By Candia Dames
The Nassau Guardian Editor
Whether or not Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis calls an election this week as so many of us expect, it is clear that he is desperately in need of a new mandate – though it seems a very long shot that he will get one.
The government of The Bahamas appears to be running on autopilot as Minnis seems more consumed with winning an election than anything else.
His ministers who have been renominated are focused on winning their seats once again in an atmosphere of widespread discontent, and, in some circles, disgust toward the Minnis administration and the Free National Movement (FNM).
They have been advised by their leader to stay on the ground as his hand is on the handle of the election bell.
The House of Assembly has been adjourned to September 22, with no expectation that the current Parliament will meet again, though the Minnis administration’s promised legislative agenda is largely unfulfilled.
When the emergency order expires on August 13, it is anyone’s guess what the government’s plan will be for the management of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
We do not get a sense that fighting the pandemic is the government’s main priority right now.
While cases of COVID-19 remain alarmingly high, with 83 people who tested positive hospitalized as of Monday, a total of 274 deaths and another 22 under investigation, it has been more than three months since Ministry of Health officials have called a press conference to answer questions and provide critically needed information to the public.
There have been no reports on whether any variants have been identified in the country, no reports on what is accounting for the spike in cases, no reports on just how many vaccine doses we have left in country and no explanation on the science that is behind restrictions that remain in place.
On Monday, the prime minister very clumsily and inelegantly declared that the pandemic is over for the vaccinated.
It was a repeat of what Minnis perhaps heard US President Joseph Biden state recently as Biden himself echoed comments that were made by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC, however, advises travelers returning to the United States from international destinations to get tested three to five days after international travel and travelers into the United States are still required to get tested prior to leaving international destinations. That is because vaccinated individuals could still contract COVID and spread it.
While the comments of the American officials speak to cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations and deaths being primarily among unvaccinated populations, Minnis ought to be careful in the message he is sending.
His statement was highly irresponsible and poorly informed. It is not complete information. He should speak to his healthcare officials before he makes these kinds of statements so he can put information out in its proper context.
The statement demonstrated a lack of true rigor and thought process.
Minnis is likely only angering and isolating more Bahamians, pitting the vaccinated against the unvaccinated, when he knows that even if all adults in The Bahamas wanted to get vaccinated, his government has no means of making that possible.
There is a big difference between The Bahamas and the United States. The Bahamas government only has a handful of vaccines left and has stopped offering first doses.
In the United States, all individuals interested in getting vaccinated have easy access to vaccines.
Another 33,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are expected in The Bahamas next week, officials say.
Under 10 percent of the population is vaccinated. The new doses will only be enough to fully vaccinate around 20,000 who need a second dose, and another 7,000 or so individuals who need a first and second dose.
We presume the government will have to subtract 5,000 doses to give back to Antigua and Barbuda for the doses it recently borrowed, but, again, details on that arrangement were never provided to the public, and officials only acknowledged they had to borrow doses after The Nassau Guardian reported it.
Minister of Health Renward Wells said last week The Bahamas will receive 57,330 doses of the Pfizer vaccine through the COVAX Facility, but was unable to say when.
As the vaccine shortage remains critical, the government does not seem to have a sense of urgency over increasing COVID deaths and a worsening crisis in the healthcare system, which is on the brink of collapse, according to healthcare professionals struggling to keep it together.
The effort to save lives appears to be taking a backseat as there is an election to win.
In recent days, the prime minister has also adopted a new narrative, declaring that the Bahamian economy is “roaring back” to life.
The economy is certainly showing important signs of progress as major resorts are reporting high occupancy levels, the cruise business has restarted on a very limited basis, and some Bahamians have returned to work after being furloughed for months during the pandemic.
But there is nothing to support Minnis’ statement that the economy is “roaring”.
Speaking on Monday, the prime minister insisted, “We have a plan. We are sticking to the plan. That is why from January to June 2021, we beat our revenue projections for that six-month period. That is why for the month of July, up to last Friday (July 16), our revenues are tracking ahead of budgetary projections for month to date as our economy roars back to life.”
We doubt, however, the average business person in The Bahamas is seeing signs of a roaring economy and we certainly doubt the average Bahamian is feeling the benefits of a roaring economy.
Ask the residents of Grand Bahama if they are witnessing this roaring economy and they are likely to tell you they are not.
Those who still stand in line to get food assistance on New Providence and elsewhere know not of which the prime minister speaks.
Minnis is only making a feeble attempt to convince voters into believing that his stewardship of the economy has been successful throughout this term in office and that somehow his policies throughout this COVID period have had some success around rebuilding the economy, none of which is true.
The economy in 2021 is expected to record “modest” growth, according to the Central Bank of The Bahamas.
The prime minister is engaged in election talk, appears prone to exaggeration and living in a dream world as he tries to convince us that he is fit for another term.
Minnis has said the next term will be about the poor.
In opposition, he also promised that if elected he would focus on making life better for the poor, but the poor have borne the brunt of tax increases, which the Minnis administration said were unavoidable.
This week, we heard Minnis promise that if re-elected, he would not raise taxes, but who really believes him?
This is the same Minnis who in opposition condemned the Christie administration when it introduced value-added-tax, calling it a lazy and unimaginative approach to addressing our fiscal woes. It’s the same Minnis, who within a year of gaining power, raised VAT from 7.5 percent to 12 percent.
This is the same Minnis who repeatedly promised in opposition that his administration would put in place a fixed election date if elected, but now seemingly enjoys reminding us all that he is the only one as prime minister who is able to call an election and no one should listen to the speculation of Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis.
If Minnis was serious about this fixed election date pledge he would, by now, have announced to the public when the election will be called. Instead, he is playing a cat and mouse game with the Bahamian people regarding when the election is going to be held.
The prime minister should also be concerned that the speculation is leading to large crowds outside voter registration centers.
The country is on edge in the wait to learn the election date.
On July 4, Minnis urged Bahamians to register to vote in the soonest time possible. Last Tuesday, he gave FNM candidates their marching orders and on Thursday, the party completed ratifying its candidates.
The increased election ads the FNM is running is also a sure sign that the prime minister is getting set to call an election.
The debacle surrounding the presentation of the Constituencies Commission report to the governor general has also weighed on the public, further underscoring a democracy in disarray and highlighting the unlikelihood of Minnis wanting to spend any more time dealing with a speaker who has been a thorn in his side for the last two years.
We are today a rudderless nation in urgent need of a reset.
Our government appears more obsessed with photo ops than with outlining and executing any meaningful initiatives to move the needle and drive national progress.
The abuse of the public trust, the mismanagement of our affairs, the failure to be transparent on matters of national importance and the hypocrisy repeatedly demonstrated by Minnis and others in his administration have resulted in a complete depletion of the goodwill with which they came to office.
With credibility eroded, it is difficult for the government to govern effectively in the absence of a new mandate.
Notwithstanding the prime minister’s repeated declarations about a booming economy – which we are likely to hear repeated today when he participates in the ribbon cutting of the Magaritaville hotel at the Pointe – there remains a lot of uncertainty.
High vaccine hesitancy and the critical shortage of vaccines contribute to that uncertainty.
As we opined extensively last week, it appears Minnis is banking on the unattractiveness of Davis, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) leader, to scrape another victory.
But many Bahamians are anxious to get rid of Minnis and the FNM from office, notwithstanding their misgivings about Davis and the PLP.
It is against the backdrop of unfilled pledges, uninspiring leadership and disdain shown toward the Bahamian people that we will head to the polls, sooner rather than later.
We expect a short sprint to election day, as the prime minister has already advised his party’s candidates.
Many are anxious for the opportunity to deliver their verdict on Minnis and the FNM.
Whichever side emerges victorious come election night, there will be no time for a honeymoon as our national problems are so grave that the next administration will have a task more serious than any other administration since our independence.
With our political leaders more concerned with winning than governing, the disarray we are currently experiencing is likely to continue long after the last ballot is counted.