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Tipping point

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis (center) and members of his Cabinet head to the House of Assembly for the delivery of the 2019/2020 budget communication. AHVIA J. CAMPBELL

In recent days, both our editorial writers and one of our Nassau Guardian columnists, Philip Galanis, coincidentally opined on the “summer of our discontent”, highlighting the difficult and unsettling times now faced by Bahamians under the Minnis administration.

The Guardian’s editorial noted: “The summer of 2019 has been an especially difficult one for Bahamian residents and businesses in New Providence.

“Indeed, few are of a mind to celebrate the good news of increases in tourist arrivals, the decline in unemployment numbers or the quiet emanating from what has been a smooth transition to private management of the New Providence Landfill and steadily improving residential solid waste collection.”

It pointed out that the good news is buried by ongoing murders — notwithstanding that the numbers have gone down, by labor unrest in the public sector and most of all by the crisis engulfing Bahamas Power and Light (BPL).

In his column, “Consider This”, on Monday, Galanis noted, “It was promised to and expected by the electorate that the FNM’s (Free National Movement) sunshine in the era of ‘the people’s time’ would foreshadow much better times and improved conditions.

“It appears, however, that the high expectations of the arrival of the ‘better, better’, ‘people’s time’ that so many had anticipated with a new FNM government have evolved into what can be described as the ‘summer of our discontent’, just two years after coming to office.”

On his Love 97 radio show “Issues of the Day”, Jones Communications CEO Wendall Jones has also adopted the theme, noting yesterday that the Minnis-led government is burdened by crises.

Another prominent media personality we had a chat with only yesterday said there’s no doubt that “this crew is a little bit better than the last”, but he said “there’s just this feeling that we were lied to (by the FNM)”.

We asked him casually who he would vote for if an election were held tomorrow.

With a perplexed look on his face, he responded matter-of-factly, “I would probably be one of those people who would spoil their ballots.”

Another colleague opined that the FNM was in trouble from “out the gate”.

“They created that monster with high expectations,” he said. “There is so much anger. The lights are cutting off. The schools aren’t fixed. I’m just sorry that the ones I expected to do well will be gone in that rush.”

The FNM had hoped to use the recent Torchbearers convention to portray the party as stronger than ever, but the images of the FNM in full party mode seemed insensitive given the suffering many New Providence residents have experienced in recent months due to repeated power cuts.

Public relations wise, it was a huge flop.

Even the prime minister’s announcement about a finalized deal with Carnival Cruise Line for a cruise port in Grand Bahama, and his declaration that a major announcement is on the way for New Providence, did little to move the needle for the government.

An out-of-touch Minnis came through the aisle prancing and dancing, but not many Bahamians are in a celebratory mood. Some feel even more angry and disappointed than they did under the Christie administration. That is because they saw hope in the FNM, even though Minnis himself did not inspire much hope.

Now they see no hope in the FNM, or any other party for that matter, and that is a very serious position to be in.

Overshadowed

The Minnis administration is making some politically expedient moves. It has given free tuition to University of The Bahamas (UB) students as well as students of the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI).

While at BTVI on Monday, the prime minister announced that students at that institute from the Family Islands will get a $500 housing grant, much like the UB students.

Minnis also announced recently that the government will provide annual vouchers of $2,000 for students to attend private preschools.

These announcements continue to be overshadowed by the BPL-induced misery and by growing unrest among labor unions.

The Bahamas Public Services Union (BPSU) continues to demand that salary issues be addressed, and yesterday, junior doctors marched in Downtown Nassau wearing their white coats, a day after Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes announced that their labor issues — which triggered a days-long strike — have been referred to the Industrial Tribunal.

All of this was happening as the lights went out again in some communities across New Providence.

The current action by the unions personifies the feeling of many Bahamians — they are sour toward the Minnis administration and its empty promises.

Despite efforts of FNM operatives to change the narrative, the chord of discontent is widely evident in the social media sphere as well.

Frequent Facebook user “Anne Marie” pointed out that the current mood blanketing the country would likely lead to another change in government at the next election.

“Until we change the system, we will continue to have a revolving door in Parliament,” she wrote.

“We don’t have any real power so the little we have, we use punitively every five years and will continue to do so until we feel we have some ownership in our country.

“Our system of government is designed to subjugate and once every five years we get to wield what little power we have only to be lorded over and screwed over by a different crew.

“The funniest part is in all of this is the oligarchs. No matter what party is in power they still control us — politician and populace.”

In a funk

As it approaches its mid-term in office, the current administration is in a funk.

It is struggling to get on message, but that is proving difficult, largely because so many Bahamians have already tuned the current crew out. This does not necessarily mean they have tuned in to the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and its leader, Philip Brave Davis, but as Public Domain (a public opinion research firm) President Mwale Rahming observed repeatedly in past discussions with National Review, an administration’s loss of goodwill is usually to the benefit of the opposition.

There is no recent polling data that we are privy to, but increasingly, there is a sense that Bahamians are tired of both the PLP and the FNM.

The Minnis administration — the prime minister in particular — would do well to get beyond the arrogance, be less dismissive of the opposition and more focused on preserving the goodwill left.

The undecided voter is usually one who will vote against the government of the day.

“Public Domain has learned since we’ve been in the market – we’ve been in the market since 2010 – we’ve been through two election cycles, and one thing that’s very specific to The Bahamas, and I can’t tell you that it will always happen, but I can tell you what has happened in the last two elections: the undecided voters all vote for the opposition,” Rahming told National Review in June 2018.

At the time, he spoke of the danger of administrations becoming tone deaf.

“I think that the danger when people form governments is that they go into a bubble and they don’t see what people are really saying on the streets, or in the barber shops or getting their boiled fish, and they don’t hear that people are dissatisfied,” Rahming said.

“I think they need to understand that maybe, outside of your bubble, there’s an attitude going around that you need to address. And I think the message that I would give to them is step outside the bubble a bit and understand, because the last administration had this exact problem, where outside of their bubble, they didn’t realize how dissatisfied the people were, and they had an election that they thought would go well for them and it didn’t.

“I think there is a tipping point that, when you get to that point, it doesn’t matter what you say anymore; I’ve tuned you out. I won’t hear anything you try to offer me, and all I’m doing is biding my time until I can vote you out.”

The Christie administration got to that tipping point pretty early in its term. One of its major initiatives was the gambling referendum, held just eight months after the 2012 election. One of its most fatal errors was deciding to ignore the will of the people after a majority of those who voted, voted no.

Perry Christie and the PLP spent the next four years making other fatal errors and assuming that they could still win the election. We know how that story ended: they made a huge miscalculation.

They promised free health insurance, but they never delivered on that and most people did not have faith that they ever would. Their promise of free electricity for some households was among the biggest jokes of the campaign.

If we didn’t know prior to that point that the PLP was losing its collective mind, we knew then.

It is arguable whether the FNM administration has reached its tipping point. If it has not, it most certainly is not far away and it should pay attention to that reality.

No administration has been returned to office since the Hubert Ingraham-led FNM in 1997. We went from FNM in 1997, to PLP in 2002, to FNM in 2007, to PLP in 2012, to FNM in 2017.

Given the tremendous victory secured by the FNM two-plus years ago, Minnis seems to think the people were (and are) so in love with him that the next election is already sealed.

When he speaks, he speaks about having another eight years in office.

Pledges

Key promises the FNM made to deepen democracy and to strengthen the anti-corruption regime are not now on the FNM’s radar. It would be foolhardy to address those issues in the second half of the term.

The Freedom of Information Act is still not fully enacted, although it was a talking point for the FNM on the campaign trail.

In June, Minnis told reporters the government will soon table legislation addressing a term limit for prime minister and a fixed election date. He said there were “a few little tweaks we’re doing to it”.

The House next meets in October. We shall see how soon is soon.

Minnis has also promised a campaign finance law this term.

When asked about this last December, he arrogantly told reporters, “… You also promised me five years. My five years ain’t up yet and you will promise me another five years. So, I have five years to put in the campaign finance reform, and I have another five years for you to see it working properly.”

He made other pledges of that nature.

In 2015 he told The Tribune, “I would institute a recall system for non-functioning members and constituency primaries to ensure that the people are intimately involved in the selection of representatives and (introduce) campaign finance reform.”

But the one issue that resulted in the FNM cruising to victory in 2017 was the corruption issue. The FNM promised to make priority anti-corruption legislation.

In October 2017, nearly two years ago, the government introduced an Integrity Commission Bill in the House of Assembly. The bill is on some shelf collecting dust. It does not appear to be a priority item anymore.

These are all issues that will likely haunt the FNM as it gets deeper into this term.

It will find it difficult to recover from the rapid erosion of goodwill.

More people by the day are being turned off by the Minnis administration. It is making progressive moves toward the point of no return.

Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of the Nassau Guardian.

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