It’s time to build an official Prime Minister’s residence

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OSWALD BROWN Writes

PM's new $185,000 benz.

By OSWALD T. BROWN

WASHINGTON, D.C. –The controversy triggered by the purchase of a $185,000 2013 Mercedes Benz as the official car for the Prime Minister provides an opportunity for the Bahamian people to seriously consider an issue that no government since The Bahamas became an independent nation in 1973 has had guts to address.

Although Bahamians in general take great pride in bragging about The Bahamas having the second highest standard of living in this region, behind the United States and Canada, we have allowed politics to prevent us from doing something that some of our “less affluent” sister nations in the West Indies considered to be a top priority when they became independent countries.

Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados, three former British colonies with whom The Bahamas shares a similar colonial history, all have official residences for their Prime Ministers; yet any thought of The Bahamas establishing an appropriate edifice that will serve as the official home of the elected Prime Minister of this country has never been given serious consideration in this country for fear of political backlash.

We got a good indication last week of just how strident and politically divisive such a proposal in the current political climate would be when it was revealed that a $185,000 2013 Mercedes Benz was purchased for the Prime Minister. Supporters of the Free National Movement (FNM), which was ousted as the government in the May 7 general election, were all over “social media” criticizing newly elected PLP Prime Minister Perry Christie for purchasing such a luxurious car in these tough economic times.

It wasn’t until former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham confirmed in an interview with The Nassau Guardian that he had purchased the new Mercedes for the Prime Minister’s use that the criticism of that decision subsided. Of course, when he made the decision to purchase a new car, Ingraham, who was Minister of Finance, never expected that the Bahamian electorate would fire him and his party as the government of this country.

Just why he did not see the handwriting on the wall is puzzling, to say the least. He clearly must have been in total denial about just how bad a government the FNM had been over the previous five years to not have seen his party’s imminent defeat at the polls.

Aside from the fact that many Bahamians had concluded that he was seeking to establish himself as outright dictator similar to Haiti’s late Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who notoriously ruled that impoverished nation with an iron fist from 1957 until his death in 1973, Ingraham surely must have realized that the vast majority of the Bahamian people were absolutely convinced that it was because of the mismanagement of the country’s economy by himself as Minister of Finance and his inept and incompetent Minister of State for Finance Zhivargo Laing that incoming Prime Minister Christie found the country’s economy in such poor shape.

To tell the truth, a legitimate argument could be made that, having first-hand knowledge of just how bad the country’s finances were at the time, Ingraham was indeed being extremely extravagant when he ordered that luxurious $185,000 Mercedes that he assumed would be his “smooth ride” after the election.

But even given the poor state of the economy, I see nothing wrong with the decision made by Mr. Ingraham. What’s more, he provided the Bahamian people with a history of vehicles that were purchased for the Prime Minister in the past that in my view was an acceptable explanation for why he ordered the Mercedes.

Likewise, I also see nothing wrong with a country that is relatively rich when compared to our Caribbean neighbours investing in a prime ministerial “mansion,” which will serve as the residence for all Prime Ministers after they are elected. Where is the Bahamian pride?

We need not look too far for an exemplary example of this “tradition.” Presidential elections are held every four years in the United States, and whoever wins the election moves into the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W., Washington, D.C. In the case of current U.S. President Barak Obama, if he loses the election in the next several weeks, he and his family will have to move out of the White House to make room for the winning Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Granted, it is highly unlikely that the new PLP government would give even cursory thought to constructing a permanent Prime Minister’s residence, knowing full well that such a proposal is a political “hot potato.” Even before social media outlets like Facebook empowered Bahamians with an outlet to voice their criticism, oftentimes very irresponsibly, no Prime Minister would muster the courage to make and support such a proposal; not even in the form of a referendum for the people to make the eventual decision. It does not take too much of an effort to conclude that this is one of those proposals that requires the ability to invoke the “thinking outside of the box” philosophy.

Here’s a proposal that I think has some merit: Why not establish a bi-partisan committee of individuals who can bridge the political divide and publicly raise the funds to construct a permanent residence for the Prime Minister of the Bahamas?

Absolutely no government funds will be committed to the project, which would relieve a sitting Prime Minister of any concerns he may have that his support for the project could generate an avalanche of negative criticism that could lead to his party’s defeat in the next election.

This is a proposal that I think deserves serious consideration, with a view to having ground broken for the construction of an official Bahamas Prime Minister’s residence as part of the nation’s celebrations for our 40th anniversary of independence on July 10, 2013.

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