culmer says they want to be careful the Opposition cannot “twist” the message. But what message is that: “It’s the people’s time?”
That message would have been twisted a long time ago, but not by the Opposition, or any of the “Rebel Four”. Rather, it’s been twisted by the party’s very own shaky leadership.
Any organisation typically takes on the identity of its leader. From brands such as Apple and Tesla to countries like the US and Canada. Many US political commentators – the one’s worth watching, at least – would say the cause of the recent domestic acts of mass violence have occurred as a result of the hate-filled rhetoric from its leader.
Likewise, we are still struggling to understand what the government’s identity is because largely we have no clue of what Prime Minister Minnis’ identity is. Lacking in charisma and personality, we are unable to get a true sense of who he is and what he’s about. His most coherent speeches sound scripted, and any time he’s spoken off the cuff he’s given us his fair share of “twisted” messaging.
Moreover, without managing his own portfolio, he doesn’t report to the Bahamian people on a regular basis about anything of value. Luckily, he is able to hide under the cover of press secretary ‘Ace’ Newbold, who quite possibly has the hardest time earning a pay cheque in the country.
Surely, many people wonder what Dr Minnis does all day.
However, if you were to tune into his Facebook page, you can see that he spends the majority of his time travelling abroad and campaigning in the Family Islands in constituencies where he is comfortable knowing he won’t be made uncomfortable.
He has yet to hold a similar forum in the nation’s capital for what we imagine to be fear of being disrobed. Understandably, if I were running a sham on the Bahamian people, I would want to avoid the hard questions as well.
Nonetheless, one thing to know about the Bahamian people is that without you showing us who you are, we will not make any qualms about deciding who we see you as. And as of right now, for the prime minister and his government, they certainly aren’t who they said they were.
The time will come when the electorate holds a mirror in front of this government. Certainly, we hope they can bear the sight of what is reflected.