Swiss psychologist Carl Jung once said, “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.”
The dynamic between government and the Bahamian people is very much a relationship, and in pursuit of this relationship, we are courted and wooed for our vote.
Once a party wins us over, fair exchange is expected, wherein the return for our vote ought to be respect, upholding the rule of law, proper management of the affairs of state, and fostering public trust through transparent and accountable governance, and delivery on promises that brought about victory at the polls.
But there are times when relationships become abusive.
In the context of governance in our democracy, the relationship between government and the people becomes abusive when the people and the nation’s institutions are not respected, when public affairs are mismanaged and when the people’s business is withheld from them.
Abusive relationships, in whatever form they take, typically get worse over time.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and his team were hired for five years but cut that contract short by eight months, ultimately cutting short their ability to demonstrate that they can do better if re-elected.
What has instead been demonstrated, is that abusive governance this term, if rewarded at the polls, could be just the tip of the iceberg of what the Bahamian people might be in for.
SECRECY IN GOVERNMENT IS ABUSIVE
Secrecy in government is not only an abuse of the people’s entrusted power, but is the breeding ground for corruption and instability.
If you hire someone to take care of your house, and the caretaker both locks you out and refuses to answer your questions on what has been done to your house and its contents, what would your reaction be?
This is precisely the type of scenario that exists when your government is not transparent and accountable with what you hired it to take care of.
The Bahamian people have the right to know how their money is being spent and with whom; the terms of deals made in their name; as well as policies and decisions undertaken by the government they elect.
Yet, the Minnis administration has locked the door and turned its back with our keys on these aspects of the public’s right to know, with recent reports of unspecified documents being shredded at the Cabinet Office having gone unaddressed by the prime minister.
Perhaps only a change of government might reveal the details of contracts given and deals struck this term, particularly those which occurred within the last two years.
To withhold information the Bahamian people have the right to know is an abuse of power, and evidence on the campaign trail points to a stubborn refusal to change course from this abusive trajectory.
Minnis, together with many of his Cabinet ministers, have had an adversarial relationship with the press this term, and typically react with contempt or antagonism when questioned about the people’s business.
The campaign trail is where parties attempt to put their best foot forward, but instead, Minnis has dug in his heels on not being answerable to the people who elected him, doing so by shutting the media out of traveling with him on the trail.
Traveling with the press on the campaign trail gives the public through the press which represents it, open access, making room for questions and allowing the press to see who political leaders and their team are beyond a rally stage.
If the man who desires a second term respected the Bahamian people, he would make the effort in the last stages of this term to present evidence that he might not continue to display the kind of insular, cagey, and arrogant leadership many Bahamians have come to decry.
While the opposition’s leader has held sit-down interviews and provided responses to incidents occurring during the election period, the prime minister has not granted a single press interview – an unheard of state of affairs in a democracy where the governing party seeks to be re-elected under the banner of offering Bahamians a better future.
Promises are fast flowing on campaign trails, but the prime minister has not seen fit to promise to stop the abuse of power that comes by refusing to be transparent and accountable with the Bahamian people, even if that promise might be disbelieved.
As such, there is no evidence that the abuse of power would cease, making it in turn evident that if this behavior is rewarded with a second term, contempt for the people’s right to know would only get worse.
HARDHEARTEDNESS IN GOVERNMENT IS ABUSIVE
As Abaconians were losing their lives in Hurricane Dorian, Minnis declared that only a fool would go out into Category 5 storm conditions to help those in need of rescue.
Thankfully, both Abaco and Grand Bahama had many brave and selfless “fools” those fateful days two years ago, else the final death toll from Dorian – which is still unknown – would have been devastatingly higher.
But this thoughtless comment was only the beginning of a demonstration of hardheartedness in the aftermath of Dorian that survivors will not soon forget.
As upwards of 70 percent of the city of Freeport battled with unprecedented flooding that pushed shocked and terrified residents from their homes, Minnis told the country and the world that Freeport had only sustained “minimal” damage.
His government went further to exclude both Freeport and west Grand Bahama from its initial declaration of hurricane disaster relief exigencies, including both disaster areas only after public backlash.
As Abaconians surrounded by death and destruction with no food, water or shelter called desperately for help to address incidents of crime on the island, their initial cries were met with admonitions by the national security minister not to engage in spreading rumors about the calamitous state of their existence.
To add ignominious insult to unimaginable injury on Abaco, the administration saw fit to make Haitian nationals the scapegoats and whipping boys of the tragedy, using them as a political football to convince Bahamians outside of Abaco that the government was responding adequately to the Dorian crisis.
While Minnis, in a shameful show of bravado, found it appropriate to drive to Haitian communities to kick down doors, he would have been driving past Bahamians in Abaco living in tents with no running water, no electricity and no stable food supply save for what was provided by foreign aid groups.
Many displaced storm victims still do not have a door of their own to enter into two years since Dorian, despite the millions provided to the Disaster Reconstruction Authority – the agency that was billed by Minnis as “innovative change” to disaster response in The Bahamas.
Instead of kicking in doors to damaged homes in the Haitian community, the prime minister would have more appropriately – not to mention lawfully – served Abaconians by kicking down reams of government red tape that blocked progress on the island in the aftermath of Dorian.
Red tape and questionable motives frustrated efforts of NGOs, which have carried out much of the restoration work on both islands, and which could have done much more were it not for hinderances on the ground.
The treatment of those whose family members were missing after the storm shall live in infamy in the history of our nation, and the process of handling and identifying the remains of those who perished in the storm continues to be a disgraceful saga, leaving the bereaved with no closure.
Minnis was a no-show at the controversial burial ceremony of Abaco storm victims, and the two-year anniversary of the country’s most devastating natural disaster in living memory this month, came with no formal observance from government.
On Grand Bahama, which had high levels of unemployment prior to Dorian, dubious enforcement of Minnis’ emergency order on the carrying of government ID at all times, led to unchecked harassment of residents who were subjected to constant police roadblocks, and unaffordable fines of as much as $500.
Getting the economic hopes of Grand Bahamians up about a deal with Royal Caribbean International and the ITM Group for the purchase of the revenue-intensive Grand Lucayan resort and the redevelopment of the Freeport Harbour, Minnis effectively got his government up from the negotiating table to call a snap election, leaving the deal now up in the air without so much as a word of explanation to long-suffering Grand Bahamians.
Rubbing further incogitable salt in the wound of Dorian victims right to the very end of his term, Minnis told rally attendees in Central and South Abaco last week of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), “If they are re-elected the Hurricane Dorian funds would never ever get to you.”
The obvious questions arising from that statement are “where are the Dorian funds now, and if there is still money left to withhold after the election, why has it still not gotten to those in need on Abaco prior to the election?”
Hardheartedness in government is abusive, and if contempt for the humanity and ongoing struggle of storm victims is rewarded with a second term, there is no telling in which form such contempt – emboldened by five more years – would manifest next.
AUTOCRATIC GOVERNANCE IS ABUSIVE
Personalities being what they are, it was primarily House Speaker Halson Moultrie’s push for the Parliament to be set free from the administrative control of the executive branch, that ultimately led to a state of parliamentary relations this term heretofore unseen in The Bahamas.
During this term, ministers routinely refused to carry out their constitutional duty of answering questions in Parliament, taking the attitude that they need only answer what they wished, when they wished and how they wished.
There are few agencies of government where the complaint is not heard that things are simply not operating as they ought to be.
Minnis had one-man rule carved out for him for the last year and a half, rubber-stamped by a stormy Cabinet of ministers, who in most cases, are said to have been unwilling to challenge the prime minister, even in the secrecy of Cabinet deliberations.
Literally holding the lives of Bahamians in his hands by virtue of his emergency edicts or lack thereof, it is clear that the prime minister’s addiction to emergency power has been unrelenting.
If constitutional rights comfortably became incidental collateral damage at the hands of a prolonged state of emergency this term, can Bahamians imagine what else might be taken away from us, should this historic level of abuse of power be rewarded with a second term?
Making a remarkable error while on the rally stage in Grand Bahama where she mistakenly encouraged Free National Movement (FNM) supporters to vote their own party out, West End and Bimini MP Pakesia Parker Edgecombe said of alleged actions by her opponents, “Little did they know that when they messed with one, they messed with many.”
How true the realization of this statement could prove to be for the governing party on Election Day.
In what read like a swan song during his party’s rally in New Providence Saturday evening, Minnis urged FNMs to vote on September 16, saying, “I say to the FNMs out there, if I or my party has offended you, I apologize.”
The statement, “If I have offended you”, is a conditional clause that fails to acknowledge wrongdoing and, in effect, cannot stand as the foundation for a sincere apology made credible only through a change in acknowledged behavior.
Minnis said to FNMs, “Your party needs you; your country needs you.”
We know of many FNMs who have been mistreated or disregarded this term, who would no doubt question how their importance to the country is only now being recognized because their vote is needed, and why their party only knows them this term now that it needs their support at the polls.
Minnis urged FNMs to vote to stop the return of the “spiteful, corrupt and wicked PLP”.
We wonder if former ministers pushed out of the Cabinet, FNM MPs denied a nomination, former FNM MPs made to pay the price for their stances, and FNMs either victimized or left on the outside looking in because they would not be controlled, believe they have been the victim of spite at the hands of their party or its leadership.
We question how the prime minister feels he has the moral authority to speak about corruption, when under his watch we have seen millions in no-bid contracts issued in the aftermath Hurricane Dorian, a refusal to come clean on other contracts and who benefitted from them, and a dismissal by Minnis of recent concern over the questionable award of contracts as “foolishness”.
Throughout the country, the stories are numerous from FNMs who say they have been hurt by their party this term, and the reality is that hurting one Bahamian invariably leads to hurting all who love or respect that Bahamian.
The multiplier effect is that families, friends and observers could decide to either stay home on Election Day, or vote for a party other than the governing party.
Calling on all FNMs to come out on September 16, Minnis beckoned to history, saying, “This is the party of Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, this is the party of Kendal Isaacs, this is the party of Janet Bostwick … this is the party of Hubert Ingraham.”
To this, we say that while the FNM is still one of the two major parties in our country’s two-party system, today’s FNM is not the party of the greats Minnis harkened to Saturday night, in pursuit of votes from the party’s base.
We submit that Sir Cecil would hardly recognize his party if he were alive today, and calling upon his esteemed memory cannot in and of itself return the FNM to its founding principles from which it has inarguably strayed.
FNMs know what their party has been, and they know what their party has become.
Without change the FNM deems necessary, the state of the party’s affairs is likely to deteriorate further.
When it comes to governance, disrespect of and disregard for the rights, views, needs and entitlements of the Bahamian people ought not be rewarded with a second term.
To do so sends the message to government that its abusive actions are not only acceptable, but welcomed in even deeper measure the next time around.
As the FNM rightly states, the upcoming election is indeed about our future.
Regrettably though, what the FNM has shown the Bahamian people in its final days of the 2017 term, is that the probability of us seeing even worse abuses of power and of the sensibilities of the Bahamian people, is far greater than the probability of seeing a changed party – one which has offered no evidence that it intends to change.