A listener to a recent radio show texted in to ask: “Can there be a new day without new thinking?” The easy response I gave was “No”. Anyone who truly understands the gravity of the issues faced by The Bahamas, and has taken time to consider them within an accurate and objective historical context, must accept it is beyond time for a “new day”. While this was the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) election slogan, what exactly does this mean? For sure, as the listener suggested, a new day can only be the result of new thinking that comes from a mind-shift.
It is my view that, beyond the catchy marketing slogan for the purposes of selling an election value proposition, this is what a “new day” must mean. Now may be The Bahamas’ last chance to start getting it right. However, if the interpretation of “a new day’’ is not consistent with the above thinking, its potency will be lost and the opportunities to create the reforms needed will be missed. For The Bahamas to progress it needs leadership that is transformational, causing change in individuals and systems, while also being resilient. This requires aligning vision and purpose; managing self through uncertainty; building awareness and anticipation; overcoming challenges with tenacity; and adopting a growth mindset.
Before the election, I discussed on radio a number of points that I think capture my proposition here. I will describe some, even though a few may have lost currency. The first point was the appointment of a minority Cabinet, thus leaving the House of Assembly with sufficient backbenchers to enable the legislature to check the executive. This did not happen. The Prime Minister justified a large Cabinet via what he described as the amount of “heavy lifting” required. It is an unfortunate but non-fatal outturn. It is permitted under the constitution, and a careful analysis of the demographic of the candidates, the large landslide, the mix of senior politicians and career-sacrificing young professionals who won, suggests there was very little room to do much else, which would make political sense. However, when considered through the lens of constitutional scholarship, it grates painfully on the Westminster conventions and places tension on the principle of separation of powers. It is now for the Prime Minister, recognising this, to ensure he exerts effective leadership, with accountability and transparency acting as a counterbalance to his large Cabinet. Discipline must be the hallmark of his leadership, demanding high performance and productivity, and showing a willingness to speedily hold all persons accountable. Those who may wish to operate outside the confines of acceptable standards should be extremely uncomfortable under his watch.
My next call was to select Cabinet ministers based on experience and best fit. There are certainly a few selections that I think we have to take a ‘wait and see’ approach on, but overall I believe the choices were good. Persons have largely been placed in the most suitable positions. Not only are the placements generally good, but there is also the restructuring of a number of ministries with the obvious goal of broadening their focus. This, I believe, can deliver positive results. Two such ministries are Tourism, Investments and Aviation, and Economic Affairs. These moves hold important strategic value and, with effective execution, the country should benefit.
The opportunity to be transformative should see a willingness to step outside party lines. Selections to the Senate, corporation Boards and committees should be done with the view of leaving yesterday behind and truly ushering in a new day. The opportunity to secure “independent” senators should be effected in earnest. Find individuals who are willing to sensibly challenge and ask questions, and help refine ideas, but do so in the best interests of the country, resisting temptations of grandstanding and non-productive personal or partisan bias.
Transformational moves will demand starting governance with an honest and open discussion with the nation, minus the usual political finger-pointing. The Prime Minister’s speeches so far have been very encouraging, but that big conversation is understandably yet to come - the one which will tell the nation exactly where it stands on a multiple issues, most especially the economic ones. A “new day” will signal an overt push for greater inclusiveness, making decisions that are politically risky but in the national interest, and arguing for a system of meritocracy where more individuals believe that with a dream, an idea and hard work they can thrive. I believe that despite any statements made within the context of a competitive election process, the leaders must now cast (or recast) a broad vision for The Bahamas, covering at high levels every aspect of society and industry. Part of the vision must include the commitment to break any stranglehold that interest groups may have on the economy so that every Bahamian has a fair, equal and equitable chance for creating and growing personal wealth.
To be transformative, the leadership must think differently with an eye on the future. Jim Collins writes about the ‘Level 5 leaders’ who “display a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. They’re incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organisation and its purpose, not themselves”. Could it be that we have the makings or unveiling of such leaders at this moment? ‘Level 5 leadership’ for The Bahamas will be demonstrated by a revolutionary era of transparency and accountability, and consistently making decisions that will stand up to extreme scrutiny. There must be a demonstration of willingness to “sacrifice” political careers for the well-being of The Bahamas and its citizens. A mind-shift leading to a new day will demand a willingness to show a high level of public vulnerability. When we get it wrong, we must be willing to admit and ask for forgiveness,.
Giving true meaning to “a new day”, leadership will demonstrate an acute awareness of the need to help realign society’s thinking in many aspects of national life, advocate for aggressive growth, and push strategies that will lead to significant improvements in how the economy works and broaden the means by which growth can be secured. The leadership will show evidence of radical thinking, eschewing unproductive status quo realities, and attract advisors who cause discomfort, testing ideas and courageously challenging positions. Those who lead the charge must actively embrace divergent views while showing goodwill toward those with whom they disagree. Ultimately, without an evident and fundamental cultural shift in “how we do what we do”, there is no mind-shift and tomorrow will then be the same as yesterday.
The PLP’s Blueprint for Change, and its well-documented policy positions and programmes, together with the early commitments of its leaders, set the stage for progress. From the Prime Minister’s inaugural speech at the United Nations (UN), there is evidence of his willingness to single out the big issues and take risks, even geopolitically. Dr Hubert Minnis’ statement makes it reasonable to expect that the administration’s feet will be held firmly to fire. Finally, taking into account the expectations created by the electorate in selecting a new administration, the prospect for a truly “new day” in The Bahamas is heightened with the fate of country highly dependent on its authenticity.