By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
As far as former Cabinet Minister Loftus Roker is concerned, “anything” is better at governing The Bahamas than the current Minnis Administration.
Loftus A. Roker, an attorney by profession, served in the Pindling Administration as Minister of Health and Housing, Minister of Works and Minister of Immigration and National Security.
He was known for his youthful looks and most importantly his no-nonsense personality; always shooting from the hip and sparing no one he felt was making a mockery of governance or acting contrary to the Constitution he helped to frame and which bears his signature. On illegal immigration he took a hardline which brought him many critics.
He spoke to The Tribune recently from his home and did not mince his words when giving his thoughts on the current governance of this country and Parliamentarians generally.
Asked if he felt this FNM administration would regain governance after the upcoming general elections, his response was immediate. “Anything is better than this government,” he said without giving it a second thought. “That is my answer to that. Anything is better, it doesn’t matter what it is. Anything!”
We asked if the fault lay with the fact the majority of government members were novices to governance. “That’s not a fault,” he responded firmly. “When you select people to run (in politics) you should make sure that the person is capable of performing.
“You going to the people and saying ‘vote for this fellow to go to the House because he is better than the other fellow at looking after your affairs’. So when he gets there don’t tell me he is a novice. I’m not interested in that! He must have had some sort of qualification before he got in the House.
“If all you want to go there for is that salary, then that’s not good. There are some members of the House that I have not heard about since they were there. What are they doing? I don’t want to hear any excuse about ‘if I talk up they will fire me.’ I don’t want to hear that. I don’t worry about that!”
Mr Roker used himself as an example of what a brave Member of Parliament – who can think outside of his or her leader’s thoughts – would do.
“If you check my record you will find that when I was in the House as a back-bencher, I spoke out against the government when I didn’t agree,” he said. “As a Minister I spoke out against them with the Prime Minister right there in the House. He knew that if he had in his mind to fire me, I would be gone before he could tell me that. I didn’t need to be in the House and I didn’t need to be no Minister.
“I was there because I believe I could benefit the Bahamian people. That’s all! At one stage I sent my resignation into the Prime Minister over a matter which I don’t care to discuss now. The Prime Minister wrote me back and said he cannot accept my resignation because he agreed with my position. I still have both my resignation letter and his reply to me.
“Being a Minister didn’t mean anything to me. I was not there to make any money. In fact I was making more money as a lawyer than I made being a Minister. People use to go to Pindling and say, ‘Why you letting Roker say those things? Why don’t you fire him?’ Pindling would only laugh and not say anything. Now before I got up on the floor of the House and said anything against the government, I went to Pindling first.”
Mr. Roker said he would never have “shocked” the then-Prime Minister by saying opposing things in the House, but instead he first went to the Prime Minister and told him what he opposed and why. He said if the Prime Minister was not prepared to do anything about it, then he would talk about the matter on the House’s floor.
It is quite uncommon for Bahamian Parliamentarians to publicly oppose the views of their party. Most times we see a “smiting” take place if they dare to do it. FNM House members Frederick McAlpine, Reece Chipman, Vaughn Miller and young Travis Robinson decided to oppose a raise in Value Added Tax (VAT) and found themselves immediately fired from the employ of the government. Robinson was later reinstated.
Miller resigned from the FNM and crossed the House floor to be a member of the Progressive Liberal Party, while Chipman resigned from the FNM but chose to be Independent. McAlpine stayed on as an FNM, but became a relentless thorn in the government’s side in Parliament.
Mr Roker was asked if he felt FNM Cabinet Ministers are comfortable with disagreeing with this Prime Minister.
“I don’t think so,” he responded. “Maybe they are frightened. I know I wasn’t frightened. They might be frightened about losing their perks. There was a member of the House who got up and said something and the next thing you know he was fired as a Parliamentary Secretary or something like that.
“The next thing you know, he must have begged pardon because they reappointed him to the same post. You have heard nothing more about him since then. Not one word! He was put back in the same post and you don’t even hear what he is doing there, but he is collecting a salary though.”
The former PLP Cabinet Minister made very strong statements about the value of the Bahamian dollar. Statements, he said, that frightens him.
“We are borrowing like we are crazy and all of us will suffer for that,” he said. “See, it’s not only the PLP or the FNM, all of us will suffer for that. The next thing you know, believe me, our dollar is going to be devalued. Our dollar is actually devalued already, but it will officially be devalued.
“I don’t even want to say that. I am frightened to say or predict when that will happen. Think about it. Look at the debt that we have. Look at our foreign currency reserves. That’s down too. That is the thing that keeps up the value of our money; our foreign reserves.”
Presented with the position of heavy borrowing and the possibility of a devalued dollar, the question was asked if The Bahamas is in this position due to bad governance.
“Yes, that’s part of it,” Mr Roker said. “All of them used to say how mean I was because I don’t believe in spending money what I don’t have to spend. Governance has gone down because we believe our own propaganda.
‘We reach the point where it’s almost like we are not serious. It’s like, ‘I just want to get to power. I don’t care! I’ll say anything just to get to power’. I just want him to vote for me. I don’t intend to do what I said I will do.
“Some of us are just too lazy. That’s the problem we have today. A fellow didn’t have a job and he got in the House (of Assembly) and suddenly he says $28,000 isn’t enough for House members, they should get more. Now this fellow didn’t have a job before he got in the House.
“This fellow, where he ran, I don’t think the Opposition (at that time) thought they could win that seat. That’s why they put him there and he won the seat. Then he says $28,000 isn’t enough money and never had a job before that. That’s the problem we have today. So imagine if Members of Parliament doing that then what about the ordinary fellow?
He said members of the public have the attitude the government is supposed to take care of all of their needs.
“The government isn’t supposed to be feeding you,” he explained. “The government is supposed to make it possible for you to get food. That’s the problem we’ve been having for years now. Not just currently. We have forgotten what nation building is all about.”
Mr Roker turned to government wastage and used the Ministry of Works as his example. “The Ministry of Works is responsible for maintaining government property,” he said.
“Now we are giving all of that out to contract and still employing the people in the Ministry of Works who should be doing the work. So we are now paying twice and getting very little for it.
“The Bahamian people seems to reach the point where they don’t even think about what’s going on. If you have carpenters, masons, plumbers, electricians employed in the Ministry of Works and getting paid every month and then you go out and hire a plumber to do plumbing for you and you have plumbers in the Ministry of Works. So you are paying twice for it.
“It’s the Bahamian people who are paying for it because the government has no money. When the government needs money they have to take it from you in taxes. The government has no money, don’t mind what they say. They want you to believe that they have money, but they have none. When they need money they take it from you.”
The Opposition PLP was not exempt from the “spanking” Mr Roker dished out. He said the Opposition was not keeping the government accountable for its spending.
“I blame the Bahamian people for that,” he continued. “You know there is a committee in the House called the Public Accounts Committee. That is the only committee controlled by the Opposition in Parliament. The reason for that is for them to keep an account of government spending… of what the government is doing with the finances. They don’t even meet! You don’t hear anything about that!”
At 85-years-old, Mr Roker has clearly lost none of the bite of his days at the centre of Bahamian politics.