2019 — A watershed year for The Bahamas

Those in the leadership of the governing Free National Movement (FNM) believe that they accomplished something of note by flipping the opposition party’s vote of no confidence in the prime minister into a vote of confidence.

They also believe that the government is making good progress in fulfilling its campaign promises to fight corruption, increase accountability, grow the economy, reduce crime, improve education outcomes and, more recently, bring relief to the victims of Hurricane Dorian.

The government’s view does not accord with that of increasing numbers of constituents but that has not diminished their contentment with their record.

So satisfied were government MPs with their parliamentary victory on the confidence vote last week that they retreated to FNM party headquarters to enjoy some pre-Christmas mirth.

And, they used that occasion to encourage a number of former members to return to the fold notwithstanding that the targeted former members have no political coattails and are not likely to sprout any now.

By wooing three former members to compensate for the loss of new younger parliamentarians, the government risks sending the wrong message to young voters.

Since its electoral success, the governing party has lost two sitting members of Parliament who declared themselves independent.

A third disenchanted FNM parliamentarian is believed to be close to parting ways with the party or alternatively being shown the exit door by a leadership that does not value criticism.

Given the size of the majority that the government holds in Parliament, the leadership believes it can afford to comfortably lose the support of a number in its parliamentary caucus with no political consequences.

Indeed, the prime minister cavalierly offered to lend two or more of his members to the other side to strengthen its bench or to help create a new official opposition with the existing independents so as to replace the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) as the official opposition in Parliament.

Said in jest, the prime minister will have offended not only the parliamentarians concerned but also at least some of their constituents who are likely to take exception to having their member of Parliament publicly disrespected. In a political environment like The Bahamas where elections are sometimes decided by margins of less than 20, no voter should be discounted.

Both members of Parliament who have separated from the FNM complained that their constituents and indeed a wider segment of the country were not “feeling” the government. It is the complaint of other FNM MPs including some Cabinet ministers.

Most recently, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard urged his government to better connect with the people and to act quickly to unleash the talents of young entrepreneurs.

On the anti-corruption front, two of the cases brought against former PLP politicians has failed to win a conviction. A third is still pending.

High incidences of crime persist.

Tensions remain in relations between the government and the trade unions.

Reports, pre-Dorian, which recorded the government’s success at improving financial administration and enhanced management of the national debt, did little to satisfy citizens who believe that progress in the financial administration of the country is being achieved on the backs of ordinary Bahamians through increased taxation.

Many are aggrieved that following an increase in value-added tax (VAT) from 7.5 percent to 12 percent, citizens are being called upon to fund the debt of Bahamas Power and Light (BPL), the national power company which failed to provide reliable electricity supply to its paying customers on New Providence through most of 2019, and further, pay increased real property taxes on their owner-occupied homes.

Then, many in hurricane devastated areas of Abaco and Grand Bahama report that most of the government’s promises regarding relief assistance through the creation of special economic zones and holidays on VAT are yet to be implemented. Three months since the storm’s passing, contracts to clear areas other than the shantytowns on Abaco are still just coming online.

The government must not fall victim to its own propaganda. The record shows that little progress has been made in fulfilling its 2017 platform commitments.

No number of confidence votes or of boastful statements on its parliamentary strength will change that fact.

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