By Philip “Brave” Davis, Q.C., M.P.
Leader of the Opposition
Opening Remarks at Monthly Press Conference
Tuesday, 7th August 2018
Good Morning Members of the Press as well as party supporters.
Thank you for coming!
I want to begin by reminding each of you to continue to keep the Hon. Melanie Griffin and her family in our prayers on the passing of her mother, Mrs. Telator Strachan, a Stalwart Councillor, civic activist, friend, member and supporter of the progressive cause. On behalf of my wife Anne-Marie our entire executive team of the PLP, all members and supporters nationwide, I extend condolences to the family. There will be a Memorial Service for the late Mrs. Strachan here at Party Headquarters on 10th August. We also extend condolences to SC, Isabel Newton of Central Grand Bahama, SC, Whitlene Bullard of Bimini and Jeremiah “Jerry” Knowles from Long Island.
Other parliamentary colleagues, friends and supporters of the progressive cause who have also passed are former parliamentarian Phenton Neymour and former Bahamasair Chairman Basil Sands. We are thankful for their public service and may all of their souls rest in peace.
In the face of gratuitous criticism, the uncompromising and necessary work to effect internal reform and the deepening of our democracy continue as we prepare for governance. Our recent special one-day Constitutional Convention demonstrates that our organization understands the critical need for self-examination as we strengthen our democratic processes. Its unqualified success through the adoption of the committee’s report is a clear indication of the party’s appreciation that its structure, function, policies and organizational processes must reflect and represent the collective will and desires of those whom we seek to represent.
I am a democrat therefore I reiterate my support for reform and invite new and fresh ideas as the PLP built the modern Bahamas on this model. I encourage party officers, members and all Bahamians of good will to join us and contribute to the further development of the democratic process.
Governments have a solemn responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us as this is part and parcel of the unwritten social contract between the government and the people. It builds up the common good.
The recent cuts by this government on social assistance for school uniforms is unconscionable. This FNM government has turned its back on the very people whose time they claimed it is.
The Prime Minister and his government have unceremoniously abandoned the general principle of providing a social safety net for the poor. Their pattern of behavior include mass terminations of mostly minimum wage earners, cut backs at Urban Renewal and the cancellation of the R.I.S.E. program.
The Over-the Hill economic rejuvenation project is a shift in some tax policies to benefit the rich with little to no consideration for the plight of the poor. Where is the social component to protect the poor and avoid gentrification or mass displacement of the poor in those affected communities within these economic zones?
There are more people living in extreme poverty in our communities and they need help desperately. Both a recent IDB Study and the Central Bank have indicated that nearly 50 per cent of Bahamians are struggling to “make ends meet”. We remind the Prime Minister that facts are stubborn.
Gutting the Empowerment Program because of funding only to borrow an additional $50 million from the IDB for jobs training and placement is a waste of public resources because it was a duplication of efforts. Dr. Minnis is not helping the poor or the youth with this program – he simply changed the name.
This new social services policy reduces educational opportunities and retards the social and economic mobility of the poor and vulnerable. The Prime Minister is oblivious to and callous and uncaring toward the plight of the poor given their challenging social and economic circumstances.
I am demanding that the Prime Minister, a self-proclaimed friend of the poor, to reverse this harmful policy and stop paying lip service to the poor when his policies and actions betray his crocodile tears and pompous and condescending rhetoric.
The Progressive Liberal Party is equally dismayed by the lack of progress on school repairs this year. Our concerns are further exacerbated by the comments of the Minister of Education that the Ministry of Education has a school repair budgetary shortfall of around $3 million.
Of equal concern is the accusation of negligence leveled by the Education Minister against his cabinet colleagues, the Ministers of Works and Finance for their failure to mobilize the requisite resources in a timely manner.
Casting blame around the cabinet table smacks of confusion, dissonance, disorganization, incompetence and poor leadership. Is Dr. Minnis in charge of his Cabinet? He said that he would not take on a ministerial portfolio to allow him to effectively coordinate all ministries.
Here we are, with teachers reporting to schools on the 27th of August, and few repairs have begun. This is poor governance and inexcusable. Where is the focus and priorities of this administration? I submit that the Education Minister is willfully misleading the public in suggesting that at this late hour, the government can realistically complete all school repairs in time for an early September school opening. This government has failed to plan and organize and in so doing has planned to fail.
We would like to find out from this uncaring government, how much more can Grand Bahama take:
The FNM has rewarded them with increased unemployment; increased taxes; the propose repeal of the Investment Incentive Act; the cancellation of the apprenticeship program at the Grand Bahama Shipyard; the botched and fraudulent Oban deal and now this botched Grand Lucayan Resort sales purchase deal.
The evidence suggests that the FNM government is scrambling, not sure of what to do. No plan, no new ideas, no vision.
As an encore, the government proposes amendments to the VAT Act in the current fiscal year to facilitate the refund of half of the tax revenue generated in Grand Bahama to the industrial sector. Meanwhile, ordinary Bahamians are saddled with additional taxes, but with no economic or jobs prospects for the future.
This sorry state of affairs underscores a popularly held view that the FNM government had no plan to govern; no plan for Grand Bahama and no plan for The Bahamas.
As for the recent gratuitous rhetoric attributed to Paul Wynn in the media, we simply say that the PLP government held productive negotiations with Mr. Wynn and agreed on a framework on the way forward for the purchase, repair and opening of the hotel. The unvarnished facts surrounding our negotiations are contained in the framework so there is no need to chase salacious commentary.
This administration owes the people of Grand Bahama a full and frank explanation as to why it was unable to close the sale of the Grand Lucayan hotel in Grand Bahama. The lack of transparency and uncertainty due to misleading announcements surrounding the hotel’s future have irreversibly eroded both hope and confidence of Grand Bahamians in this FNM government.
The Prime Minister’s strategy for the Grand Lucayan Hotel is secretive, deceptive, incoherent and mired in confusion. The Prime Minister must explain to the country how he intends to finance the purchase of the Grand Lucayan Hotel, inclusive of the source of the funding. Additionally, he must provide the total cost inclusive of renovation, marketing, airlift, management fees and marketing subsidy.
We say again that the Minnis government must quit its dithering and move with focus, urgency and alacrity to fix Grand Bahama.
This morning we opened our newspapers to reports of a senior public servant Simon Wilson being fired. That is false but it gave the opportunity for the press to parrot a number of false allegations against the PLP in furtherance of the political campaign of the FMM to falsely paint the PLP and those associated with it as corrupt and to injure Mr. Wilson’s reputation. I have spoken to the attorneys for Mr. Wilson and they are satisfied that he has a good and arguable defence in this matter. He also has a good and arguable case founded in defamation. When he worked as FS, I was satisfied that he never moved a pen unless he had the authority to do so. Secondly there was a report in the press of the fact that former Deputy Director of Urban Renewal Michelle Reckly was questioned by the police about matter relating to the official discharge of her duties. As a reminder to the Attorney General and other, in the UK there was just a successful case at first instance where a Judge awarded substantial damages against the state for doing just that, prejudicing a case and violation of the privacy of an individual in pursuance of a motive other than for the strict investigation. It involved the media and its complicity in this.
I am very concerned about this pattern of harassment of PLPs or those associated with PLPs. I am concerned that this Government instead of getting down to work for this country is engaging in this foolish exercise of using the state apparatus to harass our people and to injure their reputations in a manner from which they can hardly recover and there are others this also applies.
Our Party notes with much interest a communication from the Chairman of the Lyford Cay Property Owners Association to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance over their concerns regarding amendments to the Real Property Tax rates. We have indicated before that the self-proclaimed smartest Minister of Finance the country has ever had, pursued ill-advised tax policies. Had the government engaged stakeholders through industry consultation it would have avoided the negative impact, consequences and the public embarrassment resulting from its decision.
We admonish this government to be as consistent in its response to the concerns expressed by trade unions, small and large contractors, vendors, public servants, doctors and nurses and the average ordinary Bahamian as it was in responding to the concerns of rich residents in Lyford Cay.
Why haven’t they heard the cries of the Bahamians who used Munnings Road to get to and from work or the cries of the parents of the young woman who lost her life because a road was closed for an individual or a few individuals.
Why haven’t they heard the cries of the Bahamians on the 60% increase in VAT.
And, why haven’t they heard the cries of Bahamians who are struggling to pay medical insurance with this increase in VAT medical Insurance is now completely out of their reach. Many are now considering dropping their medical and joining the 65% of Bahamians who currently do not have medical insurance.
It is never good when the concerns of ordinary Bahamians are ignored by the government and are made to feel by the actions of the government that they must carry a disproportionate tax load so that the wealthy can maintain their lifestyle of opulence at the expense of the poor.
I will now take your questions!