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Insight: The Fnm Must Recommit To The Principles Upon Which They Ran For Office

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.

photo

Attorney Fred Smith QC

By FREDERICK R M SMITH, QC

This article, the second in a two-part series, deals with initiatives to strengthen rights and privileges of individuals and communities. The first instalment, ‘A few words of advice to help a government off course’, published on October 29, addressed the need to upgrade our economic system for the 21st century.

WHEN the FNM joined activists and citizens in the ‘We March’ protest on November 29, 2016, The Bahamas seemed on the brink of an era of progressive politics.

Dr Minnis, who within eight months would become PM, said the experience had changed him as a leader, and he’d realised the people, “want a new type of (politician) and the ‘same old way’ to stop”.

“I will be a different type of leader......the protest opened my eyes. I will listen to my employer and do what is right for the Bahamian people. This is the people’s time and I will listen to what they have to say.”

The We Marchers wanted a Freedom of Information Act; transparency and fiscal responsibility enshrined in the law; no Spy Bill; an end to toxic conditions at the NP Landfill, environmental protection, an end to corruption and respect for the rule of law.

“We as individuals and communities have a right to personal freedom and privacy, a right to open and accountable government, and a right to live in a clean and safe environment!” declared the Marchers in a resounding and unified voice. It seemed – for a while at least – that the FNM heard them loud and clear.

Once in office, the FNM got off to a good start, attacking corruption, creating an independent Director of Public Prosecutions and engaging with women’s rights by announcing its intention to criminalise marital rape.

Sadly, within months, the “same old way”, denounced by Minnis, reasserted itself. Secrecy, Anchor Projects and no consultation. Governance became less about strengthening the rights and privileges of individuals, and more about wheeling and dealing with shady foreign investors. Less about unifying and empowering people, more about hate mongering and intolerance.

As always, concern for the environment in which Bahamians must live and work has been relegated to the back burner in the face of headline-grabbing mega projects that promise much, but fail to deliver real progress.

Despite the stated commitment to transparency and consultation, deals are once again being cut behind closed doors, the public’s input only sought when it was already too late.

Worst of all from the perspective of human rights, the FNM decided to pursue and even heighten the illegal, inhumane and unconscionable immigration crackdown of their predecessors, while passing a ‘Spy Act’ to allow Gestapo-style anonymous operatives to rummage through the most intimate details of our private lives at will.

Minnis has forgotten the November 2016 lesson and his transformation short lived. The public sees this and the media out-cry clearly expresses it. If the FNM wants to get back on track, they must take a step back, change course and recommit themselves to the principles upon which they ran for office in the first place.

Freedom of Information Act

The FOIA has again become the subject of political gimmickry and delays. The FNM have stuck with the deficient and unacceptable 2017 PLP version.

The government should pass a new and effective FOIA which creates a truly independent Information Commissioner.

The definition of “Public Authorities” should include ALL government bodies and crucially, time limits for the release of documents must be substantially reduced from 30 years to be declassified and remove the Cabinet Minister’s veto rights over the release of information.

Real Local Government

It’s time to decentralise power. The Bahamas is a “Commonwealth”; a “Family of Islands” which are not colonies of Nassau. It’s time to repeal the Local Government Act and pass a real one giving power to “The People” for local home rule; to pass and enforce local laws, impose and collect local taxes and to manifest local change. As for Freeport; simply respect the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.

Environmental Protection Act

This is a no brainer. It is recognised as desperately needed by everyone. The PLP and FNM have promised to enact one. I don’t know how much more I can say about this.

Whistleblower Act

The FOIA merely mentions protection for civil servants who expose neglect or malfeasance.

The government should pass a modern Whistleblower Act to encourage and incentivise reporting of wrongdoing.

A Human Rights Act and Hate speech

State promoted and tolerated discrimination is the greatest cancer in our body politic, and during the Christie Administration, hate speech became the chief mode of political attack on minority groups such as migrants, the LBGTQ community and activists that fought human rights abuses, fiscal mismanagement and environmental pollution.

Legislation criminalising all forms private and public discrimination, of hate speech and harassment is urgently needed. Careful consideration must of course be given to balancing this with the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution.

Ombudsman

Since 1992 the FNM promised an Ombudsman Act. All mature democracies accept that governments cannot police themselves and it is high time we joined the club.

Once the office is created, independent units should be established in all key departments and report regularly to the Ombudsman on matters such as: fiscal management; complaints and claims of negligence or malfeasance; operational efficiency; and systemic issues leading to poor service or breaches of basic rights.

Immigration reform

With immigration policy, we continue to live in the dark ages. Regrettably, Immigration is not used as a tool of development. It is stuck in xenophobic election vote pandering mode. The government remains in the grip of a blinkered, anxiety-driven effort to keep the “invaders” out at all costs, without ever considering the devastating human consequences of their actions. As to the treatment of the Haitian ethnic communities, families are torn apart, people are wrongfully deprived of their liberty and kept captive in conditions too horrible to describe. Innocent people are beaten, extorted, expelled from the country of their birth.

Simply put, our immigration policy violates nearly every human right norm. It is a disaster, a sin and a travesty. The Minnis Administration simply must bring an end to it.

Every human being in The Bahamas is presumed innocent; has the right to freedom of movement, to an attorney if suspected of a crime, to apply for bail if detained and the right to be set free unless formally charged. All Immigration needs to do is respect these rights while carrying out their duties.

Campaign finance transparency

The FNM pledged to introduce campaign finance reform through the expansion of the Public Disclosure Act to cover political donations.

Secret campaign donations are the driving force behind corruption and nepotism that plague Bahamian politics. Shedding light upon and regulating political financing must be a priority in any effort to further entrench democratic principles.

Gender equality

The overwhelmingly public rejection of proposed constitutional amendments to achieve gender equality was due, largely, to the politicisation of the referendums by the FNM and PLP and misinformation campaigns by special interests.

Luckily, neither a national referendum, nor changes to the constitution are actually needed to bring about gender equality, at least in the short term.

A few simple changes to existing law, or passage of a Human Rights Act, would plug the gaps in gender equality, allowing the public to adjust to the new reality and see that most, if not all, of their fears are unfounded.

Public awareness and Legal Aid

There is a worrying lack of awareness regarding the nature of constitutional rights, the role of government and the function of the law.

A comprehensive awareness campaign is therefore a crucial component of any successful effort to create progressive change.

This must begin at the grade school level across the public education system and extend to courses in Civics, Good Governance and Constitutional Theory at the University of The Bahamas, and key groups such as law enforcement, immigration and correctional services; civil society, in particular groups that deal with minority, migrant and gender rights; staff at the Office of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Judicial and Legal Services Commission; social services.

The way forward

The FNM has an unprecedented mandate with its landslide victory, but Minnis and colleagues must remember that this support was based on specific promises. Support will be withdrawn as quickly as it was bestowed.

 Once in office, it is understandable that the minutiae of day-to-day governance can distract and disorientate even the most well-intentioned politician. To return to the path they set for themselves, the FNM must get back to basics. They must revisit their promises and rekindle the progressive spirit of change that ushered them into office. They must remember the energy of We March and resist the temptation to return to the “same old way”. They must decentralize and empower “The People”.

 The Minnis Administration still has an incredible opportunity to go down in history as the government that ushered in true democratic change in The Bahamas and pointed the way to a brighter future for us all. Let us pray they have the political courage necessary.

 The first part of this article can be found at: http://www.tribune242.com/news/2018/oct/29/insight-few-words-advice-help-government-course/?opinion

Comments

BahamaPundit 11 months, 1 week ago

Yes. This is important. Well said.

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scampi75 11 months, 1 week ago

Excellent article, a good read. Although I still have faith in this Government I am very concerned, like the article says, it's becoming "business as usual". I would hope the powers to be step down from their high horse and read this and listen. Listen to the people because, they put you in power, they can remove you! My only concern about his article is immigration. Although I am completely in agreement with the decent treatment of any human being, I do not support opening up the gates. Our heritage, our culture is being transformed right before our eyes with the invasion of other cultures en masse. Immigration is about protecting our borders and controlling the movement and settlement of non citizens in a proper and legal way. It needs to be fair, humane but firm.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 11 months, 1 week ago

Dream on....all Minnis ever wanted was a foot into the PLP to FNM, FNM to PLP revolving door. Minnis is the new Ingraham waiting to find out who the new Christie will be, so that he (Minnis) and his new PLP equivalent can take turns every five years stomping honest and poor hard working Bahamians into the ground while the political elite, their families and their cronies live off of the fat of the land, leaving the rest of us with nada, not even a crumb. Minnis is not one to under estimate the dumbness and forgetfulness of voters! LMAO

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BahamaPundit 11 months, 1 week ago

Agreed. In my lifetime I have never seen a bigger faker and con artist than Dr. Hubert Minnis. He tricked an entire nation and was so synical that he knew nothing would be done to stop him. He must believe Bahamians are dumber than worms to think he could construct a fake personality and message "it's the people's time" and completely change back into a corrupt majority rule politician once elected. He still has a bit more time to change my opinion by passing strong antibiotics corruption laws, but I highly doubt it.

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Porcupine 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Yes, also agreed. These weren't slight changes in course Minnis has taken. These were all out reversals of promises and mandates. Fred Smith is being much too kind in his treatment of these obvious deceits by our PM.

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TalRussell 11 months, 1 week ago

OMG ma comrades - what a regressive 552 days since Minnis and Brent tooks over reigns power. If you didn't know before day 552 - you mussy hearing dead cause you're now being told by two governing most Imperial reds that if you weren't in red shirts special club most privileged or among politically connected or cushy appoints fully funded by PeoplesPublicPurse - you were left out opportunities..... That is left you and your children's be expected get your opportunity weeding grass of the privileged. Not much has changed for the many since original bloodlines first left straight from African shores be landing in harbour Nassau Town.
{ Ma comrades, not my made up words. As painful as its meant, this for real }.

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DDK 11 months, 1 week ago

Once again credit must be given where credit is due.

Not sure about the Hawksbill Creek Agreement though. It is my feeling that this should have run its course by now. Obviously Freeport is not faring any better than the rest of the Bahamas at this point in time.

Also, Immigration is something that should not continue to go the way of the article writer, although human rights should always be respected in all countries.

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