Consider This | It’s much more than the economy, stupid!
“It’s the economy, stupid.”
– James Carville
It’s the economy, stupid” was the saying coined by James Carville, Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist, in the run up to the 1992 United States (U.S.) presidential election. That sage advice, posted in Clinton’s war rooms and campaign headquarters, kept all his staff focused on the core election issue, which significantly contributed to Bill Clinton’s successful campaign against the sitting president, George H. W. Bush.
That advice went right to the heart of the issue that resonated the most with the American voter because of the then-prevailing U.S. recession. In March 1991, shortly after the ground invasion of Iraq, Americans polled placed President Bush’s job performance approval rating at 90 percent. By August 1992, President Bush’s job performance approval rating declined to 36 percent. Bill Clinton won the election in November that year.
This week, we would like to Consider this… What impact has the performance of the economy in The Bahamas had on recent general elections?
The Ingraham years
Nineteen ninety-two was a pivotal year, both in the U.S. and in The Bahamas. It was the year, as indicated above, that Bill Clinton won the U.S. presidential elections. It was also a watershed year for The Bahamas because it marked the end of the 25-year rule of Lynden Pindling as prime minister of The Bahamas and his Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
That year Hubert Ingraham rode to victory on the slogan “It’s time for a change”. Bahamians agreed. They were ready for a change from two and a half decades of leadership by Sir Lynden, a change in government that was principally because of the way the seemingly unstoppable scourge of the drug trade had permeated and damaged so many areas of Bahamian life and culture.
During Ingraham’s two successive terms from 1992 to 2002, there was considerable economic growth. By far, the most significant economic achievement was the development of the Atlantis resort and casino on Paradise Island, which added several thousand hotel rooms to that antiquated tourist destination and enhanced employment opportunities for thousands of Bahamians.
There were other transformational changes that occurred in the tourism industry, notably the privatization of two major government-owned hotels in Cable Beach, one that was sold to Breezes and the other to Sandals. With the substantial enhancement in the tourism plant of both resorts, the tourism product exponentially improved.
In addition, the Free National Movement (FNM) government, under the leadership of Ingraham, liberalized the broadcast airways by granting radio and television licenses to the private sector, thereby expanding the broadcast offerings. The new radio and television stations also provided a significant increase in jobs.
The FNM also repealed the PLP’s Immovable Property Act and replaced it with the International Persons Landholdings Act, greatly facilitating the ownership of Bahamian land by foreigners, which resulted in a boom in the real estate and construction industries. As a result of other important innovations, during Ingraham’s first 10 years, the Bahamian economy forged ahead.
The Christie years
By 2002, Bahamians were again ready for a change in government and elected Perry Christie as prime minister. During that period, the Bahamian economy continued to grow, principally with the conceptualization of Baha Mar, the Cable Beach mega-resort.
Also during that period, there were other major anchor-resort developments, principally in the Family Islands, including the Ginn Sur Mer project in West End, Grand Bahama and the announcement by the I Group for the development of a mega-resort on Mayaguana.
During Christie’s first non-consecutive term, from 2002 to 2007, the Bahamian economy continued to accelerate so much so that, by 2006, thousands of jobs had been added to the economy and the unemployment rate was 7.6 percent. The economy was moving forward, the middle class expanding and, by the elections of 2007, many people believed that, based on the buoyant economy, Christie would be given a second consecutive term in office.
However, despite impressive economic growth and improved employment performance, the latter years of that Christie administration were plagued by several scandals that rocked the confidence of the Bahamian electorate. The most significant scandal that resulted in both national and international embarrassment for the country was the Anna Nicole Smith fiasco, resulting in the resignation of a Cabinet minister who was at the epicenter of that scandal.
Additionally, Christie was generally perceived as indecisive, weak and diffident in disciplining his wayward colleague Cabinet ministers who embarrassed the nation and the PLP. Notwithstanding the strength of the economy, these factors tarnished his term in office and contributed to the defeat of the PLP, which gave Ingraham his third, nonconsecutive term as prime minister in 2007.
Ingraham’s third, non-consecutive term
Shortly before the 2007 general election, Ingraham returned as the leader of the FNM and led his party to a successful victory in May 2007.
During his third, non-consecutive term, one of the Ingraham administration’s most successful efforts was the negotiation of the Baha Mar project that stalled following the recession of 2008. Ingraham successfully persuaded the Export-Import Bank of China to fund that resort, following the fallout of some of the resort’s stakeholders who were adversely affected by that recession.
For the remaining years of the Ingraham administration, the Baha Mar project appeared to be back on track, having received a financial funding commitment of more than $3 billion from the Export-Import Bank of China. Notwithstanding this arrangement, Ingraham encountered difficulties and evoked the ire of New Providence residents after launching a massive road improvement project throughout the island, which resulted in an enormous amount of business interruptions and even closures from the road improvement construction.
In addition, a prominent FNM businessman and minister faced serious conflict of interest charges because his company, Bahamas Hot Mix, received more than $60 million in relation to the road improvement project.
Given the enormous road improvement project cost overruns and conflict of interest charges, Bahamians grew tired and angry because of the immense inconveniences experienced by the disruptions and inconveniences related to the massive roadworks. These factors greatly contributed to the FNM government’s failure and handed Christie a second, nonconsecutive term as prime minister in 2012.
Christie’s second, non-consecutive term
During his second, non-consecutive term, Christie and his government performed even more disastrously than they did during his first term from 2002 to 2007. Ministerial scandals, including corruption charges and blatant conflicts of interest, punctuated his administration. Additionally, the Christie administration racked up unprecedented budget deficits and greatly expanded the national debt by $2 billion during from 2012 to 2017.
Consequently, the Bahamian electorate handed the Christie administration the worst defeat ever experienced in elective Bahamian history. Not only was his party ignominiously retired from office, winning only four of 39 seats in Parliament, Christie achieved the unparalleled humiliation of a sitting prime minister losing his seat, an unprecedented event in Bahamian political history.
It’s really a matter of trust
Perhaps the most instructive lessons that can be learned from both the Ingraham and Christie administrations is that, while Bahamians are certainly interested in their government’s economic performance, they are equally concerned about the extent to which governments embarrass the country, both at home and abroad, and by the perception and occurrence of conflicts of interest, corruption, malfeasance and misfeasance in public office.
Essentially, it boils down to this: It is really a matter of trust. Can Bahamians really trust their leaders when they prevaricate, engage in double-speak, insult their intelligence, adopt duplicitous, self-serving positions or become ensconced in conflicts of interest that do not promote the common good? Can Bahamians trust their leaders when they are not transparent and accountable for their actions?
The Bahamian electorate is very perceptive and cannot, and should not, be easily fooled by their leaders. Bahamians keenly observe and take note when their political leaders deviate from policies and practices that are not in the electorate’s best interest.
Unlike the winning advice that was proffered by James Carville, our politicians would do well to appreciate that it is much more than “the economy, stupid”. At the end of the day, no matter how good the economy may be, it is more a question of whether the electorate can believe in and trust their elected officials to behave in the best interests of the people whom they are supposed to represent. In the final analysis, it really is a matter of trust.
- Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to [email protected].