By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORMER Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said yesterday he continues to consult with the people, adding it is they who will have the final say, as he mulls over a possible run for Progressive Liberal Party chairman.
He told The Tribune he would make a decision today on the matter. This comes after PLP Leader Philip “Brave” Davis personally asked Mr Wilchcombe not to run for party chairman at the upcoming convention, Senator Fred Mitchell said on Thursday.
Mr Mitchell, current PLP chairman, made the disclosure of Davis’ request at a party event in North Andros.
“I have been responding to the request from the people to give consideration to run, which has taken me to various meetings, homes and islands,” Mr Wilchcombe, former West Grand Bahama and Bimini MP said yesterday.
“However, ultimately the people are responsible for this decision. If the people are determined that they want a new candidate then we have to go with that. I have been talking to them and explaining to them what I want to do and seeing if they buy into my thinking.”
Mr Wilchcombe attended an “Obie Wilchcombe For PLP Chairman” event in Grand Bahama on Thursday evening. He met party followers in Eleuthera on Friday and others in Nassau on Saturday.
The Thursday event had the feel of a candidate launch, with frequent references to Mr Wilchcombe as “the next party chairman”.
The 60-year-old’s possible run has been closely watched by PLP insiders. Mr Davis has told supporters he wants his leadership team of Chester Cooper as deputy and Mr Mitchell as chairman to remain in place. He has said he wants no challenges to the team at the upcoming convention.
Speaking to delegates in North Andros, Mr Mitchell revealed that Mr Davis also personally asked Mr Wilchcombe to “stand down” and avoid a challenge.
“I got to tell you quite frankly, we did not expect for this to be a contest of any sort,” Mr Mitchell said.
“(Mr Davis) had asked for everyone to stand down. He spoke personally to the main opponent in this and asked him, ‘in the interest of party unity, stand down from this.’ People suddenly said this is being anti-democratic, people have their rights to run which is correct, everyone is entitled to run, but you know, there is a time and a place to do things. We tested this out by empirical data, by doing surveys and what the country has decided is the PLP is on its way back but they’re watching to see whether or not we are actually a united body with a set of plans that can take the country forward. That is why he argues, ‘I have a team, the team is just in the middle of trying to get things up off the ground, we don’t need any division at this time.’”
Fighting to ward off Mr Wilchcombe’s challenge has been an expensive process, Mr Mitchell said.
“If my sister knew the amount of money that I personally spend on this she would ask me if I’m mad because it takes for me to travel with an aide, one night in any island of the Bahamas, $1,000 between transportation, airfare, hotel accommodation and food, so it is expensive to do this and I would rather be spending that money trying to defeat the Free National Movement,” he said.
“But as the former prime minister used to say, it is what it is so we’ve come to ask you tonight to heed the advice of Mr Davis to support the team he has in place.”
When he ran for chairman in 2017, Mr Wilchcombe received 419 votes to Mr Mitchell’s 627 votes, the closest of the big ticket races.
During Thursday’s event, the former tourism minister drew lots of implicit contrasts between the current state of the party and where he thinks it should be.
“The chairman of the party takes a lower profile,” he said on Thursday, “he’s not supposed to be the face. In our organisation the face of the party is the leader, in government the face of the party is the chairman because that’s separation of chairman, party and government but when you’re trying to build your party the one person I have to sell is the leader.”
Mr Wilchcombe expressed frustration with the infrequency and quality of party conventions, which are constitutionally required to take place every year, but are held only occasionally.
“There is a purpose that convention is held every year and usually it’s for five days,” he said. “The purpose was to bring your people together, same reason the church brings people together, same reason board meetings and organisations bring their boards together every year. Well, the PLP did that and then we had a long break. I think it was a mistake we made.
“We had conventions up until 2009. We were affected by hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 and then we got back on track. But then we had a convention in 2009 and didn’t get back together until 2017. Do you wonder why then you lost your base? Do you wonder why then people start to drift all over the place? Because if you don’t come together with your forces and reunite and reconnect, then people are going to be drifting. Conventions are fundamentally important because you, the soldiers, if I don’t arm you, what are you going to go out on the streets with?
“When you come to conventions the five days ought to deal with issues and I believe we have to return to the way we used to do it. When Sir Lynden wanted to introduce a social revolution or the defence force or any new national policy, he brought it to convention for convention to approve it first because that’s when you hear it, and then you take it to the streets and you talk to the people in your constituency about it. We stopped doing that. We make conventions all about a vote, who you voting for, an election. I think a two-day convention, I don’t think much can be done. I think it ought to be five days…I think it ought to be back to where it used to be in October as the constitution says. And I believe that because that’s when you get your best room rates, that’s when the hotel occupancy rates are lower, that’s when business isn’t much in the tourism industry. This kind of time, everything is crazy.”
The PLP’s convention will be hosted at the Melia Nassau Beach Resort on July 25 and 26.
Mr Wilchcombe also suggested the party has not been doing a good job raising money.
“When I was chairman of the PLP we didn’t have the money problem,” he said on Thursday. “You know why? Because we constantly were raising money so we could have our conventions. You must have conventions and it is not for the leader to dig in his pocket, no. Why would you want to do that to the leader, or any of the leaders? What you have to do is have a very vibrant plan to raise the money, you have to do things to cause funds to come into your organisation. Think about it, all the stuff we have for sale and we can’t sell nothing. Could you imagine if we sold some of the things we have, some of the speeches we have by the great ones, some of the books of the great ones, wouldn’t you want to buy the history?”
The PLP originally scheduled a convention for November 14, 15 and 16 of 2018 but the event was postponed because of financial constraints.