Consider This | The FNM government: two years later
“As we go about the business of governing we ask for God’s help. That he protect us from the sins of arrogance and greed. That he keeps us ever mindful that this new day is not about us, but about the people we have to serve. It’s truly the people’s time.” – Prime Minister Hubert A. Minnis, victory speech, 2017
May is an important month. It is the month when the minister of finance provides an annual financial report to the nation with his budget communication. May also marks the second anniversary in office of the Minnis-led Free National Movement (FNM) government.
There are many within the governing party, the parliamentary team and the official opposition who now believe that the government has had sufficient time to settle into governance. There are elements of praise, disappointment and criticism from each of the aforementioned. On the government’s second anniversary, it is expected that Bahamians would assess its performance.
Therefore, this week we would like to Consider this… how has the FNM government performed in its two years in office?
The inexperience factor
One year ago, we noted the quantum shift in the composition of Parliament, primarily characterized by the inexperience of its members. Of the 39 members of Parliament (MPs), 30 MPs, or 77 percent, were first-time elected representatives.
Of the 35 FNM MPs who were elected May 10, 2017, only six served in the House of Assembly before, while three others had previously served in the Senate. That left 26, or 74 percent, of the FNM MPs who were brand new to the arcane and abstruse practices of our then-288-year-old Parliament. Only one of the four, or 25 percent, of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) representatives were new.
There were enormously elevated expectations that the country had ushered in a new era with this new Parliament, especially in light of the deplorable performance of the ousted Christie-led administration.
There was considerable anticipation that the 27 novice MPs out of the 39 would bring fresh, politically unblemished albeit inexperienced, eyes to the nation’s pressing problems.
Last year, the jury was still out on whether this was a positive thing for our nation or whether the newly elected parliamentarians represented a precursor to problems that will continue to plague this largely inexperienced cast of characters. By now, most objective Bahamians have concluded that the current Parliament is unquestionably the least prepared, least experienced and least well-rounded class of parliamentarians in the post-independence Bahamas.
Moreover, Bahamians are deeply concerned and completely unimpressed by the level of representation that has thus far been provided by the newly elected women in Parliament. Some of their public pronouncements have been a blight on the government’s performance in its two years in office.
The absence of intelligent commentary by the women in Parliament has been conspicuous. It appears they only show up, making absolutely no significant or substantial contribution to the national debate. Their performance has been largely disappointing.
So how has the government performed in its first two years?
The FNM’s two years in office: the positives
The most impressive performance of the FNM government is manifested in the nation’s major industry: tourism. It has made impressive strides in this sector. Tourist arrivals, both cruise line and stopovers, are on the ascendancy, the best performance in the past few decades.
The nation’s second vital economic sector, financial services, receives mixed reviews. While the government has averted another jurisdictional blacklisting, the sector is showing signs of contraction.
The government’s knee-jerk reaction to the demands of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) by rapidly enacting legislation has demonstrated, from the latter’s perspective, that the jurisdiction is serious about aligning our financial legislative regime with theirs. Some will argue that we have lost a bit of our sovereignty by acceding to the OECD.
On the other hand, these legislative initiatives have resulted in a contraction of the financial services sector, which will likely result in substantial layoffs of high-earning professionals in this sector.
The level of crime is also moving in the right direction: downward. After repeatedly chalking up record murders under the Christie administration, violent crime, especially murders, has declined. Consequently, it appears that the government is arresting this insidious social scourge that has enveloped us for many years.
The government has also taken positive steps to address the incessant problems related to the New Providence dumpsite. New hope has been resurrected that the pernicious problem of pollution and related ill effects that resulted from the long-term mismanagement of the dump in the nation’s capital will be permanently addressed to the benefit of that island’s residents.
The interest in foreign direct investment continues and the employment prospects from such investments are likely to significantly contribute to the decline in the rate of unemployment. While some of these investments are controversial in several areas, most notably regarding their impact on the environment, the level of foreign direct investment should contribute to positive growth in the nation’s gross domestic product.
The government has focused on the island of Grand Bahama, hopeful that its engagement will result in economic relief to that island. The sale of Our Lucaya and the development of a new cruise port will, if successful, inject new life into that island and its inhabitants.
Two years in, there is a general sense that the FNM government continues to wander aimlessly. Many Bahamians remain unsure of where we are headed as a nation. There is little defined direction of where government wants to take the country and how we are to get there. There has been no definitive articulation of a vision of where we are headed.
At the beginning of the first post-Pindling-influenced government, Bahamians were hopeful that a new era of governance would be ushered in. The prime minister missed a golden opportunity to unite a deeply divided nation. The chasm that had developed purely along political lines has deepened. Sadly, the current administration has been more vindictive than its forebears.
The government’s rush to prosecute former political adversaries, a feature that is more frequently espoused by autocratic regimes, has further exacerbated those deep-seated political divisions in our polity. In the sole political prosecution that has been completed to date, two government ministers were judicially condemned by the presiding magistrate.
The government’s ill-conceived and misdirected attention to the Oban proposal for Grand Bahama seems to be motivated more by its desperate desire to do something for that island, regardless of the long-term costs. Similarly, the government’s early announcement that it will increase parliamentary salaries was ill timed, unjustifiable and went absolutely nowhere.
The result of these ill-advised actions is that we are more bitterly divided as a nation along political lines than ever before.
This government has abandoned the art of consensus building. This was evidenced by its increase in value-added tax by 60 percent in its first year in office – from 7.5 percent to 12 percent – which was repudiated by almost every important sector of our society.
The same was observed when the government arbitrarily increased the gaming taxes on domestic gaming operators, again without consultation. The government was forced to walk back this ill-conceived decision which resulted in not collecting millions of dollars from several of the gaming operators.
The government also had to reverse its plans to radically alter the business license regime by requiring businesses to produce bank statements and income statements in connection with business license applications, something that appeared to be a precursor to the introduction of a corporate income tax.
The systematic gutting of the nation’s senior police force officers has left many Bahamians wondering what motivated the government to send many long-standing, dedicated, seasoned police officers into early retirement.
There is a sense that, early in its tenure, the government determined that it would terminate or transfer many PLP-hired government employees without any cogent explanation for such actions. We have, for example, seen how decisions such as this have affected the income of the Broadcasting Corporation.
The government’s recent appointment of an individual to head the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services appears to have been motivated more by political considerations than by objective criteria.
In its two years in office, the government has yet to bring the freedom of Information legislation into force. We also still await its definitive decision on the implementation of National Health Insurance. Its long-promised election financial legislation is nowhere to be found. Its promise of prime ministerial term limits has met a similar fate.
Several months ago, the government’s vote on Venezuela at the Organization of American States was tantamount to supporting the overthrow of the de facto government in Venezuela, a significant shift in the principle of neutrality and non-interference in the internal affairs of another sovereign state. This was a major mistake on several fronts and more evidence of this government’s inexperience.
As the new government begins its third year, Bahamians hope that they will be successful. The government’s success will benefit the citizens whom they govern, regardless of party affiliation. We hope that some of their missteps, which could charitably be written off as rookie mistakes, have provided learning experiences and teachable moments for this government, thus preparing them for a better third year.
Most of all, we hope that not only will their governance improve, but also their judgement and decision-making skills, so that all of us can emerge from this malaise of governance and get down to the business of building a strong, secure nation for everyone.
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.