Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020
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Grading the five Grand Bahama MPs

Dear Editor,

All five of the Free National Movement (FNM) MPs are currently feeling the pressure from many of the economically depressed electorate in Grand Bahama to provide employment opportunities. The first year of their representation was the honeymoon phase. Now with their second anniversary in government, the heat from impatient constituents will only intensify, with 36 months remaining before Bahamian voters head back to the polls.

In fairness to the FNM, the current economic malaise was inherited by the MPs. With the overwhelming mandate given to the Minnis-led FNM, the beleaguered Grand Bahamian electorate has reposed plenty trust in the party to make Grand Bahama grand again. Grand Bahama’s economic struggles are a mystery, considering the current economic boom that Florida is experiencing. If nothing else, the prosperity from the Sunshine State should’ve been trickling down to Freeport, in light of their close proximity. All five MPs must appreciate the fact that it will be a hard sell in attempting to persuade voters to give them another mandate in 2022 if conditions are not drastically improved.

Smelling blood in the water, the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has began campaigning on the sorry state of affairs in Port Lucaya. With the announcements of the Carnival Cruise port development at Sharp Rock and the Royal Caribbean and ITM Group proposed acquisition of the Grand Lucayan Resort, time is of the essence, 24 months into the FNM’s tenure. Both investments must have the kind of economic impact that Resorts World has in Bimini, and Baha Mar and Atlantis have in New Providence, in order for there to be any meaningful reduction in unemployment numbers. Of the five FNM MPs, only four are joined to the hip of the governing party, with Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine being on the outside looking in. At the end of the day, each MP will be judged on the basis of bread and butter issues, like their predecessors.
Sensing this, McAlpine has sought to distance himself from his parliamentary caucus by publicly castigating the party over its performance. Despite being active in his community, the embattled Pineridge MP has lost the vote of confidence of his executive council, which was recently dissolved. McAlpine has opened his Pineridge Education Center in the Kipling Building in downtown Freeport. At the official opening of the center last September, not one of four FNM MPs from Grand Bahama attended, which is another indication of the growing rift between McAlpine and the FNM.
To his credit, McAlpine has been one of the more accessible and hands-on MPs on the island. His elevation to Parliament has not swelled his head. To the delight of PLPs, swing voters and disgruntled FNMs, McAlpine has locked horns with the Minnis administration over its decision to raise VAT by 60 percent in 2018, and most recently its Immigration Amendment Bill 2019.

With the dissolution of the Pineridge executive council, the clock is ticking on his affiliation with the FNM. Outside of an act of God, McAlpine will not receive the nomination for the party in 2022. It remains to be seen if the PLP will extend an invitation to him. If he accepts an offer to rejoin that party, it will only raise more questions than answers, as that party has had its share of major issues. Diehard FNMs would gladly hand the outspoken MP an F grade. I don’t believe McAlpine deserves such a poor grade. I give him a C+.

In the historic constituency of Marco City is the talented Michael Pintard, who has worked tirelessly in his community; and has been a very accessible and down-to-earth MP, despite juggling the portfolios of agriculture and marine resources. In addition to the recent announcements of the establishment of a technology hub center and a cultural center, Pintard has already set up a jobs database in his community for unemployed residents.

I believe Pintard should also be credited with the formation of the Grand Bahama Micro and Small Business Economic Empowerment and Entrepreneurial Incentive Program – an initiative that was created to give a financial shot in the arm to aspiring entrepreneurs. Like his Pineridge colleague, Pintard has held regular constituency meetings to keep Marco City residents abreast of what his team is doing in that community. He has also been generous in handing out financial donations for worthy causes.

In my opinion, Pintard deserves to be reelected. His major drawback is being the MP for an area that has been stubbornly fluid since 1997. If the economic drought persists till 2022, I truly hope Marco City voters will assess Pintard’s performance parochially. I recently read a PLP strategist’s opinion piece on the performance of FNM Cabinet ministers. Not surprisingly, his grades are very poor, owing to his inability to render an objective assessment. In all things considered, Pintard is as good a MP as Free Town MP Dionisio D’Aguilar and St. Barnabas MP Shanendon Cartwright. Pintard gets an A.

Outside of McAlpine, the other MP I believe is in a vulnerable position is West Grand Bahama and Bimini MP Pakesia Parker-Edgecombe, who is also parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister. To be sure, had Bimini been her sole area, she would’ve been as safe as Killarney MP Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis. Bimini is flourishing economically with Resorts World.

Her kryptonite happens to be the PLP bastion of West End proper – an area that is just as much as economically depressed as Freeport City. The PLP has already began maneuvering in that community.

To her credit, though, Parker-Edgecombe played a vital role in arbitrating between the warring factions in the Old Bahama Bay Resort legal wrangle – saving over 100 jobs in the process. Unemployment remains an issue in West Grand Bahama – a community that has not had a robust economy since the Jack Tar Village days.

I can only imagine the tremendous stress of representing such massive communities with underwhelming economies or even holding constituency meetings. The expectations of some voters were unreasonable, to say the least. I can only hope against hope that the stalled Ginn Sur Mer project miraculously gets off the ground and becomes all that it was initially touted that it would be. As it stands right now, I don’t see a clear path to victory for the West Grand Bahama and Bimini MP In 2022. But stranger things have happened. In the meantime, I will give Parker-Edgecombe a C.

I will grade Iram Lewis next. The Central Grand Bahama MP is in one of the two safe seats for the FNM; the other being East Grand Bahama. Formerly the Lucayan constituency, voters in that area have a been loyal to a fault to the FNM. In this regard, Lewis’ chances of being reelected are very good. Juggling the portfolio of parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Public Works, Lewis has not taken the loyalty of Central Grand Bahama voters for granted. Being a hands-on MP, Lewis has spearheaded a massive clean-up campaign in his area. His recent public disapproval of residents illegally dumping garbage in the Hepburn Town community is a testament of his commitment to Central Grand Bahama.

Lewis also spearheaded the relaunch of the Young Men’s Training Association in the Hunters community. The renovation of that community center cost $100,000. Despite the good he is doing in his constituency, critics have pedantically focused on an apparent gaffe he had uttered in the House in November 2018. His tenure should not be defined by that comment. Lewis gets a B-.
The final MP under consideration is East Grand Bahama’s K. Peter Turnquest. As the minister of finance, Turnquest has been the favorite whipping boy of critics for the 60 percent hike in VAT. Turnquest, Lewis, Parker-Edgecombe and Pintard all supported the hike, knowing full well the dismal economic state of their respective areas. Had they dissented, they would’ve suffered the same fate as McAlpine.

After being blacklisted by the European Union (EU) in February, The Bahamas avoided another blacklisting in March by the EU due to the Herculean efforts of Turnquest and the technocrats in his ministry. In addition to introducing a sliding scale gaming tax – a tax aimed at funneling new streams of funding into the treasury, he led the charge with the Securities Industry Amendment Bill and the Companies Amendment Bill, both of which are aimed at improving the ease of doing business.

The new gaming tax has precipitated a standoff between the FNM and certain segments of the numbers industry. It remains to be seen how web shop employees on Grand Bahama will respond to Turnquest and the FNM in 2022.

The deficit has also been reduced under his watch and the debt to GDP is in a far better state than it was under Perry Christie.

Like a genuine financier and businessman, Turnquest has dragged government finances from the precipice of disaster. Grand Bahamians, however, will not judge Turnquest mainly on his performance as finance minister, although the FNM will suffer a backlash for the hike in VAT, and although the FNM administration has exempted breadbasket items from VAT. Turnquest should also be commended for exempting electric consumers whose bills are $200 or lower.

I have seen photos of Turnquest at several church events in his constituency. His team hosted a luncheon for the senior citizens in East Grand Bahama several months ago. I am not in the position to say how accessible he is to his constituents, considering the gargantuan task he has in transitioning The Bahamas to the World Trade Organization. Critics, FNMs and PLPs alike, have accused Turnquest of being aloof. I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Whatever the case may be, that is a perception that must be overcome, for the sake of his parliamentary colleagues on Grand Bahama. I will give Turnquest a C, owing to my belief that both Pintard and Lewis have been more hands-on in their communities.

There is room for improvement. However, with East Grand Bahama being such a safe area for the FNM, Turnquest will have no issue being reelected. With three years remaining, the five FNM MPs must hope and pray that the economy does a complete 180-degree turnaround.

– Kevin Evans

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