Without public trust, no government can succeed

The trust of the citizenry is what gives an administration its legitimacy in a democracy, and is key to successful governance.

When citizens trust their government, they are more willing to participate in the political process and in nation building, and government has an easier time securing necessary support for its policies that tackle national issues no administration can fix on its own.

When the Davis administration ascended to office, its victory at the polls was due to the decision of the Bahamian people to fire the Minnis administration, which had violated public trust in ways that, in numerous instances, were without precedent.

When the Minnis administration ascended to office, its victory at the polls was due to the decision of the Bahamian people to fire the Christie administration, which also lost widespread support of the electorate, due to repeated violations of public trust.

So damaged was public trust in government, and in the safety and benefit of the political process, that record numbers of eligible voters opted not to participate in last year’s general election.

Bahamians are a people whose trust in government over the years has been scandalously disregarded, and whose sensibilities have been trampled underfoot in a stampede of hubris on the part of those elected to serve.

When Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis’ party secured victory at the polls last September, he acknowledged the deficit in public trust he would be facing, pledging on election night to “work hard to overcome” the doubts of those who did not cast a ballot for the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).

In our January 2021 interview with Davis, the then-opposition leader expressed concern about the level of “cynicism” among Bahamians, due to years of disappointment about unfixed national problems.

Davis expressed a desire to see opinion-shapers such as Perspective, help “to alleviate public cynicism, so that the people could get involved and participate whether they will be voting for me or not”.

Unless or until compelling evidence to the contrary emerges in office, we are currently of the view that Davis generally has good intentions for The Bahamas and the Bahamian people.

It is why we are calling on the prime minister to soberly consider the impact of his recent public utterances, and of controversial government decisions, which, if they become a pattern, could undermine and ultimately undo the good he insists his administration is committed to doing.

Quarantine quandary

Debate ensued last week after Davis revealed that he left quarantine last month to pay for Christmas gifts.

We do not have sufficient information to definitively argue that a law was broken by Davis, and make no accusation in that regard.

What can be definitively argued is that Davis, by his own unsolicited commentary, believed he was doing something he ought not do when he left what he described as self-imposed quarantine.

Davis said at his party’s memorial service for the late Leon Griffin, “Christmas was nearing as we know and I had ordered my Christmas gifts and needed to pay for them. So, I called the store and I said, ‘Look, I’m in quarantine and I need to pay for the things but I can’t be seen out.’ They said, ‘Well, what we’ll do is when we close the store, we’ll let you know when the store is empty and you can come by.’

“So, they called the aide about 10 minutes after six to say, ‘All clear, come now.’”

American founding father James Madison once posited, “If a man is not fit to govern himself, how can he be fit to govern others?”

Even if Davis broke no laws, an action does not have to be illegal for it to be inappropriate.

Since the prime minister, by his own words, knew the protocol he should follow, he ought to have governed himself by that protocol, whether public eyes were on him or not, and utilized what would certainly have been other avenues at his disposal to settle the payment of his Christmas gifts.

Davis’ commentary was especially problematic because it gave the appearance of a prime minister soliciting the assistance of members of the public to conceal a matter regarding pandemic protocols – a request that would have been granted with little to no resistance because of the office Davis holds.

Moreover, in making the statement, “‘Look, I’m in quarantine and I need to pay for the things but I can’t be seen out’”, Davis put himself in the position of members of the public questioning what else the prime minister may be prepared to do, so long as the public does not see or know about it.

It may well be that the prime minister believed or reasoned that a negative test result meant he would not have posed a danger to the public by leaving home, but this dynamic brings to the fore longstanding deficiencies in the containment processes of the country’s pandemic response.

Last term, the creature of “voluntary quarantine” had life when it pertained to government politicians, who gave the impression that though they would have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, they were choosing to quarantine as a favor to the public, as opposed to as a condition outlined in emergency orders.

Since Davis’ exposure would have come from close contacts including his spouse with whom he resides, his quarantine ought not have been merely a choice or an act of goodwill but ought to have been required by a health officer until such time as his 

quarantine period would have ended as per Health Services Act rules.

The rules on quarantine periods for the fully vaccinated have since been changed but, at the time of Davis’ exposure, vaccination status or prior infection had no bearing in law on one’s conditions of quarantine.

Seeking to argue the point that the prime minister broke no laws, the Office of the Prime Minister issued a statement Friday evening, which did little to remedy the situation, and ultimately missed the point of why the matter mattered.

The prime minister injured his own credibility by making a statement on his quarantine break that he was under no compulsion to make, and that he had to have known would have caused upset and controversy due to the pandemic response and his role therein.

We do not agree with the claim by the leader of the opposition Free National Movement (FNM) that this matter may “greatly set back” the country’s COVID fight.

But now that Davis has made his public admission, we urge the prime minister to respond properly to potential impacts on public trust by facing the Bahamian people directly to give necessary explanations or apologies, rather than using his office to deliver press statements that attempt to defend his utterances or decisions. 

Bahamians are generally forgiving of their politicians – sometimes too forgiving – and typically give their leaders the benefit of the doubt if they feel their leaders respect them enough to be straight with them, and face the consequences of their actions head on.

Dogs and parked cars

Responding to criticism about the government’s delegation choices ahead of its trip to the World Expo in Dubai, Davis shrugged off objections as political mischief and being analogous to the saying “dogs don’t bark at parked cars”.

Prime ministers, by virtue of their position, exist in a bubble of political consciousness and, because of the power they hold and the desire of others to be in good stead with that power, prime ministers are constantly lied to.

In that bubble of political consciousness, where Cabinet ministers and appointees often tell prime ministers what they want to hear or what they believe will further their personal agendas, it can be difficult for the nation’s chief to be in touch with reality about the chasms between what he or she may genuinely believe is good work, and how the public perceives that work.

A policy or project may be beneficial but the execution thereof can so damage public confidence or offend public sensibilities, that one’s good proverbially becomes “evil spoken of”, and public support for the work is lost.

Prime Minister Davis is a seasoned politician and parliamentary representative, and he does not have the public reputation of being disrespectful to the sensitivities of Bahamians.

But his analogy in response to public concerns about the Dubai trip was disrespectful, and our suspicion is that his commentary is born, at least in part, out of what those close to him are telling him about the gravity of the public’s concerns.

To the extent our suspicion is accurate, we caution the prime minister that such advice is not consistent with the facts.

Even if every single Bahamian who had concerns about the Dubai trip was either a member or supporter of the FNM, they are Bahamians, and there ought never be an occasion where, even in jest, a politician should deem it appropriate to put a Bahamian’s views on par with the innate responses of a canine.

The same is unjustifiably denigrating.

In truth to fact, the Bahamian people neither needed nor widely desired encouragement from the FNM to form opinions and express concerns about the Dubai delegation.

In our interview with Davis last year, he accused the Minnis administration of “lacking understanding of the needs of people and how to respond to those needs. They are very insensitive to much of the needs of our people.

“I see myself as a servant leader, and a servant leader will respect the people he represents.”

We ask the prime minister to keep at the forefront of his mind the reality that his government was elected by a wounded people, whose hopes and aspirations have been assailed by government waste and corruption, and by perpetual disrespect by politicians who took their concerns and demands for granted, often making them akin to a lack of patriotism.

Accomplishments were made on the Dubai trip but those accomplishments were overshadowed to some degree by justifiable misgivings that were fanned by ill-advised government statements.

The prime minister will do himself no favors in office by convincing himself that if what he believes is his good work is not being duly celebrated as such, the same must be due to resentful political adversaries.

Doing so will close himself off to both understanding the contemporary mood and desires of the Bahamian people, and addressing those needs appropriately.

In defense of the administration’s international relations efforts, Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper told reporters, “Our prime minister is taking the role as promoter-in-chief to create investment opportunities and touristic opportunities for our people.”

Meantime, while making his “dogs and parked cars” analogy, Davis said, “This government is moving, so I expect to hear barks.”

Potent evidence of movement by a government is its progress with respect to its legislative agenda, which, for the Davis administration, is both ambitious and robust.

We sought a copy of the agenda of the House of Assembly and, for the new year, the Davis administration has no bills on the agenda thus far.

Lack of focus and organization were foremost among factors that lead to the Minnis administration’s less-than-stellar performance in accomplishing its legislative agenda.

We hope that what Cooper termed as Davis’ ‘promoter-in-chief’ role, does not mean the prime minister intends to spend an inordinate amount of time outside the country this term.

After all, the prime minister selected three accomplished men for the posts of Foreign Affairs, Tourism and Investments, and Economic Affairs, who ought to be well able to promote the country’s interests at home and abroad in these critical areas.

The prime minister also holds the weighty post of minister of finance and, at such a critical period in the country’s economic and social standing, The Bahamas needs the prime minister to not only occupy but fill the office he holds, putting his unique stamp on governance and leading both proficiently and resolutely.

Proficient leadership includes ensuring, as finance minister, that financial reporting, required by law, is submitted to Parliament within the timeframes statutorily established.

Given the size of Davis’ Cabinet, and what already appears to be positioning on the part of some who desire the posts he now holds, it is especially wise for Davis to establish himself as the nation’s leader not only in title but in clear execution.

When government is successful, the Bahamian people are successful, and it is in the interest of all Bahamians that the Davis administration succeeds.

Its pathway to success must be paved with a style and manner of governance that builds and nurtures public trust.

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