The election of the Free National Movement (FNM) in 2017 meant the work of the non-partisan, multi-sectoral National Development Plan (NDP) Steering Committee was halted, undoubtedly because that group was established under a previous administration and allowing it to continue might have been seen as an admission that the Christie-led government had been getting something right.
And so, the committee’s working draft — developed after many months of travel, consultations, research and deep considerations —was shelved, notwithstanding the fact that Dr. Hubert Minnis had been engaged in consultations with the group in 2015, had pledged support for the effort and appealed for politics to be kept out of the important initiative.
“The National Development Plan (NDP) must be non-political and inclusive; as such, it is owned by The Bahamian people,” said Minnis, while leader of the official opposition.
Minnis was joined by then-FNM Chairman Michael Pintard and Senator Carl Bethel to receive a detailed briefing on the methodology and progress with the NDP.
That marked the second meeting the opposition had with the steering committee.
But after the government changed, the effort of all involved amounted to an academic exercise with no further progress on the finalization of an NDP that Bahamians could buy into and use as a roadmap for where we want to be and how we intend to get there as a nation.
With the latest change in government, the effort is being resurrected.
Ahead of the September 16 general election, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) pledged to continue the work on the plan and to implement it.
“While we face urgent crises that need to be confronted now, we also need to plan ahead,” said Philip Brave Davis, PLP leader, in the party’s “Blueprint for Change”.
His deputy, Chester Cooper, added, “Our long-term vision has as its foundation the National Development Plan, a plan that was years in the making and included consultation with a broad range of Bahamians from across the country.
“This is a roadmap to a prosperous and progressive future, one in which all of our children have the best opportunities the 21st Century can offer.”
Former investments minister, Khaalis Rolle, who pushed for the development of the plan and was instrumental in efforts to come up with the draft, said in an interview with National Review he is elated, because “failing to plan is planning to fail”.
“We have been going in circles and getting negative results continuously,” said Rolle, who is also a former Chamber of Commerce president who has seen the progress some nations with an NDP were able to make.
“The biggest failure of governance is not to have a comprehensive, integrated plan for managing a country and we went through a very long, deliberate process of designing the approach for the plan, doing the research for the plan, as well as engaging all stakeholders in the country, stakeholders ranging from political, social, civic, business; every dimension you could think about, we engaged them.
“There wasn’t any stone that was left unturned. It was a non-political, bipartisan effort by all.”
Rolle said the steering committee took a mature approach to how it went about its work, engaging key individuals from the then-opposition to work directly with the committee.
The hope was that we as a nation would discontinue spinning wheels — studying the same problems over and over, shelving the work of various committees, then starting over without any real implementation and without making any meaningful progress.
It is really the definition of insanity.
“I was shocked when they established the Economic Recovery Committee (under the previous administration) to do the same research that the National Development Plan did and came back with many of the same recommendations that the National Development Plan [made],” Rolle said.
Ahead of every election, going back for over 20 years, the major political parties have released their manifestos and plans for how they intend to govern and the specific policies they would adopt.
But an NDP would go well beyond that.
The steering committee previously explained: “The National Development Plan (NDP) will provide a long-term roadmap for the development of The Bahamas with short, medium and long-term goals and strategies for achieving a more vibrant and resilient Bahamas. The NDP process includes three phases: a situational analysis, public consultations and the drafting of the action plan.”
We previously opined in this space that 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.
“It just seems as if the last government made a conscious decision that they just wanted to start anew with everything, which was a big mistake, and we saw that in the results we were getting,” Rolle said.
“We did face COVID, we did face Dorian, but if you had an organized plan, many of these issues that we face, we would have been able to handle them a lot better.”
We do not have the space to highlight all the various aspects of the comprehensive draft plan (available at www.vision2040Bahamas.org).
Among its observations, that report 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 nearly 500-page-long draft NDP issued for public consultation 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.
It called for the review and strengthening of the emergency operations plan and the strengthening of other pre-disaster responses.
Our experience with Hurricane Dorian in 2019 highlighted the critical need for better communication among agencies and, again, the need for strengthening emergency operations.
The draft NDP outlines 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, etc.
Felix Stubbs, who was chairman of the NDP Steering Committee, is also pleased that the committee’s work will continue.
“When you look at how The Bahamas has progressed, we always make one step forward, two steps back, when we change administrations and there are no coordinated efforts as to how to move our country forward, and there’s no common vision,” Stubbs told National Review, adding that members of the steering committee that drafted the report have indicated their availability in continuing the important work started.
“And so, what the National Development Plan was intending to do was to help set the framework, so that regardless of a person’s politics, they have a vision of where they want The Bahamas to go.”
He stressed that an NDP goes well beyond politics, and would result in more efficient governance if effectively implemented.
“If you look at how our country functions, we have these different ministries and they operate in silos and the result is oftentimes they are all over each other trying to get things done,” Stubbs said.
“And so, if there is a National Development Plan and all of these efforts are coordinated, not only would that make for a more efficient government, it would save us money, and in the long run, we would make steps forward and not worry about making steps backwards because it will be a coordinated and well-planned effort.”
We look forward to work resuming toward the completion of a final plan with broad support from our citizenry. We urge the new government to demonstrate the will to implement the plan, and we hope future administrations would have the maturity to stick to the roadmap, so when we make two steps forward as a nation, there is no going back.