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Lessons from the loss 

For nearly the last 20 years, voters in The Bahamas have rejected an incumbent party.

The last time they gave a prime minister a second term was Hubert Ingraham in 1997.

In 2017, the Minnis administration came to office promising transparency, accountability and respect for the Bahamian people.

What many voters felt they got instead was disrespect, disregard and an administration that behaved as if it was acting on its own behalf, and not handling the affairs of the people.

We have seen too often politicians come to office promising to be servants of the people, but instead acting as if the people are their servants.

We have too often seen our leaders talk down to us, scoff at demands for accountability and do exactly what they said in opposition they would not do.

The most recent demonstration of this was the end of the term when the outgoing prime minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis, refused to answer questions and ignored glaring issues surrounding the questionable award of contracts.

As opposed to speaking directly to the Bahamian people about these questionable contracts, he and his public works minister, Desmond Bannister, turned their guns on the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), stating that information in the public domain that raised those questions were nothing more than PLP smear and lies.

Down to the end of his term, Minnis continued to show this disregard, directly insulting the Bahamian people.

Some of those matters had to do with contracts awarded by the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC). Its executive chairman, the Long Island MP, Adrian Gibson, came under fire over those contract awards.

With Long Island being a historic stronghold for the Free National Movement (FNM), we had no expectation that Gibson would lose his seat, but as one letter writer observed just a few days ago, the matter did damage to the FNM’s brand.

In the face of questions surrounding contract awards in his own ministry, Bannister had said he was tempted to respond, but he instead called the PLP corrupt and deceitful.

Yesterday, he was one of the many FNM ministers who were banished to the political wilderness.

While Minnis had railed against these matters in opposition, the Minnis we saw in government was a different Minnis who treated the public as if it did not have a right to know.

Promised quarterly press conferences did not happen, agreements signed on the public’s behalf were never tabled, there was foot-dragging on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, and procurement procedures in many instances were not transparent.

In the weeks and days leading up to yesterday’s general election, Minnis tried to focus the attention of Bahamians on what he repeatedly called PLP corruption and scandal.

That worked well in 2017, so he banked on it working again, but it did not.

Yesterday, the prime minister was reminded that he campaigned on a platform of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption in 2017, but when our reporter pointed to the allegations connected to the award of WSC contracts, he was characteristically dismissive.

“The opposition has nothing to campaign on, so they campaigned on pure mudslinging,” Minnis claimed.

“We campaigned on policies and the way forward. They have accused me of many manner of things. I will not even tell you who was in their war room and pushing all sorts of things, but we were focused. We were focused in making life better for the Bahamian populace and focused on policies that we think will advance The Bahamas forward.”

OPPORTUNITY 

But skirting the issue did not prove helpful.

Over the course of the last four and a half years, we have repeatedly witnessed the arrogance of Cabinet ministers enamored by their roles, and who seemingly lost sight of the fact that they are answerable to the Bahamian people.

Many of them treated the Bahamian people as if they did not matter, and so on the one day when Bahamians feel powerful, they exercised that power in the ballot boxes yesterday, deciding to change their government.

It is the same mood that was felt in 2017, when voters had had enough of the bad treatment by the Christie administration.

Minnis kept reminding Bahamians that Davis was a part of the Christie administration and he warned that a vote for Davis would be a return to the Christie years.

However, voters decided to punish the Minnis administration for violating their trust.

Minnis went out in cowardly fashion. While he called Davis to concede, he did not publicly speak to the nation.

After many weeks of being on the rally stage lambasting the PLP and seeking to demonize the PLP leader, he could not muster up the courage and go before the cameras and speak to the Bahamian people.

The party only issued a statement with Minnis saying, “I will lead the Free National Movement into the House as the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.” 

There are lessons in this loss for Davis as he assumes the highest political office in the land.

He has a wonderful opportunity to separate himself from the Christie record and from the Minnis record. He has an opportunity to take a new approach to governance, to be an open and accountable prime minister, a prime minister who gives it to us straight, who seeks to hold the trust of the Bahamian people, who is answerable to the people, who does not shut out or show disdain for the media, who does not cloak colleagues guilty of wrongdoing, but who acts against them.

In his final days as deputy prime minister, Davis had a low moment when he threw his support behind his then-colleague, Jerome Fitzgerald, who was the minister of education and who was found to have abused his office by seeking contracts for his family from Sarkis Izmirlian, when Izmirlian was the Baha Mar developer.

We hope that this is not the Davis we see in the prime minister’s chair.

We hope that Davis understands the lessons of the loss that his party suffered in 2017, and that he understands the lessons of the loss suffered by Minnis and the FNM yesterday.

He must understand that while he and his party have secured an impressive victory, notwithstanding the fact that many Bahamians were not “feeling” him, the vote yesterday was not widely a show of love and admiration for Davis and the PLP. 

Bahamians want and deserve a government that listens to them and respects them as partners in building a better Bahamas.

They want a government that does not toy with their dreams and aspirations for personal gain.

It was laughable to see the outgoing prime minister say in a statement last night, “We did not win this time. But I say to the next generation of FNMs that you should stay firm to this party’s founding ideals. Always put the people first, and be honest in government.”

Had Minnis followed his own advice, we doubt he would be in the position he is in now.

We hope that history will record that between 2021 and 2026, despite unprecedented challenges, The Bahamas had a government that was able to make important progress under a prime minister who was compassionate and respectful, and who showed fidelity to democratic principles and norms.

If in the coming months our new ministers begin to show hubris and become abusive in their handling of our affairs, the goodwill with which they came to office would be depleted as rapidly as what we saw during the Minnis years.

In his most quiet of moments, the incoming prime minister should consider these things and should strive every day to prove to the Bahamian people that he will not take for granted the vote of confidence reposed in him.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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