Focus | Brent Symonette’s resignation symptomatic of Minnis administration’s dilemma
The Minnis administration must be more sensitive to the politics of its actions. Good governance means making smart decisions that make the lives of the people of the country better. Sometimes, these decisions are not popular but must be made anyway. Yet, there are times when a decision is unpopular and not essential, or at the very least, not necessary right now. At such times, savvy politicians do not make those decisions, preferring to save their political capital for more difficult but necessary decisions.
The Minnis administration has lost too much capital making unpopular and unnecessary pronouncements or decisions. For example, it lost capital announcing early in its term a willingness to raise MPs and ministers’ salary; something any unseasoned politician would have known would be unpopular and unnecessary in the circumstances. Another example was faking the signing of the Oban heads of agreement, which could have awaited a better opportunity to execute the real signing in public. Yet another was raising VAT so soon after election having so vocally opposed it in opposition, just as it did the so-called “spy bill”.
Having made these unpopular moves and losing considerable capital because of it, renting the post office owned by Brent Symonette, a sitting Cabinet minister, and his brother, had to be seen as yet another unpopular move, even if fiscally helpful and a decision that the previous administration considered. We all know that the Bahamian public is not always given to rational thoughts about political decisions; that sometimes, they only consider the optics and the spin attached to it, especially when it comes to such issues as immigration, race, wealth and perceived corruption, so the response to this move should have been expected.
The resignation of Brent Symonette so soon after these missteps and the award of contracts, rightly or wrongly, to companies with which he has affiliation, represented yet another challenge. Notwithstanding Mr. Symonette’s plausible explanation about his impending retirement at 65 years of age, the optics are not good. We believe that Mr. Symonette is sometimes harshly and unfairly treated by the public of The Bahamas because of his legacy as a son of “Bay Boy” and former premier Pop Symonette as well as his substantial inherited wealth; some Bahamians still harbor resentment about both. This notwithstanding, it would have been more politically savvy for Mr. Symonette to stay the course and continue to contribute positively; as many believe he did; to the governance of the country. His decision to leave merely invited more negative comments and this negatively affects the government he supports.
Every administration of The Bahamas needs to succeed. The Minnis administration is no exception. If it wants to succeed, however, it must do better over the next three years in being both prudent and savvy as political leaders. This administration must make the hard decisions necessary to move the country forward but also be mindful of the optics of those decisions on the people of the country. People can be unreasonable and Bahamian people are no exception, still the country belongs to them and they have a right to believe that not only is their government doing good, but are believed and seen to be doing good.
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.