The govt’s false narrative

Speaking at the annual Bahamas Business Outlook conference yesterday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis blamed criticisms of the government’s announcement following its hurricane donor conference on Monday on uninformed commentators.

“I have noticed some confusion in the public sphere as to what a pledging conference is and what these commitments mean,” Minnis said.

“Unfortunately, some who were not present at the event seem very confused and very poorly informed. Had they informed themselves they would not have made silly, confused and uninformed statements in the press.

“Some, who have an obligation to be more responsible, are irresponsibly making up false narratives of what happened. Again, some seem not to understand what transpired or the nature of a donor conference.”

The statement the government released after the conference advised that governments, NGOs, multilateral institutions, companies and individuals pledged $1.5 billion in recovery funding and in-kind services at the event, which was attended by 300 local and international delegates.

The Office of the Prime Minister informed that the pledges included initiatives in homebuilding and repair; educational assistance; renewable energy partnerships; relief aid; grants; direct assistance to storm victims; park restoration; loans and financing.

The statement did not advise that loans and financing made up the greatest portion of the pledges — $975 million to be exact.

The Free National Movement quickly followed up with a press statement saying, “One point five billion dollars in pledges were captured at yesterday’s Hurricane Dorian Pledge Conference, demonstrating the international community’s trust in the FNM government’s ability to manage donated funds appropriately.”

Understandably so, many were left with the impression that “donated funds” accounted for the lion’s share of the pledge.

The $975 million pledge was made by a U.S.-based company, The P3 Group, which is eyeing funding for a new health plant. The company said it was a title sponsor of the donor conference.

Its CEO Dee Brown confirmed that it is offering a low-interest loan. 

Kay Forbes-Smith, who resigned as Senate president to head the Disaster Recovery Authority, later acknowledged the loan offer in an interview with The Nassau Guardian and said a full breakdown of the pledges would be published on Thursday (yesterday).

That did not happen.

In failing to make clear from the outset that the pledge conference produced a $975 million loan offer, the Minnis administration opened itself to criticisms. 

Shadow Minister of Finance Chester Cooper accused the government of misleading Bahamians by failing to state that fact from the start.

Gowon Bowe, the Fidelity Bank & Trust Chief Financial Officer and a member of the Fiscal Responsibility Council, called the government’s statement disingenuous. 

Minnis condescendingly suggested that those who have raised questions about the way the pledge announcement was presented are ill informed.

The prime minister has accused observers of setting a false narrative, but it is clear that the false narrative in this matter was set by the government itself.

The media, other stakeholders and every citizen of The Bahamas have the right to ask questions about The P3 offer and to demand the government be transparent — as it has pledged to do.

If the government decides not to accept The P3 loan offer, the value of the “pledges” made would dwindle substantially.

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands has accused those raising questions of being ungrateful. That is an unfortunate conclusion drawn by the health minister who seems to have missed entirely the point of the public discourse triggered by the government’s original statement on its conference.

A demand for transparency and expressions of ungratefulness are two different things altogether.

Arrogance, bad PR and misleading statements are a surefire way to erode trust.

The Minnis administration should be mindful of this and act accordingly.

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