By Malcolm Strachan
THE general commentary after the prime minister’s first official address of the year last week was that it was underwhelming. It lacked detail of how Bahamians would truly benefit. Despite indicating a major focus of the government was economic growth and expansion, it felt like what we’ve always had from Dr Hubert Minnis’ administration – dangling of carrots for some point in the future.
However, with two years nearly in the rear view of this administration and no benefit to the country that can be directly attributed to the government’s work, it is difficult not to ask at which point the Bahamian people will be able to feel the trickle-down effect.
Although the prime minister touted the 6.7 percent decrease in discouraged workers, a material increase in unemployment from May to November last year still causes there to be much concern because in a real sense more people are without jobs.
What the Bahamian people truly need is for the government to embrace the present. Too often, we see shifting goal posts. And while the prime minister’s address was informative about prospects for jobs on the horizon, how does that assist the unemployed Bahamian today?
Two years is more than enough time to effect this form of change. It has also become evident the government understands the importance that what it does this year will either make it or break it.
Even staunch FNM supporters are regretting they voted in the current administration and are dreading the lack of a viable alternative before the next election.
Fully aware of this, this FNM government has targeted the Family Islands to buoy its re-election hopes – as seen by the prime minister’s tours throughout the islands where he has conducted a number of political rally-syle town meetings. He has also created a great deal of excitement with some of the job prospects outlined through the various developments he announced in his address.
However, without any timelines for when these projects may start or when the jobs will become available, the Bahamian people are again reaching for those illusive carrots. Likewise, citizens may become more encouraged about the prospects of one day getting a job, but prospects do not satisfy bill collectors.
People need a real means of income to take care of their families and financial responsibilities – not just in the Family Islands, but throughout the entire Bahamas.
And while some leaders do a great job of building up enough goodwill with an electorate that they hang on to every word they say, this government has not done so.
For example, the Minnis administration’s hard stance on corruption – or rather, lack thereof. As one of the pronouncements when the FNM government came into power, the statement that was powerful enough to send tremors throughout the country was nothing more than empty bravado.
After publicly stating his government would be stalwart in its battle against corruption, we have not seen more than hints from the government of what the anti-corruption legislation will contain.
Do you see a trend here?
Even after the prime minister attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and stated The Bahamas loses up to $200m, and a week later upped the ante to $500m at the Summit of the Americas – figures that he has not yet been able to substantiate – the government has been pedestrian, at best, in tackling corruption.
So much so that Transparency International’s most recent statistics indicated the government’s stagnation in its anti-corruption agenda.
The greater issue we face is the government has for too long been able to shift expectations further down the road and still garner support, particularly in Family Island strongholds. However, they too, may lose patience if certain promises aren’t kept this year.
Quite often we are able to tell as an electorate which way the pendulum will swing by this pivotal point of a government’s term. And if the government does not do something transformative in 2019, particularly with the economy and joblessness, it will be a long road to 2022 with the hopes of re-election dissipating right before their eyes.
Make no mistake, the government has a good chance to be re-elected if things go near perfect this year. Meeting their revenue goals and being on track for balancing the budget will certainly help, although doubters among the more technical circles exist.
Likewise, if an increase in jobs cannot only be seen, but also felt by, the government will be able to live to fight another day – or in this case, another year.
Additionally, enforcing and enacting anti-corruption legislation will bolster the government’s chances of being elected for a second term. Simply because of the allegations made by the prime minister on the campaign trail and his public declarations in relation to the outrageous sums the country loses as a result of corruption, this administration will always be linked with promising to stamp out malfeasance.
The prime minister has a unique opportunity. In this make or break year, his administration needs to get back to the basics.
Create jobs – now, not at some point in the future. Continue to make the country a safer place. Make the economy a vibrant space whereby local businesspeople can exist in an environment that doesn’t stifle but helps their enterprises to grow. And finally, focus on the social fabric of the country and how we can continue to evolve and become a better society.