During the closing hours of the budget debate in Parliament last week, the Prime Minister opted to excoriate the PLP rather than point the way to the future for the Bahamas. Some call him a master politician, but I believe generally that the FNM prefers raw politics over governance. The PLP, on the other hand, prefers governance over raw politics, but to get to govern, a party must sometimes endure the discomfort, the mental drain, and the apparent redundancies of raw politicking. In this edition of “Coleby Sounds Off,” I will address some of the issues raised by the PM and the political spin put on them.
The PM attempted to brand the PLP as the party of STOP, CANCEL, and REVIEW. The problem with this statement is that the PM never acknowledged that the firm his government hired to improve the old Harold Road corridor went into bankruptcy sometime in 2002. Further, the projects canceled by the PLP never resulted in seventy percent of contractors being either unemployed or under-employed and an increase in the unemployment rate from 7 percent to as high as 14.6 percent. Further, the FNM holds the distinction of turning a $25 million budgetary surplus into a $260 million budgetary deficit. They did so in record time and this is due partly to their infamous STOP, CANCEL, and REVIEW policy. The government was also heavily criticized by Standard and Poor’s for this policy decision that the international credit rating agency claims partly caused the Bahamian economy to stall back in 2007.
As the PM defended charges against his government, he pointed out that not one development project signed by his government had stalled. In my view, the PM raised a moot point. The facts regarding Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the Bahamian economy between 1992 and 2007 are as follow: During the governance of the FNM between 1992 and 2002, they attracted $1.604 bil in FDI to the Bahamas. During the governance of the PLP between 2002 and 2007, they attracted $2.541 bil to the Bahamas. Let’s forget the $23 bil of projects that were in the pipeline and focus on what was actually spent in the Bahamian economy, or “put in the ground” so to speak. The record clearly shows that the PLP outperformed the FNM by a factor of 3-to-1. These figures can be verified by the budget communication of 2007. The most effective defense against propaganda and political spin is the truth and the unadulterated and unvarnished facts because they are both very stubborn and cannot change. The facts must be “hammered” home relentlessly and constantly.
It was reported in Bahamas Press that the Prime Minister “reminded the parliament how Christie, with the whole Cabinet present, preempted the newscast of ZNS to announce that Bah Mar project as a done deal. Yet he asked, why did the deal not go through?” This is another moot point because the Bah Mar deal stalled after the FNM government withdrew their support for the project when the PM indicated in Parliament that he had reservations that the principals of Bah Mar had the money to complete the project. Shortly thereafter the strategic partner, Harrah’s Entertainment, pulled out of the deal. The sequence of events suggests that the PM killed the project and sought to point the finger at the former PLP government for purely political reasons. I point out that the principals of Cable Bahamas had no money, but raised it locally to finance that project. Further, the developers of Our Lucaya were allowed to borrow more than US$100 million locally to finance that project. This current Prime Minister was prepared to use the power, resources, and instruments of the state to ensure the success of these projects. The record again clearly shows that the state has the power to cause a project to “live” or “die.”
Bahamas Press further reported that “he (the PM) questioned why was not a single school built in the country in 5 years by the Christie administration? And highlighted the poor condition scores of dilapidated government buildings (were) left in by (the) PLP in 2007. Ingraham asked, what did the PLP do with all the government money they borrowed to fix and do these things during their term in office?” This statement by the PM is my favourite FNM talking point. Grant it, the FNM constructed 12 public schools years between 1992 and 2002, but those 12 schools provided only 332 classrooms. This meant that the FNM government expended huge amounts of public funds, but failed to address the problem of overcrowding in the public school system in ten years of governance. If the public school population was growing at a rate of 2% annually, then constructing 33 classrooms per year could not have possibly expand the physical plant of the public school system to address this vexing problem.
Realizing this problem, the PLP government constructed some 513 classrooms in 5 years, or just over 100 classrooms per year. Further, the old PLP (under Sir Lynden), and the FNM governments together constructed about 12 pre-school units over a period of twelve years. The new PLP government constructed more than 24 pre-school units in 5 short years. It is important to note that the PLP performed this feat with a part-time Education Minister who also filled the role of Attorney General. The FNM, on the other hand, assigned two full time ministers to the Ministry of Education; Dame Ivy Dumont was the substantive minister and the Honorable Zhivargo Laing was the Minister of State. So if the public debate is to be framed on the effective and efficient management of the physical plant within the public education system, then a part time PLP minister was able to out-perform two full time FNM ministers by a factor of 3-to-1.
I turn my attention to the dilapidated government buildings and the stewardship of monies borrowed on behalf of the Bahamian people. In May 2002, there were many dilapidated public buildings after ten years of FNM governance. There were also new buildings that were not functional; the Ministry of Health headquarters come to mind. After spending $23 million in 2007 and $26 million in 2008 to repair public schools, many schools where still in a state of dilapidation. The Eight Mile Rock, Walter Parker, and the Government High Schools come to mind. As a matter of fact, a building in the Science Department at the S.C McPherson School caught on fire because of a faulty propane gas line. This was after the Education Minister was seen on television congratulating the contractor and patting himself on the back for a job well done in expediting the repairs at that school in a timely manner. Many stairwells at the Government High School remained structurally deficient long after school was reopened in September 2008. This placed the personal safety of students, faculty, and staff at risk and that school never should have been allowed to open. It created the impression that an orchestrated public relations exercise was more important to the FNM government than actually protecting the public interest.
I could go on about how the FNM expanded the national debt by more than $1 bil during their first tenure as the government, but has the nerve and the gumption to point the finger at the PLP about fiscal stewardship and mismanagement. I could run on about how they have borrowed more than one half billion dollars in the first two years of their current tenure as the government with little to show for it, but in the interest of space and time, I will stop here, but the readers get the message.
In my view, the FNM lacks the moral authority to point the finger at anybody as they were the drivers of public policy and controlled the public purse for twelve of the last seventeen years. This means that by the end of this term in office, they would have governed for seventy-five percent of the last generation (from 1992 to 2012). It is incredible and unconscionable that the man who was the captain of the Ship of State for that much time finds it necessary and convenient to blame so many of the national problems on somebody else. But then again, in the world of high stakes politics, if he is allowed to get away with this and frame the public debate in favor of his party, then why shouldn’t he opt for politicking over governance?