Monday, June 30, 2014

Shanendon Cartwright on Politics and good public policy in The Bahamas

Is good public policy good politics? Absolutely!

ShanendonThe Commonwealth of The Bahamas has reached a pivotal and significant crossroad in our national development. Bahamians through their increased level of frustration and disenchantment with government have placed the impact and relevance of political leadership in the spotlight.

While there is always a natural tendency to focus on particular personalities, Bahamians are asking a much broader question of whether or not our politics is serving us well. They feel that governments have not, in some cases, functioned at their optimum; and this observation is in vivid contrast to the many political campaigns that are constantly ambitious, aggressive, accomplished to a degree, deliberate and simply get things done.

Their discontent and dissatisfaction is anchored by a fundamental and ever-present irony. We live in a time when answers to our prevailing questions, and possible solutions to our most challenging problems, are literally at our finger tips by way of our smartphones or the click of a mouse. Yet, there seems, and “seems” being the operative word here, to be a limited capacity on behalf of our governments at times to efficiently grapple with many of our country’s short- and long-term problems.

If I may, however, offer an alternate perspective. The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a dynamic country with some of the best minds in the world. We are a country with a small population but produce people with extraordinary gifts, talents and supreme intelligence that light up the world stage at a higher rate than many countries with 10 times the number of people. That’s why it is my absolute belief and contention that the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is the greatest nation on Earth.

We have the answers to our problems. In my humble view, progress on particular issues is slow because in many cases governments have retreated to the corner of what they believe to be safe politics rather than standing firm on bold transformative policies. They are obsessed with the question, “Is good public policy, good politics?” I say absolutely!

Why is it necessary to discuss, deliberate and dissect this? Well, it’s obvious to the Bahamian people if you listen to them as I do that solutions rarely make it to their destination because of the political gauntlet and the perpetual campaigning that goes on. Bahamians see continuous politicking and not enough governing. Now don’t get me wrong we love ourselves some politics in The Bahamas. However, dipped in to our enthusiasm for the rhetoric and political jostling lies an entrenched and burning hope and real expectation that governing will start and things will get better in the country we love.

Politics and policy

There is a dance that is always happening between politics and policy – a waltz if you will. Politics is the mechanism and way in which we the Bahamian people choose our elected officials; the way in which politicians vie for acceptance from the Bahamian people. Policy, on the other hand, is the medium through which the elected officials should be advancing real change and transformation for the empowerment of the Bahamian people and the development of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. Policy is where real, legitimate, courageous, life-changing, inspiring leadership stakes its claim. It is where history will herald contributions and determine legacies. Put another way: You have won an election? Now truly lead, govern and make things better in The Bahamas for future generations.

Political parties morph into governing parties once elected and seem to take the posture sometimes that the voter’s initial discomfort or anxiety with a particular policy proposal is sufficient to stop it in its tracks. This position, although I believe unintentional, discredits and insults the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the Bahamian people who are more than capable of sifting and navigating through proposed policy and project debates that are supposedly created to benefit them and the country.

Herein, in my estimation, lies an unescapable truth. While I have attempted to make a distinction between politics and policy in their purpose, there is an unavoidable seam at which they do meet; hence my argument. In most cases where the policy may be good, it isn’t the policy that the Bahamian public reject. It is the lackluster collection of weak explanations, half-truths, poor communication and failure to adequately engage the Bahamian people as a legislative partner. They fail to competently make the Bahamian people aware of how a proposed policy benefits them. After all, aren’t we supposed to know and feel like it will be good for us? Isn’t that the purpose of public policy?

Good policy

Amazingly when good policy has far-reaching and long-term impact, members of the electorate are prepared to subject themselves to some temporary discomfort and uneasiness. It’s similar and analogous to going to the doctor for a vaccination. The short-term experience of getting a needle is not necessarily desirable to many, but the long-term benefits of being immunized are well known. Yes, I do get and can concede that it’s natural for Bahamians to be less skeptical about what their doctors say compared to politician. But, the principle is the still the same. Adequately explain and convince the Bahamian people how they and the country will reap the rewards of the policy and they will embrace it despite the imperfections. When good policy doesn’t resonate, it’s either bad policy or there is a lack of persuasion.

Let me add to those who are just totally pessimistic about politics. What I’m highlighting is persuasion based on what is authentic and true about the specific policy, its merits and shortfalls. Conveying half-truths, lies and using smoke and mirrors about the policy do not amount to persuasion; that’s deception and manipulation and Bahamians will make you pay a political price for such a deed.

It is truly fascinating to me and many Bahamians that a sentiment and conviction exist on behalf of some on the political frontline, both politician and political technocrats, that suggesting certain policy proposals may lead to a political death trap. Here’s the irony in such thinking. Politicos pride themselves on being political geniuses – strategists of the highest order. They use the terms “leader” and “leadership” loosely when they should be used sparingly because a major part of political prowess, political leadership, if you will, and political competency is the ability to sincerely connect with and to articulate to the people what you are proposing in order to convince them that the measure is good for all and the country. There is nothing admirable about shrinking from tough decisions masquerading as political savvy and shrewd strategy. A weak, timid or fair-weather stance will not lead to real progress in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas; nor will it translate into meaningful change in the lives of Bahamians.

The greatest leaders across this God-given Earth have been persons, more often than not, who have lives that encompass vision, decisiveness, resolve, character, strength, selflessness and inspiration. The country we love – the Commonwealth of The Bahamas – will not flourish on easy decision making. Greater expectations demand greater responsibility from us as citizens; but also, especially our leaders. We need good public policies that will strengthen our economy and upgrade our fiscal standing so that Bahamians can enjoy real economic empowerment. We need good policies that will start to alleviate the debilitating scourge of crime and its elements. We need good policies that will ensure that our children have the best education in the world so that they can determine a better future for themselves. We need good policies that will make us a healthier nation regardless of socio-economic statuses. We need good policies that will better equip us to create even more world-class athletes and sporting programs. Most of all, we need good public policies to secure our Bahamian cultural identity and export it to the world.

Bahamians everywhere are demanding real change. They want to be inspired by a vision of a country that is only limited by what we can imagine. Bahamians want a Bahamas where the Bahamian is king. Bahamians have always been prepared to give, to sacrifice for the good of their country.

We are a giving people. It’s incumbent upon our leaders to advocate for and fight on behalf of the Bahamian people by presenting and communicating good public policy for their consideration that is sound, substantive, impactful, forward thinking and that cradles the hope and the aspirations of all Bahamians. There is no doubt in my mind that good public policy can transform, enrich and uplift the lives of Bahamians everywhere. And when the time is appropriate they will register their trust and approval at the ballot box. Is good public policy good politics? Absolutely!

• Shanendon E. Cartwright is a marketing and hospitality professional and the founder and facilitator of Vision 21 – an educational, motivational and interactive lecture series on leadership.

June 25, 2014