By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
OPPOSITION Leader Michael Pintard said the "vicious cycle" of terminating Bahamians whenever a new political administration is elected to office must stop.
He stressed that the ongoing termination and layoffs at Urban Renewal Centres and government ministries in Grand Bahama are very troubling because ordinary working Bahamians are being put out of jobs.
Mr Pintard travelled to Freeport on Friday after concerns surfaced that more terminations were expected on the island at the Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development.
Obie Wilchcombe, Minister of Social Services and Urban Development, Minister of State Lisa Rahming, and other executive officials met with staff at a general meeting held at the St Georges gymnasium on Friday morning.
Mr Pintard, leader of the Free National Movement, along with Kwasi Thompson, FNM MP for East Grand Bahama, and Iram Lewis, FNM MP for Central Grand Bahama, went to the school to support the workers. They also spoke with Minister Wilchcombe about concerns of further layoffs by the government.
“We believe that this vicious cycle of removing persons who are not overtly political appointees, but who are Bahamian citizens working just above and not far beyond minimum wage, these people’s lives should not be disrupted because of a change of government, particularly since these are persons who have been functioning as consummate professionals; they are not using government premises or resources for partisan political purposes,” he told The Tribune.
“Urban renewable is one example where there is a tremendous amount of anxiety. And I had a conversation with the minister I thought was very fruitful and he has been very accommodating. Despite his efforts, the terminations continued.”
According to Mr Pintard, on December 28 the staff at the Pine Ridge Urban Renewal Centre were given termination letters.
“We are aware of other workers from Urban Renewal,” he said.
Before his arrival in Grand Bahama, Mr Pintard had issued a call for persons to assemble at the school gymnasium in support of the workers.
In a voice note on social media, he said: “It is very possible that the intention is to continue with the wholesale laying off of Bahamians in extremely difficult times. And I encourage those of you that are available to assemble at St George’s gym to lend support…in an orderly and peaceful fashion. Pine Ridge more than likely was a test case to see how we would react to the government doing what it promised it would not do which is the wholesale laying off of Bahamians.”
Mr Pintard said the targeted workers are those who cater to the needs of vulnerable Bahamians, as well as children, seniors, and other persons who have been adversely affected by Dorian and the pandemic.
While the FNM is prepared to collaborate with the government to ensure the well-being of Bahamians, he said they “cannot idly stand by while Bahamians are made to suffer more because they are targeted and terminated for partisan political reasons.”
“The PLP government has indicated that GB is one of their top priorities. It cannot be the priority of the government if the government is participating in a process of releasing Bahamians who have done nothing wrong,” said Mr Pintard. And to cite that some members of any past administration have engaged in similar behaviour is the worst kind of defence.”
“Even in cases where that may have been true or is true, the reality is this government, as with every government, ought to seek to do better.
“I have said publicly on more than one occasion that we have a new Prime Minister and a new Leader of Opposition. We ought to create a different culture in the Bahamas in terms of how we deal with Bahamians,” he stated.
Mr Pintard indicated that there have been times when the incoming FNM administration kept hundreds of the very same persons who were hired under a PLP government.
“Thousands of them are still in place,” he added. “The bottom line is that we have to create a different culture.”
The MP for Marco City said he has never interfered with any staff while serving in the two ministries while he was in Cabinet.
“I sought to practice what I am advocating now - that is to be unbiased in how we deal with Bahamian professionals who are working in different ministries,” Mr Pintard said.
Mr Pintard was pleased that the government engaged a number of very prominent and talented Bahamian women who are providing consultancy or have been appointed to boards.
“Unfortunately, that message is now ringing hollow because of what they did with a handful of five or less; and they are now to the tune of dozens and dozens of Bahamians barely above minimum wage and releasing them,” he stated.
The government, he said, is putting ordinary single mothers with children on the unemployment line.
According to Mr Pintard, FNM MPs never interfered with staff at the Urban Renewal Centres.
“The MPs were not intimately involved with the centres, and we did not interfere with their programmes. I certainly haven’t, but when I am invited, I go. And when they ask for a contribution, I assist. But we did not interfere with their operation, and we did not use it as a political tool. So, this is disconcerting.
“We wish to collaborate with the Ministry of Social Services. And we asked (the minister) to work for all Bahamians and do not permit the voice of a few persons crying for opportunities to cause him to disenfranchise others who have an opportunity. There are ways of integrating both groups so that all can live and eat,” said Mr Pintard.