Saturday, February 23, 2013

Flip-floppers and double talk in Bahamian Politics

Double talk

An up close look at duplicity and hypocrisy in nat’l politics

Guardian News Editor

The political landscape is forever changing and with it comes shifting political positions.

For some politicians, their views on issues of national import evolve due to certain developments that cast new light on these matters.  In some circumstances, this is quite understandable.

But for others, their positions shift based on political expediency and opportunity.

These are the flip-floppers, the hypocrites, the duplicitous bunch who may be stunned perhaps if confronted with past statements lined up against current views.

Very rarely do their words come back to haunt them; not because the evidence of their duplicity is not there, but because it often remains buried on the dusty pages of newspapers that are clipped and stored away.

These politicians depend on the short memories of the electorate, perhaps, or the failure of media to do a better job at making them accountable for their utterances and actions.

The examples of double talk stretch back years, and really take little digging to be exposed, especially in the technological age.

In opposition, some politicians latch on to pet issues — crime, the environment, education and others.  But in government, they sometimes lose whatever ‘passion’ they might have had for these issues.

To be clear, the flip-floppers are not unique to any one party or philosophical grouping. They are on every side.  They use words to score points, assuage fears and grab headlines.

Often, they change positions based on what side of the political aisle they may be on at the time.  In opposition, a politician’s view on a subject may differ entirely from the view he or she might express in government.

The archives of The Nassau Guardian reveal more than enough flip-flopping, duplicity and hypocrisy to write many weeks of articles.

Consider these few examples:

Dr. Bernard Nottage on the Coroner’s Court

In opposition, Dr. Nottage was a passionate advocate for crime victims and strong in his concerns about alleged police abuse.

He seemed to have little trust in the Corner’s Court or in the police to investigate themselves.

But as national security minister, his tone is different.

After two men died in police custody just over a week ago, Dr. Nottage cautioned the public against making assumptions until all the facts are known.

“I can’t rush to judgment,” he told reporters.  “I hold the commissioner of police directly responsible for the conduct of his officers.  He knows that, he reports to me regularly and my experience thus far has been where justifiable complaints have been made against police officers, the commissioner has been resolute in pursuing the matter to its lawful conviction.”

Further expressing confidence in the police and the coroner to do their job, Dr. Nottage said, “It is my view that even without the coroner’s involvement if the matter could be investigated by police that a thorough job would be done.

“But I don’t think that would satisfy the public and so that is why the coroner, who is an independent institution, is very important in this matter.”

In September 2012, after The Nassau Guardian reported on several fatal police shootings, Nottage said criminals cannot expect to brandish weapons at police without facing consequences.

In December 2010, he was not a minister.  Back then he expressed little faith in the police and in the Coroner’s Court.

On December 1, 2010, he called for an independent public inquiry into the death of Shamarco Newbold, a 19-year-old who was killed by police.

“It is not good enough to refer it to the Coroner’s Court, Mr. Speaker,” Nottage said in the House of Assembly.

“Neither is it good enough for there to be an internal inquiry on the part of the police.”

These days, it is good enough as far as Nottage is concerned.

As an aside, Nottage has yet to use his position of power to push for ‘Marco’s Law’ or the establishment of a sex offenders’ register, things he called for while in opposition, after the murder of 11-year-old Marco Archer in September 2011.

“I believe that out of this sad event will come new policies and perhaps even new legislation... possibly a Marco's Law.  I shall push for that," he vowed back then.

The legislation would seek to strengthen the penalties associated with child molestation, he said.

Perhaps Dr. Nottage will use his weight before the end of this term to push for the things he called for in opposition.

Darron Cash and BTC

Free National Movement (FNM) Chairman Darron Cash has more than one example of being a flip-flopper, but for the purpose of this piece, I will focus on just one.

After Prime Minister Perry Christie told reporters last week that the government is considering appointing a select committee to examine the controversial 2011 sale of 51 percent of the shares of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) to Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC), Cash lashed out in a statement.

He said, “The suggestion that [Christie] wants a probe of the BTC sale to Cable and Wireless first evokes disbelief, then laughter and pity”.

Cash then urged the government to “bring it on”.

He said probing BTC would be a “meaningless journey” that would waste taxpayer dollars.

Cash also accused Christie of trying to deflect attention away from his “nine months of colossal failure and ineptitude”.

And he said the prime minister was attempting to tarnish the legacy of former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham.

Stunning words from a man who was so critical of the BTC deal back in 2011 that he wrote a lengthy article on why the deal was a bad one.

In fact, Cash himself urged then Prime Minister Ingraham to “take the Cable and Wireless/LIME deal back to the drawing board and design a better deal”.

Cash wrote, “I disagree with the government’s proposed action.  I believe it is wrong for the country, this decision to sell the country short.

“It is a betrayal of future generations, and like a bad stock on BISX — in which you have little confidence — the government is selling the next generation (my generation) short.”

In that piece, Cash seemed to have suggested that the deal would have reflected poorly on Ingraham’s legacy.  His tone has changed.

How could Darron Cash expect anyone to take him seriously?

If it is the FNM’s position that Christie’s contemplation of a probe is laughable or evokes pity, Cash should have been the last person to say so.

His position on the BTC deal was clear at the time he stated it.

Defending himself yesterday, Cash said, “As to my personal position regarding the sale of BTC, let me make one thing abundantly clear to the chairman of the PLP; my position on the sale of BTC has absolutely nothing to do with whether the present government should waste public money on a meaningless inquiry into that sale.”

The mid-year budget statement

This week, the Christie administration will present its mid-year budget statement, revealing adjustments in spending and providing a progress report on the state of public finances and the economy.

The practice of presenting the statement was instituted by the Ingraham administration, and every year during the debate that followed, the PLP’s position was that it was a waste of time.

In a statement on February 23, 2011, the PLP said the mid-year budget was “a waste of time, a public relations sham like so much of what this government does by sleight of hand”.

It was the message of the PLP during each debate of the mid-year budget under Ingraham.

For example, during debate in the Senate on March 16, 2009, then Senator Allyson Maynard-Gibson repeated what her colleagues had to say in the House.

“The mid-year budget review is a waste of time, staff resources and money,” she opined. “The information in this mid-year budget could have been given in a one man press conference.”

A few days earlier, then Minister of State for Immigration Branville McCartney defended the Ingraham administration for bringing the mid-year budget.

“Our country should be forever grateful to our visionary prime minister, the Rt. Hon. Hubert A. Ingraham, for having the fore thought to introduce this concept of a mid-year budget report to Parliament,” McCartney said.

“…This exercise is critical towards our government’s effort to encourage and promote accountability, transparency, best financial practices and proper budget planning”.

This year, the mid-year budget statement will apparently not be a waste of time because the PLP is bringing it.

Such is politics I suppose.

Unemployment numbers

The Department of Statistics recently released new unemployment numbers that show the unemployment rate in The Bahamas decreased slightly from 14.7 percent to 14 percent.

The latest survey was conducted from October 29 to November 4, 2012. It showed that 165,255 were listed as employed and 26,950 were listed as unemployed.

The governing party welcomed the news, saying it is evidence that Christie and his team are moving the economy in the right direction.

While it was only a slight decrease, Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis said it was good news nonetheless.

But unlike August 2011, the PLP had no concerns that the Department of Statistics did not count discouraged workers — that group of people who are willing to work but who have become so discouraged they have given up looking for work.

Back then when the department released numbers showing that the rate had dropped from 14.2 percent to 13.7 percent, the PLP criticized statisticians who had conducted the survey.

In fact, the party staged a demonstration. That’s right, a demonstration, placards and all.

During that protest, Elizabeth MP Ryan Pinder said unless discouraged workers are added to the unemployment figure, the overall statistics are “misleading”.

At the same protest, Halkitis said the Ingraham administration was excluding those numbers in an effort to show that the economy is turning around.

Why is no one in the PLP demanding that discouraged workers be included in the latest calculation of the unemployment rate?  Could it be because they are now in power?

At the time of that 2011 protest, Director of the Department of Statistics Kelsie Dorsett fired back, saying both the PLP and the FNM too often use the statistics to gain political points.

“Both the Free National Movement and the Progressive Liberal Party have short-term memories when it comes to how the process works,” Dorsett told The Guardian.

With politicians flip-flopping on so many issues like unemployment numbers, it is likely that the electorate will become even more suspicious, jaded, skeptical and untrusting of politicians.

After all, nobody loves a hypocrite.

February 18, 2013