Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Two years later ...we seek to objectively assess how the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government has performed ...provide a prognosis on the rest of the administration’s term ...and offer some recommendations on the way forward

PLP governance: Two years in

In a couple of hours from now, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) will commemorate two years since the general elections that ushered the party into power. The PLP won the 2012 general election in a landslide victory over the incumbent Free National Movement (FNM) government, after what was generally considered to be a remarkable election campaign.

The PLP came into power in the aftermath of the Great Recession and was confronted with challenges of great proportions. There was no doubt that the expectations of the electorate in relation to the new government were high and there was an urgent need for relief, which the PLP promised during its campaign for office. As a result of the state of the economy and the myriad issues the new government was expected to address, the PLP government did not have the luxury of a honeymoon.

Simply put, the Bahamian people wanted solutions and demanded an immediate change in circumstances. Two years later we seek to objectively assess how the government has performed, provide a prognosis on the rest of the administration’s term and offer some recommendations on the way forward.

The Charter for Governance

The PLP deviated from the orthodox format of manifestos which outline the agenda of a political party during its term in office. Upon the release of the Charter for Governance (Charter), the PLP noted that the document, termed Vision 2030, was designed to be a road map to go beyond the guaranteed five-year tenure in our political system.

While some might consider this to be presumptuous, the PLP articulated its belief that the nation’s development could not be planned five years at a time. The reality remains that the proposals and initiatives documented in the charter are so numerous and significant that it is unreasonable to expect them to be actualized in full within five years in the democracy that we practice without radical and/or autocratic decisions.

It is appropriate for the populace who are the employers to review and assess the government – the employees – based on the representations made in their plan as contained in the charter, although it is unclear how specific goals will be selected for examination. Subsequently, it is up to the Bahamian public to grade the government during and at the end of its current term in office to ascertain whether the mandate should be renewed.

A consensus building government

Prime Minister Perry G. Christie has been consistent in his approach to governance. Christie could very well be regarded as the great consensus builder based on his inclination to practice inclusive politics. He is known for seeking to involve the citizenry in the decision-making process of governance. There are commentators that oppose this approach with criticisms on its impact on the speed of decision making and surmising such as a sign of indecisiveness or weakness.

The late Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who was not deemed to be a proponent of consensus building, had the following to say on this topic; she noted that consensus is “The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?” This mind-set was perhaps one of the greatest criticisms of her leadership and is believed to have contributed to her political demise.

Nevertheless, leaders have differing philosophies and styles; hence, no one approach could be regarded as being superior to the other. The government must continue to collaborate with the people and relevant stakeholders in order to ensure continuous engagement and involvement in matters of national interest. However, where such consensus building will contradict the beliefs, principles, values and policies of the government, our leaders must be prepared to proceed with their agenda in spite of opposition as long as the decisions are in the national interest.

The highs of the first two years

In order to fairly assess the first two years of the current administration, one must refer to the content of the PLP’s charter, which should govern the government’s policies and agenda during its term in office. It is fair to state that the government has had some high moments during its first two years, including in no particular order: Budget 2013/2014, which was praised by international observers and rating agencies; the establishment of the National Training Agency; the establishment of the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute; making deliberate efforts to reduce the cost of electricity; engaging in active negotiations to remedy the BTC/Lime deal; the development of a fiscal consolidation plan and commencement of the tax reform process that included the release of a white paper, the implementation of the Central Revenue Agency and a Real Property Tax Amnesty program that nets much millions into the government’s coffers.

The Bimini economy has benefited significantly from foreign direct investment and the opening of the Resorts World Bimini project, while Grand Bahama has also seen a boost in its economy as a result of Memories Grand Bahama Beach and Casino Resort. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) is also set to gain from the procurement of the necessary vessels and equipment to increase its efficiency in securing our borders and stemming the scourge of illegal immigration and poaching.

Past and present challenges

As promised in its charter and the manifestos of other political organizations, the government held a non-binding referendum on the establishment and regulation of a national lottery and web shop gaming. While it remains to be seen how the government will bring closure to this matter, this administration will be remembered for having the courage to address an issue ignored for decades by successive administrations.

Gender equality remains an important national matter that ought to have been addressed a long time ago. The government commissioned a Constitutional Review Committee which provided its report on proposed changes to our constitution. However, the first of the proposed changes, which seeks to provide Bahamian women with the same rights as their male counterparts, is yet to take effect due to the delay in the requisite constitutional referendum.

The pandemic of crime continues to be a major challenge for the government by its own admission and as evidenced by the level of lawlessness in our society. The other issues relating to the detention center and the level of union activism over this period has indeed presented challenges to the government. When combined with the sluggish global and local economic growth, as well as the declining yet still high rate of unemployment in The Bahamas, it would not be an understatement to state that this PLP administration has its plate full.

Going forward

Artists often highlight the beauty of a plain canvas that many may not view in the same light. A plain canvas presents a unique opportunity to start something unique and create a special piece. In other words, whether the plain canvas is new or wiped clean the opportunity remains available to do something great and exceptional.

The government need not dwell on any of its accomplishments or get side-tracked by distractions and challenges of the last two years. Rather, it must embrace the gift of a new day to accomplish its goals and objectives. The government should wipe its slate clean - if it must - and focus on its agenda as documented in the charter.

While it may be argued that time is of the essence (and it sure is) and is running out, there remains ample time for the government to make the necessary changes to put The Bahamas in better standing for greater success. In the words of the “Oracle of Omaha” – Warren Buffett: “Someone sits in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” The government must be resolute in ensuring that the necessary trees are planted and the requisite foundations are laid today to protect, shield and preserve the future of generations yet unborn.

• Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

May 06, 2014