Today marks the start of a new session of the Bahamian Parliament, during which time the Davis administration will provide the roadmap for how it intends to achieve many of its stated commitments through legislative means.
It will be a time for the new speaker and the powerful executive, which is supposed to be accountable to Parliament, to do some things differently.
In this new chapter, the slate of history is clean.
There is a great opportunity ahead if only those involved will remain humble and recognize that they are there to serve, that the official opposition is to play a meaningful role in governance, and that role ought to be respected, and opposition members treated with fairness and dignity.
The last session of Parliament was largely a stage upon which the all-powerful members of the Minnis administration put their arrogance on display, often belittling and disregarding opposition members, praising themselves at every turn, rejecting demands for accountability, and as such, abandoning basic tenets of good governance.
Taking political swipes at opponents is not unheard of or inappropriate in the halls of Parliament, but seeking to suppress the opposition’s voice or disadvantage those on the other side is rightly frowned upon by right-thinking members of the public, and often gains unintended sympathy for opposition members while showing those in government to be politically abusive, bullying, and deserving of contempt.
If Davis and the other members of the largest executive in Bahamian history are able to remain free from the sin of hubris and manage to stay in touch with the feelings and aspirations of the Bahamian people even as the going gets rough — which it undoubtedly will — the further away they get from their euphoric election victory, they would be much better positioned than their predecessors to hold the trust of the Bahamian people.
It is important that they are ever-mindful that despite the fact that they won 32 of the 39 seats in the House, they do not have an overwhelming mandate from the Bahamian people.
As Nassau Guardian columnist Philip Galanis observed in his “Consider This” column on Monday, while the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won 52 percent of the votes cast on September 16, and the Free National Movement (FNM) won 36 percent, the most instructive of all statistics is that the PLP secured only 34 percent of registered voters in 2021.
While some individual PLP candidates won handily, the dramatic reversal of fortunes in the various constituencies over recent election cycles is powerful evidence that voters have voted out parties, and not voted in parties, and while a politician’s ego may lead him or her to think the win was about that person as an individual, it is most often just not the case.
As examples, former Speaker of the House Halson Moultrie won Nassau Village as an FNM with 56 percent of the votes in 2017, but got just two percent as an independent in 2021.
Reece Chipman, who won Centreville with 47 percent of the votes in 2017, toppling the political titan, former Prime Minister Perry Christie, got just six percent of the votes in 2021.
Former Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis won Killarney with 73 percent of the votes in 2017, but got 51 percent in 2021.
Across most constituencies won by FNMs in 2017, the same dramatic loss of support was evident.
Vaughn Miller, who won Golden Isles as an FNM in 2017, with 56 percent of the votes, held on to the seat as a PLP, winning 50 percent of the votes in 2021.
It is doubtful he would have been in Parliament had he ran again on the ticket of the hugely-unpopular Minnis-led FNM.
As in 2017, the results of 2021 are likely more attributable to the disenchantment, disappointment, and in some respects, disgust voters felt toward the incumbent party and its leader, than any admiration for the options they voted in.
If the new prime minister and the newly-elected PLP MPs fail to recognize that fact now, and later into this term, they are bound to be another one-term administration.
In Parliament, the stage of all stages in the public arena, they must strive at every opportunity to demonstrate they understand the lessons of the 2021, 2017 and previous defeats, and take seriously their roles in the conduct of the Bahamian people’s affairs.
They must avoid at all costs becoming haughty, unaccountable and secretive, and resist the intoxication of political power, for we know political power can be a hell of a thing.
Some easily get swayed by it; they fall in love with the trappings of office, the sudden fawning and ring kissing by so many around them, and so they become enamored by the positions to which they have been elevated, through election or through appointment.
Some become blinded by their new-found celebrity and the respect they seem to garner overnight as the fount of knowledge with all matters relating to their portfolios.
As such, instead of being a forum for the proper conduct of the Bahamian people’s business, the Parliament often becomes the nationally-broadcast arena in which parliamentarians’ disconnect from the electorate gets amplified, which leads to an evaporation of goodwill and the sealing of political doom.
Such was the case over the last four and a half years.
While there were some in the executive whose motives to do good for the Bahamian people were pure, whose hard work was sometimes evident, and whose level of seriousness regarding the tasks at hand could be seen, as a collective, members of the former administration did not do enough to ensure they were always seen to be putting the people first, and respecting those whose action in the ballot boxes determined who would sit in the seat of power.
We cannot look back at the most recent session of Parliament and conclude it was a wonderful chapter in our long and storied parliamentary history.
The last session was marked by an often poor quality of debate, with some members repeatedly unprepared for debates and unfamiliar with the bills at hand.
Owing to the repeated shifting of the goal post by powerful industrialized nations, the Minnis administration spent a great deal of legislative time on bills aimed at safeguarding a dramatically-declining financial services sector.
And in the latter part of its term, it was consumed with seeking to justify the continued extensions to the pandemic-induced state of emergency.
But even before COVID-19 dealt a body blow to our national economy and turned our everyday lives upside down, the government’s legislative agenda, as outlined in the Speech from the Throne on May 24, 2017, was already largely derailed.
It seemed as if there was no true commitment to so many of the pledges in the speech.
The Minnis administration promised to enact and enforce anti-corruption legislation for all parliamentarians and public officers.
It pledged, with the consent of the electorate in a referendum, to constitute an independent Electoral Commission and Boundaries Commission, introduce a term limit for prime ministers and introduce a system of recall for nonperforming members of Parliament.
It promised to create the Office of Ombudsman to provide a direct source of relief, where people have legitimate grievances due to the actions or inactions of government or any agency of the government.
None of those particular Speech from the Throne commitments were met, though they were highlighted at the top of the speech.
Today, we expect to hear that the new administration will introduce anti-corruption legislation, an Ombudsman Bill (which is repeatedly promised in speeches from the throne but somehow never gets any attention), a campaign finance bill, an electoral reform bill, cannabis industry legislation, and legislation to replace the emergency order, if the PLP’s plan presented prior to the election is to serve as a guide for what to expect legislatively.
We hope the new speaker — identified on social media as Bamboo Town MP-elect Patricia Deveaux — is able to set the right tone, get a quick grasp of the intricacies of her role as speaker, and exercise fairness from the chair.
To be blunt, we hope she does not allow power to go to her head, but remains level-headed and protects the right of the opposition to have its say.
As the Minnis administration sought to carry out its legislative work, the atmosphere in which it did so became increasingly chaotic and at times bizarre with the former speaker, Moultrie, in the chair.
Seeing the largely disconnected and tone deaf Minnis-led government gone from office is a refreshing change that has left many people hopeful that perhaps the Davis administration would get some things right and usher in better governance in which the people’s input is valued.
The added bonus of the dissolution of the House on August 19 has been the exit from public life of the former speaker, who, though seemingly well-meaning in his crusade for a more independent Parliament, became a complete train wreck from the speaker’s chair, often reducing the Parliament to a three-ring circus, with himself as the main clown in the spotlight.
Between 2017 and 2021, we also witnessed the unfair treatment of the official opposition, which was then-headed by Philip Brave Davis, with the government intentionally avoiding question time for the opposition, as permitted in the House rules during the second Wednesday of each month.
Roughly a year before the September 16, 2021 general election, Picewell Forbes, then-MP for Central and South Andros, reminded Renward Wells, the then-powerful leader of government business in the House, “when you’re powerful, be merciful”. This came after Wells shut down efforts by opposition and independent MPs for question time to take place.
Wells advised that the Minnis administration intended to treat the opposition PLP the same way the Christie administration treated the FNM in opposition — refusing to answer questions.
And so, the term ended with a long list of unanswered questions on the agenda.
There was no report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) or any of the parliamentary committees; needed revisions to House rules never happened, and no effort was made to make the Parliament more independent.
What will largely define how successful the Davis administration is will be its ability to have a focused and productive legislative agenda, to allow Parliament to function as it is envisioned by the constitution, to provide more resources to achieve that end, and to resist the temptation to block the opposition from fully playing its role in ensuring effective and accountable governance.
As the new session gets underway today, it is not a time for payback, but a time to demonstrate maturity and seriousness in how the people’s business is handled, with an abiding respect for the constitution and the strictest fidelity to the principle of separation of powers.