FIRING THOSE MPs WAS AN UNWISE POLITICAL MOVE
By Sharon Turner
As foreshadowed, the Prime Minister fired from their government postings the MPs who voted no to one of the 2018/2019 Budget Bills – the VAT Bill. Two of those MPs, Travis Robinson and Vaughn Miller, were Parliamentary Secretaries. The other, Frederick McAlpine, a statutory board chairman.
In politics, a leader must make many decisions that necessarily strike the often delicate and precarious balance between expediency and the greater good. This politically vacuous and grossly miscalculated decision by the Prime Minister failed to strike that quality of balance, and is a move that is going to hurt the Prime Minister and his government far more than it would the men he fired.
The government holds a wide and comfortable 35-4 majority in Parliament. Four of its members, Reece Chipman being the fourth, voted no to just one of its Budget Bills. Even if these four members left the FNM today, the Minnis administration is not in a balance of power danger by the numbers. And since none of the four are Cabinet ministers, the Prime Minister has not seen the start of a Cabinet mutiny via any of those four no votes. By the numbers, he is still very much okay, as is his government. He was under no undue political pressure to act in one way or the other. He could have used wisdom, and ascertained the beneficial and advantageous difference between what one can do and what one should do. He could have comfortably chosen the course of action that would strengthen how both he and his administration sit, and how they stand.
And how are the Prime Minister and his administration sitting right now? Not well. Their unpopularity is thick. The temperature of the nation is hot. Public trust in the FNM has quickly evaporated. Public sentiment is boiling over with disappointment and disgust. The public, most of whom are struggling to make a better life, does not support the VAT increase. Those “no” votes are the voice of the majority. The decision to punish these MPs for putting their vote where our voice is, is now being taken personally by that majority, who sees it as yet another betrayal and slap in the face. This decision has further injured how this government sits.
And how is the Prime Minister standing right now? He stands condemned in the eyes of many Bahamians – condemned because he is now seen as having torn down the Party’s youngest MP who he personally built up as the future of the FNM, doing so simply because that young MP sided with his constituents, many of whom are living below the poverty line as a major VAT increase looms.
He stands condemned because he has decided to punish two other MPs for the same reasons. He stands condemned, as in the eyes of many Bahamians, he is not the man they voted for and by this latest decision, has made it even more difficult for the rest of his ministers to stand before a public who in growing numbers can no longer stand the sight or sound of many of them.
TODAY FOR ME, TOMORROW FOR YOU
Had the Prime Minister taken an alternate route of determining that though his Parliamentary Secretaries were expected to vote in favor of all of the government’s Budget Bills, he nonetheless has chosen to accept their vote of conscience as driven by the expressed will of their economically distressed constituents – he and his government would have emerged unscathed from at least this portion of the 2018 Budget furor. He could have taken this same position with his Hotel Corporation chairman who represents a constituency on Grand Bahama with a sizeable number of lower income and unemployed persons.
Instead he made the decision that has triggered an already furious public to even deeper anger – and the angrier this government makes the public, the harder it will be to do its job, convince Bahamians of needed support and secure from Bahamians very necessary cooperation.
These MPs, as far as we know, were performing acceptably in their government posts. They have not threatened the Prime Minister or his position. They continue to affirm their support of their government notwithstanding the stand they took in keeping with the will of the people who hired them – the Bahamian people. Their “no” vote was no threat to the Budget’s passage. It harmed none of the government’s fiscal plans and objectives. It was the vote the people wanted.
But, their consequence for heeding the people was termination. Fair enough. They shall live with that. And further disgust, disappointment and disillusionment on the part of the Bahamian people is the Prime Minister’s consequence, and that of his administration. Can they live with that?
Meantime on the subject of consequences, it is incredible to watch Cabinet Ministers hoist the banner of Westminster as if it is their new holy grail, doing so as they discuss the duties of a Parliamentary Secretary. A Parliamentary Secretary is in effect a junior minister, who in our country does not sit in Cabinet and may or may not be privy to Cabinet deliberations. And herein lies the bubbling hypocrisy of the FNM Cabinet.
These same Parliamentary Secretaries who their former colleagues say were part of the government and hence ought to have governed themselves accordingly, knew absolutely nothing about the government’s plan to increase VAT to 12%, and had no involvement whatsoever in the planning or deliberations on the same.
It is amazing that their membership in the government was not Westminster enough to be briefed on the flagship revenue measure of the most important pieces of legislation tabled in any given fiscal year (the Budget), but their membership was sufficiently Westminster to be terminated if they did not fall in line with what they previously were deemed unworthy to be informed about. Just as their former colleagues claim that Robinson and Miller had a duty to vote yes, the Cabinet had a duty to ensure that it did not keep secret from its “members of the government” a government decision that is going to impact every single Bahamian in a very real way, and will impact the national economy in ways yet to be seen.
Firing those MPs was an unwise political move. But the public is becoming wiser. They are starting to ascertain the beneficial and advantageous difference between what they can do and what they should do. They are figuring out how they want to sit, and stand. And since what is done to an MP is by extension, done to his or her constituents, the Prime Minister has struck the latest blow that leaves Bahamians saying both beneath and above their breath, “today for me, tomorrow for you.”