Front Porch | The long game for the Free National Movement
• This column was first published on November 8, 2018.
A year and a half after its 2017 election victory, the FNM has made its share of mistakes as Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis noted during his remarks at the party’s two-day conclave last weekend.
Minnis’ admission, which was reportedly a brief line in his remarks, was immediately seized upon by some in the press. It was a headline grabber for some, even though it was apparently not the main thrust of his remarks.
For some journalists, no matter the successes of the Minnis administration, a failure meme is the default position, despite a record of specific accomplishments. When one is stuck in a pattern, it is often difficult to offer another perspective.
In this media context, it is the task of the administration to fix its communications strategy and operation, and to better utilize social media to communicate its message.
The current age and nature of social media require any government to respond swiftly, accurately and intelligently to certain fake news in such media, though not all falsehoods need to be addressed because sometimes to do so is to make a molehill of a false claim into a mountain.
While the administration should improve its press relations, all political parties recognize certain general habits of the press corps and a certain quality of journalism resident in The Bahamas and other jurisdictions, which governments and parties need to work beyond in order to communicate more effectively.
As a part of its efforts to fulfill its vision and to be re-elected, the FNM must have a long game, which includes fixing short-term problems as quickly as possible. This includes improved communications, better coordination of messaging among ministers and greater collegiality and unity where possible.
In a press release following the conclave, the FNM noted: “The party also met in conclave to set in motion a long-term strategy including the development of a think-tank, the ongoing development of new parliamentarians and party officers, and an improved communications program.”
Of course, there are prima donnas in the FNM caucus who will never be a part of the team because of their outsized egos and unfulfilled ambitions. The press will always court such rebels and narcissists because this makes for exciting and sexy copy.
One trusts that the FNM has learned a critical lesson in the quality of candidates it selects, a lesson both major parties appear to still be learning after decades of making the same error.
A core part of the FNM’s long game should be the utilization of every avenue possible to tout and to repeatedly and vigorously communicate its accomplishments, especially through social media.
The majority of younger voters do not read the newspapers or watch evening newscasts on a regular basis. This is a new communications era for governments and political parties.
A commentator on U.S. cable television noted during the midterm election coverage last evening that his 20-something-year-old daughter has not watched broadcast network news for many years. Her news comes through news feeds on various social media websites. She does not read newspapers nor watch cable television news.
While messaging is important, policy and accomplishments are what typically lead to the success or failure of a government.
The economy is improving, with a number of tourism and other projects set to open, including a possible major development in West End, Grand Bahama, which would help to lead to significant growth for that island and for the country.
If the government can resell the Grand Lucayan in Grand Bahama in relatively short order to a buyer or buyers who can help to restore and revive the property, this will help to stabilize Grand Bahama and Port Lucaya.
Even as the economy grows, the government must get a handle on energy costs, which have become quite expensive for consumers, and which are a drag on the economy.
FNMs need not ignore or try to sugarcoat policy failure or errors. But neither should party members be tentative, timorous or timid in proclaiming the government’s accomplishments.
After many years crime, including murder, is down substantially. This is not by happenstance. This is because of policy and programmatic decisions by the Minnis administration.
The PLP under Perry Christie, who was generally asleep at the wheel of state, left the Royal Bahamas Police Force in a parlous state. The force needed new leadership, more junior officers on the beat, more vehicles and other improvements.
The FNM provided the force with all of these resources. In under two years, this has made an enormous difference.
The deficit kept ballooning under the PLP, with little end in sight to increasing deficits. The annual deficit has now been cut in half. To do so the government had to take unpopular but necessary decisions to restore public finances.
The massive corruption of the PLP has been stopped, and the administration is continuing to address corruption in the public sphere.
The FNM press release on the conclave noted that Minnis stated during the conclave: “The deficit is down; tourism is thriving; major investment projects are on the horizon; we are on the path to rescue Grand Bahama after decades of despair; we have stopped the massive corruption that was draining the Public Treasury.”
The release also noted: “Dr. Minnis declared that the FNM is ‘launching ambitious social and economic programs, including the Over-the-Hill Revitalization Project, land reform, the Citizen Security and Justice Program, innovations in education, the transformation of the energy sector, and small business development initiatives, including the Small Business Development Center [SBDC].’”
There has been an immense response to the SBDC. Over 600 people have signed in just a few months to utilize the services of the center.
With free tuition for qualifying students at BTVI and the prospect for the same at the University of The Bahamas next year, the country may be set for a major period of advancement in education.
The Citizen Security and Justice Program is another major initiative that may help to reduce crime and provide life and work skills for many at-risk youth and some juvenile offenders.
There are quite a number of other initiatives by the FNM such as the Labour on the Blocks jobs program; new investment projects through the Commercial Enterprises Act; the creation of a $1 million arts fund; the creation of Grand Bahama as a technology hub; advances in the ease of doing business, and other projects in the pipeline.
The FNM has a long game of what Minnis has described as a new era of innovation and transformation. There are notable accomplishments which augur well for the country.
To reap the political benefits of an impressive and far-reaching policy agenda, the FNM must proceed with greater discipline, collegiality and restraint in certain areas, as it aggressively communicates its vision and mounting record of accomplishments.
It would be unfortunate if the FNM through errors and default, allows an unreformed, entitled PLP oligarchy to return to power, revisiting on the country the horror of the mass corruption, wasteful spending and disastrous governance, which the country rejected at the last election.
Despite the window dressing, the PLP under Philip Brave Davis has not changed. And it will not change. The PLP culture remains the same. It is a known quantity.