The imminent election of a new leader of the opposition Free National Movement (FNM) bears importance beyond that of a need to rebuild following September’s defeat, and to regroup on the heels of a disappointing performance in government that contributed to marked decreases in voter support over the previous general election.
A transition from the party leadership of current opposition leader Dr. Hubert Minnis, will hopefully lead to what the democracy and the Bahamian people require, regardless of one’s political affiliation – a strong opposition.
Thus far, the opposition’s performance in Parliament has been relatively muted owing to a leadership race involving three of its caucus’ seven members, and apparent divided loyalties that are not necessarily conducive to cohesiveness in the legislature.
The role of the opposition is to hold government accountable, put questions to government regarding its stewardship and policymaking, and to function as the alternative government through the presentation of its ideas and initiatives.
Once a new party leader emerges on Saturday, members of the FNM caucus must submit internal party loyalties and individual ambitions to their sworn duty as members of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
Given the government’s super-majority, which can serve as enticement for executive overreach, and lack of accountability and transparency, regardless of the party in power, the imperative of a focused opposition for the country cannot be overstated.
Debate on government’s 2021/2022 supplemental budget begins Monday, and an engaged and well-prepared opposition would be ready to provide Parliament and the country with informed viewpoints on budget measures it may deem insufficiently suited to spur requisite economic growth.
Criticizing the Davis administration’s proposed value-added tax (VAT) rate reduction to 10 percent and concomitant removal of zero ratings on goods such as bread basket items and medications, opposition members have been quick to remind the public that it was the Minnis administration which introduced these zero ratings to “help the poor”.
The opposition must also remember that its 60 percent VAT rate increase from 7.5 percent to 12 percent spurred record across-the-board increases in the consumer price index for goods and services, with the highest price index increases recorded in the cost of food and beverages.
Inefficiencies in VAT collection following the introduction of these zero ratings last term, also contributed to pre-Dorian VAT intakes that fell well below the Minnis administration’s projections.
While it is unreasonable to expect debates in Parliament to be void of politics and the desire to defend one’s record in office, the Bahamian people will be best served by the opposition taking a considered approach to next week’s debate, providing its recommendations on how the country’s fiscal affairs can be best managed.
Marco City MP Michael Pintard appears to be the frontrunner in Saturday’s leadership race, having secured key endorsements in a campaign that has generally garnered good reception from the public.
The opposition party’s three contenders – Pintard, East Grand Bahama MP Kwasi Thompson and Central Grand Bahama MP Iram Lewis – all vow to work to unite the organization, should they be elected leader days from now.
Following Pintard’s nomination at party headquarters last week, FNM Chairman Carl Culmer called on the contenders and their surrogates to conduct a healthy and clean race, noting, “Sir Cecil Wallace [Whitfield], Kendal Isaacs, past Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and past president of the Torchbearers and former leader Tommy Turnquest taught us how to conduct elections without killing each other.”
It was noteworthy that Culmer did not include Minnis in his commentary, but what is certain is that the Bahamian people will not get the quality of opposition a strong democracy demands if the FNM does not put genuine efforts forward to bring about an appreciable degree of party unity after this weekend’s leadership race.
With much at stake as The Bahamas continues to weather economic headwinds together with an ever-present need for openness and fair-dealing in government, the opposition must stand ready to keep appropriate pressure on government to keep its promises to the Bahamian people.
A divided opposition has little hope of being the strong opposition the country needs.