Let’s be clear, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis wants to win the next election; and he should want to do so. It would be really odd for him to want to lose it. He and Brave Davis, the leader of the opposition, have this in common; they both want very much to win the next election. To win the next election, the PM must get more people to vote for his party than for any other party. This will require that he and the FNM are sufficiently popular with enough voters to achieve the victory sought. To be popular with large numbers of voters, the governing party must have performed in a way to win that support; must show that it is still in touch with the views and wishes of the majority of voters; and must promise to do what voters believe is in their best interest. With this in mind, one can fully expect the prime minister and his colleagues to be politically pragmatic players, especially following the launch of their re-election bid. So in rhetoric and action, one should expect populous expressions. It is the way of politics almost everywhere in every time.
When the prime minister launched into his speech during the mid-year budget debate to speak of the need for us to “take our country back”, it was in keeping, I believe, with the political pragmatism characteristic of the campaign season. There are thousands of Bahamians who share that sentiment and who have done so for years. It is a grievance born of both authentic and inauthentic realities.
It is true that in The Bahamas, it can seem as if foreigners get more breaks and more done. When we see the large and seemingly prosperous businesses operating in our dominant sectors – tourism and financial services – we see foreign owned firms getting the attention and concessions of the government. While smaller, Bahamian-owned firms might get the same type of concessions, they hardly get the press coverage, government announcements or easy facilitation that the foreign firms seem to get. Also, there are many Bahamians who might overlook the slackness that allows us to get away with many things that run contrary to the rules, like the millions in business license and real estate taxes arrears, but who clearly see the slackness that allows foreigners, especially Haitians in shantytowns, to do the same thing. I understand this. It should be less of a problem for us to be allowed to break our laws than for foreigners to do so. I really get that! When it doesn’t seem like this is the case, we feel like second class citizens. That’s an authentic reality.
What is inauthentic is a sentiment that someone has taken our country and that we must take it back from them. Who is it that took the country from us Bahamians? What is it that they took? Do they have the political, economic, cultural or social power in the nation? When did they take it? Was it under Sir Lynden, Ingraham, Christie or Minnis? Where did they take it? Did they take it on New Providence, Grand Bahama, Long Island, San Salvador, Cat Island, Exuma or some other island, or, for that matter, all the islands? Where are these people who took it? Are they in Lyford Cay, Pinewood Gardens, Marsh Harbour, Freeport or Colonel Hill? What are they doing with the country that they took? And, what have successive administrations been doing while the country was seemingly “kidnapped”? What has been done about this in the last two plus years?
Good governance requires that the government identifies with the felt needs of its people. It also requires the government to be principled in its response to those needs. Government must approach the problem-solving process with evidence, facts and good reasoning. While passions might be strong and real, it cannot run contrary to what is reasonable and factual. Leaders should not get so far ahead of its people that it loses touch with them, and to lead by following the people is not leadership at all, it is the tail wagging the dog.
The foreign/Bahamian conflict is a no-win proposition in a country that owes so much of its political, social and economic realities, and progress, to foreign partnerships, and will need such partnerships for further progress. Both in terms of foreign investments as well as foreign implants, this nation has achieved what it has achieved with the help of both.
Bahamians should seek to advance their vision of themselves and do so unashamedly. Its government should also be in support of this ideal. But doing so should not be a matter of fanning the flames of “otherness”; it should be a matter of encouraging the spirit of togetherness. The principle of law should underlie a strategy to build a united people confident in their own national skin, welcoming of strangers and unflinching in pursuit of order. This is not a matter of taking the country back; it’s a back of taking our country “Forward, Onward, Upward and Together”.
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.