Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020
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Far away from an election

At last year’s budget, the increase in value-added tax (VAT) made a noticeable change in the mood of the electorate. The tax was introduced in January 2015. In some respects it was the first “in-your-face tax” in a modern Bahamas. It’s on every bill.

When the Free National Movement (FNM) increased it from 7.5 percent to 12 percent, the people reacted as if the world was coming to an end.

No one likes paying taxes. But the government’s reason was to close the deficit to reduce the need to borrow, and to add revenue to make up for what would be lost when we accede to the World Trade Organization and reduce customs duties.

The people’s anger at the tax increase has lingered. Then came the web shop interests who were mad with the government for increasing taxes on them – something that should have been done.

Web shop money funded the last so-called march of the people to Parliament. It is also fomenting other anti-government dissent through support of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and other opponents of the FNM.

The governing party took blow after blow after the tax increase. Whatever it proposed, no matter the wisdom of the policy, the merchants of outrage went on the attack in the mainstream press and via social media.

The giddy among them see power at hand. They think their formulae has already knocked out the governing party, enthroning the PLP. Their overconfidence is delusional.

We have at least three full years ahead of us before a general election is likely to be called – a lifetime in politics. And the general indicators for the FNM are not horrible.

The economy was projected to grow by around two percent last year, and by a similar amount this year.

Tourism is our main industry. Stopover visitors are the key group. Up to September, air arrivals were up 16.5 percent. Strong growth in the United States and Canada was the main factor behind the increase.

If U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping can come to an agreement with their trade dispute by March 1, global growth should continue.

There is reason to think they will. Trump has an election to fight in 2020. If he and the Chinese continue the tit for tat, he would go into that election in a recession – a sure way to lose.

For Xi, the Chinese Communist Party craves growth to keep the population pacified. Trump’s trade fight has caused the Chinese economy to cool. America has the power to make it worse. Compromise is the most logical course for both men.

Last year in The Bahamas the murder count was the lowest it has been since 2009. It was the first year there were fewer than 100 murders also since 2009.

There is still too much crime and violence, but a major step toward progress was made.

The government is close to signing a deal to construct a new power plant in New Providence where one is desperately needed; a final deal is close, too, for the redevelopment of the landfill on our main island; and, this year there is likely to be a nine-figure deal to redevelop Prince George Wharf.

Then, there is the Wynn development at Cable Beach; the Harbour Island resort project; the continuation of The Pointe at Bay Street; the Disney cruise development at Lighthouse Point; and the Hurricane Hole expansion, just to mention a few more projects in the works.

The FNM does not have an easy road to reelection. One of its major issues is the prime minister must do a better job with his public communications. He’s good at one on ones in small groups. He does not, however, like the cut and thrust with the media – and it shows.

The people read his words, they hear and see him, mainly through press coverage. He needs to work on putting his best self forward on these occasions when journalists ask questions and the cameras are rolling. He sometimes speaks too loosely and without reflection, causing problems that need not be.

The current state of The Bahamas is not terrible. The FNM has a chance. One of the main things it has going for it is the PLP is the same old PLP.

Bahamians remember why they sent that party to opposition. Yes, they have their issues now with the FNM. But many still have even more problems with a PLP that nearly led the country to ruin last time.

No party has won the next election yet. No party has lost it yet, either. There is much politics remaining to play out.

The next win will have to be earned. And that’s how it should be.

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