Oswald Brown Writes
By Oswald Brown
I am becoming absolutely convinced that Dr. Hubert Minnis is totally out of his depth as he attempts to exert control of the opposition Free National Movement (FNM) in the aftermath of the party having been led for more than two decades by an iron-fisted leader who dictatorially controlled the FNM as if it were his personal fiefdom.
Clearly, ever since Dr. Minnis took over the leadership of the FNM following the party’s crushing defeat in the May 7 general election, the FNM has been like a rudderless ship buffeted to and fro by the hurricane-force winds of bad advice Dr. Minnis has been receiving from persons that he believes have his best interest at heart.
His call at a press conference on Monday for the government to abandon the planned referendum on the legalization of webshops and a national lottery on January 28 was a prime example of the terrible advice he has been receiving.
Unbelievably, Dr. Minnis suggested, according to an article in Tuesday’s Nassau Guardian, that the government should now appoint an independent board to research the “socioeconomic benefits and pitfalls of legalized gambling and present the findings to the Bahamian people before they are asked to vote on the issue.”
Aside from being a well-crafted sentence in his prepared speech, this was unquestionably a silly statement for Dr. Minnis to make, given the fact that the “numbers game” has been a reality in The Bahamas from the 1950s when we were still a colony of Great Britain and pounds, shillings, and pence were our monetary currency. That’s more than half-a-century that Bahamians have been engaged in “playing the numbers.”
In my late teenage years, in the late 1950s, there were very successful numbers house operators like the late Percy Munnings and Stokes Thompson, who used the daily numbers that were thrown in Cuba to determine what to make payouts on. Eventually, they developed their own in-house method to determine the number for the day by putting 99 balls with numbers from one to 99 on them, and at a set time of the day a bag with all those numbers was tossed to one of a group of persons gathered in a room and one ball was isolated while the others were thrown into an empty container. The ball that was isolated then became the number that fell that day.
This was the process that was used virtually throughout the 1960s, but advancements in technology and the legalization of lotteries in many states in the United States resulted in numbers operators here in The Bahamas shifting to using the daily numbers that fell in Florida and eventually Illinois, New York and a number of other states.
Over the years, efforts to “enforce the law” against what was considered to be illegal operations were clearly a waste of time. Back in the early days, raids were occasionally conducted, but after several days or so the numbers houses would be back in business again.
Today, the game is professionally computerized and it is virtually impossible to “close down” the existing numbers houses. Indeed, you can sit in your living room, as I often do, and play your daily numbers with your favourite webshop, after having established an account with the webshop and receiving an AMT-style card that can be used to withdraw your winnings.
What is so hypocritical about the position now being taken by Dr. Minnis is that prior to the recent May 7 general election, both the Progressive Liberal Party and the FNM indicated during the campaign that they would let voters decide via a referendum whether there should be a national lottery and webshops should be legalized and regulated.
There is no question in my mind that had the FNM won the election, Hubert Ingraham would have likewise held a referendum on the issue, so it really makes absolutely no sense for Dr. Minnis to now be suggesting that the referendum should be delayed and an “independent board” appointed to further research an “industry” that has been in full operation in this country for more than 50 years.
I strongly suspect that Dr. Minnis is still reeling from the blistering and bitter attack against him by Sharon Turner, in the aftermath of the North Abaco bye-election after he publicly chastised Ingraham for conceding that the FNM had lost the bye-election before he did. Because Turner was the personal photographer and PR person, among other duties, for Ingraham throughout his most recent five-year tenure as Prime Minister, it is widely believed that Turner’s vitriolic tirade against Dr. Minnis was orchestrated by Ingraham, and it is this realization that has him shell shocked and groping in the dark for a political issue that could gain some traction to demonstrate his leadership ability.
He should face the facts that he would never be able to fill Ingraham’s “political shoes”; nor should he want to, for I strongly believe that many FNMs had become tired of Ingraham’s roughshod, despotic style of leadership and were happy to see him go into retirement.
Therefore, it is far better for Dr. Minnis to carve out his own leadership style and stop listening to bad advice like his call for the referendum on the legalization of a lottery and webshops to be postponed.