In the 26 months since it suffered an embarrassing and devastating defeat, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) under Philip Brave Davis has sought to make the case that it can be trusted to handle our affairs once again.
Despite the many concerns about the generally lethargic performance of the current administration and the many questions we still have about various decisions taken, we are way off from viewing the PLP as believable in its contention that the Bahamian people can trust that party to govern in the next term.
It was quite frankly astounding to hear the shameless statements that emanated from the party’s recent convention.
PLP Deputy Leader Chester Cooper declared that the PLP is now in a fight for the “very soul of this nation”.
“It is a fight that we wage day by day to determine if The Bahamas will continue to wander aimlessly under the visionless, greedy, conflicted, self-dealing, inept, tainted behavior of the Free National Movement (FNM), or if The Bahamas will leap forward into a new age under the stewardship of the PLP,” Cooper said.
He said the PLP was fighting “so that the special interests don’t hog up everything and leave the rest of the nation nothing but bones for food”.
While Cooper is new to the frontline, it is difficult to hear this kind of talk and not be transported back to an era not so long ago in our national life when self-dealing was the order of the day and those who should have stopped such activity either turned a blind eye or were themselves caught up in this unacceptable behavior.
We are sometimes tempted to hand Cooper a pass given that he was not a member of the former administration, but he continues to tout the party’s record in office as something to be praised.
In office, former Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald became the poster child of greed. At the end of the term, The Tribune revealed in shocking and damning details how Fitzgerald begged the then Baha Mar developer Sarkis Izmirlian for substantial contracts for his family’s business.
Davis was at the time deputy prime minister. We won’t waste time going into all the details, but we remember clearly approaching Davis to see if he would condemn such behavior.
He supported Fitzgerald, declaring, “He’s our candidate for Marathon and we expect him to win.”
Other candidates like Chester Cooper stood on the same stage with Fitzgerald and others who brought shame and scandal to the PLP and to The Bahamas. None of them condemned his behavior, of course, or any other egregious behavior of colleagues.
It is why they will likely have a hard time convincing the Bahamian people that they have — to use Cooper’s words — “a heart for the people, a head for good governance and a passion for servant leadership”.
Good governance was not the hallmark of the PLP when Perry Christie and Philip Brave Davis were at the helm.
In its last term, the PLP lost its way. It squandered our tax dollars, failed to be accountable and did not fulfill key campaign promises.
Many of them were simply unrealistic, overblown in a successful effort to swing voters angry with the Ingraham administration over its decision to sell a majority stake in the national telecoms company and the botched management of the New Providence Road Improvement Project.
Ahead of the 2012 election, Davis promised that a PLP administration would appoint a commission of inquiry within its first 100 days “to investigate the scandalous episodes of misconduct by the [Ingraham] administration”.
He promised a fact-finding body to examine and reveal the role of special interests involved in the grant of a 40-year monopoly at the Arawak Cay Port.
That commission, Davis pledged, would also be mandated to examine matters pertaining to the sale of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC).
He promised that the commission would examine the “massive levels” of cost overruns for the controversial road improvement project.
The PLP also promised ahead of the last election to implement National Health Insurance (NHI) “within the first year”, but left office in 2017 without any plan to fund such a scheme and only a skeleton plan in place.
It now cautions voters against listening to politicians (FNM politicians, that is) who would say just about anything to get elected.
It is hard to believe the pledges of the so-called reformed PLP because its key players are unable to distance themselves from the many egregious actions of the former administration.
While a major factor in the PLP’s 2017 election defeat was Perry Christie’s refusal to step aside, his exit from the political stage did not result in the sanitizing of the PLP’s brand.
In a far from inspirational address at the party’s convention on Friday night, Davis attempted to diplomatically distance himself from Christie. While we understand that strategy, it is near impossible to disassociate himself from the misdeeds of the PLP in its last term.
“Perry Christie is a good man and I’m proud to call him my friend,” Davis said.
“I know he cared and continues to care about this country. I’m proud of the work done in that Cabinet too… We shared a lot of goals but didn’t always agree on how to get there or how hard to push for change or how big these changes should be. He did things his way, but anyone who knows me knows I’m my own man and always have been. I have my own vision. I have my own story.”
In his address, Davis, as expected, took aim at the Minnis administration over various failings and controversies that have left lingering questions and further dampened the FNM’s midterm blues.
The matter involving the government renting space in the Town Centre Mall — owned in part by (now former) Cabinet minister Brent Symonette — is among the issues being targeted by the PLP.
Davis said, “The government lied in the House of Assembly about a multimillion-dollar lease given to a member of Cabinet.”
He said, “A prime minister with a conscience would resign. A prime minister who cared about trust and good governance would resign. A man of honor would resign.”
The PLP leader said the opposition will bring a no-confidence motion in the House of Assembly “at the earliest opportunity”.
The point of that move, he indicated, is to force FNM MPs to declare “whether they are on the side of the lies or on the side of the Bahamian people”.
This would be nothing more than a monumental waste of time.
The House of Assembly has been adjourned to October 2. In any event, FNM MPs who were opposed to the government leasing from Symonette have already voted against the resolution to do so.
The plan for a no-confidence vote does not appear to be well thought out.
Coming from Davis, it is also laughable.
While deputy prime minister, he misled the House on whether a burnt dorm at the government agriculture facility BAMSI was insured.
He failed to be accountable after Renward Wells, at the time parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Public Works, signed a controversial letter of intent for a $600 million waste-to-energy facility at the New Providence Landfill.
He was minister of works during a period of shockingly wasteful spending — much of which was only revealed after the PLP was voted out of office.
The Christie administration, as an example, entered into $30 million worth of contracts to develop Star Academy, an incomplete facility on Seventh Day Adventist property on Wulff Road, for which the government had no lease.
Davis and the PLP have a right to be concerned about conflicts of interest, but it is hard for us to see past their shameless hypocrisy.
In government, they saw no issue with former Attorney General Allyson Maynard Gibson being the key negotiator during the Baha Mar debacle while her family held leases for stores at the property. Fizgerald, too, was a negotiator.
We could use a great deal of newsprint going on about the PLP’s hypocrisy and why its leaders will have an uphill battle regaining the trust of the electorate, but the point is made.
Against this backdrop, the PLP has started to present its proposals ahead of the next election.
In his convention speech, Cooper announced that Davis has put him in charge of the party’s platform committee.
Given that he was not in the Christie Cabinet, he is perhaps the PLP’s best hope in its efforts to sell its message of reform, but even Cooper faces challenges.
Cooper has pointed to BAMSI, NHI, major tax reform (aka VAT), the National Training Agency and Baha Mar as major achievements of the Christie administration. He has urged Bahamians to “take a leap forward” with the PLP.
He is pushing for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal use; expunging records of those convicted for possessing joints; equal pay for women and greater ownership of natural resources, and he pledged a national youth service and an investment of $250 million over five years to broaden access for Bahamian small-to-medium sized businesses.
Additionally, the PLP “wants to invest in renewable energy and break away from fossil fuel consumption”, Cooper said, pledging to set a policy of achievable goals in this regard.
Cooper also said, “We have to take a look at reforming the way our campaign finance system works in the country.”
The pledge to do so was made by the PLP when it was last in opposition.
The current prime minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis, also pledged a campaign finance law and electoral reforms, which do not now appear to be on the radar.
Much of what voters decide to do the next time around will again depend on how they feel about the administration of the day.
If they are so angered by the missteps, if they lose trust in their current leaders, they would likely view the alternative as more palatable.
We do not believe that the PLP has moved much on the trust barometer, however. The next year or so will be critical for the party under Davis’ leadership.
Cooper has some good ideas and will no doubt continue to develop them, but whether the electorate would trust the PLP to do what it promises is another matter entirely.