When the Davis administration announced last week the appointment of former Free National Movement (FNM) parliamentarian, opposition leader, and Cabinet minister Loretta Butler-Turner to serve as consultant to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), it came as a surprise to many.
Having lost her bid for re-election in 2017, Butler-Turner announced that she was stepping away from frontline politics indefinitely, a declaration that was met with disappointment on the part of her supporters who still believe she can be the country’s first female prime minister.
But Butler-Turner’s new appointment sends a core message to Bahamians that while political service is integral in our democracy, one does not have to occupy the halls of Parliament to make a tangible difference in one’s country.
Her appointment by Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis also highlights, while not a new undertaking in Bahamian politics, the value to nation building that is imparted by governing under the philosophy of inclusion despite one’s political affiliation.
The SBDC’s Access Accelerator program states as its mission, “We will support the evolution of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in The Bahamas, maximize the creation of economic impact through strategic partnerships, and – by equipping and empowering MSMEs – increase the ability of our sector to provide employment, create wealth and drive development of a robust and resilient economy.”
Small businesses are the drivers of the country’s economy still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The local economy, like the global economy, must be positioned to brace for uncertainties brought about by new COVID variants and the responses thereto on the part of governments and international markets.
Over successive administrations, budgetary allocations for small businesses have been announced with much fanfare, but stubborn challenges for the small business sector persist, significantly exacerbated by the pandemic.
A successful businesswoman in her own right, who has also been engaged in mentoring and developing small business owners, Butler-Turner brings valuable experience to the post according to Davis, who in an interview with Perspective Sunday afternoon, explained what led to his new appointment to the SBDC.
Davis said, “A part of advancing one’s agenda has to have an element of an inspirational thrust. Loretta has captured the imagination of the Bahamian people and even though, unfortunately, she has decided to stay out of frontline politics, I have recognized that she has personally been involved in small business development, and she has a passion for the small business community.
“One of our thrusts going forward is to ensure small businesses in The Bahamas have someone they can turn to who would have had experience in the challenges of starting a business, failing in a business, and being successful in a business, with all the attendant issues like raising capital and marketing.
“I, therefore, invited [Butler-Turner] to be my consultant on small businesses, and I am happy that she consented despite her political views. I think there is some commonality in all that we do in lifting our country and nation.”
During the announcement of her appointment last week, Butler-Turner foreshadowed a greater focus on access to capital for small businesses, adding, “You know the banking system is a very difficult one to maneuver, and so I am excited that we are going to be able to not just give grants and give loans, but we are going to be able to mentor these people to make sure that they become successful.”
Of particular relevance given the impact of the pandemic on female employment worldwide, she disclosed, “One of my mandates is to ensure that women, in particular, are given the ability to build their own businesses.”
A July 2021 policy brief by the International Labor Organization (ILO) found that “there will be 13 million fewer women in employment in 2021 compared to 2019, while men’s employment will have recovered to 2019 levels”.
“Even though the projected jobs growth in 2021 for women exceeds that of men, it will, nonetheless, be insufficient to bring women back to pre-pandemic employment levels.”
The brief further indicated of our region that, “In the Americas, women’s employment declined by 9.4 percent as a result of the pandemic, representing the largest decline across all regions.”
Speaking to Perspective Sunday, Butler-Turner noted, “We realize there are a lot of challenges for Bahamians everywhere, and within two months the prime minister has already determined that he wants to mobilize this [small business] sector to try to help people get back to work.
“I think that reaching out to individuals whether it is a Loretta Butler-Turner or whomever, despite their political allegiance or lack thereof, speaks volumes to the focus being brought to the needs of the Bahamian people and to nation building.”
It is the kind of focus Davis said represents his mantra for governance beyond Butler-Turner’s appointment.
He affirmed, “At the end of the day, I want all Bahamians whether they be black, white FNM, or PLP to be comfortable with whichever government is in place. We need all hands on deck for the challenges we face today, and I am thinking of the best and brightest out there regardless of their colors, meaning red or yellow, black or white.
“In my Cabinet, you can see from females to [those]
traditionally who are thought to be UBP (United Bahamian Party) persons, and that’s the way we want to do it.
“My government is going to truly represent The Bahamas, its demographics with the attitudes and varying perspectives on life. Our strength is in our differences as opposed to allowing it to separate us and divide us. I want our differences to build us.”
No tolerance for
A primary stumbling block to nation building in The Bahamas has been deep societal divisions rooted in politics, together with the lengths some politicians and supporters travel to cement such divisions through the meting out of political victimization.
Fear of political victimization continues to be cited by Bahamians as a reason they opt not to take a role in their democracy beyond voting on election day, with a pledge to bring an end to the same being among the hallmarks of the Ingraham administration in the 1990s.
Davis also pledges to govern under the philosophy of fairness where victimization is not tolerated.
When questioned on this subject by Perspective back in January, Davis, who was then the opposition leader said, “With respect to the public sector, what I care about is that people do their jobs and do them well. Persons who are serving the public well should feel safe in their jobs. The discharge of my duties as deputy prime minister and minister of works are evidence of that; there were no complaints that anyone was treated unfairly.
“In both my private and public life, I see people as Bahamians first. I’ve never denied help or opportunities to anyone because of their political views.”
In recent weeks, allegations of unfair treatment meted out to government workers thought to be FNM supporters have surfaced, with some in the opposition suggesting that victimization of workers is taking place.
When questioned on whether his personal mantra regarding victimization has been communicated as what must be the standard for his administration, Davis told us, “Victimization is and will not be tolerated, and this has been communicated throughout my administration.
“Regarding the cries of victimization, you would have to appreciate the source it came from. For example, there is clear evidence that the Minnis administration sought to thwart any progress that my administration would make by making late appointments to key positions in government, which were only made within the last six months and even during the course of the campaign.
“And so, where there are truly political appointments for the personal agenda of the government, that kind of person cannot say they are being victimized because they know what they are entering into.”
Davis spoke to Section 96 of the Parliamentary Elections Act, which based on his interpretation, serves as a backdrop to considerations regarding pre-election hires.
Section 96 covers the offense of bribery at elections, wherein paragraph (b) designates the offense as: “every person who shall directly or indirectly by himself or any other person on his behalf give or procure, or agree to give or procure, or offer, promise or promise to procure, or to endeavor to procure, any office, place or employment to or for any voter, or to or for any person on behalf of any voter, or to or for any other person in order to induce such voter to vote, or refrain from voting or shall do any such act as aforesaid on account of such voter having voted or refrained from voting at any election.”
Section 96(3) states: “Paragraphs (a) to (d) inclusive and paragraphs (f) to (h) inclusive of subsection (1), and subsection (2), shall apply only to all or any such acts done or performed as aforesaid from the date of the issue of the writ of election under Part V, or during or within six months after any election.”
Davis continued, “For persons who fall into that category, I know there is a review of those persons and I can tell you, that on the day we were in office, people were still being called in to report to work on the 18th and the 20th of September.
“So those are some of the things we are looking at, but there is no intent to victimize anyone.”