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Symonette’s departure from front bench a big loss

The resignation of Brent Symonette from his Cabinet position was announced by the Cabinet Office in a tersely-worded, two-sentence statement on Sunday evening. Subsequently, the prime minister issued a marginally longer statement expressing his thanks to Symonette and announcing his successor as Elsworth Johnson, the minister of state in the Office of the Attorney General.

A day later, Symonette informed the media that his resignation was of his own volition and had been the subject of cordial discussions between him and the prime minister for some six months.

We find the various statements peculiar for an event six months in the making. We take them with the proverbial “grain of salt”, especially as rumors of discord between the prime minister and Symonette persist. This may spell problems for the party in the future.

For quite some time, Brent Symonette has been torn between two lives: public service and private life. In that respect, he has been conflicted, pulled to public service, no doubt influenced by his father’s 50 year-long parliamentary career and position as premier of The Bahamas, but pulled also to his considerable private business interests.

He was tapped for leadership in the party after the 1987 general election and was appointed to the Senate by Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, the Free National Movement’s (FNM) founding father. In the lead-up to the 1992 general election, he was a strong ally to Hubert Ingraham though he was not a candidate in that election. Following the success of the FNM in 1992, Symonette was reappointed to the Senate and appointed minister of tourism in Ingraham’s first cabinet.

Later, he served as attorney general, chairman of the Hotel Corporation of The Bahamas and chairman of the Nassau Airport Authority. This is Symonette’s third resignation from public office: once as a minister in 2000 and the second from the chairmanship of the Nassau Airport Authority in 2001.

He was elected to Parliament in the 1997 general election.

In the 2002 general election, he was the only FNM candidate in New Providence to win a seat, surviving the wave that removed the FNM from government.

In 2005, he was elected deputy leader of the FNM when Hubert Ingraham also returned to leadership and, following the 2007 general election, he was appointed deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and immigration.

He chose not to seek re-election in 2012, sitting out a term before successfully contesting the St. Anne’s constituency in the 2017 general election where he remained immensely popular. He was appointed minister of financial services, trade and industry and immigration.

His constituents, who believed they were electing a former deputy prime minister as their member of Parliament, will be surprised to learn that it was never his intention to serve a full five years in Cabinet. This largely upscale residential enclave is likely to be disappointed that they will be represented by a backbencher.

His resignation will not be without consequence. He was the most experienced member of the Cabinet. His extensive knowledge of and contacts in the Bahamian business and financial services sectors was especially valuable. His departure from the front bench, then, is a big loss.

His departure will not silence opponents who continually accuse him and the FNM government of conflicts of interest whenever a company in which his family holds an interest – regardless of the size or influence of that interest – is contracted by the government for work that they are qualified to do and that they receive as a result of open public tendering.

The new Cabinet appointment

We take this opportunity to congratulate Elsworth Johnson on his appointment as minister of financial services, trade and industry and immigration. New to frontline politics, Johnson, the son of a former parliamentarian, Oscar Johnson, and a former president of the Bahamas Bar Association, will have gained two years of valuable experience as a Cabinet minister as minister of state in the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs. We have high expectations for Johnson and wish him success.

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