• Bran: ‘Opportune’ time to run country as business
• Award contracts to best and ‘take all politics out’
• Warns: ‘We cannot afford for this Gov’t to fail’
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Prime Minister was yesterday urged to “flip the switch” and transform The Bahamas from a political patronage-based system to a meritocracy, an ex-political leader warning: “We can’t afford for them to fail.”
Branville McCartney, the former Democratic National Alliance (DNA) leader, told Tribune Business that the country’s economic and fiscal crisis mean the Government has little choice but to obtain taxpayer ‘value for money’ by awarding contracts to those most-qualified to perform them regardless of political affiliation.
Arguing that this is an “opportune time” to break with a system that has existed since the United Bahamian Party (UBP or Bay Street Boys) were in power prior to 1967, he added that Philip Davis’ administration needed to operate the Government “like a business”.
Given “the mammoth task” it faces in combating The Bahamas’ economic, fiscal and COVID-19 crises, Mr McCartney added that the new government must focus on eliminating corruption, proper financial management and collecting all taxes due and outstanding if the Public Treasury is to regain a sustainable footing,.
And the Halsbury Chambers law firm principal urged the newly-elected administration to get The Bahamas’ best minds, whether they be affiliated with the FNM, DNA or other parties, involved in developing policies and initiatives to address the country’s woes. He also argued that they should tap into the expertise of expatriate residents, some of whom he suggested were wealthy enough to pay off The Bahamas’ national debt.
Successive administrations have followed the practice of awarding public contracts to friends, family, lovers, cronies, political supporters and constituents, which was acknowledged by Mr McCartney in saying: “We have seen that all around, and seen that for many years in many administrations. All my life, 54 years, that has been happening.”
Warning that the continuation of such practices will sink The Bahamas by contributing to corruption, and the waste of scarce taxpayer monies, the ex-DNA chief blasted: “The bottom line is we must give those contracts and work to those who are qualified notwithstanding their political affiliation.
“The country has to be run like a business. I don’t ask my lawyers if they are FNM, PLP or DNA or whoever. I want to know you can get the work done properly, professionally and with integrity. Political affiliations don’t matter. That’s one way of moving the country forward. The same applies to Boards and executive chairmen. You want to put people in there who are well-qualified, and not because of political persuasion.
“This an opportune time for Brave Davis to flip the switch and move in the right direction of how the country ought to be run,” Mr McCartney added. “He is the Prime Minister, and this can be a government for all. It ought to be where everyone is given a fair chance to get a contract and win a potential job.
“This is an opportune time for the Prime Minister to show he is different. Be the difference maker in politics, and his legacy will be second to none. The Government has to be on its ‘p’s’ and ‘q’s’ to really run this country. Although it’s unlikely to make a profit, it has to run the country like a business.”
Any government efforts to transition The Bahamas to a meritocracy will be aided, at least in theory, by the Public Procurement Act that was passed by the Minnis administration and brought into effect on September 1. This will introduce transparency and accountability around bidding on, and the award, of all government contracts although concerns about its implementation linger.
Mr McCartney, meanwhile, said the Moody’s downgrade that plunged The Bahamas further into non-investment grade or ‘junk’ status should have come as no surprise to whichever government was elected given the rapid pace of The Bahamas’s fiscal and economic deterioration in the face of COVID-19.
He added that the Prime Minister and deputy prime minister, Chester Cooper, had given every sign that they understand the urgency involved in tackling the $10.4bn national debt and $953m deficit before they spiral further out of control.
“It’s a mammoth task,” Mr McCartney conceded. “It is not going to be a walk in the park. It’s going to be a mammoth task to deal with, especially the COVID-19 concerns and the economy. And normal-thinking person will know that’s the case, looking at where we are.
“Look at our unemployment rate, look at businesses in the country, look at the debt the country has, look at, unfortunately, the deaths that have occurred as a result of COVID-19. It’s not going to be an easy task for the Government, but I think they’re aware of it. “
Stamping out corruption must be another priority, the former DNA leader argued. He added that when he was involved in politics, there were estimates that corruption cost The Bahamas between $300m-$500m per year.
“The corruption, the mismanagement of government funds, that has to be dealt with,” Mr McCartney told Tribune Business. “We cannot afford any of it. The reality is that they are the Government, and we have to accept that and we have to wish them well. If they fail, we fail, our country will fail and we cannot afford that; not at this stage.
“We cannot afford for this government to get it wrong. Let’s take all the politics out of it. Persons may get upset, but we have a new government and cannot afford for them to get it wrong. We are at such a pivotal time in the health of our economy, and health and welfare of our islands, there’s very little room for error.
“That’s why I stress to this government: Get the best people involved, FNMs, DNAs or otherwise. They may not be citizens of this country. We have people in this country who may not be Bahamian but their net worth could pay off the national debt. If that’s the kind of wealth they can amass for themselves, shouldn’t they be the kind of people we should be talking to? I think so.”