Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Spinning wheels

Dr. Hubert Minnis, then leader of the opposition, during a September 2015 visit with members of the steering committee of the National Development Plan (NDP). From left are Peter Mitchell, a manager at the then College of The Bahamas (COB); Samantha Rolle, NDP Secretariat program manager; attorney Carl Bethel (currently attorney general); Davinia Grant, who was an administrator at COB; Dr. Rodney Smith, president of COB (now University of The Bahamas) and NDP committee deputy chair; Minnis (now prime minister); Nicola Virgill-Rolle, who was a director of the NDP Secretariat; Michael Pintard, who served as chairman of the FNM; and Brett Lashley, NDP Secretariat program manager.

Over the course of years, we have opined in this space that the most significant threat to national development is political polarization, and the failure of leaders from all political persuasions to buy into a shared vision of where The Bahamas should be in the next two to three decades and beyond.

The last time the Bahamian electorate re-elected a party was in 1997 when Hubert Ingraham and the Free National Movement (FNM) were given a second term in office.

Since then, voters have been tossing the ball back and forth between the FNM and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).

In 2002, the FNM was voted out and the PLP, under Perry Christie, voted in.

In 2007, Ingraham and the FNM were re-elected. In 2012, Christie and the PLP were given a second chance. In 2017, the FNM under Dr. Hubert Minnis was elected.

And so, here we are.

We do not expect to see again any one party in office for 25 years as we experienced under Lynden Pindling’s PLP.

We do not suggest that is unfortunate. Fresh energy in governance could produce more for the people.

The question we invite you to consider, however, is whether our change of direction every five years has slowed progress.

Each time a new administration is elected, it comes with its vision for where it intends to take The Bahamas in its five years in the seat of power; in the case of the FNM, this vision is outlined in its manifesto and in the case of the PLP, its plan.

This is the nature of politics and of our democracy. Voters get to choose which set of pledges and which vision for The Bahamas they want to see implemented.

When they are fed up with the direction an administration is taking them in, they vote them out of office.

Bahamians are generally deeply involved in the political process.

In 2017, 88 percent of the 181,000 registered voters cast ballots. In 2012, 90 percent of the 172,000 registered voters voted. In 2007, 92 percent of the 150,684 registered voters participated in the election process.

While leaders may delude themselves into thinking otherwise, voters tend to use their votes against the incumbent party, more so than for the opposition party seeking re-election. That is their democratic right. They are not to blame for exercising it.

What we have seen, especially when an administration is slow in getting out the gate, is that before it is able to dig its heels in and do much of what it has committed to doing, it’s time to start looking ahead at another election season.

Sometimes an agenda is derailed by unforeseen challenges like hurricanes and a global economic downturn; other times, we see evidence that an administration never really had any plan on how to implement the policies articulated and pledges made during the campaign.

It is easy to be in opposition, criticizing the government and promising solutions. It is another thing altogether to deliver in office.

We have so many examples of how politicians who are governing our affairs change their tune or amend the language they used while in opposition. 

It is certainly the prerogative of an administration to govern based on its platform presented ahead of an election and to reorder its priorities according to circumstances that arise along the way.

What harms progress, though, is when administrations for purely political and petty reasons abandon initiatives or disregard solutions crafted under their predecessors in office.

 

Plan

One of the initiatives undertaken by the Christie administration that produced a commendable body of work was the National Development Plan — Vision 2040.

There is great value in the research, findings and recommendations of the steering committee that produced the plan as well as the State of the Nation report.

For more than a year, that multi-sectoral committee, headed by Felix Stubbs, a highly-regarded member of the private sector with the ability to work professionally with any administration in office, engaged in a comprehensive study on our state of affairs and engaged Bahamians in drafting solutions to our biggest problems.

The committee’s deputy chair was Dr. Rodney Smith, president of the then College of The Bahamas (COB) — which is today the University of The Bahamas.

In addition to business and financial services leaders, trade union leaders, civil society representatives and others, there was representation from the Central Bank and from the major political parties.

An invitation to join the steering committee was extended to Dr. Hubert Minnis, then leader of the official opposition; Branville McCartney, then leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) and the late Bradley Roberts, who was at the time chairman of the PLP.

McCartney never participated personally, but there was a DNA representative. At a meeting hosted by the COB president in September 2015, Minnis, along with the FNM’s Carl Bethel and Michael Pintard (who are today in the Cabinet) met with the committee and were updated on the progress of the secretariat’s work.

The FNM reportedly congratulated the secretariat on its work and reiterated that the National Development Plan should be non-political and as inclusive as possible.

According to a press release prepared by the secretariat after that 2015 meeting, Minnis congratulated the secretariat on its work and requested regular briefings on the progress of the plan.

Stubbs told National Review on Monday he is “disappointed” the committee’s work has been “abandoned”.

“It was the work of a wide cross-section of persons of all backgrounds — religion, age, gender, politics — and we had wide support,” he said.

“The work of the report was fashioned on interviews with hundreds of Bahamians at all levels because the team went to pretty much every major island in The Bahamas and did interviews with groups as well as one-on-one interviews and that work was compiled by very intelligent persons.”

He told us, “It was a lot of effort to put that work together. It took quite a bit of money as well, so we not only wasted the public’s funds but we disregarded the work of some very intelligent people.”

There are several good reasons why we should be using the plan, Stubbs added.

“My first point is that one of the difficulties we have in The Bahamas is that we’re so divided by politics that we never ever have our best minds working on any problem, and so we go from pillar to post whenever administrations change.

“If we could have a long-term development plan, it would help to take the political patronage out of the system and that in itself would do wonders for our country. When you look at our competitors, every one of them who happen to be doing very well are doing so because they have a real solid plan…we seem to be the only ones who don’t.”

Roadmap 

In presenting “The State of the Nation” report in April 2016, Stubbs noted: “This plan, when completed will prepare a roadmap for the future of our nation; the future we leave for our children and their children. 

“Based on the work that we have done thus far and if we see this work through, and if we are resolute in our commitment to ensure the continued non-partisan approach, I am confident to say that the future of The Bahamas will be a bright one.”

He noted that the report took a hard and honest look at our country, the challenges we have had and continue to face, as well as our strengths.

That report found that there were “positive innovations and really great work being undertaken in a number of sectors, both within the government and outside”.

“What has been missing and urgently needed, however, is a coordinated national response to those issues, a national vision of the future and a complete, comprehensive and harmonized plan to get us there,” Stubbs said.

We do not have the space to highlight all the various aspects of the comprehensive plan (available at www.vision2040Bahamas.org). 

Among its observations, that reported noted that there is a need for the issue of climate change and environmental degradation to reach the average Bahamian.

Noting that Hurricane Sandy had a total economic cost of $702.8 million, approximately nine percent of GDP, and that Joaquin was estimated to cost $100 million, the report stated: “We have to be prepared as a nation for these changes.”

The National Development Plan — which is nearly 500 pages — called for the integration of disaster risk reduction into sustainable development policies.

It noted that The Bahamas is highly vulnerable to impacts of climate change given its geographical vulnerabilities.

“Disaster loss is on the rise with grave consequences for the survival, dignity and livelihood of individuals particularly the poor and hard won development gains,” the report stated.

It highlighted “poor communication and coordination between various tiers of government”.

It called for the review and strengthening of the emergency operations plan and the strengthening of other pre-disaster responses.

Our recent experience with Hurricane Dorian highlighted the critical need for better communication among agencies and, again, the need for strengthening emergency operations.

The government has responded by creating a minister for disaster preparedness and response, adding more bureaucracy to the process.

The National Development Plan outlined goals and recommendations for areas of our national life.

It provides a guide for the strengthening of internal government decision-making processes to deliver results for the people of The Bahamas and the creation of a skilled, responsive and accountable public service that provides value to Bahamians, investors and visitors.

In addition it calls for an increase in the transparency of government decisions and transparency in campaign financing to improve confidence in public institutions and political actors respectively; increased accountability for government spending and the implementation of a one window service-to-citizen strategy under the auspices of a new agency: Service Bahamas.

Other areas are also addressed with well-thought-out recommendations for healthcare, education, economic development, the justice system and other areas.

There is no reason for any administration to start from scratch in examining our problems and crafting solutions — especially since the plan had buy-in from all of the major political parties, civil society, the religious community, the business community and other national stakeholders, and is timeless in its approach.

Minnis, the current prime minister, was quoted as saying in 2015, “The National Development Plan must be non-political and inclusive, as such it is owned by the Bahamian people.”

If the Minnis administration or any future administration is mature enough, it would see wisdom in and find value in the plan and use it as a basis for addressing many of the problems that slow our national progress.

We urge the government to resurrect the plan. After all, it is not a PLP plan, but one that is owned by all of us.

Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of the Nassau Guardian.

Latest posts by Candia Dames (see all)

FOLLOW US ON:
Comets hold off SAC
Heavy-duty vehicles