Do the right thing    

Respect for the people must be the Davis administration’s guiding principle

After years of disappointing governance and trauma arising from multiple disasters, the Bahamian people are wounded, weary, and in want of better stewardship.

The new Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration led by Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis has no easy task in addressing the ongoing health, economic and social crises before us, together with tackling Grand Bahama’s stagnation, Abaco’s redevelopment, Family Island needs, violent crime in the capital, and grievances expressed by labor unions and workers they represent.

We are prepared to give the new administration a fair chance to demonstrate how it will address these and other critical national concerns.

At the same time, we urge the Davis administration to be mindful of key considerations which if ignored, could cause it to quickly run afoul with an electorate that has little fuel left in its tank of tolerance for who captures its vote.

Respect the public’s right to know

Speaking to reporters after receiving his instruments of appointment on Saturday, Davis assured the media that, “I will not run from you.”

If his assurance is made true this term, the same would not only be a fulfillment of duty, but a refreshing change of pace from the adversarial relationship established with the media by former Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis.

But it is important for Davis to recognize that communication with the public is only as successful as the ability to ensure that the public understands exactly what you are doing, and why you are doing it.

In the absence of skilled and competent advisors in the areas of public communication, media relations, and political public relations, a prime minister can easily take for granted that the public understands what he or she is doing and the reasons for it.

However, there are many facets of our system of government and the processes therein – even the most basic – that a good number of Bahamians do not know and understand, regardless of their level of education.

Case in point is Davis’ revocation of a number of emergency orders issued by Minnis – doing so without providing an attached description of each order being revoked, and why they were being revoked.

Failing to do so left much of the general public clueless as to what the new state of affairs would be with respect to these emergency orders, thereby leaving them ignorant of their responsibilities with respect to compliance.

This ought to be rectified.

Additionally, the Office of the Prime Minister ought to have explained that Davis has now come into the role of competent authority (which some believe was a role exclusively for Minnis), and what would be required for the state of emergency to come to an early end, since some Bahamians questioned why the new prime minister was still issuing emergency orders.

Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis.

What also occurred without explanation was the press not being invited to cover the governor general’s swearing-in of Davis on Friday morning ahead of the public ceremony the following day.

The country’s transition of power ought always be captured and recorded by the Fourth Estate.

Minnis attempted a copy of the press secretary role Bahamians are most familiar with from the post in the United States, though the short-lived version last term was in little more than name only, considering that the US press secretary is not only a press liaison, but a senior White House official who, unlike Minnis’ press secretary, is not shut out from the very information he or she would be required to provide to the press.

How Davis plans to establish his communications team remains to be seen, but what reporters do not need are press liaisons who are less than efficient in getting responses the press requires.

In whatever schedule of regular press conferences the prime minister commits to – as was last seen under the 2007 Ingraham administration – transparency and accountability must be his overarching objectives.

Acquiring the government-issued cell phone numbers of Cabinet ministers can be somewhat of an obstacle course for reporters, which is an unacceptable state of affairs given that taxpayers fund resources to enable access to ministers, including the provision of cellular telephones.

The Cabinet should make available to all media houses the cell phone contacts of ministers, so that the ability to readily contact a minister does not invariably come down to which reporter has the best relationship with a member of the executive.

We accept as well that not all queries a reporter might have need to be put to a Cabinet minister — though this has become the practice in part because of difficulties experienced in getting information from permanent secretaries and other senior government officials.

The Davis administration must set the tone for ministry heads and heads of statutory boards, that openness with the media is the standard which should be followed.

Where questions are put to ministers by the press, it is essential that they respond honestly, thoroughly, and as soon as is possible.

Outside of an election period, the government is allowed to purchase air time with the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas, wherein government parliamentarians can inform the public on plans and programs.

Section 19(1) of the Broadcasting Rules states that the governing party, “may, in any year commencing on the 1st day of January, purchase four fifteen-minute programs of air time on radio and an equal number of such programs on television for the purpose of inviting support for the program of the governing party or parties as the case may be.”

We encourage the governing party to utilize this allowed air time and to do so in a balanced fashion, so as to bolster opportunities for information sharing with the general public.

Openness is an indispensable characteristic of good governance.

Against the backdrop of strained public trust due to years of government secrecy, a failure or refusal to be transparent would only further damage essential confidence in government, and speed up the process of buyers’ remorse on the part of voters.

Respect the Parliament

The seat of the Bahamian people’s power is the Parliament, and how government handles the Parliament is a direct reflection of the respect it has not only for the people, but for the foundational institution of our democracy.

In Westminster tradition, the speaker of the House ought not be a first-time parliamentarian, but this aberration has occurred in sessions of Parliament in The Bahamas within the last 20 years.

Considering that senior PLP candidates who won their seat in the general election are likely to desire a Cabinet post over the post of House speaker, it seems likely that once again, an MP might be elected to the office of speaker having never served in the Parliament.

Seven women were elected on the governing party’s ticket, and it would be good to once again have a female speaker of the House, not seen in The Bahamas since Italia Johnson became the first female speaker of the House of Assembly during the 1997 Free National Movement (FNM) administration.

Whoever is designated by government for the House’s election as speaker, it is our hope that the individual is well suited and well acquitted for the sobering, intellectually demanding, and esteemed task of being the presiding officer of the Parliament.

We recommend that the government causes its designee to submit to training by the clerk of the Parliament prior to the opening of Parliament on October 6 – where his or her election to the office of speaker would essentially be a foregone conclusion due to government’s super majority.

This is especially important if the designee is a first-time parliamentarian, but such training should occur regardless of one’s previous parliamentary experience.

Doing so would better equip the prospective speaker of the House ahead of his or her election to the high office, thereby demonstrating that the Davis administration respects the people’s House enough to put forward for election someone who is ready to preside in a manner worthy of the chair.

While as Opposition leader, Davis told Perspective in an interview that his administration will pass necessary legislation to give Parliament its administrative independence from the executive branch.

This pledge should be fulfilled at the earliest opportunity.

It is also critical for the proper functioning of the Parliament that the House of Assembly’s sessional committees meet and report regularly, including the House Rules committee which failed to produce necessary work during the 2017 session to change unconstitutional rules and some improper rules which give the speaker – who is typically a member of the government – power to silence the voice of the opposition.

The Minnis administration stonewalled the most powerful and important of all sessional committees – the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – refusing to submit financial information requested during the session.

The Davis administration must resist the temptation to engage in a tit for tat with the opposition party, and cooperate fully with the PAC in the interest of its constitutional duty to be accountable to the Parliament, and in the public interest.

While political jousting is expected during Parliamentary proceedings, the business of the Bahamian people requires a Parliament of members who take seriously their responsibility as lawmakers.

When the FNM captured a 35-4 majority back in 2017, the party’s former leader warned that super majorities can cause governing parties to become “giddy”.

Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said at the time of super majorities, “It goes to their head. They are unable to satisfy the aspirations of many of their members because everybody wants to be a big shot. Everybody thinks he won the election because of himself, and the truth is they didn’t win because of themselves.

“They won because of the party and because the government got voted out.”

The PLP’s reversal of fortunes in just four and a half years is certainly a political triumph, but it must be careful not to forget or take for granted who made it possible for its current fortunes to be realized – the Bahamian people.

Respect the people

The PLP ran an impressive general election campaign, with well-crafted ads and campaign collaterals placing emphasis not only on the leader, but on his team.

While it is true that a great deal of money can purchase slick political campaigns designed by the best in the business, our observation of the PLP campaign is that there was desire by leadership to put forward a genuine campaign presentation worthy of the Bahamian voter.

What Davis and his team will do in office remains to be seen, but it is our view that the quality of the party’s campaign for governance is a signal that the prime minister intends to exceed expectations in office, and erase doubts he acknowledges exist.

What was obvious from Davis’ messaging during the campaign is that he wants to prove wrong those who have viewed him as an underdog – a goal if appropriately channeled into pursuing principles of good governance, will augur well for The Bahamas.

At the apex of the administration’s governance must be respect for the Bahamian people.

Chief among demonstrations of respect for the people is responsible management of the public’s finances and affairs, led by zero tolerance for corruption and self-dealing.

Another way to demonstrate respect for the people is to ensure that any attempts at victimization by those not acclimated to the principle of fair and inclusive governance, be swiftly met with the appropriate consequence.

Insular leadership is a sign not only of insecurity, but a failure to accept that the power an elected member holds belongs not to him or her, but to the people.

Respect for the people is shown by being welcoming of constructive opposing views, being a guardian of lawful free speech and expression, and being open to the voice of marginalized groups whose seat at the table is often more of a cliche than a reality.

Governing in the interest of all Bahamians, as Davis pledges to do, requires tangible moves toward unifying the country.

Bahamians of course, must also want to be unified, and must learn to submit their love of party to the best interest of one another and the country.

Bahamians are a hopeful people notwithstanding what they endure, and in spite of political disappointment in some segments of the society, right-thinking Bahamians want their government to succeed regardless of which party is in power.

What Bahamians who want what is best for their country desire of the Davis administration, is that it will do right by the people, and fulfill its core promises thereto.

This too is our desire.

As such, we expect that the Davis-led administration will do what it says it will do, do what it must do, and do the right thing.

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