|Those pesky campaign promises|
Guardian News Editor
Published: Jul 09, 2012
When 2012 rolled in, the excitement of being in media was at an all-time high as the country prepared for a final showdown between Perry Gladstone Christie and Hubert Alexander Ingraham.
In the weeks and months that followed, there was not a dull day in the world of news and no shortage of headlines produced from the treacherous campaign.
In the lead up to the May 7 election, the Progressive Liberal Party released its highly-anticipated Charter for Governance with specific 100-day promises included.
Prime Minister Perry Christie has said repeatedly that he is focused on fulfilling those pledges, although the timing of their implementation, in some respects, may need to be adjusted due to the poor state of public finances.
He and the PLP have been given a clear mandate and the prime minister expects to be held accountable as he goes about seeking to fulfill those promises in the face of still difficult economic circumstances.
It is too soon to realistically expect much of what has been promised to have materialized, especially since we are a good ways off from that much-talked about 100-day mark.
In any event, any reasonable minded person would expect the substantive accomplishments of the Christie team to take much longer than 100 days to be achieved.
But it is not too soon to examine those “promises” that appear to be dead on arrival.
These are just some:
1. Leslie Miller’s promise that one of the first actions of the Christie administration will be to rid the country of Jose Cartellone Construcciones Civiles (JCCC).
At a rally days before the election, Miller, now the MP for Tall Pines, declared that one of the first actions of the new Christie administration would be to rid the country of Jose Cartellone Construcciones Civiles, the Argentinian company spearheading the controversial project.
That declaration drew loud cheers from the Gold Rush crowd and raised even more questions about the wildly over-budgeted project.
But it appears that Miller’s declaration was his own.
The new government did not rid the country of Jose Cartellone in the initial days or weeks of its administration and has not announced any plans to do so.
Minister of Works Philip Brave Davis has stated the government’s position that it will carry on with Jose Cartellone and complete the project as soon as is reasonable to do so.
The new administration inherited the project and all the frustrations and challenges associated with it.
It is now left to borrow to pay for cost overruns that at last reports had exceeded $90 million.
Miller, who is now chairman of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, remains highly critical of the road project.
He said BEC would have to dig up the medians along these new roads if it needs to get to its underground cables.
Miller has also said he would not support any additional borrowing to complete the road work.
One Facebook commenter claimed — incorrectly so — last week that the PLP campaigned to kick Jose Cartellone out of the country.
Progressive Liberal Party Chairman Bradley Roberts had this response: “The PLP did not campaign to kick out JCCC, the campaign in part was to kick out the FNM who gave the contract to JCCC. The government is working to bring this contract to conclusion ASAP without incurring additional cost for the taxpayers. Please let’s speak the truth and shame the devil.”
2. Philip Brave Davis’ promise to move for a commission of inquiry within the first 100 days to investigate the road work project, BTC sale, Arawak Cay port deal etc.
Another example of a promise from an individual candidate that is not a commitment of the new administration was the one made by Davis, who is now our deputy prime minister.
This was indeed a noteworthy declaration from Davis at a PLP mass rally at Clifford Park in April. So much so that it grabbed headlines and made our front page.
“I shall agitate for the commission to be appointed so it can call for people and papers to examine and explore the facts surrounding specific matters of great national importance,” Davis said.
“With this fact-finding body, we shall seek to examine and reveal the role of special interests involved in the grant of a 40-year monopoly at the Arawak Cay Port.”
Davis said at the time that Bahamians still don’t know the names of the people “hiding behind the corporate veils”. He questioned where the “people’s money” went. “Inquiring minds want to know,” Davis said. “Let the chips fall where they may.”
The PLP deputy said the commission would also be mandated to examine matters pertaining to the sale of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC).
The government sold 51 percent of the shares in BTC to Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) last year.
Davis said, “Investigations into that sale should include matters related to the selection of the Cable and Wireless company as the preferred purchaser of the Bahamian peoples’ value and profitable asset.”
Davis said he would also support the commission’s examination of the New Providence Road Improvement Project, in particular the “massive levels” of the cost overruns.
Then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham reported to Parliament earlier this year that the project was $77 million over budget.
The PLP has called the project “poorly managed”.
But there has been no talk of a commission of inquiry within the first 100 days — not from Davis or anyone within the administration, at least not publicly.
The new government’s focus is elsewhere.
When asked about the commission of inquiry promise last month, Prime Minister Perry Christie was noncommittal.
Christie indicated that the government would have to look carefully at the matter before making any determinations in this regard.
“With respect to a commission of inquiry, the government has to determine whether that goes forward,” he said.
“We have to determine whether it is in the best interest of our country to hold a judicial inquiry into the port, into any matter that we might consider necessary.”
Davis said not long after coming to office he still supports the appointment of a commission of inquiry, but for now the government must deal with “more pressing issues”.
“I said I would support such an inquiry and that would be a matter that Cabinet would have to discuss and deal with,” he told The Guardian.
He explained that the government had not yet reached the stage to appoint a commission as yet.
“We will deal with the more pressing issues that are facing us now, which are crime and the economy,” he said.
“Those are things that we are interested in now.”
He continued, “We have not forgotten BTC but at the moment we are trying to get our streets safe again.”
3. Philip Brave Davis’ promise to create 10,000 “immediate” new jobs for young Bahamians.
A key issue on the campaign trail was the high level of unemployment in the country.
The most recent Labour Force Survey, which was released by the Department of Statistics in February, contained some insightful but at the same time alarming information on the current state of unemployment in The Bahamas.
Apart from the distressingly high unemployment rate of nearly 16 percent overall and the continuing challenges to the Grand Bahamian economy, with an unemployment rate of 21.2 percent, the data on youth unemployment was perhaps the most disturbing.
Youth unemployment was pegged at 34 percent.
So any promise relating to job creation, particularly for the youth, stood out in the lead up to the election.
Two months in, there has been no indication from the new administration of these 10,000 “immediate” new jobs for young Bahamians.
But as the term “immediate” is subjective, some may argue that the government has several months left to fulfill this pledge.
Several days ago, Prime Minister Christie said his administration was feeling the pressure to deliver on its campaign promise to create jobs.
“It takes time to bring about the jobs that are necessary for people and we can hear the clamor already of people who elected us that they are impatient and they want progress,” he said.
“It’s pressing me very hard, I’m at it for many hours in the day working at this.”
Just over a week ago, Prime Minister Christie announced that 300 new jobs will be created on Bimini when a new casino opens in December.
4. Dr. Perry Gomez’ promise at an Andros rally that National Health Insurance will be made reality WITHIN THE FIRST YEAR.
I considered carefully whether to include this as an example of dead-on-arrival promises.
It is, but only in the sense of Gomez’s recent backtracking on the timeframe for implementing NHI.
Dr. Gomez — the now minister of health and former director of the National AIDS Programme — chaired the Blue Ribbon Commission on NHI under the first Christie administration.
Several months before the 2007 general election, the then government brought an NHI Bill to Parliament.
Although the bill was passed, the election took place before the promised regulations to flesh out the details of NHI were drafted.
“If the term of government was not interrupted in 2007, The Bahamas would be well on the way to achieving many of the goals that we had set for it, including National Health Insurance,” he said at the rally.
“I can assure you that if that were not the case that National Health Insurance would have been implemented by the next Christie term; that didn’t happen. And I assure you tonight that when the bell is rung and the votes are tallied and the PLP is announced the winner, National Health Insurance will be on the front burner of the PLP government and will be implemented within a year.”
After coming to office, Dr. Gomez quickly conceded that implementing NHI within the first year of the new Christie administration is not realistic.
He explained that the rate of unemployment is too high, and since NHI is a contributory scheme it would be difficult to bring on the program before more Bahamians are employed in significant numbers.
While campaigning, he had told The Nassau Guardian that most of the work for NHI was already done between 2002-2007 and implementing it within the first year of the new government was realistic.
It is unclear what new information the now minister accessed that made him have a change of heart on the timeframe.
No new unemployment numbers were released between the time he made his campaign declaration and the time he admitted that the scheme is not doable in year one.
A new timeframe for NHI is unclear, but Prime Minister Christie has reiterated that it remains a priority of his government.
5. Michael Darville’s and Greg Moss’ promise that a Ministry of Energy and Industry will be located on Grand Bahama.
At the launch of the PLP’s Grand Bahama team of candidates early this year, Michael Darville, now Senator and Minister of Grand Bahama, made this announcement.
“Understanding that the expansion of the economy requires reduced energy costs, the Progressive Liberal Party will embark from the first day in office to establish a new Ministry of Energy and Industry to be located on Grand Bahama,” Darville declared.
“The primary mandate will be to reduce the overall cost of electricity per kilowatt hour throughout The Bahamas, and to improve the inefficient failing electrical infrastructure of BEC, while working with the owners of the Grand Bahama Power Company to reduce the fuel surcharge by expanding alternative energy sources.”
At that same event, Greg Moss, now MP for Marco City, made the same promise.
He said, “A new Ministry of Energy and Industry will be the nation’s first ministry to be situated outside the capital. We will also name a Minister for Grand Bahama with direct responsibility, in consultation with other relevant government ministries, for the oversight of the various government agencies and departments in Grand Bahama.
“We will conduct an extensive review of the cost of electrical power in Grand Bahama to ensure that customers are not being overbilled.
“The present cost of electricity in Grand Bahama is alarming in light of the fact that the Grand Bahama Power Company is not paying any customs duties on the import of fuel.”
In the end, the prime minister decided against this Ministry of Energy and Industry.
He however immediately kept his promise to establish a Ministry for Grand Bahama.
The ministry was previously promised by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, but was never established under the former government.
It’s not clear why Prime Minister Christie decided against a Ministry of Energy and Industry on Grand Bahama, which according to Darville would have been mandated to look at reducing energy costs throughout the entire country.
These are but a few of the promises made during the campaign on which there has been some backtracking.
They might be a good lesson to voters that promises of national significance that are made by individual candidates ought not be taken seriously as they may not be the position of the party, and the new administration when it takes office.