Sunday, April 1, 2012

...the six worst Cabinet Ministers who have served in Hubert Ingraham's Cabinet at some point in the last five years... 2007 - 2012


 THIS week’s column begins a two-part series that seeks to review the FNM’s Cabinet, rating the six worst ministers who have served at some point in the last five years and, in part two, evaluating the five top performing ministers since 2007.

 Frankly, following the 2007 General Elections, I thought that Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham was rather shorthanded, particularly since—as I said in a 2009 ministerial grading column—“he must contend with a few hopeless jokers in his boardroom, who seem out of touch with public sentiment and merely concerned with the pomp and trappings of high office, living in their world of fantasy.”  Although Mr. Ingraham has further diversified his Cabinet since then, there were/are certain ministers who, in my opinion, were/are not the ideal choices and who appear to have been mere space cadets. While there have been a few top-tier ministers, there have been others who, in my opinion, have mismanaged the sky-high expectations of the Bahamian people, some of them having wilted under pressure.

 Quite honestly, as I think over the last five years, there are some ministers whose feeble performances, lily-livered nature and wringing of hands should, in my opinion, have left them handcuffed to the backbenches of Parliament.  Frankly, there are those who have been mere talking heads—underachievers whose ministerial supervision has been mired in mediocrity, leaving one to wonder if they are mentally on a beach, building sandcastles and collecting seashells as opposed to rendering effective ministerial service.

 Sharing the title of fifth worst minister is Claire Hepburn (now Supreme Court Justice) and Sir Michael Barnett (now Chief Justice) for what was, at that time, equally pitiful performances as Minister of Legal Affairs/Attorney General (AG). Both Mrs. Hepburn and Sir Michael earned an I for incomplete or a QF for what appeared to have been a quick failure in their ministerial posts.

 During their terms, there seemed little to no tangible evidence of any attempt to hasten the alleviation of the overwhelming case backlog and hardly any notable legislative initiatives to advance the reformation of the judicial system.

 Frankly, during the tenures of Hepburn/Barnett (as AG), there was little to no improvement in the infrastructure or administration of justice/legal system, hardly any initiatives undertaken relative to the tenure and payment of judges, no new hiring and recruiting of attorneys to the AG’s office to deal with issues such as trade reform and criminal matters and little efforts made to incentivise lawyers to leave their practices and sit on the Bench. At that time, I felt that someone should have tickled them as both Mrs. Hepburn and Mr. Barnett had seemingly fallen asleep at the wheel.

 As the chief ministers of justice, both former Attorneys General did little to confront the deficiencies in the justice system and show that justice in the Bahamas is transparent. Frankly, both of the past Attorneys General scarcely made the public aware of any amendments to laws or the introduction of Bills to confront 21st century criminals. The then justice ministers both appeared to operate in a reactionary state.

  Moreover, I felt that there was not a resolute thrust for disciplinary action to be taken against corrupt attorneys, that there was no provisioning of additional resources for police prosecutors and that they were flawed in their failure to bring in or hire special prosecutors.

 All-in-all, Mrs. Hepburn’s/Mr. Barnett’s respective terms as AG was, in my opinion, abysmal.

 Fourth on the list of worst ministers is Neko Grant—primarily in his capacity as Minister of Tourism and Aviation. Mr. Grant was perhaps the worst tourism minister in modern Bahamian history. He performed dreadfully during his time at the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation (MOTA).

 It seemed a gross miscalculation to appoint Mr. Grant in the aforesaid portfolio as he appeared to be overwhelmed by such a difficult assignment. Under his leadership, sources told me that morale at the MOTA was at an all-time low and that the Bahamas had drastically lost market share.

 Mismanagement, coupled with the recession that occurred during the now Works Minister’s posting, had the Bahamas headed for its worst tourism year in seven or eight years and the worst summer in 10 years. Although other mitigating factors—such as the economic crunch in the US—was at play, the tourism yield appeared to have nosedived under Grant who seemed visionless and out of his depth.

  Former Minister of Lands and Local Government Sidney Collie roars into third place. Overall, Mr Collie was a flimsy minister who performed dismally and, in the face of a possible firing and reshuffling of the Cabinet, suddenly resigned in 2008. His term in office reminds me of a tired yawn.

 In June 2008, a court ruled that the proper processes were not followed in the run-up to that year’s constitutionally flawed, local government elections. This resulted in those elections not going ahead in nine areas.

 During his administration, Mr. Collie advanced no draft legislation to address and update the rent control act, land reform and price control.

 In a 2008 column, I wrote:

  “Having grown up on an island, I am also aware that local government has numerous deficiencies, including empowering certain persons in small communities to victimize or repeatedly grant jobs/contracts to a favoured few. This must be carefully monitored!”

 I see no evidence of where Mr. Collie took heed.

 Even more, what was perplexing is that whilst Mr. Collie was “Minister of Lands” in title, however the substantial land portfolio fell under the purview of the Prime Minister. Was that an indication of the PM’s lack of confidence in Mr. Collie’s abilities?

 Ranking second on the list of worst FNM ministers from 2007 to now is Carl Bethel, the former Minister of Education.

 Mr. Bethel, the smug and ostentatious former minister—now FNM chairman—has become the nowhere man of Bahamian politics, having been promptly dismissed on the convention floor during his party’s conclave and relegated to a permanent place on the political backbench.

 Whilst there may have also been some institutional encumbrances, Mr Bethel was a bellicose grandstander under whose leadership the Ministry of Education (MOE) appears to have floundered. During his tenure, the MOE was accused of being slow to react to charges of molestation against teachers. That said, I was reliably told that there was evidence showing where the Department of Education had attempted to suppress complaints against accused persons long before Mr. Bethel entered the hot seat.

 During Bethel’s term, there appeared to be no concerted effort towards educational and curriculum reform, no specific plan for the proper training of security personnel and no teacher-mentoring programmes were instituted.  Perhaps, one of the former minister’s greatest downfalls was the perception that he did not take advice and exuded a know-it-all air of pomposity that did not bode well in a community-oriented ministry such as the MOE.

 Bethel’s supervision at Education saw increasing incidents of school violence and the recording and circulation of school porn and school fights via YouTube to thousands of viewers. Unfortunately, a student was also killed on a school campus during that time.

 Due to Carl Bethel’s calamitous political record, particularly during his last posting at the MOE—of which he was publicly relieved by PM Ingraham—party insiders have expressed wonderment about his capacity to effectively run a concession stand.

 Hands down, the worst minister of the Ingraham government—circa 2007 to 2012—has been Tommy Turnquest, the Minister of National Security.

 When it comes to combating crime and implementing a much-promised strategic crime fighting plan, Mr Turnquest seems to be on Pluto. He lacks the common touch and, in the Cabinet deck of cards, seems a joker. At times, Mr Turnquest appears egg-heady and, even more, completely out of his depth—I thought his request for an Australian journalist to apologize for a documentary on the crime rate in the Bahamas was evidence of his cluelessness about the crime situation and the perceptions of Bahamians and visitors alike.
 Let me first say that Mr. Turnquest has politically matured and has become superb on the campaign stump this election cycle. His delivery is much more fluid and he has adopted a “take no prisoners” stance. He has also been a competent manager of Parliamentary affairs as leader of government business in the House of Assembly.

 That said, his term as National Security minister has been a long, stupendously ineffective blur. In his post, he seems a rank amateur, who appears one-dimensional in his directorial capacity.

 The fear of crime has risen as the populace has also lost confidence in Mr. Turnquest’s ministerial leadership.
 Whilst Mr. Turnquest cannot be held accountable for social conditions, what happens in people's homes or the fact that Bahamian society is becoming increasing amoral, the nightmare of street violence must be a political headache, as voters are increasingly becoming disaffected with the soaring crime rate. Crime is a looming economic threat and, undeniably, there is a need for a moral awakening in the Bahamas.

 Crime is spiraling out of control, yet Mr. Turnquest appears to have no feasible crime fighting strategy. Whilst the minister is great at quoting statistics, the level of criminality has degenerated to a point where prevention is nearly unheard of and Bahamians are now going to bed and waking up expectantly inquiring about the number and identities of the injured or murdered, rather than asking if someone was murdered.

 There must be greater, effective collaboration between the National Security Ministry and the Attorney General's office. The notion that sadistic criminals can be granted bail in record time—even with the recent amendments— and the fact that there's a case backlog, militates against the efficient and timely prosecution and sentencing of criminals.

 As Minister of National Security, Mr. Turnquest should have engaged in more hands on dialogue and reportage to the public, soliciting responses and an exchange of ideas about crime. The Commissioner of Police persistently notes the Police Force's efforts in pursuing community policing, but much more can be done to encourage community participation or to foster a partnership between the police and civil society (church, civic groups, social scientists, academics, etc). Today, residents in certain communities are apprehensive about sharing information with the police, as some claim that they have lost faith in the police holding their identities in the strictest confidence. Indeed, community policing can open the door for greater intelligence-gathering, particularly since the criminally-minded mostly commit crimes against persons residing within their communities. Furthermore, some police officers should immediately participate in desperately needed seminars in civility in order to heighten their obvious lack of interpersonal skills and decorum.

 In fighting crime, the seemingly defunct Urban Renewal Programme could have been revamped and utilized more effectively. In the past, the focus of the programme was merely on marching bands and police walkabouts, but it should be modified and used as a community mechanism to generate meaningful employment, teaching high school dropouts and training people for the workplace and entrepreneurial ventures.

 Moreover, greater incorporation of civil society in the national security conversation can offer solutions and foster dialogue among people with specialised knowledge.

 Does Mr. Turnquest truly have an appreciation for the level of social discontent associated with crime and his ministry's response?

 We are all waiting for a report of the workability of the ankle bracelets for alleged criminals out on bail?

 As I’ve said before, the entire prison should be razed. Fox Hill prison has structural issues that cannot simply be resolved by building on to the present, archaic structure. A new structural design must reflect the latest approach to incarceration, which implores that greater emphasis be placed on reform. That said, I do applaud Mr Turnquest for ensuring the construction of special courts at the current prison to facilitate speedier trials and alleviate the burden of transporting high-risk prisoners, on remand, from the prison to the courts in Bank Lane the usual dangerous and high speed manner. However, a new prison should, in the near future, be constructed on Andros or another island with tremendous land resources.

 The Broadcasting Corporation (ZNS), for which Mr. Turnquest is also responsible, needs further re-directing and large scale retrenchment. ZNS continues to be plagued by inefficient, antiquated programming that lacks in-depth investigation and research, needs upgraded and quality production and a systemic transition from analog to digital signals. Whilst ZNS has got rid of staff, there is no evidence of a serious transition to a true public broadcasting network.

 And why am I hearing accounts of ZNS reporters being muzzled and sanctioned for their pursuit of stories?

 On a positive note, Mr. Turnquest did oversee the purchase of equipment, vehicles and planes for law enforcement agencies and there has been a move to equip the police with technical facilities (DNA lab). However, based on my conversations with police officers of all political persuasions, one wonders if police officers are satisfied that they are suitably rewarded and protected (e.g. bulletproof vests)?

 Perception is reality in politics and it appears that Mr. Turnquest lacks the political will to read death warrants, ushering in the finalization of legal appeals so that convicted murderers can receive their court-ordered, just desserts. More could have also been done by Mr Turnquest to supervise the establishment of a witness protection programme to protect state witnesses who are being bumped off!

 Indeed, whilst there is no blame game for crime, the extent of Mr. Turnquest's national security experience is as an assistant bank manager.  After a tumultuous reign, Mr. Turnquest is undoubtedly the weakest of Mr. Ingraham’s major portfolio selections.

 There are also several other mediocre Cabinet ministers who are runner-ups on the list for the five worst ministers, namely: Minister of State for Lands and Local Government, Byron “Mr. Stealth” Woodside and Minister of State for Social Services Loretta Butler-Turner who, if I may add, is a very nice lady.

 Next week, the best of the 2007-2012 Ingraham Cabinet….

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