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A new Bahamas

Transparency, accountability and honesty in government is vital

Published: Oct 22, 2013

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I believe in open, honest government, where we hold our leaders accountable.  I believe in putting the national interests over the special interests.  I believe in putting principle above politics.  I believe in putting people over profit.  The bottom line: I believe we can do better.  I believe we must do better.  And if the system is broken... fix it. – Wesley Clarke, former NATO commander

The new Bahamas is a place where government must be transparent, acting in the best interest of all citizens.  In the new Bahamas, there is no room for secret, clandestine governance.  There is no room for back room or under the table deals.  Any stable democracy must be mature enough to give its citizens access to information.  As leader of the opposition, it is vital that I trust the electorate to support the government’s good decision making, but the people must be given all of the facts to support these good decisions.  In the FNM leadership, my decisions are not motivated by politics.  I strive daily to make choices based on what is best for our country.

In the new Bahamas there must be accountability at all levels of government.  If we are going to inculcate in our youth that all citizens must be accountable for their actions, then it should only follow that there must be accountability by our leaders.  In my vision for the new Bahamas, leaders will educate the electorate before entering into agreements, particularly involving foreign investors, where the utilization of the nation’s vital resources are a part of the agreement.  It is dreadful that the Christie government has engaged in the practice of entering into agreements with huge national implications without public consultation.  I will change that.

Gone are the days when Bahamians accepted elusive and deceptive behavior from those in Parliament.  In 2012, the Freedom of Information Act was tabled, debated and passed by both Houses of Parliament prior to the general election – a solemn promise was made to the Bahamian people.  I find it shameful that, to date, this present government, despite coming to power more than one and a half years ago, has not seen it as vital to bring the Freedom Of Information Act into force.

The recent debacles relating to gambling referendum costs; stem cell research legislation; the proposed separation of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation; environmental challenges at Bimini Bay Resort; immigration and the detention center; the Bahamas Telecommunications Company “buy back”; the unexplained nolle prosequi; Government House expenditures, and the usual awarding of contracts under nebulous circumstances, have indeed caused the nation to raise a suspicious brow of scepticism about government.  The subsequent and successive blunders since May 2012 have cast a pall of embarrassment on this Christie-led government.

As leader of the FNM, I am proud of our fight for honest and accountable leadership.  I am committed to the historic principles of transparency and honest government for which our party has always struggled as its hallmark of governance.  It is disgraceful to watch the level of resistance of PM Christie and his Cabinet colleagues to make the Freedom of Information Act law.

The new Bahamas cannot be operating with ad hoc policies relating to freedom and dissemination of information.  The time is long overdue that our nation’s ministries, corporations and authorities assist anyone in need of facts, figures, statistics and data which is housed within their walls.

There is a caveat, however.  Though we may seek public disclosure to apprise citizens of the work of their government, we are ever mindful that sensitive information, vital to our country’s national security, should be off limits in any discourse about unfettered access to government information.

All facets of society must come together for the new Bahamas to thrive, so this desire for openness is more than just a call for the nation’s leaders to be honest.  Government operating in secret only highlights the problem in our society of secrecy and duplicity.  It saddens me that our collective behavior has proved detrimental to our social psyche as well.  This is most unfortunate.  We now see this type of behavior manifest itself in some of the social ills we have today.  Our people seem to “love to operate in the dark”.  Sadly, this has resulted in hiding incest; mothers cloaking criminal sons; disintegration of the traditional family; contraction of the middle class.  The new Bahamas only works when we address all of our challenges.

I know we can tackle the task; I see our willingness to embrace change; we want a better society and we must help achieve it.  Anything less is unacceptable.  I am committed to the new Bahamas.  I am ready to lead the charge.

• Dr. Hubert Minnis is the leader of the Free National Movement and the official opposition.

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