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Is it still the people’s time?

“It means stronger and safer communities, where power is shared by people in every part of the country and where we respond to people’s concerns. It means a Bahamas where everyone plays by the same rules, including those at the very top of our society.”

Introduction to the FNM 2017 Manifesto by
Dr. Hubert A. Minnis, leader of the FNM

Last Sunday, May 10, was Mother’s Day. That date also marked the third anniversary of the Free National Movement’s (FNM) trouncing of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) at the polls three years earlier on May 10, 2017.

While no one expected the governing party to host a public event, given the existing social distancing guidelines, it is interesting that the third anniversary was hardly acknowledged by the FNM.

The party came to office behind the banner of the brilliant banter that, “It’s the people’s time!”

Admittedly the phrase was catchy, suggesting that the outgoing PLP administration was not concerned about “the people” but was only looking to feather their own and their ardent political colleagues’ nests. There were repeated claims of PLP corruption in office, although the official opposition FNM presented no details or proof.

The FNM handily won the election of May 10, 2017, winning 35 of the 39 seats in the House of Assembly.

Therefore, on the passing of the FNM’s third anniversary as the government, we would like to consider this — is it still the people’s time?

Passing the torch

The FNM’s victory on May 10, 2017, led by its leader, Dr. Hubert A. Minnis, truly represented the passing of the political torch. Dr. Minnis was the first Bahamian prime minister to assume office who had no direct connection to the five-decade Pindling political epoch.

Sir Lynden had personally and significantly contributed to the political careers and fortunes of his two prime ministerial successors. Both Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie were part of the PLP and were appointed to the Cabinet by Sir Lynden at various stages of their political lives. The number of years that these three powerful personalities presided over the political panorama totals 50, from 1967 to 2017.

Minnis had no such connection. He was, therefore, uniquely positioned to chart a new direction for our political culture, to transition that culture away from one of deeply divided political partisanship, steeped in a level of tribalism that is unhelpful and unhealthy for the democratic process. Unfortunately, he missed a golden opportunity to propel our political culture to new heights and in a very different direction.

Rush to misjudgments

Before the ink was dry on the election ballots of May 10, 2017, one of the new administration’s actions was to launch specious speculations and unsubstantiated allegations against several former PLP parliamentarians, charging them with corruption in office.

A former MP was also arrested in relation to a theft probe at a government corporation, but was vindicated after police admitted there was no evidence of any wrongdoing.

Of the three former parliamentarians charged in court, two were acquitted, one with the condemnation by the court of questionable political interference in the judicial process.

The third case has not yet been heard.

In relation to the two that have already been heard, it is clear that the government misjudged not only the veracity of the charges that they brought against them, but also the people’s overwhelming disinterest in the government pursuing these matters at enormous time, cost and distraction from the purpose for which they were given such a massive mandate three years ago.

In summary, one of the new government’s first acts in office was to launch political prosecutions, which had nothing to do with the people who had just elected them.

Hurricanes and the people’s time

Over the past three years, two major hurricanes devastated Ragged Island, Abaco and Grand Bahama.

Ragged Island had a population of nearly 100 before Hurricane Irma.

Following the passage of the hurricane, the government promised to rapidly rebuild and restore that island, but, to date, little has been accomplished to enable displaced Ragged Island residents to return to their homes. The residents of Ragged Island have been left to wonder whether the slogan that “it’s the people’s time” applies to them.

Last year, Hurricane Dorian devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama. Many lives were lost, and there was extensive property destruction. Although there were reports of hundreds and possibly thousands of deaths from Dorian, the official death count has never exceeded 100.

The rebuilding and restoration process on Abaco has been painfully slow. Abaconians lament that, as we begin another hurricane season in less than two weeks, electrical power has still not been restored to some of that island’s residents. The removal of the hurricane debris is still a problem, and there are many on both of those islands who wonder whether the slogan “it’s the people’s time” applies to them.

The people and COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has provided yet another opportunity to see whether it’s still the people’s time.

The Bahamas was fortunate to have Dr. Duane Sands at the helm of the Ministry of Health during this pandemic.

It is singularly unfortunate that he had to resign his ministry because, in his own words, he “exceeded his authority” regarding the permission that was given to a family, who were bringing hard-to-find swabs for COVID-19 tests with them to donate to the government, to land in The Bahamas despite the shutdown of our ports of entry.

This matter, however, vividly demonstrates how Bahamians feel about whether it is still the people’s time.

Bahamians’ ire at the government’s duplicitous standards toward Bahamians and non-Bahamians was exacerbated by the fact that there are hundreds of Bahamians who have been barred from returning home during this crisis because our borders are locked down. Yet, six non-Bahamians were granted the privilege, not only to land here on a private flight, but to quarantine at their home.

After this crisis has passed, there must be a full investigation of just who these privileged people are, to whom they are connected, whether any compensation was paid for their permission to land and why they were extended privileges that were not even considered for Bahamians.

Meanwhile, the Bahamians who were recently allowed to return home, after the non-Bahamian residents’ episode, were quarantined at a government facility, although they proved that they were COVID-19-negative before boarding the flight back to The Bahamas.

Bahamians are also incensed that some of the privileged few are allowed to subvert our laws while many of those who are brought before the courts for breaking quarantine are the indigent who cannot afford legal counsel to represent them.

It is highly doubtful that they would agree that “it’s the people’s time”.

Power and privilege

Bahamians are also asking questions regarding the privileges that have been extended to a “special” family that has received an excessive number of board and committee appointments.

This has drawn the indignation of Bahamians who believe that many in our society can make positive contributions to national development, but have been excluded because the government has now, by its actions, clearly demonstrated which people’s time it is.

The economy

We presently live under the greatest existential threat the world has seen, unlike any other experienced in more than a century.

Our economy is in an intractable nosedive, with little indication about when and how it will recover. Life, as we knew it four short months ago, has radically changed by what appears to be a script that could only be concocted in the mind of a Hollywood producer. If ever there was a time for a government to remember the people, surely it is now.

The pandemic is affecting everyone on a personal basis; everyone is experiencing stresses of many kinds, stresses that a caring government could, and should, alleviate or, at the very least, assuage.

If ever there was a “people’s time” to be helped, comforted and generally made to feel that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that is not an oncoming train, it is right now. But we have yet to hear about the government’s master plan to extricate us from our present quagmire, to get us back on firmer ground and show us whose time it really is.

Conclusion

As indicated earlier, the Minnis-led administration missed a golden opportunity to truly change the national narrative regarding the direction that this country could have taken.

If it was really the people’s time, more of the people should have been recruited from all walks of life, ideologies and political stripes.

Most of our pressing challenges are national in scope, needing national participation from diverse and disparate backgrounds and orientations to find truly national solutions. Until and unless we involve a greater number of Bahamians, it will be difficult to convince the populace that “it’s the people’s time”.

It is clear from the past three years of the current administration, “it’s the people’s time” was principally skilful election sloganeering that has proven to apply to the limited few who offer obeisance to the political directorate to enrich themselves personally.

Three years later, it is getting clearer and clearer that most Bahamians are not feeling that the Minnis government is making good on their pledge that “it’s the people’s time”.

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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