The lingering stench of PLP mismanagement and greed
Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis has blamed “FNM mismanagement” and “greed in just 13 short months of governing” on the Minnis administration’s decision to “over tax” the Bahamian people.
While the increase in value-added tax (VAT) from 7.5 percent to 12 percent has been roundly questioned by many people, including by some respected players in the financial and business arenas, it is difficult to view Davis seriously when he makes such desperate and silly statements.
Members of the public are placed in a difficult position when they see their government abandoning statements made and positions taken while in opposition, and simultaneously having to contend with the opposition party being equally or even more disingenuous in its remarks and actions.
Davis is attempting to chart his own course as leader of the Progressive Liberal Party just over a year after the Bahamian people kicked the PLP out of office after a chaotic and contemptible five-year run.
While the FNM has lost credibility since taking power, the PLP in office was the political poster child of mismanagement and greed.
It delivered an epic breach of the people’s trust.
It also repeatedly failed to demonstrate that it was a transparent administration.
Davis remains in the shadow of his administration’s bad governance.
He played a key role in the government, which mismanaged our affairs in the last term.
The PLP’s post election study, which we reported on extensively in May, concluded that the corruption perception, Christie fatigue, unnecessary spending on initiatives like carnival and various scandals were the reasons for the PLP’s election defeat.
The difficulty Davis faces as he tries to build a formidable and credible party prepared to do battle in 2022 is that he was the deputy prime minister in an administration whose actions in many respects were condemnable.
The various abuses by the previous administration revealed during the budget debate last year were hair raising — millions and millions of dollars were wasted.
Davis ought not mistake the significant unpopularity of the FNM as an indication that voters in any appreciable numbers regret their decision to send the PLP packing.
The results of a poll completed by Public Domain, the Bahamian market and public opinion research firm, in early June, found that while 20 percent of respondents said they would vote for the FNM if elections were held tomorrow, 12 percent said they would vote for the PLP, seven percent would vote for the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) and three percent would vote independent.
Of course, polls are only a snapshot of views at a particular time.
None of us knows what voters will do when they get an opportunity to go to the polls again.
But it seems to us that building the PLP and refocusing it ought not include insulting the Bahamian people in the process.
It is disheartening listening to Davis, as well as the current prime minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis, at times.
The political games will likely be to the detriment of the public.
Davis is today seemingly deeply concerned about how the new VAT rate will impact many Bahamians.
At a press conference at PLP headquarters in New Providence yesterday, he said, “I have already spoken with hundreds of Bahamians and seen with my own eyes the adverse and burdensome effect of this tax hike.”
One of the reasons why Davis and his colleagues are today on the outside looking in is because of the PLP administration’s mismanagement of our resources and their failure to satisfactorily account for what they did with the more than $1 billion they collected in VAT since its implementation in January 2015.
In 2015 and 2016, the government raked in $1.14 billion in VAT.
In March 2017, Christie made a communication to Parliament on where the VAT money went.
It came as the government faced a firestorm and significant fallout over the insulting “where the VAT money gone” speech delivered at the PLP’s convention weeks earlier by the then Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis.
Halkitis’ reporting on VAT spending was hogwash. He reported that the VAT money was used to pay for the same initiatives which the government borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars to finance, thereby driving up the debt to a worrying level.
Christie’s report that VAT revenues were commingled with all other revenues in the Consolidate Fund, did not provide any comfort that the government had made responsible use of the money.
The Christie administration added more than $2 billion to the national debt.
Despite increased revenue collection following the implementation of VAT, the former administration failed to drive down the country’s debt.
The national debt was $7 billion when the Christie administration left office, well over 60 percent of GDP.
Yesterday, Davis said the decision to raise VAT without warning or time to prepare was “an absolute travesty”.
He has gotten Minnis’ approval for a state-funded tour of the Family Islands to counter the prime minister’s arguments for increasing the tax.
When he is doing so, Davis should stay off the topic of greed.
It is interesting that he now accuses the FNM administration of showing greed in its first 13 months in office.
Bahamians will remember how Davis and his colleagues remained silent after revelations that one of their own, the then Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald, demonstrated such hoggishness when he begged developer Sarkis Izmirlian for Baha Mar contracts for his family’s business.
He wanted the whole hog – limousine, trucking and brokerage contracts for the business.
He didn’t just bring shame to himself and his party, he brought shame to the Bahamian people.
Fitzgerald became one of the government’s negotiators to get the shuttered Baha Mar project back on track.
Another key negotiator was the then attorney general, Allyson Maynard-Gibson, whose family owns several stores in Baha Mar.
Through the language he chooses, Davis is opening old wounds and reminding the public of why the PLP had to go in 2017.
Rebuilding its brand will take a great degree of honesty.
Transparency and accountability
Davis over the last year has demanded greater transparency from the FNM administration on various matters.
Yesterday, he announced that he has written the chief clerk of the House of Assembly to request explanations from the acting financial secretary and the minister of finance on various items, including clarification with respect to accounting for arrears between the 2017/2018 fiscal year and the 2016/2017 fiscal year.
He is concerned with the “apparent lack of consistency” with respect to the settlement of arrears.
He is also seeking a breakdown of how the money borrowed to date was spent.
As chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and leader of the official opposition, Davis is entitled to seek answers, although the Christie administration did not have a track record of being a transparent government.
When Parliament was dissolved ahead of the election last year, there were more than 200 questions asked by the official opposition (the FNM), which the then government had not answered.
It clearly did not see providing answers as urgent or necessary.
Some of those questions related directly to Davis’ portfolio, including a series of questions related to the controversial signing by Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells in 2014 of a letter of intent (LOI) with Stellar Waste to Energy when he was parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Works.
The PLP was not committed to good governance while Davis was deputy prime minister.
At the end of the party’s term in 2017, George Smith, the former PLP cabinet minister, observed: “This government’s performance could be perceived as the worst five-year performance since we’ve had Cabinet government in 1964.”
Now leader of the opposition with his sights on the prime ministership, Davis is no doubt banking on the Bahamian people forgetting or overlooking how unaccountable the Christie administration was.
The decisions the Bahamian people make in a few years on who will lead them in another five-year term will be largely shaped by what the Minnis administration does and fails to do, and how people are feeling about the FNM at that time.
Davis certainly understands this, but he must ready a new PLP to be credible and organized.
A lot of different things shape credibility and attractiveness of a political party.
Davis and the PLP have an uphill battle in reshaping the party’s image.
The corruption perception – which again was a huge factor in the anti-PLP vote – lingers.
That is not something that is easily erased, even with Christie’s departure from the political stage.
Davis should be regularly reminded that the people do not easily forget so he should not attempt to fool us with shameless and hypocritical pronouncements.