National Review

Disdain, disrespect & disregard

Political climate appears ripe for another change in govt

As the Minnis administration gets further into its term in office, political arrogance is growing and there are increasing signs that Bahamians are being treated with disdain, disrespect and disregard.

Oftentimes, while in opposition, politicians use the trite declarations, “I will work for you. I will be a servant of the people. You will be my boss.”

Once in power, many forget their obligation as our “employees” and instead behave as our rulers, ignoring demands for transparency and accountability and insulting us with game playing, obfuscation and a stubborn refusal to explain the actions taken on our behalf.

This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why no political party since the Free National Movement (FNM) in 1997 has won re-election in The Bahamas.

There are for sure other reasons, but the disease of political power and the accompanying sense that the duty or commitment to the electorate is an option and not a responsibility, play a significant role in the erosion of trust and the fuelling of disenchantment.

This leads to a strong desire among voters to punish the incumbent party on the one day they have power and a voice that cannot be suppressed — that is, Election Day.

The satisfaction achieved in banishing the all-powerful political leaders to the political wilderness, and in some instances, into the ash heap of history is often short-lived, however.

The cycle repeats itself, and before long, many voters — misled by false promises and duped into having unreasonable expectations — start counting the months and days until they are able to vote out offending incumbents.

While the act of voting is a crucial right in any democracy, democracy works best when those with political power are transparent in their actions, instead of recoiling at the notion that they can be challenged or questioned.

In May 2017, the FNM took power with an anti-corruption and transparency platform.

Many Bahamians, who exuberantly watched the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) near obliteration, really did believe they had finally elected a government that understood their desires to feel a part of the decision-making process, and to be treated at all times with respect.

At his swearing in as prime minister on May 11, 2017, FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis thanked the Bahamian people for reposing their trust in his party. He vowed, “We will honor this trust with an unwavering commitment to good governance, the rule of law, transparency and accountability.”

What many have come to realize is that Minnis and others in his administration have, like their predecessors, become inflicted with and blinded by the disease of political power. Among its clearest symptoms are arrogance, delusion and a tendency to forget or acknowledge who the real bosses are in a democracy.

Murky

The most recent example that has played out is the resignation from Cabinet of Lanisha Rolle, who was the only woman sitting at the table. We wrote extensively about her resignation last week, outlining the likely implications and noting that it is a further signal of the chaos developing on the political landscape.

One week on, we are no clearer in understanding what led to her stepping down. The prime minister has offered only confusing and murky statements on the matter and Rolle has given no reason at all — though she has stated her commitment to continue to represent the people of Seabreeze to the best of her ability, and in an interview with reporters at Parliament on Monday left the door open for another run on the FNM’s ticket.

We wonder if Rolle recognizes that her constituents, like Bahamians everywhere, are owed an explanation.

More importantly though, the onus is on the prime minister to bring clarity to the matter, especially since it was Minnis who suggested last Tuesday that her resignation might somehow be connected to wrongdoing.

A Cabinet Office statement that came hours after Rolle’s resignation letter started circulating via social media said the prime minister has accepted the resignation and that “certain matters” have been brought to his attention and “are under investigation”.

The inference many took from that statement is that the matters under investigation are connected to the resignation. Otherwise, what really was the point in making the statement?

But when he was questioned by reporters last Thursday, the prime minister said that Rolle is not connected to any investigation. He did not elaborate on what the matters are that are under investigation and gave no commitment to report on any probe.

On Monday, Rolle also was vague when she talked to reporters. There was nothing new gleaned from their brief interview with her, except perhaps a hint that she still wishes to get a nomination, though she indicated that whether she is nominated again is up to the Lord “and whatever he permits is well done with me”.

Whether Rolle gets a nomination again is more a matter of political intrigue at this point.

What is more important is that the public should get a fuller understanding of any matters that transpired during her time as minister of youth, sports and culture, and whether there were any matters of concern involving the people’s affairs and public expenditure.

But with a prime minister with a poor record of transparency on many vital issues in the public interest, it is unlikely that any explanations will be forthcoming.

Again, this points to disdain, disregard and disrespect. 

Trust deficit

When he was opposition leader, Minnis, who successfully touted a reform agenda, was a huge proponent of transparent governance.

Many viewed him as credible as he highlighted the Christie administration’s stubborn refusal to be transparent and accountable.

On November 23, 2016, Minnis noted in a statement that the then government had suddenly become enlightened in its commitment in this regard “because it is the political season and [Prime Minister Christie] wants to distract Bahamians from their current problems”.

Much has changed since those opposition days when promises were made, we now know, without any real convictions backing them.

The lack of transparency demonstrated by the prime minister on various issues continues to lead to evaporated goodwill and widen the trust deficit. 

Many find it difficult to believe anything Minnis now says to them. They are just biding their time until they get an opportunity to deliver their verdict on the Free National Movement.

Not that Minnis has specifically pledged to report on the outcome of the investigation he announced into “certain matters” after Lanisha Rolle’s resignation, but anyone expecting him to report on it is likely wasting their time and energies in futile expectations.

As far as the prime minister is concerned, he is free to choose what to explain to the public and what not to explain to the public. He is able to announce probes to kill debates on certain controversial matters, with the apparent hopes that we will all forget and move on to something else.

In 2018 after he fired Centreville MP Reece Chipman as chairman of the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation (AMMC), Minnis told reporters he does not intend to publicly reveal the details surrounding why he fired Chipman — and he never did.

Asked at the time whether he intended to explain to the Bahamian people why he fired Chipman, Minnis said, “No. Some details I would not give to you, but the records will always be there so that whichever government comes behind, the records are always there.”

We noted in 2018 that as our tax dollars are used to fund the AMMC, the reason for the firing ought not be a secret.

We also opined at the time that the prime minister ought not cherry pick what matters he intends to treat in a transparent and accountable fashion.

Speaking on the Chipman firing, the prime minister said, “The FNM made a commitment. We said that we would govern in a certain manner and in a certain way. We said we would root out corruption and bring honesty and integrity into governance, and that is what we will do. We will stay the course. Nothing will change us.”

A very clear impression was left that Chipman was guilty of some wrongdoing. Following the prime minister’s statements, Chipman indicated he was considering filing a defamation action against Minnis, but never did so.

In the same manner, Minnis cast a cloud over Lanisha Rolle in the Cabinet Office statement last week.

It provided fuel for social media speculation, and although Rolle insisted on Monday that her integrity remains intact, it appears that she suffered some damage to her reputation in the wake of her decision to leave Cabinet.

Omen

This administration’s lack of transparency goes further.

In 2018, as controversy involving the firing of board members of Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) dominated headlines – with growing fallout for the government and Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister – Minnis, obviously seeking to quell the controversy, promised to probe the matter and report to the Bahamian people.

“I have said that we will investigate; we will investigate, and when that’s completed you will receive the results,” Minnis said.

Following the firings, Bannister said the relationships among the old board members had significantly deteriorated, and they were at odds on almost every critical issue at great cost to the company, which ultimately necessitated new leadership.

But the former board members said “political interference” and “continuous disrespect” toward the former chairman Darnell Osborne were at the root of the former board’s dysfunction.

If the promised probe ever happened, we were not made aware of it as no results were ever released, as promised.

Once again, the public was kept in the dark on important matters involving the handling of its affairs; the prime minister paid lip service to the commitment to transparency.

Similarly, the government has failed to provide the public with any update on the work of the subcommittee of Cabinet the prime minister appointed following the monumental disaster it made of negotiating and signing heads of agreement for an oil refinery and transshipment facility at east Grand Bahama.

It has been more than three years since the now infamous Oban deal was signed — with our Guardian camera zooming in on the bogus signing. It has been three years since the government’s Oban file mysteriously disappeared and police were called in to investigate.

But there has been no word on whatever became of that investigation.

For the Minnis administration, Oban was an omen. It does not appear to have been a teachable moment for the government.

It has gone from bad to worse as the months passed.

The erosion of trust that has ensued with repeated lack of transparency has made it more difficult for the Minnis administration to get buy-in from the public on important matters. 

By the time the COVID-19 pandemic struck roughly a year ago, the government was already unpopular and viewed by many with great skepticism — and for very valid reasons.

Things have not improved for the FNM administration as it relates to these matters.

As it attempts to promote its record — with the key selling point being that Minnis’ leadership saved lives in the pandemic — it will no doubt have a hard time portraying itself as believable and trustworthy.

This is the outcome of the government’s failure to recognize that in a democracy, people power ultimately trumps the power of the people in power.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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