Legacy of the FNM

EDITOR, The Tribune.

I recently heard Tommy Turnquest, a former leader of the Free National Movement, listing his party’s accomplishments after four terms in office.

Prime among the accomplishments he listed were the reversal of the traffic flow on Bay and Shirley streets in the early 1990’s and the redevelopment of Goodman’s Bay a decade later.

In other countries, matters like traffic management and the maintenance of parks are the business of local municipal authorities, not central government.

So his invoking them actually illustrates the inadequacy of another FNM “accomplishment”: a local government regime that excludes 70 percent of the country’s population.

It also underscores the general impoverishment of the FNM’s legacy in terms of real accomplishments.

On the other hand, the party does have a rich legacy of regressive milestones.

The first that comes to mind is the repeal of the Immovable Property Act and the failure to implement a regime of property taxes that would have balanced the negative effects of foreign competition for limited land resources. Incredibly, the property tax enforcement initiative they pursued in their last term actually targets Bahamians and exempts foreigners!

Today, while Lyford Cay billionaires enjoy a $60,000.00 cap on real property taxes (unheard of in their home countries), land prices for locals have skyrocketed to the point that middle class professionals require state housing assistance – a fact acknowledged without apparent shame or introspection by Mr Turnquest’s party.

In its third term, the FNM racked up two more regressive achievements. It gave BTC to foreigners and a newly monopolized port to a group of rich Bahamians – both entities built on infrastructure paid for with the taxes of poor Bahamians.

Having bought BTC for just $210m in 2011, four years later the new owner, Cable and Wireless, assigned it a book value of $1.3bn when it sold itself to Liberty Global for $7.4bn.

What happened in the ensuing years? Not much for Bahamians. Rather, the privatized BTC sent home 1,000 highly paid, middle-class Bahamian professionals, moved its call centre to Trinidad and failed to lay one inch of fibre in the southern islands.

Grotesquely, as part of the deal, the FNM transferred responsibility for the pensions of BTC employees (a liability now in excess of $100m) back to the Bahamian taxpayer. And, since the rich are given huge and senseless tax breaks, this means principally back to the poor.

Lastly (lest we forget the single FNM achievement that can be conceded without sarcasm) there was the freeing of the airways in the early 1990’s. Yet even this has been a mixed blessing.

While private broadcasters have flourished, public broadcasting has plummeted both in scope and quality, in line with the FNM’s philosophy of downsizing public services.

The result is a media environment in which a legacy characterized by the shrinkage of the middle class, the giveaway of public assets and the widening of the income gap is obscured by trivial niceties like reversed traffic flows and landscaped parking lots.



October 31, 2021


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