Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie Leader of the PLP addressed convention last evening.
Nassau, The Bahamas – Attacking the Ingraham FNM government on many national issues from crime and violence to in delays with anchor development approvals by the FNM, leader of the PLP Perry G. Christie drew sharp contrast between his government’s record to that of the current Ingraham’s FNM.
“Unemployment is rising. Capital inflows have dried up. Our international ratings are slipping. The money supply and available credit have shrunk almost to nothing. On many of the major development projects, especially in the Family Islands, we may have missed the boat already because of the FNM’s carelessness and indecisiveness.’ The PLP leader said.
A FULL TEXT of the RT. HON. PERRY G. CHRISTIE MP
We meet at a time of great crisis. Our country is in trouble. Everywhere you turn, everywhere you look, our people are screaming out for help.
Who is listening? And who will help?
Last year we recorded the highest murder rate in the history of our country. Crime has become a great, big galloping demon let loose in the land. It is devouring our young. People of all ages are terrified as never before, afraid to come out of their houses, afraid to go to sleep, afraid to go anywhere, even to church.
Crime has gotten so bad you now have kids killing kids in school. You now have kids killing kids walking home from school. You now have people getting gunned down right smack in the centre of the city. You now have murders in broad daylight in parking lots and at bus stops. You now have car chases through the streets of the capitol and you have guns going off in drive-by shootings at high noon. And now you even have businessmen being kidnapped from their homes and taken to their offices at gunpoint.
Rapes and robberies are skyrocketing. Domestic violence is at an all-time high. Dope-dealing and drug-using are in resurgence. And there are more guns in circulation than you can count.
There are no ifs, ands or buts about it: crime in this country is out of control. And our people are screaming out for help.
But who is listening? And who will help?
But let’s stick a pin there for just a moment while we take a quick look at what’s happening on the economic front!
As you know, this time of year is traditionally the height of our tourism season. And yet last week you had some workers at Atlantis who were only working three days or sometimes four days a week, while next door to where we are right now, you have waitresses and other workers in the Casino who are only working two or occasionally 3 days a week. All of this comes at a time in the tourist season where the legitimate expectation is that hotel / resort workers will be working a full work week and with some overtime.
How can you make ends meet if your work-week is reduced to that? And if this is the best you can do at the height of the tourism season, just imagine what may be in store for you this summer.
Things are bad, I tell you, real bad.
If you want to know just how bad things are, go and ask the taxi-drivers; ask the straw vendors; ask the shop assistants down on Bay Street; and go and ask the hundreds of construction workers who have no work to do.
But don’t stop there. Ask the resort developers and real estate agents how bad things are? And ask the bank managers how tight the money supply is. Ask them, too, how difficult it is for young couples and single mothers to qualify for a loan to buy a house so they can stop paying rent? Ask them, too, about the families that are losing their homes because they can’t keep up with the loan payments because Mommy lost her job or Daddy is working a short-week now.
But who is listening? And who will help?
Well, I can tell you who isn’t listening, and I can tell you who isn’t helping either! It’s this new FNM government under Hubert Ingraham that isn’t listening; and if they are listening, they’re sure not hearing! And whether they’re hearing or not, they’re certainly not helping, that’s for sure!
But let’s just stick another pin there, so we can swing back to the issue of crime.
Just what has this FNM government been doing to wage war on crime since they came to office nine months ago?
I’ll tell you what they did:
To begin with, they shut down the Urban Renewal Programme. However they put it, stop, review, cancel, change or re-launch they shut it down;
Then they took policemen off the school grounds;
Then they demoralized the Police Force by playing havoc with the promotions that were done on our watch.
Then, just when things were going from bad to worse, they removed the two top generals from the frontlines of the war on crime and sent them both off to Canada at the same time.
And then, when things really got out of control, they just threw their hands up in the air and put the blame on everybody except themselves.
But let’s stick another pin there and go back to the economy for just a minute. And let me say that I’m deliberately swinging the pendulum back and forth between the economy and crime because I want you to see the correlation between the two, and because I want you to understand how the FNM has brought the same incompetent, unthinking, approach to the one problem that it has to the other.
So, let’s look at the economy again. But let me be completely fair: I don’t blame the FNM government for the sub-prime meltdown in the United States. I don’t blame the FNM for the surge in oil prices either. And I don’t hold the FNM Government responsible for anything else that may be causing the recessionary trend of the U.S. economy.
But what I do blame the FNM Government for, and what I most assuredly indict them for, is for taking a full nine months to bring Albany and BahaMar to a point where they could finally get started and bring desperately needed relief to our construction industry and our economy as a whole.
Hear me now and hear me well: it was precisely because the U.S. economy was headed for recession, and it was precisely because the FNM should have foreseen the dampening effect that the sub-prime crisis was bound to have on the resort development/second home market in The Bahamas, that they should have been ready to get out in front of the problem as soon as they took over.
They should also have known how important it was to move quickly to approve BahaMar and Albany so that when the recessionary winds came blowing into The Bahamas, the impact would be lessened.
It must be understood that my administration approved both projects guided by major Economic Impact Studies that confirmed in full detail the great value of these investments to The Bahamas. These scientific assessments evaluated economic impact over a ten to twenty year period detailing the large amounts of jobs to be created, extensive entrepreneurial opportunities for Bahamians and other, positive spin-off effects.
I will have an opportunity to address in full detail whatever changes have been made by the FNM government. But, the FNM should have moved sooner.
But no! Hubert Ingraham and his cohorts were too busy trying to find a way to discredit BahaMar and Albany because these were mega-development projects that had been brought to The Bahamas by my government.
That was the same kind of pettiness that led the FNM to put the brakes on any number of other projects that the PLP had already approved.
That was the same kind of pettiness, too, and the same lack of vision and foresight that led the FNM to announce that it wasn’t going to re-locate the commercials ports to the southwestern end of New Providence anymore.
This move, as you know, had been designed by my government to pave the way for the re-development of the City of Nassau into a tourism mecca of world class standards. It would have made Nassau the most exciting port city in this part of the world. In so doing, it would not only have renovated our tourism product, it would have provided countless new opportunities for the economic empowerment of ordinary Bahamians as well.
But o’ no, once the special interest groups put their hooks deep into the FNM, Mr. Ingraham and his government were only too eager to announce that the ports wouldn’t be moving out west anymore, and that the plan and vision we had left behind for the renaissance of Nassau would therefore become a thing of the past.
Remember what the Good Book says about vision and what happens when your leaders don’t have any? : “Where there is no vision, the people perish!”
That’s the sad and dangerous prospect we confront in our country today. Because this new government has no vision, we are sailing into rough waters in a ship without a rudder with a captain who cannot see, or if he can see, he just doesn’t get it!
The new Straw Market was another victim of this lack of vision and this deep-seated pettiness that drives the FNM to undo all that the PLP left behind.
The construction of a new straw market would have represented the first major step in the re-development of the City of Nassau, and it would have brought much needed relief to the hundreds of suffering straw vendors in the downtown area.
But o’, no, the FNM had to dump that construction project in the garbage tin too, because it was a PLP idea!
Worse still, they scrapped it even though the contract for the new straw market had already been signed and everything was set to go.
Once you accept that Straw Vendors are merchants in The Bahamas of selling straw and related manufactured goods – and in many cases with good earnings – you can see how wrong this government was for preventing these businesses from being properly established on Bay Street as the PLP intended.
The result of all this, of course, is that our people were made to suffer. Instead of getting projects out of the pipeline so that we could get a head start on the approaching recession, the government of Hubert Ingraham just dilly-dallied, delayed, and derailed one good project after another. In cancelling, suspending and delaying over $80 million of contracts, my government had awarded to Bahamian contractors, they made a colossal error of judgement and – in effect – gambled with the economic livelihood of Bahamians just so they could appease their own political pettiness.
As a result, we are only just now trying to catch up. In the meantime, however, the recessionary winds are already battering us about with brute force. And, believe me; it will get worse before it gets better.
But it didn’t have to be this way! It didn’t have to come to this! BahaMar and Albany could have been nine months deep into their projects now, instead of only just now beginning to mobilize. I should also tell you that we had approved the Ritz Carlton development for Rose Island. That development and its capital inflows should also now be fortifying us against these destruct recessionary winds. If only the FNM government had moved sooner, we would be in a much more economically secure position than we find ourselves in today.
And that leads me to a larger point, and it is this: all the FNM had to do when they came to power was to implement what the PLP left in place. All they had to do was to continue what the PLP had been doing so successfully for five years. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
Consider what we left in place for the FNM to build on:
Firstly, we grew the economy robustly. The FNM inherited a healthy, growing economy from the PLP last year. In 2007, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), in real terms, was over 4%, thanks to the sound policies and prudent management practices of the PLP government.
Secondly, the inflow of foreign direct investment into The Bahamas during the period of my administration was far greater than in any other five-year period in our economic history since Independence. In all, 53 development projects, with a total combined value of $13.6 billion dollars, were at varying stages of actual development when we left office in May last year. Collectively, these projects alone were poised to wipe unemployment out completely in our country and empower Bahamians as never before.
Thirdly, we reduced the GFS deficit from the rate of 3.4% of GDP that we had inherited from the FNM when we took office to an impressive 1.6% of GDP in 2007.
Fourthly, we increased the rate of Recurrent Revenue to GDP to over 20% of GDP – a clear indication of the economic buoyancy and vastly improved revenue administration we were able to bring about on our watch.
Fifthly, we were able to achieve that impressive increase in Recurrent Revenue without ever having to increase existing taxes and without ever having to implement any new taxes either. In fact, we managed the public finances so prudently and so well that we were able to reduce the GFS deficit, improve essential public services and increase salaries in the public service and the disciplined forces without ever having to resort to any new taxes or increases in taxation at all. In fact, not only did we not raise or introduce any new taxes, we were able to give major real property tax and stamp duty exemptions to first home buyers as well – something which the FNM, as you know, has now decided that first home buyers will not have anymore.
Sixthly, the average Bahamian household income increased from $39, 379 in May 2002 when we took over to $43,420 in May, 2006 – after just four years of PLP Government.
Seventh, the average annual level of foreign reserves during our term in office was higher than in any other five year period in our history.
And eighth, we consistently achieved top “A” grades from international rating agencies for outstanding economic and fiscal management.
Such then, in outline, was the macro-economic record we left in place when the FNM took over.
But look at us now; look where we are today, just nine short months later, under this FNM government of Hubert Ingraham.
The economy is stagnating. Unemployment is rising. Capital inflows have dried up. Our international ratings are slipping. The money supply and available credit have shrunk almost to nothing. On many of the major development projects, especially in the Family Islands, we may have missed the boat already because of the FNM’s carelessness and indecisiveness – yes, you heard me right because that’s a word we used to hear a lot of from them when we were in government, so let me repeat it – because of the FNM’s carelessness and INDECISIVENESS, we have missed the boat on a number of major projects that will simply not happen anymore or, if they do happen, are getting off to such a late start that we will never be able to achieve the full benefits we could have achieved had the FNM not been pussy-footing around these last nine months.
As if that’s not bad enough, the FNM has turned its back on the Anchor Resort Policy that was so central to the economic success of our country over the last 5 years. It also held the brightest promise for the future as well.
Early on, we had recognized that one of the great challenges facing our nation was the absence of a plan to arrest the decline in the population in some parts of The Bahamas, including, most notably, our southern islands.
Too many Bahamians were continuing to leave their island homes in search of better opportunities for themselves and their families in Nassau. That was the reality that led me to introduce the Anchor Resort Initiative which was intended to create a new economy in each of our significantly populated islands so that these islands could live again, and so that the population strain on New Providence, with all of the attendant social evils, could be brought firmly under control.
Clearly, the positive turnaround in the economy on our watch came about largely as a result of my Government’s success is attracting tourism projects to islands throughout The Bahamas.
And yet, despite the success of the Anchor Resort Policy and its enormous importance to the long-term alleviation of population congestion here in Nassau and the attendant alleviation of the problems of crime, inadequate housing, and so on, this new Government simply lacks the vision and the foresight to see how critically important it is for us to keep the policy going.
There are more anchor projects for them to review and approve. They should now move more quickly to process them.
But let’s stick another pin right there so that I can continue to interweave this discussion of crime and the economy. I return, therefore, to the problem of crime for a moment.
As you all know, we designed and implemented an Urban Renewal Programme to help rebuild the lives of disadvantaged youth, the elderly, the sick, the poor and their environs. In doing so, we were also making a direct attack on the root causes of crime in our country.
Putting band-aids on a sore is one thing but if you really want the sore to fully heal, to go away and not come back; you need to find out what caused the sore in the first place. And you have to treat it so that it heals! That’s what Urban Renewal was to the problem of crime.
It was a systematic attempt to tackle the problem of crime at its roots, even while we were putting the police in a stronger position to take criminals off our streets.
Urban Renewal was an enormously successful Programme. It won high enthusiastic praise and awards for community policing innovation and excellence around the world. Former Commissioner Paul Farquharson hailed it as an indispensable component of the national strategy for law enforcement. He said, “The establishment and expansion of Urban Renewal projects in the over-the-hill communities has become a viable tool to reduce and control crime. I submit that Urban Renewal is perhaps the boldest initiative to crime fighting in recent times.”
His Grace Archbishop Gomez pronounced it the single most important form of social intervention to be introduced in our country since Independence.
And yet, the FNM put it at the top of its hit list! Within weeks of coming to office, they announced that they would be scrapping it.
When I first heard of the FNM’s plans to dismantle Urban Renewal, I honestly couldn’t believe it. However they put it, stop, review, cancel, change or re-launch. It was insane!
I thought of Commissioner of Police Paul Farquharson in his 2006 policy statement, when he said, “It is evident that the quality of life in The Bahamas is at its highest largely due to the success of the Urban Renewal Projects and other initiatives.”
I thought of the many churches that had partnered with the Government and had invested human and material resources in the programme in a major way.
I also thought of the extraordinary accomplishments of the Urban Renewal Programme. Like so many others, I had seen for myself the expressions of joy of the many young persons whose lives were being positively changed by their involvement with Urban Renewal.
I thought of the glorious accomplishments of the Farm Road Marching Band and, yes, orchestra and the extraordinary pride we all felt in watching over one hundred youngsters who had been trained to read music and play at least two instruments. This band became the victim of the FNM winning the last election. For as a government they were so hell-bent on changing what the PLP left in place that they allowed this band to be decimated and – in so doing – killed the joy of an entire community. There is no greater tragedy than allowing political prejudice to kill something so beautiful. It must be reinstated.
Under the Programme, special district constables were also introduced into the community to serve as facilitators for the maintenance of peace, and as much needed mentors and surrogate father-figures for troubled young men. This was community policing at its best and the success of this programme was underscored by the Commissioner of Police who said in his 2005 report that there was an overall 30% decrease in crime in 2005 in areas where Urban Renewal Projects were established! Further, Dr. Desiree Cox, consultant to the Urban Renewal Commission, in her report on the District Constables in Englerston said that three months after they established the programme, the crime statistics showed a 64% reduction in crimes against the person.
Why would any government wish to tamper with this evidence-based, successful intervention against the crime we are all so desperate to contain? We need Urban Renewal and we need it now in the effective form that we left it in!
I therefore call upon the Government tonight to re-introduce the Urban Renewal Programme exactly as we left it for them. “If it aint broke, don’t fix it!
The programme was working beautifully. It was mending broken lives. More than that, it was saving lives.
Put Urban Renewal back in the effective way that it was! Not tomorrow, do it now! This is no time to be playing games with people’s lives.
I also call upon the government to put the police back on the school grounds. Not a month from now, start it now!
I also call on the Government to expand the ranks of law enforcement officers by increasing the enrolment in the police reserves, by extending the network of constituency police support organizations, and by expanding the civilianization of the Police Force so that more police officers can be freed from office duties in order to take up direct, frontline positions as crime-fighters on our streets.
We also need to ensure 24 hour mobile patrols in much greater density and with much higher visibility on our streets and in our neighbourhoods and around our schools than is now the case.
We therefore have to ensure that we invest in acquiring and maintaining all of the vehicles and surveillance technologies the police need to get the job done. These technologies must also include electronic ankle bracelets so that violent offenders can be monitored and tracked “24/7” while they’re out on bail.
We also need to tighten up our laws for the granting of bail, even if it means having to pass a constitutional amendment to do it.
All of these things that I’ve mentioned are important and necessary steps because even as we seek to re-introduce Urban Renewal in its effective form, it is vitally important that we stop the murder and the mayhem that is afflicting our nation so badly right now. We need to stop the bleeding before we can effectively treat the wound!
Our streets, our schools, our neighbourhoods and our communities, have to be made safe and secure once again. People are sick and tired of all the violence and lawlessness in our society. It simply has to stop!
And as parents and guardians, as older brothers and sisters, let us also be mindful of the responsibility we must personally shoulder to teach and mentor, to guide and direct the footsteps of those we have in our charge. This was also something done by Urban Renewal. This, more than anything else, is the most effective antidote to crime there can possibly be.
These efforts at the personal level must also be supported by the introduction into the curriculum for all primary and secondary levels, both public and private, a mandatory course of study, for all students, in correct social behaviour and conflict-resolution. Such a course is needed urgently. I therefore call upon the Government to see that such a course is devised by the experts and introduced as soon as possible.
Let me return now, for the final time, to the economy.
I call upon the Government to approve, without further delay, all of the development projects that were approved or left in progress on our watch. These projects include hundreds, even thousands of jobs that out-of-work Bahamians are waiting to fill. Stop playing with people’s lives, stop playing with people’s heads, just because you want to kill or hold up something that the PLP did. Approve these projects now so our people can be put to work!
I also call upon the Government to stimulate the real estate market, to energize the construction industry, and to make home ownership more affordable to young Bahamians, by re-introducing the stamp duty exemption that my government extended to all first home buyers. It is unconscionable and fiscally short-sighted for the Government not to make this exemption available any longer. Bring it back into force, and bring it back now!
In conjunction with that, I call upon the Government to conclude all necessary arrangements to make the 300 acre tract of land in the Southwestern part of New Providence available for home ownership by Bahamians. This, as you will recall, was part of the package of social benefits negotiated by my Government with the developers of Albany.
I also call upon the Government to launch and sustain a massive programme of vocational training, under the auspices of BTVI, so that our young people can be systematically trained in the shortest possible time to take maximum advantage of the employment opportunities that will shortly become available as the Albany and BahaMar projects finally, after protracted delay, come on stream.
In launching this programme, the government must send sensitive representatives into the streets to find those individuals who have grown weary of seeking employment and have given up and use best efforts to persuade them to take advantage of the new opportunities that will be made available.
This training is especially critical for the construction trades. Unless we move aggressively and quickly to make this massive commitment to vocational training a reality, I am afraid that the main beneficiaries of the construction of the new mega-resorts on Cable Beach and in southwestern New Providence will be Mexicans or Asians imported in the thousands to do the work that Bahamians would not have been trained to do.
Action is therefore needed and it is needed now.
Fellow Delegates, my brothers and sisters:
Now that we are nearing the end of this fantastic gathering we have had these past three days, I would like to personally thank this Convention – the supreme authority of our Party – for once again returning me by acclamation to the leadership of the Progressive Liberal Party.
I would also like to publicly thank my parliamentary colleagues who earlier expressed their unanimous confidence in my continued leadership of this great and historic organization.
I want all of you to know how humbled I am by your vote of confidence in me and how inspired I am by the call to continued service you have sounded in my favour.
I accept that call and I do so with the solemn assurance I now give you, that I will bring to the leadership of our party in opposition all of the passion, all of the dedication, all of the fortitude, and all of the wisdom and skill we will need to secure the Progressive Liberal Party’s return to the government of this country in the next election, whenever it is called.
In saying that, I also want you – especially PLPs – to know that I have learned some valuable lessons from our defeat in the last election – as I am sure we all have – and that next time around, you can be assured we will not make the same mistakes again. I promise you that.
You know, there were some who were ready to count me out, and to write all of us off. But just look at us now!
We may be bloodied but, by the grace of God, we are unbowed!
We were down for a while but not down for the count!
We have lifted ourselves up and are ready for war. We are standing tall and feeling strong.
Yes, some have left us, but many more have come.
For every one who left, 10 more have come.
The door that revolves to let someone out keeps turning to let someone in.
All you have to do is look around you in here tonight, or if you’re at home look at what you see on TV, to see that the few who thought they would weaken us by leaving have only strengthened the many who stayed. More than that, they have multiplied our numbers! And our numbers will continue to grow mightily in the months and years ahead because each and every day that the FNM remains in power only serves to remind us that only the PLP can be counted on to govern our country with vision and with purpose!
Only the PLP can be counted on to govern with equality and fairness! And only the PLP can be counted upon to hear the cries of the people and lift them up, just as we’ve been doing ever since the flag of this party was first hoisted in our land fifty-five years ago.
So keep on marching, fellow delegates, keep on marching toward our next date with destiny! We may be in the wilderness now but it is only for a time and that time will be short. Our time will come again and it will come again soon. And when it comes, as come it must, we will resume the progress of the Bahamian people toward a more peaceful and prosperous society for all.
ALL THE WAY!