Coleby Sounds Off – The week in Raw Politics

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colebyelcott.jpgBy Elcott Coleby

There were three articles in the press last week that I thought gave any political junky their fair share of a “political fix”. I t started with Bain and Grants Town MP Dr. Bernard Nottage criticizing the government’s handling of the economy. Also the Prime Minister had his say on the resolution to form a select committee on the disposition of crown land. Not to be outdone, Environment Minister, Dr. Earl Deveaux, hinted at a possible conflict of interest by Senator Jerome Fitzgerald over his aggressive and vocal opposition to the container port relocation from Bay Street to Arawak Cay.

FNM performing poorly
This was the charge made by the Bain and Grants Town MP last week. His rating of the government’s handling of the economic crisis was “not very good.” He said that the “government’s whole approach when it [assumed office] was wrong” and defended his claims this way:
“I think that the decisions it made at that time have had an adverse impact on what’s happening in the country right now. The various projects that were lined-up to be carried out were stopped, and what’s interesting about that is that many of them [the projects] that they said they would not proceed with, they are now proceeding with because they see the value of doing so.”

He continued that “the funding that was available then is certainly not available now. That is an important thing. Secondly, the government made some decisions to displace people from their jobs, which have had an adverse effect, not only on the people who were displaced, but also on the remaining people in the civil service and on the departments in which those people functioned.”

“Thirdly, I think that some of the decisions that are being made appear to me to be [done so] in the interest of supporters of the government, as opposed to the best interest of the country as a whole and the one that I would like to draw some attention to is [this whole] issue of the downtown container port.”

His criticism was consistent with that of the opposition since May 2007 when the FNM government began its policies of layoffs and project reviews and cancellations. What I find particularly interesting is that the media, who has the platform to influence public opinion and critique the performance of the government, by and large did not critique or analyze the results of the government’s policy decisions. Did these decisions result in improved government revenue performance, increased employment, improved household income, stable prices, and economic expansion? The government went as far as to implement sweeping tax increases without informing parliament and was allowed to do so with impunity. The media never questioned the government on these matters and the government never gave an account on the same.

Those who had the platform to hold the government’s feet to the fire were busy criticizing the opposition PLP for criticizing the policies of the FNM government. One columnist accused the PLP of “bellyaching” over the budget. Another columnist accused the PLP of being “obstructionists” with no policy alternative, but when policy alternatives were articulated by the PLP, they were largely ignored by the media; and a local editor challenged the PLP to actually solve the problems of the country. These attacks on the opposition PLP were unprecedented as the FNM, who to date has spent some twenty-six years in opposition was never held to such a standard or treated in that manner by the fourth estate. The opposition FNM was never told that the budget debate was their time to shine or prove their worthiness to the Bahamian people, nor were they ever told that criticizing the governing PLP was unfashionable and would turn voters off. To the contrary, the opposite was the norm, and as for critiquing – or savaging the governing PLP – well that practice was not only fashionable, it was encouraged.

No Resolution on Crown Land
The Prime Minister delivered his presentation on the resolution to form a select committee to investigate the disposition of public or crown land in the Bahamas. The local press reported a verbal sparring session between the PM and the Opposition Leader. There were charges and counter-charges. One editor wrote that the PM’s expose angered Christie. The exchange in the Lower House left the Opposition leader feeling this way according to the Nassau Guardian:

“Leader of the Opposition Perry Christie has suggested that Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham may be considering the prorogation of Parliament before the select committee charged with investigating the government’s handling of public lands could do its work.
“Based on the right honorable member’s (Ingraham) now intervention, I have to determine whether that committee will ever be given life to report. Okay that’s the first point and therefore I am now very curious as to whether or not there will be prorogation during this summer and that committee will die,” said Christie yesterday in the House of Assembly. If the House is prorogued all matters on its agenda would die.”

This is not my expectation. I, like many other Bahamians, want a comprehensive Land Use Policy and Act that is fair, equitable, and is reflective of the collective will of the Bahamian people. Enough of the politicking, the finger pointing, the blame game, and the one-upmanship, let’s get a fair bill passed and brought into force in the public interest. The Bahamian people have had enough political posturing and long for progressive public policies.

The Port Relocation
It has been widely reported in the local press that a group of concerned citizens, headed by Senator Jerome Fitzgerald, are strongly opposed to the relocation of the container port from Bay Street to Arawak Cay. The Senator has accused the FNM of catering to special interests and operating in secrecy. He has drawn public attention to the potential destruction to Sanders Beach if a thoroughfare is allowed to be constructed west of the Shell gas station on West Bay Street (across from Sanders Beach). In what can only be perceived as a smear tactic, a smoke screen, a diversionary tactic, or all of the fore-mentioned, the government released documents about some business interest the Senator was involved in back in 2006. It involved the construction of a desalination plant on Arawak Cay. According to published reports, the government hinted that this was a conflict of interest on the part of the senator.

What was interesting and amusing about this revelation was that it disproved the claims Minister Deaveaux sought to make. Firstly, there is no plan to construct a desalination plant on Arawak Cay in 2009, therefore the whole revelation about BK Water Ltd and the senator’s involvement in that company are all moot and irrelevant issues; Minister Deveaux simply sought to muddy the water and confuse the general public. The relevant issues are whether or not the relocation is in the best interest of the Bahamas and the possible destruction of Sanders Beach, one of the few remaining public beaches on New Providence. The government would do well to abandon the smoke screens and mass distractions and come clean to the Bahamian people with its intentions and how it would affect their lives. I shall also say kudos to the Nassau Guardian for objectively reporting both sides of this story.

Sometimes it is difficult to separate politics from public policy, but in times of crises, the proverbial line in the sand must be drawn. Simply put, no government should be exempted and excused from criticism and excoriation over its policies, especially when there is credible evidence that those policies do not serve the best national interest. Additionally, the government has a responsibility to be frank, honest, and transparent in all of its processes, practices, and policies and must never allow politics to get in the way of governance. Last but not least, the hallowed fourth estate must always seem to protect the public interest through fair, balanced, and objective dissemination of information.