National Review

End of the line

Rolle’s resignation portrays FNM as party increasingly in peril

Lanisha Rolle’s controversial and unimpressive stint in frontline politics appears to be nearing an end.

Apart from her father, we have not yet heard of anyone who is sad to see her go; but we do wonder, like many others, what the specific developments were behind the scenes that resulted in this dramatic turn of events.

One of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders of Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis as she made her usually vacuous contributions in Parliament, Rolle resigned from Cabinet yesterday in a move that was both curious and surprising, and which portrayed the Free National Movement (FNM) to be a party increasingly in turmoil.

She is the fourth minister to resign from Cabinet this term, and her resignation came less than three weeks after the speaker of the House of Assembly cut ties with the FNM. 

Rolle’s resignation letter, which offered no reason for the decision to give up her seat at the table, quickly circulated on social media.

It was addressed to the governor general and read more like a thank you statement.

In it, Rolle said she intends to remain as the representative for Seabreeze, and gave no indication that she was looking to sever ties with the FNM on whose ticket she won the constituency with 58 percent of the vote in 2017.

Her appointment to the Cabinet as the only woman was widely viewed as a reward for her unwavering loyalty to Minnis, and a token appointment to avoid the criticisms the prime minister would have faced had he chosen only men for his administration.

Not surprisingly, Rolle’s resignation fueled rumors and innuendos yesterday, particularly as she conveniently opted out of providing an explanation.

Bizarrely, her father, Derek Thompson, who has had publicly-expressed “differences” with her, told reporters waiting outside the Cabinet Office to speak with the prime minister, that his daughter had been one of the people who sacrificed to ensure Minnis was elected to office.

He accused the prime minister of “turning against” her.

Thompson claimed Rolle called him on Monday night and told him Attorney General Carl Bethel informed her that Minnis said she will not be renominated.

A few hours after news of Rolle’s resignation broke and with the rumor mill cranking out theories at breakneck speed, the Cabinet Office released a statement.

The statement said the prime minister has accepted the resignation and informed, “Certain matters have been brought to the attention of the prime minister and are under investigation.”

But instead of providing some clarity on why the only female member of the Cabinet resigned so abruptly, that statement cast a pall over her resignation.

Rolle’s most recent portfolio was Youth, Sports and Culture, where she was not widely viewed as a standout minister. Many are now wondering whether there were inappropriate matters that unfolded at that ministry and whether the prime minister had requested her resignation.

The report by the Cabinet Office that the PM is investigating matters might signal the need for her to defend her reputation.

We note too that it is unfortunate that we are now left with an all male Cabinet.

The Bahamas was already in an embarrassing and regressive position to only have one woman in the Cabinet this term. That we now have none and no good options for female leadership among FNM members in the House of Assembly at that level is pathetic and worrying.

Controversial figure

The surprising nature of Lanisha Rolle’s resignation had a lot to do with the fact that there had been no recent controversy involving her that preceded the decision, and, again, with the fact that her defense of Minnis and support for him had been so consistently and strongly expressed over the years, dating back to his very tumultuous time as leader of the opposition.

Rolle’s time in the political spotlight has been memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.

When the FNM was in opposition, she created a reputation for making bizarre and odd statements.

Her initial emergence on the political scene was rife with controversy as it was speculated that her appointment to the Senate to replace Heather Hunt was Minnis’ attempt to eliminate a political detractor in Hunt.

Not long after being appointed to the Senate, Rolle raised concerns surrounding the Public Disclosure Act, saying there was a need to protect the privacy of politicians.

Rolle’s tenure as a senator was marked with a plethora of miscues, missteps and numerous unbelievably embarrassing moments for herself and the FNM.

She became an increasingly divisive figure in the party as she excoriated her own parliamentary colleagues on a Guardian Radio talk show in January 2016.

Rolle resigned from the Senate that year.  While she cited personal reasons, her resignation from the Senate came after a recorded conversation she had with Lincoln Bain, who had been eyeing the party’s Pinewood nomination, made the rounds on WhatsApp.

In the recording, she made disparaging remarks about certain senior FNMs and revealed internal FNM executive business.

Her nomination for the 2017 election had perplexed many in the FNM and in the public.

At the time, we observed that by all measurements by party faithfuls and the public, Rolle did not acquit herself well and had not met the threshold that would warrant a reappointment, moreover a candidacy.

While she had proven to be politically toxic, she was favored and rewarded with that nomination, by all accounts not because she was viewed as politically valuable and an asset for the FNM, but because of her extreme loyalty to Minnis.

While serving in the Cabinet of Hubert Minnis, Rolle continued to make blunders. 

As social services minister, she called marital rape a private matter.

In 2018, Minnis — who had given Rolle numerous political lifelines — reassigned her to Youth, Sports and Culture amid reports that she was not getting along with senior individuals in her ministry, and had proven to be problematic.

As Youth, Sports and Culture minister, she also faced rocky moments, clashing with Junkanoo leaders over decisions relating to Junkanoo parades.

Before long, reports emerged from her new ministry that she was proving to be the wrong fit for that ministry. 

Yesterday, former Director of Youth Darren Turnquest took to social media in a series of cryptic messages that appeared to be linked to news of his former minister’s resignation. 

“Today is a sad day because it took this long and for the record the damage has been done,” he stated.

Amid calls for her resignation in December 2019, Rolle had said she was “not perfect”.

Days earlier, she was excoriated on social media after the circulation of an image depicting a youth medal with her face on it went viral. 

She was also among the least accessible ministers, arrogantly refusing to give media interviews and to account for her work on behalf of the public beyond the scripted, theatrical performances she delivered in Parliament from time to time.

That her political rope has reached its end is interesting given that she had had the prime minister’s ear and had enjoyed his support.

If it is true, as Rolle’s father asserted yesterday, that the prime minister did not personally inform her of a decision not to renominate her, that would signal a real falling out of favor with Minnis.

Rolle’s resignation has added to the series of events that have eroded confidence in the FNM.

It is not enough for the prime minister to inform the public that “matters” are under investigation. He is duty bound to provide full transparency as it is the people’s business and not personal affairs he is looking into.


 Implications

Rolle’s resignation has broad implications for the FNM and the Minnis administration, particularly against the backdrop of an impending election.

Before her, Brent Symonette, Dr. Duane Sands and Peter Turnquest all resigned from Cabinet for various reasons. 

As politics and perceptions go, it is not a good look that four ministers have been relegated to the backbench by virtue of resignations.

Added to this are the decisions of three FNM MPs (Reece Chipman, Vaughn Miller and Halson Moultrie) to leave the party, and another (Frederick McAlpine) to use every opportunity to scathingly criticize the Minnis administration.

With the political climate heating up, news that Turnquest has been cut out of a nomination and rumors that Sands could also be axed have shown the FNM to be a party tearing at the seams.

Already hugely unpopular in an atmosphere of poor economic performance and failed pledges, Minnis and the FNM will face an extremely difficult challenge in seeking to become the first incumbent party to win reelection since the FNM under Hubert Ingraham in 1997.

The growing perception that it is a party in peril will only make matters worse.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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