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Consider This | Mixed messages

“The young people I know judge leaders by their deeds and abhor hypocrisy. Inconsistency and point-scoring do not win respect. It’s not easy to be engaged in political debate when it is reduced to performers trying to outdo each other. Actions from leaders must mirror the values they claim to espouse.”  — Alexandra Adornetto

The Nassau Guardian published an editorial last Thursday under the heading “PLP giddy for power”. It was a scathing attack on the political party which is credited with galvanizing Bahamians in the general elections of January 10, 1967 to usher in majority rule, after centuries of governance by the white oligarchy. It is also the same party that guided and unified Bahamians to attain political independence on July 10, 1973.

In the days following the observance of the national holiday that now memorializes the second Bahamian emancipation — Majority Rule Day — several mixed messages were telegraphed by senior party personalities that once distinguished the party  as the political vehicle that embodied the hopes, dreams and aspirations of so many Bahamians who desperately sought to enjoy the fundamental freedoms and civil and social liberties that had previously eluded them.

Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider this… Is the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) sending mixed messages that support The Nassau Guardian’s editorial claim that the “PLP is giddy for power”?

Vote of no confidence

At a public meeting that was held at PLP Headquarters last Wednesday, the party’s deputy leader, Chester Cooper, urged Bahamians to fire the Free National Movement (FNM) government for its mistakes and missteps since taking office in May 2017.

He said, “This is a disaster… This is mismanagement on an epic scale. We asked [Prime Minister] Minnis to resign; he has not done so. They leave us no choice but to put a vote of no confidence against him. Our only recourse now is to relieve them of their positions. This Cabinet must be disbanded, the House [of Assembly] should be dissolved and we need an opportunity to fire them all.”

Chester Cooper specifically referred to the government’s mistakes and missteps since coming to office. These included misleading the House of Assembly on the $5.5 billion Oban Energies project; the purchase of the Grand Lucayan resort; the 60 percent increase in value-added taxes; the state of Bahamas Power & Light and related increases in electricity bills; and the terrible state of labor relations, especially regarding doctors, nurses, teachers and taxi drivers. Cooper stated, “We can do so much better than this… a PLP government will do better than this.”

The Nassau Guardian editorial mentioned above observed that “Cooper had no public proclamations to make when the PLP administration ran ruinous deficits when in power – deficits that would have bankrupted The Bahamas. He had nothing to say when a PLP Cabinet minister was taking money in an American bank account from a foreign investor. He had nothing to say when another PLP minister was begging another foreign investor for a particular amount for a family firm. Yet now he thinks that the Minnis administration is horrible.”

The point is this: If policies and behaviors are wrong in one administration, they should be recognized and repudiated when the shoe is on the other foot. To proffer criticism of one and not the other is disingenuous and duplicitous. It sends mixed messages that are readily recognized by a discerning public. It does not inspire public confidence and does not enhance the credibility of the messenger.

Although he is absolutely correct to criticize the FNM Administration, Cooper’s call for a Parliamentary no-confidence motion is ill-timed, inconsequential and of no importance. It cannot succeed, given the seats that his party now occupies in Parliament. However, you should always be careful what you wish for and recognize the unintended consequences of your actions. If a no-confidence motion should succeed, which is highly unlikely, and Parliament is dissolved, will the PLP be ready to contest a general election? I do not think so.

Social services snafu

During the week, when Frankie Campbell, minister of social services and urban development, was asked by reporters whether, in light of the increase in reported rapes last year, anything was being done by his ministry to address the issue from a prevention standpoint.

While physically pushing away reporters’ microphones, the minister foolishly suggested that the issue of rape in The Bahamas was not his ministry’s business. He responded, “Don’t ask me about rapes. Try to keep me out of other people’s lanes. I like to talk about my stuff. Don’t ask me about rapes.”

What an absurd response from the minister of social services. Having recognized that his response was callous, careless and insensitive, he apologized for his comments the very next day.

Hours before Campbell apologized for his insensitive remarks, the former minister of social services, Melanie Griffin, lambasted Campbell for his “inappropriate and unimaginable” comments. She declared, “I cannot fathom that response and was taken aback because his portfolio has the responsibility for women’s issues.”

Some Bahamians were surprised by the former minister’s remarks, not so much because of the content of those remarks, but because of the messenger who delivered them. Bahamians recall that while that same (former) minister was in office, one of her colleagues stated in Parliament words to the effect that sometimes he has to “discipline” women because, if he did not, the woman would feel that she is not loved. When asked by the press following that sophomoric and insulting statement by her colleague to comment on his remarks, the former minister offered a two-word response: “No comment.”

The mixed message that the former minister telegraphed is that it is appropriate for a person to be insensitive if he is a colleague. However, if the person uttering insensitive remarks is not a colleague, those comments are “inappropriate and unimaginable”.

Dispelling the power-grab myth 

So, is the Nassau Guardian editor correct in his assertion that the PLP is giddy for power? This view is held, in part, because the party continues to allow persons who have been soundly rejected by the electorate to make public pronouncements on behalf of the party. Some of those spokespersons, who are desperately seeking to remain relevant at any price, believe that the electorate is suffering from “voters’ remorse” from the last elections.

The PLP must be extremely careful about miscalculating the mood of the electorate. While it is true that many Bahamians have great concerns about the government, its decisions, its policies and its experience in governance, the PLP will commit a mortal mistake to believe that disappointment in the FNM government translates into support for the PLP.

In fact, many Bahamians are uncomfortable with both political parties. There is a general belief that, while the FNM is incompetent, the PLP is corrupt. Therefore, some Bahamians now feel that they must choose between incompetence and corruption, a novel existential angst of being caught between a rock and hard place.

If the PLP is going to change its public perception, it must carefully avoid what could be perceived as duplicitous and disingenuous positions on national issues. The PLP must surgically select spokespersons who are credible, trustworthy and motivated by a sincere interest in providing better options for the nation’s pressing problems.

Several months ago, the PLP leader clearly affirmed that the majority of its candidates in the next general elections will be new persons who have not previously offered for office. He must honor this pledge; otherwise the party will experience another devastating defeat at the polls in the next elections.

At its public meeting last Wednesday, the PLP featured several new platform speakers, including Jobeth Coleby-Davis, Andrew Edwards, Barry Griffin and Shelley Sweeting. This is a positive beginning in rebuilding a cadre of possible candidates and should be replicated at future meetings. The vast majority of rejected candidates should be kept off the platform. Bahamians do not want to hear from them.

Above all, new persons who are featured must demonstrate that they are grounded in the party’s core values and that they are committed to implementing the party’s philosophy and platform. The party must resist the propensity to feature the old, tired, candidates whose time has passed and who have little to offer the Bahamian people.

Conclusion

The PLP’s message in the months ahead must be clear, well-conceived and workable, carefully designed to positively address the nation’s pressing challenges. The party should spend the time that it now has to rebuild, renew and resuscitate itself, developing candidates and policies that will be attractive to the electorate. It should not spend what little political capital it has left by indulging in extravagant, purely partisan polemics that fail to impress right-thinking Bahamians who are eager for informed, effective solutions.

Above all, the PLP must recognize that its message must be consistent with the party’s core values, offering solutions to our distressing and challenging issues that are clearly and uncompromisingly liberal and progressive.

 • 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 pgalanis@gmail.com.

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