Oswald Brown Writes
By OSWALD T. BROWN
Since he returned from his extended vacation, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has been acting and behaving as if he is still on vacation as far as the critical issues currently facing this country are concerned.
Except for the fact that Mother Nature forced him to make an address to the nation after Hurricane Irene ploughed through The Bahamas, with devastating consequences in Cat Island and some of our islands in the south, Ingraham’s lips have been glued tightly on other serious concerns facing the nation, particularly the frightening epidemic of dengue fever that has been a cause for a great deal of anxiety among Bahamians for almost two months.
Minister of Health Dr. Hubert Minnis, who has direct responsibility for informing the nation as to just how serious a problem the outbreak of dengue fever is in the country, initially seemed to downplay the gravity of the situation, but he and his staff eventually had to come clean and admit that The Bahamas was in the midst of a severe crisis.
This was about midway through Ingraham’s extended vacation, and one would have thought that a leader who cared about the welfare of the people of his country would have recognized the need to return “home,” if only briefly, to let The Bahamian people know that his government would do everything possible to deal with this frightening health-care issue. Of course, Health Minister Dr. Minnis attempted to demonstrate that his ministry was indeed doing just that, but in times of a terrifying crisis people like to hear what’s been done to alleviate their concerns from the leader of their country. But Ingraham instead chose to continue enjoying his respite from the day-to-day travails of governance.
There is a school of thought that Ingraham’s inappropriate behavior in this regard is because he no longer considers himself answerable to the Bahamian people, having been allowed to get away with similar questionable decisions that have not been in the best interest of the Bahamian people throughout his more than four-year tenure as Prime Minister this time around.
There is another school of thought that Ingraham wanted to see Health Minister Dr. Minnis fail to adequately deal with the dengue fever outbreak. This hypothesis is based on reports that there currently is an internal war going on in the Free National Movement (FNM) over Ingraham’s leadership of the party.
According to sources, for the first time since Ingraham cunningly became leader of the FNM in 1990 by claiming that FNM founding leader Cecil Wallace Whitfield on his deathbed handed the leadership “torch” to him, Ingraham is faced with a serious challenge from original members of the FNM – persons who were involved with the FNM from when it was organized in 1972 following an amalgamation between moderate members of the United Bahamian Party (UBP), the predominantly white party that was defeated by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) in the historic January 10, 1967, general election, and the Dissident Eight, a group of elected PLPs who became disenchanted with the legendary leadership of the late Sir Lynden Pindling.
These sources say Dr. Minnis, who has been arguably the most competent Minister in Ingraham’s cabinet, is being touted and strongly supported for the leadership of the party by original members of the FNM and that Education Minister Desmond Bannister, who has also acquitted himself very well as a Minister, has strong support for the Deputy Leader position.
Ingraham, however, has been grooming his protégé Zhivargo Laing, who serves as Minister of State for Finance, to replace him as leader of the FNM, but Laing has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not have what it takes to be the leader of a major political party and by extension a future Prime Minister. Just recently, during the FNM government’s ill-advised giveaway of BTC to Cable & Wireless, Laing bungled an important assignment given to him that totally embarrassed Prime Minister Ingraham and he was forced to postpone a press conference set up for the formal signing of the sale of BTC. Even though he represents a constituency in Freeport, Grand Bahama, Laing apparently was not aware that the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA), which essentially “governs” Freeport, had to approve the sale; hence, the PM had to call off the signing ceremony after the GBPA initially indicated that it had some concerns about the transaction.
Further evidence of Laing’s lack of qualifications for the leadership position that Ingraham is trying to bequeath to him is that as Minister of State for Finance, he has been a complete failure. Indeed, it’s mainly because Prime Minister Ingraham is the Minister for Finance and he depends on Laing for advice that the country’s economy is in such a poor state. We have a small economy, and although there has been a world-wide economic recession for the past several years, competent financial managers would have found innovative ways to lessen the impact of that recession on The Bahamas.
What Ingraham and Laing chose to do, however, was go on a borrowing spree that has escalated The Bahamas’ national debt to $4.3 billion dollars. It is small wonder then that Moody’s, the international credit agency, recently downgraded The Bahamas’ credit rating. To be sure, there’s no question that Ingraham and Laing have seriously mismanaged The Bahamas’ economy.
Obviously, Ingraham is used to having his way, and in the past those who opposed him found themselves either consigned to the graveyard of political obscurity or publicly humiliated, as was the case with former Education Minister Carl Bethel, who was fired on national television during the FNM’s last convention and forced to accept the job as chairman of the party. Now there are reports that Ingraham is about to replace him as chairman because he is perceived as having not done a good job directing the affairs of the FNM.
The man who apparently has been designated to replace Bethel as chairman is Michael Pintard, a charismatic and articulate rising political star in the FNM, but it is this potential move by Ingraham that reportedly galvanized opposition to him within the party.
Ingraham certainly realizes that the FNM is on the brink of being soundly defeated in the next election by the PLP. There’s a distinct likelihood that the newly formed Democratic National Alliance (DNA) may win enough seats to become the official opposition, with the FNM finishing in a distant third place, and this is why Ingraham is trying to involve some “new faces” on the team that he wants to present to the electorate in the next election. But to do this, he has to get rid of some elected members of the FNM that he does not consider to be “team players”; hence the strong opposition he reportedly is now faced with inside the party.
This could account for the don’t care, arrogant attitude Ingraham has been displaying lately, such as his amazing decision to accept an offer to use the Aga Khan’s helicopter to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Irene. This could also be the reason why he did not put his brain in motion before he made the nonsensical statement that none of the islands of The Bahamas was devastated by Hurricane Irene.
Considering the political quagmire he now finds himself in, Ingraham would be wise to start doing some positive things to try and preserve his once favourable legacy as Prime Minister; otherwise, he would have squandered all the good legacy-enhancing benefits he accrued during his first two terms as the leader of this country.