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Marred legacy

Power-thirsty emperor forced to take final bow
  • Former Prime Minister Perry Christie addresses a large crowd of supporters during a meeting at the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) headquarters on Farrington Road on Monday night. Christie officially resigned as party leader during the meeting.

  • Former Prime Minister Perry Christie during a meeting at the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) headquarters on Farrington Road on Monday night. Christie officially resigned as party leader five days after the PLP’s election defeat. Photos: Ahvia J. Campbell

CANDIA DAMES
Managing Editor
candia@nasguard.com

Published: May 17, 2017

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Finally.

Perry Gladstone Christie is off the political scene.

We can now look to the future.

A new era.

A fresh start.

Like Sir Lynden Pindling and Hubert Ingraham before him, Christie did not know when to go.

But unlike Sir Lynden and Ingraham, he will go down in history as being the first prime minister of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas who became so unpopular, so unpalatable, so unwelcome, so distrusted that he did not hold onto his seat.

After 40 years of his representation of Centreville, the constituency ought to have been a model constituency, but it was not.

Christie ought to be embarrassed that he did not achieve more for the area.

He took the people for granted. Clearly, he assumed they would do what they had always done since 1977, and that is elect him to Parliament.

He was gravely mistaken.

He was also mistaken to think the electorate wanted another term of a government led by him.

When we sat down with him at his home in Cable Beach in 2010, Christie told us he intended to lead the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) into the 2012 general election and step down mid-term.

But as the election neared, he changed his tune, advising that he intended to serve a full term.

Christie got his chance to lead The Bahamas again. He got his opportunity to demonstrate that he had learned from the mistakes in his first term, when he allowed scandal-plagued ministers to drag down the party and the government.

But Christie continued to protect compromised ministers over the last five years, marring his legacy and sealing a grim fate for the PLP and for himself.

Ahead of 2012, he claimed he was the bridge to the future.

He had on his team several young and seemingly progressive members whom he said were being prepared for future leadership.

But when the opportunity came for him to allow them to cross that bridge, Christie, no doubt watching the turmoil that had engulfed the Free National Movement, and no doubt seized with an insatiable desire for power, refused to step down as leader of the PLP.

His determination to force himself upon the Bahamian people yet again led to his defeat, and the defeat of the new generation leaders who remained on the SS PLP.

People like Dr. Kendal Major, Khaalis Rolle and Michael Halkitis tied their political futures to Christie, knowing full well the people did not want him.

And so, they too sank with the ship, and are now on the outside looking in, when they still have so much to offer in the arena of national leadership.

When he announced his resignation from the party at PLP headquarters on Farrington Road on Monday night, Christie said a visiting pastor had reminded him life is about seasons.

Christie’s political season has ended — not because he wanted it to, but because the Bahamian people rejected him in the strongest possible way. His own constituents wanted no more of him.

For Christie, that must have been painful.

As we watched him lead his out-of-touch party into last week’s election, and as we watched the results unfold, we were reminded of the words of the late pastor Dr. Myles Munroe, when we interviewed him in 2014.

“Leadership is a relay. It is not a sprint,” Munroe said.

“The most important part of a relay is not how fast you run. It is that crucial moment of passing that baton.

“Leadership will be judged not by how fast or how long or great they ran. It is that moment in history when they have to let go of that baton. Nothing can be worse than passing the baton to the next runner, but you are not letting go of it.”

Munroe also recalled a dream he had of a runner in a coffin still clutching his baton.

Christie will forevermore be remembered as a leader who did not know when to pass the baton.

He will be remembered as the prime minister who lost his seat by four votes.

Christie seemed more in love with being prime minister than he was committed to delivering good governance for The Bahamas.

He ignored demands for accountability and transparency.

He turned a blind eye to conflicts and abuse of power involving his ministers.

He let the perception set in that they could do whatever they wanted to do, even if it was not in the best interest of the Bahamian people.

He protected them, and they protected him from any real threat to his leadership.

They propped him up and led him to believe he was still wanted, that he still had it.

The relationship between Christie and his ministers was a twisted symbiotic relationship.

That relationship and the protection of one another became more important than doing right by the Bahamian people.

Many Bahamians, some of them PLPs, voted against Christie and the PLP because they did not see their prime minister standing up for what was right.

They heard him quote scripture; they heard him lecture on righteousness, but they did not see him standing up for it.

They did not see him taking a stand for the Bahamian people.

Instead, he condoned wrongdoing while treating the people in a contemptuous fashion.

 

Compromised

On April 20, when The Tribune revealed that Jerome Fitzgerald, the now former minister of education, had violated the code of Cabinet conduct and solicited then Baha Mar developer Sarkis Izmirlian for contracts for his family business, Christie remained silent.

Weeks after flipping the bird at a political rally, Christie gave the Bahamian people the proverbial middle finger when he refused to condemn Fitzgerald. Instead, he praised him from a rally stage.

He refused to send a message that conflicts will not be tolerated.

He appointed Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson to lead negotiations to resume work on the Baha Mar project and to find new owners, even though Maynard-Gibson was conflicted. She admitted that her husband owns stores in Baha Mar.

Christie also said nothing after the media revealed that Shane Gibson, the then labor minister, had been accepting money from Lyford Cay resident Peter Nygard in a U.S. bank account while Nygard had applications before the government.

Many Bahamians were stunned by that revelation. It was not enough for them to hear from the minister that the money was being used for community projects.

Christie protected V. Alfred Gray, the MICAL MP, after it was revealed he interfered in a judicial matter in his constituency.

Gray was investigated by his colleague, Maynard-Gibson, who, not surprisingly, found there was no evidence to prosecute.

But that matter was extremely damaging to the Christie administration’s reputation, as were other controversies this term.

In his first term, Christie developed a reputation of being slow to act.

He did not do much to change this perception this term.

In 2014, after Renward Wells, at the time parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Works, signed a letter of intent with Stellar Waste to Energy for a $600 million project at the New Providence Landfill, Christie asked for Wells’ resignation.

Months passed without the prime minister providing the country with any explanation. Months passed before he finally fired Wells.

We still do not know to this day specifics on that matter.

As prime minister, Christie also developed a reputation of failing to show respect for time.

He was habitually late. Oftentimes, the governor general had to circle in his or her car awaiting the prime minister’s arrival at events.

Investors and others who had meetings with Christie talked about waiting for him for long periods of time.

Because of the tone he and his government set, Parliament almost never started on time.

The new prime minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis, advised at the swearing in of his ministers on Monday that he intends to lead a disciplined and organized government that respects time.

This was greeted by applause.

It was refreshing to hear.

Many had long become tired dealing with an indisciplined and often late government led by a prime minister who assumed the world should wait for him as long as he wanted it to.

Christie packed his schedule with speaking engagements to keep him busy, but he struggled to deliver big things.

 

Record

Christie tried to define his legacy by introducing National Health Insurance (NHI).

After multiple delays, we were told in the days leading up to the 2017 general election that enrollment had started and NHI is finally a reality.

Outgoing Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez admitted that there was no funding plan in place.

Christie’s legacy is also defined by his development of the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI), which is intended to improve food security and cut down on our import bill.

This is a noble goal and an effort that deserves commendation.

But the former administration failed to provide proper financial reporting on BAMSI. In the weeks leading up to the election, the media were invited to tour the facility, and then the trip was canceled without explanation.

The operations are not transparent.

This is something that has been the hallmark of the Christie administration — the lack of transparency.

Christie leaves office with government finances critically challenged. Our credit rating was downgraded four times under his watch and the national debt has exceeded $7 billion.

The Christie administration added more than $2 billion to the debt.

Christie took bold action to introduce value-added tax (VAT) in 2015.

This was transformative to our tax system.

But VAT was hugely unpopular, a tax that burdened the poor. The government’s failure to properly account for the expenditure of the more than $1 billion it collected in VAT featured prominently in the 2017 election campaign.

By the time Christie provided his explanation to Parliament on the matter, many voters had already made up their minds to vote him and the PLP out.

Before the PLP was elected in 2012, gambling houses operated without regulations.

When Christie came to power, he went through with plans to hold a referendum on gambling.

He clearly wanted to regulate the industry, but did not want to have the responsibility of making the decision, due to pressure from the church.

The majority of people who voted rejected the referendum questions. Christie, who had promised to respect the will of the people, instead ignored it.

This was hugely damaging to his credibility for the rest of the term.

Nonetheless, the regulation of the industry was a significant achievement.

In his fourth year of the last term, Christie brought a gender equality referendum. It covered some of the same issues as the 2002 referendum brought by Ingraham less than three months before a general election.

The PLP led by Christie supported the 2002 referendum bills in Parliament, but campaigned against the referendum in public.

It failed.

Likewise, the 2016 referendum, which was brought at a time when the PLP government’s credibility was severely diminished, also failed.

It signalled what voters had in store for Christie and the PLP this year.

Christie expected that the challenged leadership of Minnis, and the troubles that engulfed the FNM for most of the last term would clear a path for another PLP win.

But Christie did not do the things that might have gotten him reelected.

His administration was unaccountable. It repeatedly showed disdain to the Bahamian people.

It paid the ultimate price.

The PLP’s decision to keep Christie on was, perhaps, its most critical mistake ahead of the 2017 election.

On the night of the crushing defeat last Wednesday, he could not even bring himself to come before the cameras and face the Bahamian people.

 

Losing his way

Christie’s final speech as leader of the PLP on Monday night was characterized by the usual rambling and lack of focus.

In it, he defended his record — even though voters strongly rejected it just days earlier.

He accepted responsibility for the loss, as he should.

As he addressed PLPs, his tone was at times caustic and almost desperate, but with a hint of humility and regret.

The portrait of Sir Lynden hung on the wall behind him.

Christie will have a lot of time now, if the Lord keeps him, to reflect on his legacy.

He leaves politics with his personal integrity in tact, despite the stain on his legacy for failing to act against certain ministers.

But he was dogged by widespread perceptions of corruption within his government. In politics, perceptions are important.

The corruption perception was an important factor in the PLP’s election defeat.

“...God knows, for all my faults as leader and as a man, I tried my best to do the best that I could for the Bahamian people,” the former prime minister said on Monday night.

We do not doubt that Christie wanted to see progress for his people.

But somewhere along the way, he lost his way.

After the PLP was crushed in 1997 and Sir Lynden retired, Christie took the reins and rebuilt the PLP back to fighting form.

He led it into election victories in 2002 and 2012, and to election defeats in 2007 and 2017.

His was a huge miscalculation.

He was no bridge to the future.

He failed to focus on succession planning.

He glowed in the adoration of fawning PLPs, who shouted, “One leader!” back in January, when Alfred Sears challenged him for the leadership.

Quietly, some PLPs, however, knew they faced a great risk going into the general election with Christie as their leader.

They knew Christie was hugely unpopular. They knew the people did not want him.

They knew he was a drag on our future national prospects.

But they kept him anyway.

Christie’s story should demonstrate to Minnis and to future prime ministers the importance of succession planning and knowing when to go.

Leaders ought not be so in love with power that they feel there is no one else able to lead the country as long as they are around.

While many people could see that Christie’s season was over, he refused to believe it was time to leave.

He refused to pass the baton.

After 40 years in Parliament, he will not get to say his goodbyes in those hallowed halls.

The record of the House will not record his farewell speech.

He missed the chance to do so when he refused to bow out gracefully.

He acted as if he was emperor of these islands, but he was merely a man who was given power by the people.

He squandered an opportunity to shape a more meaningful legacy, and on May 10, 2017, the people took the power away.

Christie has asked that we do not feel sorry for him.

He gets his wish.

We do not.

 


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