Sentiments by scores of Bahamians viewing the prime minister’s live new year’s address across multiple platforms, paint the picture of a nation with no clear sense of direction at the political level, and of pandemic-weary men and women who have cast off expectation that the nation’s leader is willing or able to provide such direction.
Their commentary was not without merit, given that Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, who is also the competent authority and minister of finance during our most trying of economic times, opted to forgo the laying out of a comprehensive roadmap for national recovery to deliver new year’s platitudes, and a detached retelling of a COVID-19 story to which no Bahamian needs an introduction.
After close to four years in office, the prime minister regrettably has not embraced the imperative that his national addresses ought to inspire confidence and hope through the detailing of how he and his administration will facilitate and manage restoration and growth.
Disappointingly, the Bahamian people were urged to tune in to what was their nation’s leader in effect advising of sought-after plans for recovery, “I’ll tell you later.”
From the outset of the pandemic, a troubling political objectification of COVID-19 ensued, where statistics and necessary public health and social support were often spun into vials of campaign fodder.
This week’s new year’s address continued in that vein, with the prime minister relaying what has become an overly-repetitive listing of expenditures for social and financial assistance since the start of his emergency rule.
The reality is that the government’s use of taxpayer dollars for business and social support, was the natural consequence of emergency orders that shuttered commerce and put workers on the unemployment line.
Instead of fishing the lake of political accolades regarding financial assistance that governments worldwide have had to provide due to COVID-19 and state responses thereto, the prime minister ought to have outlined initiatives in progress to transition from what has been 10 months of public treasury life support.
Capital works provide avenues to stimulate the economy, but Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister recently announced that capital works intended as an economic stimulus program this fiscal year will be placed on hold until the new budget cycle, due to spending cuts.
Minnis highlighted current capital works, including the construction of the United States Embassy and Government House renovations, as well as future works for New Providence, which left Family Island viewers questioning when much needed capital works and the economic stimulus they can provide, would materialize for them.
Grand Bahama, the country’s second largest population center and its major industrial hub, continues to endure heightened public safety risk and diminished investment attractiveness without full use of its sole hospital that was gutted in September 2019 during Hurricane Dorian.
Though the administration continues to tout a $21 million allocation for what it dubs the hospital’s phased redevelopment, repairs are more than 10 months behind schedule, with a competition date yet to be given to long-suffering public healthcare workers and patients.
COVID-19 restrictions have had a devastating effect on the domestic economy, yet the prime minister made it clear that his first line of response to the pandemic will continue to be those restrictions, even in the face of calls for increased testing and well-resourced contact tracing mechanisms, which can facilitate a departure from lockdowns and curfews as an avenue of first resort.
Since the prime minister is clearly in campaign mode, it is reasonable to deduce that if he and his administration had a clear plan for recovery and growth at this critical juncture, evidence of the same would have been revealed during a new year’s address whose tone signaled a ramping up of electioneering.
The uncertainty, angst and fear fomented in the society due to the administration’s apparent inability to articulate a path to progress that most Bahamians can buy into, has not augured well for the kind of collective effort required to build and to rebuild out of periods of tragedy.
To be adrift is to float without being moored or steered.
The nation is long overdue for leadership and a roadmap that both anchor and steer.