Best of the FNM Cabinet
By ADRIAN GIBSON
IN this increasingly hyper-partisan and thorny political environment—in the face of a general election—I decided to rate the FNM’s best and worst ministers from 2007 to 2012, measuring the ministerial performances of each and rating them on a scale from one to five. Last week’s YMV column listed the one-star, bottom-tier ministers who I felt had mismanaged the sky-high expectations of the Bahamian people.
Although a mixed crew of personalities comprises the Cabinet, whilst there are/were weaklings and acutely despondent, chronic underachievers in the executorial assemblage, there are first-rate go-getters and hard workers who have given praiseworthy service.
Frankly, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham will not be rated among his portfolio of ministers. I will discuss him and his legacy at a later date. However, he has offered firm leadership and has proven himself as a political Einstein who relies on good common sense and his political capital during rough times.
Although he initially appeared shorthanded in terms of his Cabinet selections, PM Ingraham seemingly projected the image of at least having his glass half full. Consistent with his political DNA (no pun intended), the PM does not employ a reckless or impetuous approach to the decision-making process, making concrete decisions so that the country could’ve battled the gloomy economic recession. Frankly, he has had the political will to make unpopular, sober-minded decisions in the best interest of the country.
By and large, PM Ingraham has correctly renegotiated land deals that were out-and-out land grabs, modernised the country’s infrastructure, fostered the entrepreneurial spirit whilst also creating a shareholding society, assisted the poor and downtrodden and brought some semblance of transparency and integrity back to government, thereby heightening investor confidence and methodically exposing the ministerial inconsistencies of the previous administration. Moreover, the PM has effectively stabilized and managed the country’s affairs even as the country faced what, only a few years ago, seemed to be insurmountable economic odds.
Undoubtedly, history will record him as the Bahamas’ best Prime Minister thus far.
In rating Mr Ingraham’s best Cabinet ministers, I’ve decided to utilize a tier system, placing the best of the best major portfolio ministers in tier one. Tier one represents those ministers whose performances were absolutely outstanding whilst tier two represents those ministers who rendered “good-to-very good” performances.
The fifth best minister is DPM Brent Symonette, Minister of Foreign Affairs & Immigration. First, I must give kudos to Mr Symonette for correcting the deplorable incidents of overcrowding at the passport office and for quickly implementing machine-readable e-passports. In the past, I have criticised Mr Symonette as having performed grimly as a minister, however his effectiveness of late has been duly noted.
Unlike his former junior minister, Mr Symonette has been a quiet and smooth operator, never exhibiting any groundless braggadocio or showmanship.
At Foreign Affairs, the DPM has been superb, having negotiated numerous OECD-pleasing Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs) without a hitch; facilitated an agreement that allows Bahamians to travel to European countries without the headache of signing up and waiting for a Schengen visa; overseen the speedy processing of immigration matters and the cessation of the silly practice where Bahamians returning home were required to fill-out an immigration form; supervised the smooth transition of Chinese workers coming to the Bahamas to build the stadium, roads, docks/bridges and BahaMar; and managed to foster the settlement of a maritime border issue between the Bahamas and Cuba after about 50 years (Paul Adderley, the former Attorney General, and others had been attempting to resolve the issue since king hammer was a hatchet). Under Mr Symonette, the illegal immigration situation was efficiently confronted, without him once having to impersonate anyone and don an immigration officer’s uniform.
Even more, there hasn’t been any escapes from the Detention Centre in recent time and, even with its infrastructural improvements, the Detention Centre is no longer seen as a residence—he has hurriedly facilitated the repatriation of illegal migrants.
Of late, Mr Symonette has seen to it that the immigration policies of the Bahamas have been enunciated and the immigration department has seemingly adopted a more proactive approach centred on deterrence.
Seemingly, the department has allotted resources to properly educating foreigners on legal ways to access this country—e.g. the campaign in Haiti.
Frankly, there seems to have been a deepening of trade relations between the Bahamas, Europe and North America and the creation of stronger alliances and a stronger commitment to addressing common issues, such as inter-jurisdictional crimes and drug trafficking. I would like to see better multilateral cooperation between small island states in the hemisphere on environmental matters, particularly since larger countries prefer dealing with smaller countries in blocs.
That said, Mr Symonette has been somewhat unfairly dogged by allegations of conflict of interest, particularly as it relates to the road works. This has not distorted his quiet consistency in his ministry and, moreover, he has represented the country well at diplomatic events.
Larry Cartwright, the Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources and a Long Islander (home town boy!), has actively pushed the development of agriculture. He roars into the fourth spot. Mr Cartwright is an unpretentious, hands-on minister who participates in each project, from the planning stages to implementation. The outgoing MP for Long Island has, with limited resources, been progressively promoting farming and economic diversification alongside BAIC chairman Edison Key. Mr Cartwright and Mr Key have brought substance to BAIC and have made farming a real agenda item, as opposed to merely paying lip service.
During the past five years, the agriculture minister and Mr Key have been attempting to reverse 70 years of farm decline, whilst seeking to address inefficiencies in produce distribution and marketing and correcting the unfavourable shipping conditions that cause spoilage during transport.
Under Larry Cartwright, a fruit tree planting project – where two farmers were contracted to "moss" 15,000 persian lime plants and mango, avocado and sugar apple trees imported for sale to farmers at cost – was initiated; provisional greenhouses for schools and a school garden programme; implemented an embryo transplant programme; promoted agribusiness expos; implemented the backyard gardening initiative (with lessons and a start-up kit); purchased farm tractors for North Andros; established a weekly farmers market at GRAC; continued the "feeder farm" roads and land clearing programme for Family Island farmers, 50 per cent of which is subsidized by government; instituted duty exemption on all imported items being utilized by registered farmers and fishermen for job-related tasks; overseen the refurbishment of packing houses, the abattoir and the produce exchange in Freeport as well as ongoing renovation of the Produce Exchange on New Providence; established a fresh produce market on Gladstone Road; established marine protected areas in Abaco, the Berry Islands and Exuma; has pressed for legislation to regulate Cooperatives; has sought to ensure that fishermen and the Bahamas’ natural resources are protected from bald-faced poachers by seeking the engagement of the Defence Force in high priority fishing areas; has given new life to cottage industries and sought to empower entrepreneurs from island to island in to create an authentic Bahamian souvenir experience; and pushed for the passage of a new animal control bill to control stray and roaming animals and also sanction their owners.
Moreover, as a farmer himself, the minister's recognition of the urgent need to resurrect agriculture and fisheries has, in conjunction with FAO consultants, led to the creation of the first five-year development plan for agriculture and fisheries.
Overall, Mr Cartwright simply performed his job without much fanfare and did well.
Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace—Minister of Tourism and Aviation (MOTA)—has reinvigorated his ministry’s approach to marketing and developing our tourism product, boosting morale that was at an all-time low in the wake of Neko Grant’s disastrous reign whilst also recapturing and expanding upon market share. Mr Vanderpool-Wallace is a highly respected, regional tourism guru whose performance, particularly over the last two years, has breathed life into sluggish tourism numbers. He has advanced sustainable tourism, targeting new markets and nurturing wider market share—incorporating a focus on regional and Latin American tourism and airlift. I’m pleased to see that greater emphasis has been placed on deepening the Bahamas’ appeal to corporate, religious and sports groups as well as medical tourists.
In the past, I complained that there wasn’t any sustainable promotion of domestic and foreign tourism throughout the archipelago. I called for the promotion of the collection of islands as different, unique destinations and the minister has shared that vision and seemingly sought to focus heavily upon that.
Just this week, the tourism minister has virtually brought Bahamasair a new lease on life, having the MOTA and Bahamasair coordinate on tourism while restoring Bahamasair’s local/international credibility.
To the minister's credit, he has overseen the implementation of a 1-800 toll free line that is operated by Bahamians, created the Bahamas.com website, has revitalized and jumpstarted the BahamaHost programme and implemented a companion fly-free promotion to boost the tourism industry on the Out Islands.
Today, the redevelopment of Bay Street is another feather in the tourism minister’s cap, in addition to increasing airlift to the Bahamas during a recessionary period.
John Delaney, the Attorney General, comes in at number two as he has attempted to correct much of the malignant neglect of his office by previous office holders. Mr Delaney is an affable chap who has superbly managed and implemented an aggressive legislative agenda with a view to carrying out speedier trials and alleviating the backlog of cases in our molasses-like legal system. The administration of justice under John Delaney is on an upward spiral with progressively more suspected criminals being tried in 18-24 months.
Moreover, his administration has proposed and seen to the establishment of magistrates courts on various Family Islands, has overseen the construction of a remand court at the prison and has seen to the improvement of the courts' infrastructure and the administration of justice/legal system with the building and refurbishment of new court buildings (e.g. Nassau Street, Ansbacher building).
Competent justice initiatives have be undertaken since many violent criminals take comfort in knowing that a matter would likely not be brought to court or, after a considerable time lapses, that they would be granted bail.
Moreover, Mr Delaney has taken initiative relative to the recruitment, payment and tenure of judges; the recruitment and hiring of attorneys to quickly move criminal matters along and deal with issues such as trade reform; and, purportedly, offering incentives to a few experienced and brilliant local lawyers to leave their practices – even if shortly – to sit on the Bench.
He handled the squabbles within the AG's office, relative to the Director of Public Prosecutions saga, with dignity.
There is a tie for the number one spot—shared by Desmond Bannister and Dr Hubert Minnis.
Desmond Bannister, the Minister of Education (MOE), has shown humility and pureness of purpose in addressing the issues plaguing the education system. Once Carl Bethel was bounced from the Cabinet and Mr Bannister was given an opportunity to shine, he provided a morale boost from the ministry/department and, through worthwhile initiatives, is earning the confidence of the nation. He seems cool under pressure, exhibiting the political will to make tough decisions.
Who else was thinking about smoking out persons illegally registered to vote in a constituency in which they didn’t reside long before the general election? Mr Bannister had the guts to press for a cleaner register and decided that one doesn’t have to wait until after the election to go to the election court—instead addressing the issue pre-election.
Mr Bannister has brought much of the critical management needed to coordinate and bring the MOE to a point where the organization and its employees have strictly defined roles. Moreover, he has cleaned up corruption and eliminated the notion by certain high-ranking officers that they were running their very own little fiefdoms.
The minister is wisely carrying out early repairs and preparations for school openings in September. Indeed, there is also a need for the training and re-training of teachers. Frankly, the ministry must align the curriculum with the development needs of the country in order to imbue a strong sense of self, speak to nation-building, address the question of self-reliance and entrepreneurship, teach the Constitution, etcetera.
Mr Bannister has established a sexual complaints unit; a boys mentoring programme; implemented consistent standards for graduation ceremonies in all public schools; held a back-to-school parent seminar; sought to clearly define the grading system for national exams; revised guidelines for hiring new teachers; established scholarship programmes and increased scholarship awardees; conducted an in-house audit; and implemented cost cutting measures such as requiring staff to leave government vehicles parked at the Ministry after office hours. Mr Bannister has also followed through on his pledge to personally oversee school repairs and construction before paying a dime. Upon appointment, he met with security officers to address shortages and security concerns at schools.
During Mr Bannister’s administration, several schools have either been completed or refurbished. Health Minister Dr Hubert Minnis is the other top minister sharing the number one billing. Dr Minnis has modernized and reformed the healthcare system in the Bahamas. Dr Minnis—one part of the M & M (Minnis & Maynard) election team—is also set to put an “Old Testament political beat down” on his challengers for the Killarney seat during the upcoming election.
I have personally found him to be an upstanding, man of his word. The health minister has modernized the hospital, overseeing improvements at PMH and the Rand in Grand Bahama whilst initiating e-medicine, which is an innovative, technological advancement for an archipelagic nation where critically ill Family Islanders may be in dire need of immediate healthcare.
During his tenure, Dr Minnis effectively addressed disgruntled nursing staff and their union as well as issues such as insufficient supplies and equipment and medicinal shortages at the hospital's pharmacy.
Dr Minnis must be credited with instituting insurance for nurses, proactively tackling the swine flu epidemic, the remodelling at accident and emergency, renovations to the emergency room at the Rand Hospital (Grand Bahama) and generally showing an interest in PMH's staff and the wider public. He has also overseen the passage of a national prescription drug plan, which has assisted Bahamians with accessing much-needed medication.
Other pluses for Dr Minnis include the reduction of the infant mortality rate during his administration; the early detection of epidemics (dengue, malaria) and the ensuing immediate deployment of health professionals throughout the archipelago; and his encouragement of exercise and healthy lifestyles among citizens who are increasingly becoming overweight.
Lastly, the ministers in the tier two category are all good ministers. In this category, Works Minister Neko Grant (who has the distinction of being on both the best and worst lists), Minister of the Environment Earl Deveaux and Minister of Labour and Social Services Dion Foulkes make up the last of the FNM Cabinet’s brightest ministers.
The above mentioned ministers will be highlighted at the end of next week’s column, where I would offer my reasons as to why they make the list.
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