English physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton is credited with the formulation of three laws of motion.
Newton’s first law of motion postulates that a body at rest remains at rest unless acted upon by an outside force, and that a body in motion at a constant speed remains in motion in a straight line, unless acted upon by an outside force.
A body’s resistance to movement if at rest, or its resistance to changing its pace once in motion, is based on the property known as inertia, and the more mass a body has, the more inertia it has.
Let us connect this law of physics to the dynamics of governance in The Bahamas.
Governance has many moving parts and the level of authority and power both vested in and afforded to the prime minister makes him or her the central factor determining how the country will be governed, the place the country will take in the world, and how the lives of Bahamians will be impacted.
Though our constitution designates governance by the Cabinet and not a prime minister alone, the buck invariably stops with the head of government, and whatever his or her administration proves to be, invariably points to the kind of leader the prime minister is.
Recently, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis gave what some dubbed his swan song in Parliament, claiming that he and his administration will do better next time in their focus on the poor, the youth, and the social advancement of Bahamians.
But a party’s new mandate to govern does not suddenly make the same prime minister a new kind of leader.
The Minnis administration’s inertia, as seen in its resistance to movement on critical areas in need of progress, and its resistance to taking a step back from its direction of taking the country down a road of confusion, lack of focus, and political intrigue, is glaring.
That inertia is proportional to the administration’s mass – or the stuff it is made of – and the larger the amount of ego, dictatorialism, lack of cohesion, inexperience and self-interest an administration is made of, the more we can expect to have a government that will not move as it ought, when it ought, and where it ought for the Bahamian people.
This state of motion will continue unless acted upon by an outside force, and one such force, for all administrations, is the force of the vote on election day.
The reality is that if a prime minister has to use as his selling ploy, “we’ll do better next time”, he is tacitly acknowledging that his performance missed the mark, and is seeking to convince voters that as a leader, he will change if given another chance.
It was renowned poet and civil rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou who said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. People know themselves much better than you do.
“That’s why it’s important to stop expecting them to be something other than who they are.”
Governance is serious business, and The Bahamas and those who call it home, are not a game of chance.
Whenever the next election is held, the Bahamian people will be faced with deciding whether it is in the best interest of the country to have the performance of the last four-plus years, continue for another five years.
The present performance will most certainly continue, because this body in motion is going to stay in motion unless forced to change course.
Secrecy in motion
The Free National Movement’s (FNM) initial ascension to governance is recognized for having opened the airwaves, and launching an era of openness where the people’s right to know was respected.
Conversely, the current FNM administration has overseen a period of secrecy and animus with the press and public that not only betrays its legacy, but rivals the style of governance it accuses its predecessors of engaging in.
Upon assuming office, Minnis soon went back on his pledge to have quarterly press conferences with the media, and his press secretary’s brief stint was unable to satisfy the media’s quest for information, because of what we understand was the unwillingness of leadership to make such information available to him.
When a prime minister shuts out the press, he not only shuts out the Bahamian people who the press serves, but he weakens his country’s system of government wherein the press serves as the fourth pillar.
The public service is traditionally rooted in secrecy, and also takes its cues from the political directorate, making the media’s task of getting information from senior public officials this term a next to impossible one.
The Cabinet also takes its cues from the prime minister, which explains why so many ministers in the Minnis administration are dismissive of media inquiries, and fire off indignation when challenged about matters under their portfolio.
Slamming the Christie administration as being a government of secrecy, Minnis pledged while in opposition to make all heads of agreement public.
A heads of agreement is a deal between the Bahamian people and an investor, entered into by government on the people’s behalf.
Since these deals involve what the government has committed to give in the people’s name by way of concessions, and what the investor pledges to give to the country and its people, to withhold the details of such deals by refusing to table them in Parliament, is a betrayal of the people’s right to know.
The Minnis administration has withheld as many as eight heads of agreements from the Bahamian people, including the agreement entered into with Royal Caribbean International and the ITM Group, to purchase and redevelop the Grand Lucayan resort in Freeport.
The findings of an external audit ordered to evaluate the benefit of proposed amendments to the deal – amendments which have also been kept secret from the public – have not been revealed to the Bahamian people who have paid out in excess of $100 million to acquire and continue to operate the resort.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament is the most powerful of all House sessional committees, and is empowered to investigate all aspects of public finances.
Cooperation with the PAC is not only the duty of the Cabinet, which is constitutionally mandated to be accountable to Parliament, but it is expected of a government committed to transparency in public expenditure.
Yet, in a stark departure from its party’s legacy, the Minnis administration has stonewalled the PAC this term, and has refused the committee’s requests for information into how public funds are being spent.
A government that has nothing to hide ought to welcome a demonstration of its good stewardship by turning over whatever information Parliament requests on behalf of the Bahamian people.
Should secrecy in motion remain in motion?
Inefficiency in motion
The Minnis administration’s disorganized approach to its legislative agenda is far more a factor in having left most of its campaign pledges languishing, than are the factors of Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19, which came about more than half-way into the government’s term.
A regular check of the House of Assembly agenda from sitting to sitting revealed an administration with no demonstrative forward planning, leaving government MPs constantly complaining about not knowing ahead of time which legislative items would be pursued.
This is not the legacy of the FNM, whose past administrations would establish its legislative agenda in Parliament weeks in advance.
Because governance has many moving parts, an administration must be focused, organized, diligent and genuinely committed to its stated legislative agenda, if it hopes to make good on many of its pledges.
Once the administration sought to move on from the embarrassing debacle of the Oban deal, it never seemed to grow to a level of cohesion and efficiency at the Cabinet level, that could make for a transformative management of the people’s affairs.
Though Cabinet ministers are sworn to secrecy about their deliberations, it is hardly a secret that tensions within the Minnis Cabinet, and political intrigue therein, have played a pivotal role in why the Bahamian people have gotten a government with whom so many are disappointed and disenchanted.
Public sector reform, economic growth, social advancement and a strengthening of institutions of our democracy require a group of individuals at the executive level who are mature enough to submit personal ambitions to the greater good of those they serve.
Campaign pledges that require constitutional amendments and/or a referendum will clearly not be fulfilled this term, and the prime minister has given no credible indication that his administration will make good on most of its other legislative pledges now sitting on the cutting room floor of early election talks.
Efficiency and governance that best serves the Bahamian people, go hand in hand.
Should inefficiency in motion remain in motion?
Autocracy in motion
One thing has been clear this term, which is that the prime minister is not a democrat, in that he does not abide dissent, differing points of view, conditional support, or constitutional opposition.
If Bahamians chose to take for granted Minnis’ occasional declarations that he wanted there to be no opposition MPs left after the next election, and that he wanted the roll call after the next election to be 39-0 in favor of his party, they learned how apparently desirous the prime minister is of having unchecked power, when the role of sole competent authority was carved out for him for the ongoing state of emergency.
Minnis quickly developed an addiction to emergency powers, which only appears to be relenting now because he might plan an early election.
Should that election occur and his party regains the government, the country would undoubtedly be placed right back under a state of suspended constitutional rights and one-man emergency rule.
A simple consideration of Minnis’ condition for ending emergency rule – which is the majority of Bahamians being vaccinated – is impetus enough to recognize that The Bahamas would conceivably remain under a state of suspended constitutional rights for the foreseeable future.
Regardless of which prime minister sits in office, any leader of any party who shows that he or she craves absolute power, and is prone to cutting down those perceived as a threat, is dangerous to the Bahamian people and their democracy.
History is replete with examples of why autocracy in motion, or even the appearance thereof, ought never be permitted to remain in motion.
The prime minister is not the boss of the Cabinet, but is rather the first among equals, and all Cabinet ministers have equal responsibility for ensuring that the country is governed effectively, and in the democratic spirit of transparency, accountability, and freedom of dissent.
As we have previously stated, it appears this term that most Cabinet ministers are too afraid to be relieved of their duties to carry out their ultimate collective duty of requiring that the first among equals leads aright.
If the Minnis administration was governing aright, the Bahamian people in large numbers – whether they be FNM supporters or not – would not be so anxious for a general election so as to exact payback at the polls on a government they say has betrayed the people’s trust.
Dr. Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Even the more popular of FNM MPs are fighting an uphill battle on the ground, because everything that has happened this term has cemented a feeling in the heart of many Bahamians that assurances during door to door campaigning cannot erase.
Their constituents are grappling with their fondness for the MP, and the pressing feeling that they do not want another five years of “this”, however “this” is defined by them.
Change is relative, and some will argue that regardless of who you vote for, nothing will change.
Nevertheless, the decision at election time is whether to keep what you’ve got, or to go in a different direction.
It’s a decision at this and every election that will determine what stays in motion and what trajectories are set in motion for another five years.