Saturday, March 31, 2012

We evaluate a few areas of the Free National Movement's (FNM's) Manifesto 2007

FNM Manifesto 2007: Delivered or not?

By Arinthia S. Komolafe

Rather than take political parties’ slogans at face value, it would be prudent for voters to revisit the contents of these parties’ manifestos and thoroughly scrutinize them to ascertain whether they have made good on their promises.  After all it is often said that past behavior is a good indicator and predictor of future performance.  It is therefore necessary for the electorate to be aware that they are the true lie detectors within Bahamian democracy.

In this piece we evaluate a few areas (which by no means is exhaustive) of the 2007 manifesto of the governing Free National Movement (FNM) with a view to determining whether it has in fact delivered on promises for national development and prosperity as its slogan “We Deliver” suggests.

In its manifesto, the FNM committed, among other things, to budget deficit reduction.  While it is accepted that the current economic climate would have impacted the achievement of this promise on a significant scale, the government appeared to have made no significant efforts to reduce the deficit.

The government being strapped for cash simultaneously increased taxes and engaged in enormous borrowing.  The FNM government failed to carry out moderate austerity measures such as restructuring of the civil service or revising its pension scheme.  This is bearing in mind that civil servants’ wages account for a significant portion of the governments budget expenditure.

Fiscally, the government committed itself to maintain a “no income tax fiscal regime” during this term of office.  It can be argued that the current government is opposed to any real commitment to tax reform by failing to consider a progressive tax structure, which is desperately needed.  A genuine and constructive discussion on tax reform should not expressly exclude any form of taxation.  Rather, all options and possibilities should be explored in the national interest.  The FNM’s view as stated in its manifesto, could translate into the poor and working classes continuing to carry the burden of government expenses in this country.

Investment projects and the economy

According to its manifesto, the FNM had hoped to foster strong economic growth through domestic and foreign direct investment.  Unfortunately, little or no new major investments were secured during this term and we continue to witness an increase in the unemployment rate while the government struggled to create real job opportunities during its term in office.  The establishment of a Small and Medium Size Enterprises Facilitation Center as promised in its manifesto could have arguably improved the economic environment in The Bahamas and mitigate the negative impact of the recession.  The passage of legislation to address this sector could have fostered job creation and potentially an increase in government revenue from license fees, customs duties and property tax.

While the initiative on the part of the government to implement unemployment benefits to assist individuals up to a maximum of 13 weeks is noteworthy, it seems fair to state that such a program is reflective of the government’s inability to stimulate economic growth and create an environment for job creation.

Monetarily, the FNM had promised to eliminate exchange control during this term in office.  It is obvious that this promise was not delivered.  The justification for the maintenance of the exchange control regime by proponents of the same and the government in recent times has been its role in shielding Bahamians and Bahamian entities from the full impact of the global recession.  The position and actions of successive governments toward this topic suggests that they are of the view that Bahamians and Bahamian entities are unable to conduct their own affairs financially.

The crime issue

The issue of crime is one of the main topics going into the next general election.  It is no news that crime levels in The Bahamas have escalated during this term of the FNM government.  Arguably, the inability of the government to create sufficient jobs to reduce the unemployment rate has contributed to a surge in all levels of crime.  Despite mixed reviews emanating from the recent engagement of an international consultant by the government, the fundamental issue of crime and the fear of crime can not be overemphasized and should not be politicized.  The reality is that any advice given by local or foreign consultants or law enforcers are only as good as the government’s own will to enforce the laws it enacts and put in place measures to reduce illegality at all levels.  An attitude of no tolerance should be enforced toward minor crimes such as traffic infractions to issues of illegal immigration, illegal gambling and murder at the greater end of the spectrum.  Successive governments have continued to make crime a political issue as opposed to a national issue.  Crime was used as a major political issue in the 2002 general election by the FNM and not surprisingly it is back at the forefront in the 2012 election season.

Other promises

The 2007 manifesto of the FNM government also promised the implementation of a Consumer Protection Agency.  It is imperative to state that the legislative framework had already been put in place by the previous Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration.  The FNM also promised to push for mortgagors to transfer their mortgages between lenders at no cost.  The manifesto under review also vowed to enact private pension legislation to ensure workers save toward their retirement, continue public service reform and revise the General Orders for public servants.  With the exception of transfer mortgage cost elimination, it seems apparent that these promises were not delivered.

The question is not whether the FNM-led government delivered on promises it did not make as it can be argued that the FNM vicariously delivered on some PLP projects set in motion before the PLP left office.  Such projects include the Lynden Pindling International Airport, the straw market, national stadium, Baha Mar, the I-Group project in Mayaguana and others.  In the final analysis, we must ask the question: Did the FNM deliver on promises that it made in 2007?

All political parties and aspiring leaders ought to do right by the Bahamian people and deliver in large part on the promises set forth in their manifestos.  When it is all said and done, people often forget what was said at the last rally or what was printed in the editorials. However, a manifesto must be referred to not only during the election season, but during the successful party’s term in office.  It is also incumbent upon political parties to distribute their manifestos well in advance of Election Day to facilitate public debates on the issues and solutions put forward.  We must cross-reference today’s promises with those made five years ago to ascertain whether the promises are the same and whether the promisor, based upon its actions and/or performance, will truly deliver on its promises if it is successful at the general election.  The persistent distribution of manifestos just weeks before Election Day is an insult to the Bahamian people, perpetuates a society of ignorance and prevents the electorate from making an informed decision on their party of choice.

• Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law.  Comments can be directed at:

Mar 29, 2012