By Sharon Turner
The governing Free National Movement (FNM) launched its bid for re-election last week on a foundation of disinformation, misleading some of this country’s most disenfranchised communities in a telling signal that the Bahamian people could be in for a political period marked by desperation and untoward attempts to maintain power at any cost.
A fundamental violation of trust was executed by government at its event in central New Providence, which set a tone for the remainder of the term that the administration is not only unwilling to heed the fervent calls of Bahamians for honesty and respect, but it is more than willing to misrepresent itself to the masses and dance in our faces while doing so.
Further, having staged political kabuki at a center named in honor of Bahamian icon Edmund Moxey — a patriot who fought valiantly against dishonesty and injustice in political life — the governing party mocked not only the value of such a fight but its importance to the Over-the-Hill community.
Vulnerable segments of societies the world over — be it the poor, the displaced, migrants and the like — are often viewed as easy prey for politicians seeking a springboard to prominence and popularity.
The poor, for example, are typically the least respected and least acknowledged in society and given their lack of finances and social status, they are also often the least able to influence the powers that be to bring about change that benefits more than a select few.
Because of the level of need that exists in vulnerable communities in our country and beyond, avenues for exploitation are rife and self-serving individuals bent on power over progress know it can be easier to beguile a hungry man than a man with money and influence to spare.
Last week, the government, via a flyer designed in an official format bearing the coat of arms and a neutral color scheme, announced a town hall meeting for central constituencies of New Providence, including those in the historic Over-the-Hill districts.
When town meetings are held by government, they are designed to give residents an opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns, and to hear from government representatives and other public and private sector officials affiliated with the matters for which such meetings are held.
Town meetings are a traditional transparency and accountability mechanism and, when weighted toward openness and full disclosure, build trust in government.
But what was publicized as a town hall meeting was instead a campaign launch rally held by the governing party where, naturally, no questions from the public were sought or accommodated and no format was arranged for residents to learn how they can take advantage of benefits touted via the government’s Over-the-Hill Initiative.
Considering a subsequent statement by FNM Chairman Carl Culmer that the meeting was both pre-planned and sponsored by the party, the move to promote the same as a government town meeting was by all reasonable deductions a deliberate misleading of New Providence residents.
The importance of the government’s actions extends beyond politics.
Whenever a government says one thing but does another, it erodes public trust.
When a government causes its citizens to take a certain course of action (in this case taking the time and expense of coming out to a supposed town meeting), but the intention is to give those citizens the opposite of what they were led to expect, the same is a fundamental violation of that trust.
By pitching to residents of some of the island’s more impoverished areas an official meeting that would be for their benefit, only to cause them to become placeholders at a political rally, was to hurl at inner-city residents contempt which the FNM promised would be a thing of the past on its watch.
By treating inner city residents like pawns in a political game, the FNM succeeded in handling these hopeful and long-suffering Bahamians with the kind of disrespect it has long accused the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) of showing to those in what have been traditional PLP strongholds.
And by having so little regard for the sensibilities of residents that it would mislead them in this way, the governing party engaged in shameless exploitation of those in the inner city — most of whom are law-abiding and hardworking Bahamians who only want what’s best for their community.
Last week’s meeting was supposed to be the central district’s time to make their voices and views heard to their government and fellow Bahamians, but their voices were silenced amidst the churning entrails of political trickery.
Some observers reasoned that the government’s move was an attempt to test its political strength and machinery, but on the contrary the move had the distinct scent of fear — because a true test of strength would have been to call a political rally outright.
But it seems the governing party was afraid that its banner would be more of an extinguisher than a fire starter, and felt that unless the people believed they were coming to a politically neutral official government event, hopes for a respectable turnout would be up in smoke.
The criminalization of marijuana back in the 1930s was, opponents argue, an inherently political issue, and now as political sentiment evolves worldwide regarding the use, cultivation and distribution of marijuana, so has the push for decriminalization and access for medicinal and recreational use.
Here in The Bahamas, sentiments vary widely on the subject, but many agree that The Bahamas should seize the moment in the medicinal marijuana industry as others insist that possession of small quantities of marijuana should be decriminalized.
The latter is where the train of political craftiness on the part of the government has revved up in recent months.
“Freeing our young men” has become the mantra of the prime minister, who against the backdrop of the Marijuana Commission’s work established a campaign of seeing to the release of young men convicted of simple possession of marijuana, and the expunging of criminal records for the same.
Noted attorneys including Wayne Munroe, QC, and opposition leader Philip Brave Davis have publicly argued that the courts do not typically sentence persons to prison for simple possession of marijuana, but rather order fines or grant either a conditional or absolute discharge.
In a recent interview with the Tribune, Munroe said, “I don’t know of anyone who is in prison for simple possession of a small quantity of marijuana… Now who is in jail are people who are convicted of possession with intent to supply – trafficking — and there is no plan to decriminalize trafficking in drugs because they didn’t decriminalize it in Jamaica either.”
Though the prime minister’s recent proclamations gave the impression in some circles that expunging criminal records is a new idea he is now spearheading, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act already provides for this wherein after five years, first-time convicts and those convicted prior to their 21st birthday of drug crimes excluding possession with intent to supply, can have their records expunged.
It is understandable why a politician might seek to use marijuana reform as a campaign platform, but politicizing the marijuana push has the potential to derail benefits Bahamians might derive from foreshadowed legislative or policy reforms.
Once a politician takes an issue into his or her bosom heading into an election season, focus and decisions thereupon can shift from what will benefit the masses to what will benefit that politician.
This can open more doors than usual for any potential marijuana industry in this country to be cornered by politically connected individuals before it has a chance to get off the ground, leaving the average Bahamian once again in the position of onlooker as opposed to owner.
But there is a deeper issue at play in the prime minister’s “save our young men” mantra couched in the marijuana debate.
To suggest that the reduction of prison sentences for a potentially small number of convicts is tantamount to “saving” our young men of the inner city, grossly minimizes both the complex challenges facing freed inmates and the roadblocks faced by young inner-city men generally.
It also minimizes the intricate socio-economic and political factors that underpin stubborn conditions of poverty, joblessness and crime in the inner city.
When this newspaper visited businesses in the Over-the-Hill district last week, none of the business owners interviewed reported receiving concessions through the government’s initiative, and many said they have not seen much of an impact in the community.
In its divisional breakdown of crime statistics for 2019, the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) said murders in the central district accounted for 14 percent of the island’s count that year, closely behind the southeastern district (16 percent) and the south central district (17 percent).
A town meeting that could have included RBPF officials and could have helped residents better understand how they can access facilities to help themselves, their families and their community is what the residents of the central district deserved and ought to have been given.
They are worthy of the same level of respect that would almost certainly have been paid to residents in the western district which includes Killarney, and where the prime minister’s more influential constituents would undoubtedly have been unimpressed by being gimmicked into attending a campaign rally when an official town meeting was billed.
No informed person would suggest that endemic problems in the inner city can be addressed overnight.
But the prime minister is doing a disservice to Bahamians in these communities by serving them platitudes about longstanding social ills rather than clearly demonstrating how government initiatives can and have translated into life-changing progress for the majority of those in the inner city.
A fraudulent foundation
Regrettably, it is very likely lost on the prime minister and many in his administration that to establish a re-election campaign on duplicity is to deliver to Bahamians a jarring confirmation of what they have been bemoaning about the group they overwhelming elected over two years ago.
There is hardly a place where one does not hear Bahamians say they feel bamboozled by the promises, pledges and claims of the FNM in the run-up to the 2017 general election.
Genuinely hoping for change and progress, and believing that the FNM they were voting for would perform as the FNM they had always known, supporters and first-time voters alike are struggling to swallow a bitter pill of disappointment.
Bahamians want many things.
In the main, what most Bahamians want from their government is respect, fair play and not to be treated as idiots or second-class citizens in their own country.
Right-thinking Bahamians want a government that will work in the best interests of the masses, and want a government that will do what it says it will do and will be honest with the public when it is unable to fulfill a promise or pledge.
Bahamians by and large want a government they can trust, parliamentarians who don’t forget where they came from upon taking the oath of office and a prime minister who is true to his or her word and conducts the affairs of state with openness and transparency essential to good governance.
By patting itself on the back for having successfully duped Bahamians at last week’s event, the current administration sent the electorate a message that what we want from them we will not get, and that there is no need for them to do better because in their mind, Bahamians will not want to go back to what they had before.
Ordinarily, governments try to conceal attempts to mislead the public, but last week’s display showed a level of disdain for the Bahamian people that has at other times manifested itself in demonstrations of arrogance, dismissiveness and an attitude that Bahamians do not have the right to demand of the FNM what it elected the party to do.
How can a party inspire confidence and hope by employing tricks and ploys to launch its bid for a second term?
A joint and a dream will not soothe the electorate to sleep, and are incapable of producing a high that can lift Bahamians out of the conditions of social and economic stagnation in which they find themselves.
Fraudulent foundations can look real and might hold up for a while, but they are not built to last.