By Malcolm Strachan
IT is no secret that political factions within our country expect a level of loyalty from members of Cabinet in government. Often, when Members of Parliament who express feelings or views that conflict with the executive, the electorate may assume some discord within government. So it is at present within the governing Free National Movement, where it seems there are a few disgruntled backbenchers.
However, what if we are viewing this all the wrong way?
Pineridge MP Fred McAlpine, perhaps the most outspoken among the disgruntled, has long been a thorn in the side of the prime minister. Notwithstanding any underlying issue between these men, have we considered that McAlpine is just doing the job he was elected to perform? McAlpine, like the other 39 Members of Parliament, were voted in by their constituents to serve as their representatives. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, that conflicts with Parliamentarians serving at the pleasure of the prime minister. Rather than being viewed as servants of the people, any dissenting voices within government are seen as disgruntled detractors.
Certainly, many among us would say the Minnis administration have become quite the arrogant bunch. The prime minister himself does not even consider any matters brought up by the Opposition. In fact, when prompted for a response by the media to the Opposition’s call for Bahamas Power & Light to be removed from Works Minister Desmond Bannister’s portfolio, Prime Minister Minnis completely disregarded their concerns and summed it up to the Opposition being negative (with a capital N).
Fair enough, as our politics certainly allows for a large degree of immaturity to be on display. However, if we are to advance as a democratic society, such concerns should be taken seriously and debated for the Bahamian people to have a full grasp of the issues that affect us as a society. This would lead to a more informed populace who can be engaged in the democratic process and move beyond legacy voting.
That manner of voting during elections serves only to hamstring our democracy.
Similarly, backbenchers, who are not part of Cabinet and are not involved in any real decision making, seemingly only exist to increase support for executive decisions. Advancing any personal views on matters if they do not agree with the executive can have serious ramifications, as learned by Pineridge, Centerville and Bain and Grants Town MPs Fred McAlpine, Reece Chipman and Travis Robinson, respectively.
Robinson and McAlpine were both relieved of their duties as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Chairman of the Hotel Corporation after voting against the VAT increase a few months ago. Likewise, their colleague, Reece Chipman, who also voted against the increase, was fired as the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation Chairman in March of this year for reasons that are still unclear to the Bahamian people.
That being said, House Speaker Halson Moultrie has recently called on the prime minister to make constitutional changes that would allow backbenchers to operate more independently with the hopes that it will advance The Bahamas as a democratic society. However, the lack of a response by the prime minister is not surprising.
The Cabinet seems quite comfortable making whatever decisions they like, whenever they like, with little or no interference. Still high off a 16-month-old election victory, the Prime Minister and the gang go on about conducting the “people’s business” without consultation outside of Cabinet and tuning out any dissidents.
We have seen the prime minister avoid the pressure of facing the Bahamian people on the heels of unpopular decisions. For instance, going on a Family Island tour to fill rooms with people most likely incentivized to show support is not characteristic of a confident leader. Actually, it is indicative of someone insecure and unable to meet opposing views head on.
The prime minister seems most comfortable when he can create and control the narrative. Surely, we have all seen that his knees tend to buckle - fumbling through his speeches and becoming frustrated when challenged by the media on matters where he is unable to sway the Bahamian people.
With such a sizeable majority in Parliament, does the prime minister really expect the next three-plus years to be run as an autocracy – where he calls the shots and everybody else serves at his pleasure?
As much as he and his cohort promote campaign rhetoric about doing “the people’s business”, Dr Minnis seems misunderstood about the support he received that led to him becoming prime minister. The Bahamian people want a government that works on our behalf – not one that speaks to us as if we don’t understand the issues, ignores our demands for real transparency and carries on as they see fit.
Certainly, the prime minister’s delusion about him being the saviour of The Bahamas has created a god complex that is stifling the country. As more of us are beginning to view all political parties through the same lens, we are becoming jaded with the entire process.
Dr Minnis still has a unique chance to create a better Bahamas, but consistent misunderstanding of the role that he should play will continue to lead to the disenchantment of the electorate.
Perhaps this is why dissenting voices such as Fred McAlpine are appreciated by the common man. The Bahamian people are hopeful that someone within the halls of Parliament still has them top foremost in mind.
MP for Long Island Adrian Gibson has been yet another backbencher to hold the government accountable by calling for “more teeth” on the Fiscal Responsibility Bill. It is our hope that rather than receiving blowback for standing up for the Bahamian people that the government can see this as a constructive exercise.
The Bahamian people want to feel comfortable that we have leaders that are committed to fighting for us rather than enriching themselves. Too long we have forgotten what that feels like.
Dr Minnis must remember that while he may not be as concerned with going back to his constituency and looking in his supporters’ faces, there are some Members of Parliament that are. His job may only become harder, if those voices become louder.