In its first year in office, the Free National Movement (FNM) has repeatedly demonstrated that much of what it said in the lead-up to the May 10, 2017 general election was said not based on conviction or genuine concern for the Bahamian people and our interests, but primarily to foment fear, fuel anxieties, perpetrate disingenuous narratives and secure a political win.
The FNM, of course, was successful.
To be clear, some of what the FNM said about the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) while the FNM was the opposition party was, in fact, true, but much of its characterizations and fear mongering was nothing more than political gimmickry designed to sharpen the public’s desire to chase the Christie administration from office.
Now in office, some senior FNMs – and not-so-senior FNMs – are irritated when the media and other observers point to their changed positions.
They are repeatedly being made to “eat their words”, Dame Joan Sawyer, the outspoken former Court of Appeal president, recently observed in a Tribune article.
In the waning months of the Christie administration, her commentary featured prominently in the national discourse and was viewed with deep respect by many FNMs, who widely shared her views.
Demonstrating that she is interested in the national interest, and not in any political points, Dame Joan continues to speak truth, calling it as she sees it, and really, as it is.
FNM leaders, on the other hand, are shamelessly doing much of what they railed against in opposition.
The Minnis-led FNM certainly is not the first political party to do what it once criticized its predecessor in office for doing or seeking to do, but the many hypocritical steps we have witnessed to date are simply stunning.
But who do we blame? The party, or the voters who were desperately anxious to rid the country of contemptible and egregious governance?
Last week, we reported on the post-election report commissioned by the Progressive Liberal Party and completed by Maureen Webber, a Jamaican social development practitioner.
In her assessment, Webber observed that the mantra ‘anything but Christie’ resonated in the last election.
Voters were sick of then Prime Minister Perry Christie; they could not stomach another term of his leadership, and so they were willing to choose the best available alternative – Dr. Hubert Minnis and the FNM.
As many pundits have so rightly observed, when the electorate is fed up with the administration in office, their vote is a vote against that administration, and not a show of support for the opposition party.
Former PLP Cabinet Minister Loftus Roker, who played an important role in the first majority rule government, said it best in the post-election report: “I, like many, did not vote for the FNM; I voted to send a message to the core of the PLP. Message sent.”
In sending their message to the PLP, voters were less inclined, it seems, to conduct a critical assessment of all the FNM was saying on the campaign trail.
Even if they did conduct that critical assessment, the poor performance of those in office far outweighed any concern they might have had with what the FNM was saying.
The FNM had a euphoric run to victory, coming very close to a clean sweep.
Despite its tumultuous time in opposition, everything fell in place in the final months as the PLP’s unpopularity and the national angst toward its leader intensified.
While the FNM faced a significant amount of media scrutiny before the election, it appears the party’s pledges were not forefront in the minds of many voters.
What was most important was to rid The Bahamas of the PLP government. While voters turned their guns at the PLP, the PLP tried to play on Minnis’ weaknesses and the challenges within his party.
The FNM, meanwhile, wanted to be sure that it had a win sealed. It accurately recognized that the country was in an anti-PLP mood.
It crafted a message that stuck. It told voters that the PLP was corrupt. It told voters that they had a lot to fear if they reelected the PLP.
It said Christie and the PLP were giving the country away to the Chinese and other foreigners.
Upon coming to office, the FNM recognized that governing parties and opposition parties operate differently. Notwithstanding that, the Minnis administration should not be surprised that it is being held to – and even haunted by – the pledges and pronouncements it made on the campaign trail.
Last week, the House of Assembly passed a bill the FNM was happy to label the ‘spy bill’, when it was in opposition.
Now in government, it discourages the use of the term ‘spy bill’, while promoting the use of the actual name of the legislation – the Interception of Communications Bill.
During debate on the bill, FNM MPs spoke to the importance of having the legislation in place as an important tool in the crime-fighting arsenal.
Of course, in opposition, the FNM demonized a similar bill introduced by the Christie administration.
In February 2017, Elsworth Johnson, the former president of the Bahamas Bar Association, called for protests against the bill, which he warned was “dangerous”.
Johnson, the current minister of state for legal affairs, was the lead voice in the House on the spy bill when it was recently debated.
Adrian Gibson, who was a litigator for environmental group Save The Bays, had also made alarmist statements about the PLP’s spy bill.
“The [bill] is an attempt on the part of the Christie administration to foist unconstitutional legislation upon you (the public) that would ultimately lead to stark breaches of your constitutional rights, all whilst cloaked in ‘national security’ mumbo jumbo,” he warned in opposition.
In a Facebook post, Gibson wrote, “We must resist the passage of such a bill.”
He asked: “Could we really trust and believe that all interception warrants could be obtained in the public interest or the interest of justice? I certainly do not!”
Gibson is now the MP for Long Island. If he has concerns about the FNM’s bill being unconstitutional, he is keeping them to himself.
After the PLP administration introduced its bill, Minnis charged that this was another effort to seize and wield more “ill-gotten power”.
“Bahamians everywhere have been subjected to nearly five years of their schemes, their empty rhetoric and series of broken promises,” Minnis said in a statement.
“… Let’s call their spy bill for what it is – an effort to gain a political advantage; for an oppressive government to use the power of government to intimidate and spy on Bahamians who would stand up to them.”
Minnis said the spy bill was an effort by the PLP to tip the election scale in its favor.
Several months after coming to office, the Minnis administration introduced its spy bill, which was quite similar but went even further than the bill that had been introduced by the PLP government.
Amid worries expressed by the opposition, the current government amended the bill to take out a clause that would have empowered the national security minister to approve spying.
The bill is now headed to the Senate.
Senator Ranard Henfield, who was appointed by PM Minnis, gets an opportunity to show what he really thinks about a government of The Bahamas bringing a spy bill.
You may remember Henfield.
He rose to national prominence when he led the ‘We March’ movement in late 2016.
The march that Henfield led on Black Friday attracted Bahamians from all socioeconomic and civic groupings.
By the thousands, they marched through the heart of Nassau, expressing their disgust over the actions of the Christie administration.
Just about anyone with a grievance toward the government was present for the event.
After the PLP’s bill was tabled, We March opposed it, claiming it would allow the attorney general to determine who could be spied on, not the commissioner of police.
The FNM’s spy bill also authorizes the attorney general to turn down an application request for an interception warrant where he or she does not consider the application to be in the public interest or in the interest of justice.
Will the now Senator Henfield sound the alarm over this provision when the bill reaches the Senate, or is it no longer a concern because the bill was brought by the FNM?
Reportedly, Henfield has indicated he will vote against the bill.
We shall see.
It is understandable that some Bahamians feel betrayed by the FNM on this matter.
We stated before that it is not enough to say that the new spy bill was introduced by an administration that still enjoys the trust and goodwill of the electorate.
Baha Mar hypocrisy
In that Tribune article we referenced earlier, Dame Joan said she was “shocked” at how much the Minnis administration has “come around” on several policies and strategies it criticized the PLP on before the election.
How many times did we hear Minnis, Dionisio D’Aguilar (the now tourism minister) and other FNMs raise holy hell about the presence of the Chinese in The Bahamas?
They labeled the April 21, 2017 opening of Baha Mar’s Grand Hyatt a “fake opening”.
Minnis infamously declared while in opposition that an FNM government would execute a “real sale” of Baha Mar to a purchaser that has the Bahamian people’s interests at heart.
In opposition, D’Aguilar, a former member of the Baha Mar board under the original developer, Sarkis Izmirlian, warned that the new Baha Mar owner, Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), was bad for The Bahamas. He made damning accusations against the Hong Kong conglomerate.
The FNM set the narrative early on that the Christie administration was operating in the interest of its “Chinese allies”, and not in the interest of the Bahamian people.
While we believe there were legitimate concerns about the hoggishness displayed by certain PLPs in respect of the Baha Mar deal, and while we too had worries over the fact that the deal to get Baha Mar open was hidden from the public, we found that much of what the FNM – Minnis, D’Aguilar and others – said about Baha Mar was simply irresponsible.
When they came to office, they seemingly ‘caught sense’.
There was no attempt to sell Baha Mar.
There was no further demonizing of the Chinese.
There was praise for the Chinese over The Pointe development, and praise for the Chinese over the Baha Mar project.
There was more praise for Baha Mar’s owner last week when Minnis participated in the opening of Rosewood, the final hotel to open at Baha Mar.
Ahead of the opening, D’Aguilar said he had changed position on how he viewed the Baha Mar owner.
“When I offered those views, I was a director of a company that was run by the initial investor, and I was supportive of those views, but now I’m the minister of tourism and I’m looking out for all Bahamians,” D’Aguilar said.
Of course, much of what D’Aguilar said about Baha Mar and the Chinese was said after he was a director.
In August 2016, he said, “You do not want [those] type of entities controlling that much of your economy, because they don’t operate like we operate. For that reason, I’ve always said any deal which leaves Chinese companies running this project is not a good deal.”
Later, as an FNM candidate, he also stressed that the company was unfit to be in The Bahamas.
D’Aguilar, the candidate, and the former board director, should have been looking out for Bahamians, not Izmirlian.
Of course, the spy bill and the Baha Mar issue are just two recent matters the public can point to as demonstrations of just how much they were duped by the FNM.
There are others.
Just over a week ago, the government quietly announced that John Pinder, the former president of the Bahamas Public Services Union, is the new acting director of labor.
In opposition, it was the FNM’s view that anyone who recently served as leader of a union should not be appointed director of labor.
The FNM went as far as pledging in its manifesto that it will “eliminate the practice of appointing persons to the post of director of labor who served as head of a trade union immediately preceding that appointment”.
While it has been several months since Pinder served as president, his new appointment did raise eyebrows.
Labour Minister Dion Foulkes failed to provide an adequate explanation.
He told reporters: “We have traditionally had, I think, with the exception maybe of one person in the history of the Department of Labour, who [was] not at some point involved with the trade union movement. But I must say that they have all been fair to both sides, and I am sure that Mr. Pinder would continue in that tradition.”
It demonstrated that not everything the FNM pledged was a genuine commitment it intended to stick with.
In making its observations about the governing party, the PLP has crafted the slogan that will likely be repeated over the course of the next five years: “No lie lasts forever.”
That is a strong statement indeed and does not appear to be resonating at this time.
However, if the FNM remains steady in making its 180-degree maneuvers, more Bahamians will likely feel as if they have been played, and indeed lied to.
Ultimately, that belief could prove tremendously damaging to the FNM.