National Address by
Hon. Phillip Davis
Leader of the Opposition
In Response To
Prime Minister Dr. Hon. Hubert Minnis
Monday, July 31st, 2017
My Fellow Bahamians:
At the recent celebrations of the 44th Anniversary of Independence of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas, many prayers were said for the nation: for our people, our leaders and the life of the country. It is a time when Bahamians come together to give thanks for God’s gracious gift to us; a time when Bahamians reflect on our journey thus far, and a time when the country unites behind a common purpose, namely a better future for all.
After the Prime Minister’s first address to the nation last week, we in The Opposition are left perplexed that the address did not reflect the vision of Hope put forward at Independence. Instead of seizing the opportunity to unite the country after a hard-fought election, he chose to continue the divisive rhetoric, to continue his attempts to rewrite history, all the while, offering no vision, no concrete policies, no credible plans for taking the country forward.
While it would be easy politicking merely to rebut the many troubling aspects of the Prime Minister’s speech, instead, tonight I wish to invite the country to rise above the mud-fight which the Prime Minister appears to prefer to hard work, and instead look to the task of a shared agenda toward the positive national development of the country.
Three months ago, the Bahamian electorate sent a powerful message for change. We face very serious challenges, and – like so many other nations – have struggled to create enough jobs, grow quickly enough, or solve our security problems. With their votes, Bahamians decided to see if the FNM can do better.
It is a message which we in the Progressive Liberal Party heard loudly and clearly. In fact, we have already begun a period of listening, of consultation and reflection. We approach this task with humility and with determination.
In our conversations throughout the archipelago, Bahamians tell us they still profoundly support the ideology and mission of the PLP. They know that the PLP has brought about the biggest, best and most profound positive changes that are the foundation of the modern Bahamas. And they still believe that the PLP remains a powerful force for good in our country.
But Bahamians also want us to know that along the way, we lost their trust on too many fronts. We know it’s up to us to earn it back.
And so already, we have begun that process of change and reform.
And indeed, where the new government seeks to promote and institute thoughtful reforms in our public sphere, they will have our wholehearted support.
Of course, when they go beyond public policy goals, and seek to scapegoat and exact political revenge, we will not be silent. Playing with people’s lives to further a political agenda will not be tolerated.
The fight against corruption must not just be against the government’s political opponents, but also against private corruption. The wealthy businessman who cheats on his customs duties is as corrupt as the politician who awards government contracts to his own businesses.
Beyond the anger of this current time, Bahamians are a fair people. And in a society as small as ours, if they see their families, friends, colleagues, church members and associates, being unfairly victimized, they know that one day it may land at their door, and they will rise up against it.
Anti-Corruption Measures are a fundamental component of good governance. It is essential to our democratic fabric that these measures be independently institutionalized to ensure a fair and just process.
The process must be non-political, and it must not degenerate into selective witch-hunts.
On the theme of transformation, the Prime Minister offered very little, beyond the general aspirations expressed in the Speech from the Throne.
Regarding the Economy, the Prime Minister offered no plan for growth. He offered no vision for diversifying the economy. He had nothing to say about alleviating the high burden of debt which stops so many households from moving up the economic ladder.
What is the strategy for getting new revenue into the economy? Where is the plan for growing the economic pie? Instead, the Prime Minister announced across-the-board cuts, and the intention to make thousands of Bahamians unemployed.
In doing so, the government is risking putting the economy back into recession, which would mean excruciating hardships for families across our islands. If this was his intention during the campaign, he took care to hide it from voters.
Much of the FNM’s campaign was a fiction, now they face reality. The transition to governance has not been easy for them. The reckless statements they made during the budget debate caused the Moody’s Ratings Agency to consider downgrading the Bahamian economy; we can only hope that brush with danger has taught them that their political rhetoric has consequences, and that they will be more truthful and less careless in the future.
My Fellow Bahamians:
There is little that is more important than strengthening and expanding education in our country. We need 21st century ideas, new approaches, and real investments.
The Free National Movement made big promises about Education during the campaign. They promised to improve accessibility to higher education through free admission to the University of The Bahamas. They promised to out-do the Progressive Liberal Party which had doubled the country’s investment in scholarships.
But instead, the government has recently announced that they will not keep those promises. They will not help young Bahamians to fulfill their dreams of higher education. This is a huge betrayal and will put a brake on the country’s future. We need our people to be educated.
Education is not an area in which to move recklessly. It is an investment in the future of the country, the best defense against poverty and crime.
And if the government doesn’t have a plan, and does not know how to proceed, then again, I say to the Prime Minister, much of the groundwork has been laid already in both the Ministry of Education and the National Training Agency. He should implement the bi-partisan plan, ‘A Shared Vision for Education 2030’, which was previously presented to parliament. This plan was a cross-party effort, which was developed by several former Ministers of Education. The Prime Minister should recall that he appointed the former Member of Parliament, Hubert Chipman, to the Task Force, and that his Attorney-General, was also a member of that bi-partisan group.
The evidence and analyses are there; detailed plans have been formulated. To throw them out, simply because they were developed under the last administration, is wasteful, foolish and mean-spirited. Surely you can be big enough to put aside politics so that we may be united in the goal of ensuring that each Bahamian is educated to the best of their ability.
We applaud the government’s stated commitment to National Health Insurance. The best healthcare system in the world is not worth much to people if they cannot afford to access it. We are committed to working with the government, to ensure that the model of NHI which is implemented, best meets the needs of every Bahamian.
As the Prime Minister observed, crime continues to plague our society. During the campaign, he promised that they had the answers, that once in government, he and his team would unveil a crime-fighting plan, which would successfully tackle the problem. Rather disappointingly, just last week we now have the Minister of National Security admitting that they don’t have the answers!
So far we have heard nothing but promises of a ‘zero-tolerance attitude’ and efforts at increased policing. As this approach has been in place for the past several years, we hope there is more, and that the government does not delay in offering new policies.
Because here the lack of strategic thinking in the government has been laid bare.
The Prime Minister noted that he is committed to providing resources to help the “poorly-guided young men” in society. Yet, by already firing hundreds if not thousands of people in the past few months, and by blindly cutting education and social service support by 10%, his government is increasing the stresses and strains on the young people in those households, condemning them to desperation and a life of economic hardship. This does not support families or provide stability in their homes.
Our previous administration was not perfect.
We made mistakes, including some serious ones.
But we were always especially mindful of the people impacted by our policies – we did not and do not think in terms of statistics, but in terms of individuals, people, families, neighbors, friends. We know the people who will be helped when the government does good, or harmed by an ill-considered government slash-and-burn policy.
In considering the human impact of government policy, we have always been steadfast.
The frustration and sense of hopelessness amongst our ‘poorly-guided young men’ will only grow if the government cuts off their educational, economic and social lifelines, and its expression through criminal activity will only increase.
Even if the Prime Minister’s pride prevents him from acknowledging any of the successes of our administration, at least keep those programs on which so many people rely to for their basic needs.
And while we share the government’s view that the problem of crime has developed over many years, we completely deplore the Prime Minister’s dishonest attempt to rewrite history and assign blame to the leaders in the 1970s and 80s. The drug trade that has ravaged every country in this region is international in nature, devastatingly local in impact. This is a matter of fact. Playing fast and loose with our history is shameful, and beneath the dignity of his office.
Even so, the Prime Minister’s attack makes no sense. The average age of people committing crimes over the last several years has been between the ages of 17-25. Those persons would not have been around in the 1970s and 80s. The Prime Minister should be careful about blaming ‘history’ for all our challenges.
And on the subject of history, the Prime Minister is experienced enough by now in public life, to know that ‘those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it’.
As was highlighted during the Independence celebrations, the biggest fight ever seen in this country was the people’s fight for Majority Rule in 1967. The people’s fight was against the tyranny of those who had a firm grip on power in this country. Those leaders who, with their powerful majorities in parliament, thought that their rule would never end. The people put an end to that. That was the beginning of ‘the people’s time’.
And so I say again to the Prime Minister: Those who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it.
On the single, concrete, tangible proposal that the Prime Minister mentioned, he sadly failed to deliver on the principle of Transparency, on which he so heavily campaigned. He mentioned, almost in passing, that the government will go into partnership over the ownership of the Grand Lucayan Resort in Grand Bahama, but his silence over any significant element of the arrangement raises a lot of questions.
Who are the partners? What are the terms? How long will the arrangement last? What is the financial return to Bahamians? We look forward to a much more detailed account from the Prime Minister regarding this proposed partnership.
For many Bahamians, the emptiness of the Prime Minister’s agenda beyond political revenge is becoming clear: He seems to have little, practical idea of how to get things done. What’s the plan to deliver better public services? It will take more than a comments box in each office.
We agree with the need for an efficient judicial system, but here again, we wonder whether they will be mature enough to build on the foundation and successes of the Swift Justice Program of our previous administration, rather than cancelling those innovations and reforms.
My Fellow Bahamians:
Your Prime Minister told you it would be “the people’s time”.
We continue to ask: “which people?”
Not the hundreds of people being fired from the public service.
Not the thousands of Bahamians who have heard nothing from the government about how they will improve their education.
Not the many thousands more who have heard nothing about where future employment opportunities will come from.
The Prime Minister did not speak to the key challenges facing the country, nor say how his government would increase opportunities available to Bahamians.
Since the Prime Minister refused to do it, I now call upon all Bahamians, from all sectors of society and all walks of life, to come together to work for a better Bahamas. Even though we have our political differences, we need to put them aside in the national interest.
We need to help them.
As a first step, we strongly and respectfully invite to The Prime Minister to read The National Development Plan. It has a detailed analysis of the challenges facing our country, and offers a wide range of solutions in addressing them. Bahamians from every walk of life and across the political landscape, contributed to this Plan. Indeed, whilst many members of the governing party contributed, it was noticeable that it was only the Prime Minister himself, while in opposition, who was absent from so many of the discussions.
The National Development Team is based in the Office of The Prime Minister. The many experts who support the work of that team, and who work across the public sector, can help the government to develop the policies and the plans that are so clearly lacking.
My Fellow Bahamians:
As we journey through this 45th year of Independence, let us continue to give thanks to Almighty God for all the blessings that he has given us, and pray that He will continue to hold us safe in his arms, and continue to guide us to a better future.
God Bless You All, and God Bless The Commonwealth of The Bahamas.