Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019
HomeNational ReviewUnfocused agenda

Unfocused agenda

That the Christie administration has blown several of its self-imposed deadlines on key legislation that it promised the Bahamian people, should come as no surprise given its track record so far this term, but the state of inertia that grips the government has left some wondering if it has any clear legislative agenda and any path to implement it.

From legislation on value-added tax (VAT) to the shelved Gaming Bill, the Christie administration is trailing far behind timelines it set for action.

Amid the confusion surrounding VAT, it appears now that the administration’s premature announcement that it would implement the new tax on July 1 will have to be reconsidered.

The so-called education campaign on VAT has lacked focus and details.

One of the New Zealand VAT experts the prime minister invited to Nassau for advice told the media on Friday what we already knew — it would be very difficult for the government to meet its proposed July 1 implementation deadline for VAT.

John Shewan conceded that the government cannot embark on a significant education campaign until all the details on VAT are finalized.

So it appears this significant campaign is a ways off, still.

While the public education campaign for VAT is losing oxygen, a similar campaign promised ahead of a constitutional referendum never started.

Christie has been silent on the constitutional referendum he promised would happen by June.

The constitutional bills he said would be tabled by the end of 2013 and passed by February have yet to surface.

We are set for a third postponement of that referendum.

The prime minister owes the nation an update on this matter, given his communication in the House last October setting these timelines.

He should come back and explain why nothing was tabled by the end of 2013, as he said it would be.

The government should be embarrassed that it cannot get its act together on these matters.

It is obviously lacking in direction and planning.

Constant postponements give the appearance of a government in disarray.

Despite the fanfare of the presentation of the Constitutional Commission’s report last year, the public has seen no evidence, as yet, that the effort was more than a public relations and academic exercise.

The government must know that it is likely to face some difficultly whenever it brings this referendum to the public.

There are still sour notes over the 2013 gambling referendum, which also had to be postponed.

The public still remembers a very confused and botched process.

And some voters are now distrusting, as their visit to the polls last year January turned out to be a waste of time.

The government refused to take a position on the web shop gaming issue ahead of the referendum, although its actions suggested that it was fully in favor of legalizing web shops.

The result has been a monumental waste of time and precious taxpayer dollars.

More than a year later, Obie Wilchcombe, the minister responsible for gaming, announced that it is his intention to present proposed regulations to Cabinet colleagues and push to regulate web shops by July 1.

He apparently made the announcement without the prior knowledge of Cabinet colleagues.

Christie acknowledged as much when he spoke in Parliament, but seemed to applaud Wilchcombe for his initiative.

But, it appears that Wilchcombe’s announcement was premature.

Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez told us recently that the July 1 date is unrealistic, as there is no way the government could address the complexities involved in this exercise before the start of the new fiscal year.

That no doubt created disappointment for web shop operators pushing for regularization.

Meanwhile, the casinos — which are extraordinarily valuable to our tourism product — remain in limbo.

They are facing growing competition from other jurisdictions. They have long been pushing for legislation to better compete.

Last week, Baha Mar executive Robert Sands revealed growing anxiety over the delayed bill and said he hopes it is passed by July 1.

That appears unlikely.

It is not clear when debate will begin on the Gaming Bill, which was tabled last October.

In February and March, MPs spent a full month dealing with the mid-year budget. While in opposition, the Christie administration had repeatedly bashed the Ingraham government for “wasting time” on such a measure.

The House of Assembly came off a three-week break last week.

After members spent an entire day debating amendments to the Medical Bill, the House was suspended for another two weeks.

That pushes it even closer to the 2014/2015 budget debate, which will likely take up most, if not all, of June.

After that, Parliament traditionally takes a long summer break.

Some major initiatives could remain in the air.

Many months after MPs passed the Stem Cell Bill, with the prime minister pointing to the looming benefits associated with the development of the stem cell sector, regulations have not yet been completed.

The much-touted Marco’s Law was also passed, but there are no regulations to give effect to it.

The public still awaits the promised sex offenders register.

Midpoint

We have no idea what to believe from this government.

It is good at speeches and throwing out timelines.

It is bad at organization and doing things when it says it will do them.

In fairness, no one should expect that every projected date set by a government will be met, but the Christie administration is an unorganized bunch.

Christie’s style of governance supports criticisms that have long been made of him — that he is constantly late; very busy, but doing little.

Christie likes the flash of cameras and big announcements that give the appearance much is being accomplished.

On this note, it has been more than three months since the government cut into ZNS evening news to announce to the nation that it has been successful in taking back two percent of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company’s (BTC) shares from Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC).

We have heard nothing else about it. We have seen no such deal.

Just when the government expects to table it in Parliament is anyone’s guess.

The public has a right to view the terms of this agreement. It is not enough for our government to just tell us what it agreed to on our behalf.

Not long after the “new deal” was announced, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Works Renward Wells announced in the House of Assembly on February 5 that, at the next sitting of Parliament, he would move for the appointment of a select committee to examine the 2011 BTC deal entered into by the Ingraham administration.

That was almost three months ago.

He has made no such move in Parliament.

That too, it appears, has gone off the radar.

There are other examples of plenty talk and no action from the government.

With the current administration coming up on the midpoint of its term, it should not take these things for granted.

It needs to focus its agenda.

The prime minister continues to say he is focused on improving job prospects for Bahamians.

This is important.

But in so doing, he should be mindful that, in 2007, when the economy was performing well, he and the PLP were booted out of office.

On the ground, in many corners, disaffection toward this administration appears to be growing.

The government is coming across as an administration lacking in order and discipline.

Day by day, it is reminding us of the first Christie-led government which collapsed under the weight of its own confused and lethargic governance.

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