National Review

Sowing division

PM’s national development lecture misses the mark

Prime Minister Philip Davis’ appeal last week for Bahamians to “work together” to achieve a “common, loftier goal” was laughable when taken in context of a politically divisive lecture he delivered at the University of The Bahamas (UB) on the National Development Plan (NDP).

In that lecture, which sounded more like a PLP convention speech, the prime minister declared “it’s a new day” after he characterized Progressive Liberal Party policies since 1967 as progressive for the nation, and amplified policies implemented by Free National Movement administrations, which he suggested benefited elites and the wealthy to the detriment of the masses.

Put simply, we found Davis’ address to UB’s Government and Public Policy Institute a disappointment, and a missed opportunity, as we stated in our editorial in this publication last Wednesday, and as some others have observed.

The speech was given during the independence period, a time when politicians and other national leaders attempt to put on a united front as Bahamians everywhere celebrate and commemorate their nationhood.

As The Bahamas observes its 49th year of independence this month, we are at an important juncture in our national life where we should be having serious conversations about where we are and where we wish to be in another 50 years as a country.

Any successful effort in this regard would require a level of political maturity on the part of our leaders and cooperation from opposition forces.

It was impossible to view the prime minister’s address as anything but a political speech, when, in fact, it ought to have risen above the politics and get us thinking about how we can indeed work together to achieve more as Bahamians.

We were unable to take seriously the prime minister’s call for unity in formulating a vision and an agreed plan for The Bahamas as he repeatedly belied any commitment to a nonpartisan effort that would require input and cooperation from stakeholders across every major sector of our country.

When he was done speaking, we were not left inspired or provoked into thinking about our priorities as a nation and how we indeed can work together for the common good.

We were left feeling we had wasted our time even listening to Davis.

The prime minister told his audience, “National development needs us all to pull together, for the betterment of everyone. By working in partnership, we can spend the next 50 years building the kind of Bahamas that each of us knows in our hearts is better.”

His appeal for unity came even as he declared the PLP to be the party under which real national progress occurred while the Free National Movement instituted policies that benefited special interests.

Davis’ speech was clearly crafted by a speech writer or writers who are incapable of objective perspective, or who choose not to demonstrate that they indeed are capable of such.

The prime minister acknowledged significant changes that occurred in The Bahamas post-Majority Rule in 1967, when the Progressive Liberal Party was elected, and up to 1992 when the Free National Movement was elected to govern for the first time.

“Apart from the social transformation, the hallmarks of this period were the creation of the foundational institutions and structures of our modern Bahamas: the Central Bank; the Royal Bahamas Defence Force; the National Insurance scheme; compulsory education through to high school for all; and of course, the founding of the College – now, University – of The Bahamas,” he said.

Davis did acknowledge that with the oligarchical order left intact, an economic glass ceiling remained.

“…  We can fairly characterize the plan for national development during the Pindling years as the implementation of ‘The Quiet Revolution’,” the prime minister added.

The expansion of education, the creation of the middle class and the establishment of important institutions that serve our nation to this day were all noteworthy accomplishments under our first majority Black government headed by Lynden Pindling, who is revered even in death.

But Davis conveniently ignored the damage to national development, which occurred in the 80s during the infamous drug years under the Pindling administration. Pindling’s own legacy was stained during that period and his political fate sealed.

It was a low moment in our national life post-independence, the impact of which we continue to feel to this day.

The corruption and damage to our national reputation led to the historic election of Hubert Ingraham and the Free National Movement in 1992.

Characterizing this period, Davis said, “With the first change of government since independence taking place in 1992, national development thereafter featured a more managerial approach. The status quo was largely left intact.”

He added, “A quick glance at some of the biggest initiatives of that time reflect an ideological shift which removed certain economic protections for Bahamians that had been implemented during the Pindling years.

“The repeal of the Immovable Property Act, the privatization of [the Bahamas Telecommunications Company], the monopolization of the port of entry – the Arawak port – and the extensive roadworks initiatives, all allowed private interests to profit magnificently from government institutions.

“Other social initiatives, such as the liberalization of the radio airwaves introduced similar ostensibly ‘free-market’ changes.

“This proliferation of media, and especially the radio call-in format, was the early version of the social media landscape on which we live today.

“While the language of the time was about the virtues of capitalism and so on, in fact public money was used to subsidize many of these projects, and create protections against competition and other market forces.”

While this portion of the prime minister’s speech was under the rubric “context”, it did not fully or accurately capture the full context of the times.

We note that while the PLP to this day characterizes the repeal of the Immovable Property Act as harmful to Bahamian interests, 30 years later, and with the PLP having been in office for nearly 11 of those years, no PLP administration has amended the land policy law to change how foreigners are able to acquire land in The Bahamas.

While Davis seemingly downplays the impact of the transformational policy to open up the airwaves, we know of no Bahamian who thinks that the liberalization of the communications sector was antithetical to national development.

The prime minister also conveniently skipped over the transformational impact the Atlantis development has had on the Bahamian economy. Through the Paradise Island project, attracted under the FNM administration, the middle class was expanded and numerous Bahamians were trained in specialized areas of construction and the hotel industry.

The educational plant was also significantly expanded in New Providence and other islands. In addition, islands that previously had no electricity were electrified.

According to Davis, the Christie administration in 2002 “shifted the focus back to a national development agenda”.

“Big, bold initiatives like anchor projects, BAMSI (Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute), Urban Renewal, and National Health Insurance sought to extend the agenda of the ‘Quiet Revolution’,” he added.

“The doubling of investment in education also signaled a return to Pindling’s ideological roots.”

Spinning wheels

In his lecture, Davis also dismissed the entire period of the Minnis administration as bad for The Bahamas.

“… I struggle to see any positive impact on national development since 2017,” he said.

The prime minister said that under the Minnis administration, during the state of emergency, we were taken back to pre-1967 “where extremely narrow economic interests were prioritized and favored over others”.

The Free National Movement under the leadership of Dr. Hubert Minnis proved detrimental to The Bahamas in some respects, though we believe certain initiatives like the establishment of free tertiary education for Bahamians, and solving the years-long problematic situation at the city dump on New Providence were positives.

We would run out of newsprint if we attempted to fully analyze the impact of the policies of the various administrations that governed our Bahamas over these last almost 50 years.

We say this: The progress touted by both FNM and PLP administrations has not been enough for any party to win a second term since the FNM in 1997.

That speaks volumes to how the Bahamian public views the political leaders who have governed their affairs over these last decades.

We have been like hamsters on spinning wheels, starting and stopping and restarting and shifting direction.

Our greatest hindrance to national progress — and by that we mean measurable improvements in areas like education, the provision of healthcare, economic and social development — has been blind political allegiance where many Bahamians are unable to see beyond their party line.

Many have the same attitude demonstrated by our prime minister in his lecture: My party has been good for The Bahamas. Your party has been bad for The Bahamas. I cannot see and appreciate anything your party did to advance our country. I cannot see anything wrong my party did to hinder our progress.

To know where we are going, we need to know where we have been, so goes the cliche.

But disparaging the work of predecessors is unhelpful to any effort at agreeing to a National Development Plan.

There is a place for firing political shots. The university forum on national development a day after the independence anniversary last week was not it.

In his lecture, the prime minister noted that the last Christie administration launched a formal National Development Plan, which “shifted the idea of governance and planning into something far more structured, stable, and long-term”.

This had the potential to be progressive had it not been abandoned.

Playing politics, Minnis, who in opposition had endorsed the plan, shelved it upon coming to office, undoubtedly because he viewed it as a PLP initiative.

This was shortsighted and unfortunate.

Prime Minister Davis should do his part to offset any perception that it is indeed a PLP thing.

In its pre-election document, “Our Blueprint for Change”, the PLP has pledged to resume work on the plan.

We note that 10 months into office, Davis has yet to do so.

If the prime minister is serious about getting the opposition, other political groups, and stakeholders from civil society, the business and religious communities and other sectors onboard in finalizing the National Development Plan and agreeing to implementation, then he needs a new approach.

For starters, Davis could demonstrate seriousness by reconvening the NDP committee to resume its work ahead of the 50th anniversary of our independence.

There’s no place for the political division he has sown in what is being billed as a nonpartisan, national effort.

At what point will we put our Bahamas over our politics?

JUMP HEADLINE:

At what point will we put our Bahamas over our politics?

PULL-OUT QUOTES:

“If the prime minister is serious about getting the opposition, other political groups, and stakeholders from civil society, the business and religious communities and other sectors onboard in finalizing the National Development Plan and agreeing to implementation, then he needs a new approach.” — NATIONAL REVIEW

“We were unable to take seriously the prime minister’s call for unity in formulating a vision and an agreed plan for The Bahamas as he repeatedly belied any commitment to a nonpartisan effort that would require input and cooperation from stakeholders across every major sector of our country.” — NATIONAL REVIEW

“Many have the same attitude demonstrated by our prime minister in his lecture: My party has been good for The Bahamas. Your party has been bad for The Bahamas. I cannot see and appreciate anything your party did to advance our country. I cannot see anything wrong my party did to hinder our progress.” — NATIONAL REVIEW

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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