The Minnis administration has arrived at a point where its arrogance, sense of importance and condescending response to demands for accountability are now equal to what we saw from the Christie administration.
Those unfavorable traits led to Bahamians in large numbers enthusiastically heading to the polls in May 2017 and unceremoniously ushering the former crew into the political wilderness.
The circus ringmaster in Parliament leading the charge in the butchering of our democracy is Leader of Government Business Renward Wells, a political chameleon and opportunist.
In the House of Assembly last week, Wells shut down calls made by Centreville MP Reece Chipman and Central and South Andros MP Picewell Forbes for the opposition to have question time as permitted in the rules during the second Wednesday of the month.
Instead, Wells moved for a motion for the House to avoid having the day recognized as opposition day; he moved and had passed a resolution for the House to instead resume its normal agenda, which is also permitted under the rules.
The government thereby avoided any obligation to answer questions on the House agenda, and the opportunity for members of the official opposition and for independents like Chipman to ask questions was killed.
After Wells moved the resolution, Forbes intervened, saying the speaker should be “cognizant of the input by the member for Centreville”.
“I also say to the good leader for government business, when you’re powerful be merciful,” added Forbes, leader of opposition business in the House.
“The good member (Chipman) noted the fact that there are a number of questions that are outstanding and this is our Wednesday. And I know you can take the vote and I know the majority will win, but I also note the fact that if these concerns have been voiced once again in this honorable place that maybe we can get a definitive date from the good member, leader of government business, as to when we can find the time to discuss these concerns as stated by the good member for Centreville.”
Forbes said there are more than 300 questions on the House agenda the government has not answered.
After he pressed Wells for a commitment on when Opposition Day will be held, the leader of government business said the government will decide, but we have no expectation that there will be any decision on this anytime soon — if ever.
In fact, Wells responded, advising that the Minnis administration intends to treat the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) the same way the Christie administration treated the Free National Movement (FNM) in opposition — refusing to answer questions.
“Mr. Speaker, I will say to the honorable member for South and Central Andros that he’s a senior man in this place,” Wells said.
“He has been here for a long time. He understands the procedures and how the rules of this House have been conducted since independence.
“We will take his request under advisement and the government will get back as to what it will do in regards to questions.
“As he rightfully knows, the previous administration has done and the administration before that has done, and the administration before that has done. We will answer, Mr. Speaker, in the manner the previous administrations in this House have set.”
The Christie administration left office with more than 200 unanswered questions on the agenda. This is disgraceful. The Progressive Liberal Party was the poster child for secret government, shamelessly disregarding accountability demands.
Among the questions that went unanswered during the last session of Parliament was a series of questions asked by Dr. Hubert Minnis, at the time leader of the opposition, about the controversial signing by Wells in 2014 of a letter of intent (LOI) with Stellar Waste to Energy when he was parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Works, and a PLP.
Of course, after Minnis recruited Wells in 2015 in an effort to save his (Minnis’) political hide, he was no longer concerned about accountability in respect of the LOI matter.
Given the nature of our political system, neither were voters who elected Wells as an FNM in 2017. He received 54 percent of the vote.
While Wells strongly suggests that the FNM will treat the PLP no different that it treated the FNM in opposition, that is precisely what is wrong with our politics and why we cannot take seriously much of what politicians say when they are seeking to win votes.
Minnis and the FNM promised to be different. Remember?
In opposition, Minnis touted his party’s reform agenda of transparency and accountability.
“Unlike the PLP, my government will be accountable and transparent,” said Minnis at a March 28, 2017 rally.
Being different does not mean treating your predecessors with disdain, even if that is the way you were treated.
Many Bahamians are tired of the games politician play as they, the Bahamian people, are the ones who ultimately are at a loss.
While we decry the contempt Wells and his colleagues often show for the Bahamian people, we highlight too the silence of Picewell Forbes and others on his side who were quite content with the Christie administration’s blatant disregard for transparency and accountability.
Forbes was as quiet as a church mouse in the face of contemptible action of PLP administration officials. That is because the arrogance of power is very real and when you are on the side with power, you could be fooled into thinking that power will be in place for a long time; you could be blinded.
Many in the PLP were, as are many in government today.
They are going down the same track that led to political ruin for so many. It’s like there are clear signs of a cliff ahead, but they refuse to divert.
They are in a bubble that provides them false comfort.
In opposition, politicians often promise the moon and stars. They promise to deliver on the highest standards of governance. Oftentimes, we never get half of what we bargain for.
Take for instance the many times Minnis and the FNM promised to make priority the full enactment of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Now when we ask about it, when we make demands for it, we are told that we must understand that it will take time for infrastructure to be put in place to make enactment a reality.
Well, it is almost 2021 and that means we will have an election at latest the following year. How much longer do we have to wait to see a stronger demonstration of accountability and transparency commitments?
The Parliament is not the institution that demonstrates a sacred and unwavering commitment to accountability. It should be.
The Public Accounts Committee, the most powerful standing committee of the House, and one that has as its majority opposition members, has not been functional this term.
It will likely achieve nothing.
These matters are not insignificant.
While Wells, one of the prime minister’s most trusted ministers, might enjoy that false comfort of power now, he and the current administration ought to be reminded that at the end of each term there is Judgment Day and the real power rests with those who will decide their fate.