Thursday, Jul 9, 2020
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Trying to regain momentum

The Free National Movement (FNM) held a conclave on Friday and Saturday. The party said the purpose of the get-together was to conduct a critical and frank analysis of where it is nearly a year and a half into the term.

The party came to office due to widespread dissatisfaction with the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). The PLP won only four seats in the May 10, 2017 election. The FNM won the popular vote by 20 percentage points.

The party has lost ground in recent months, however. The Oban misstep and value-added tax increase contributed to shifting the mood of the people away from the FNM.

All is not lost though. The saving grace for the FNM is the PLP has its issues too. Many Bahamians still think the party is untrustworthy after an abysmal term in office. There is no enthusiasm for returning the same people to power who were just thrown out.

To get momentum back on its side, the FNM must work hard to fix the disconnect between its policy and communication. Let’s use the recently proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) payroll tax as an example.

The National Health Insurance Authority announced its position that NHI should be funded by a two percent payroll tax. Let’s keep in mind that the government just raised VAT to 12 percent in the most recent budget.

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands has been supportive of the proposed NHI funding model. When Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis was asked about it he said what the NHI Authority proposed is not the government’s official position.

“That is not a definitive report or the government’s decision to say we are increasing taxes on the Bahamian taxpayers,” said Minnis in a recent interview with ZNS News.

“So they must understand that. We have not brought forward any definitive report. We would have to commence discussions with the medical fraternity and other components of the medical community to seek their views as we move forward.

“We will report to the nation as to the proposal being put forth to see how they feel before any definitive decision. That is only a proposal being put forth by the committee looking at NHI.”

What is happening here is the government is letting one of its agencies float significant policy, policy that could anger the electorate. This is not how it should work. The Cabinet should decide whether or not it wants to pursue the policy. Once that decision is made a communications plan should be made to determine how best to present the policy to the people. No minister or agency should be allowed to freelance.

What has happened is the public now thinks the government wants to tax them again. The people don’t know that what was proposed by the NHI Authority is not the position of the government.

The FNM must practice message discipline. The party harms itself by not always operating in a logical and organized manner when it comes to policy and communication.

In the party’s statement after the conclave it pledged to do better.

“The party also met in conclave to set in motion a long-term strategy including the development of a think-tank, the ongoing development of new parliamentarians and party officers, and an improved communications program,” said the FNM in a press release.

We hope the party is serious. If the FNM stays on its current track it will lose the next general election. It has to fix what is obviously wrong with its performance and structure.

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