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Why the FNM won the 2017 general election, pt. 3

PHILIP C. GALANIS

Published: Jun 19, 2017

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“One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician's objective. Election and power are.” – Cal Thomas

The historic 2017 general election witnessed the unprecedented trouncing of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) by the Free National Movement (FNM) and will be studied for many years to come.

In part one of this series, we noted that many voters had completely lost faith in the Christie administration, including some ministers who did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, without any kind of sanction whatsoever from their leader.

Last week, we examined how BAMSI, the interference of a minister in the judicial process, the ill-conceived Chinese fishing proposal, and the Rubis oil spill debacle contributed to the PLP’s defeat.

This week, we would like to continue to Consider this... Why did the FNM win the general election of 2017?

 

Disclosure of private emails

In March 2017, former Minister Jerome Fitzgerald read and tabled an email thread in the House of Assembly, as he sought to paint an environmental advocacy group, Save The Bays, as a "political organization" bent on entrapping fashion mogul Peter Nygard and destabilizing the Christie administration.

Many persons were greatly offended that a Cabinet minister would publicly read and table the emails of private citizens in Parliament.

In a strongly worded statement, Sharmie Farrington-Austin, the data commissioner at the time, cautioned public officials against tabling private documents in Parliament, and that the tabling of private correspondence in the House of Assembly is a "dangerous trend and opens the society up to chaos".

She also said: "It is my considered view that members of Parliament ought to be cognizant of the fact that members of the public expect that their members of Parliament will be held to the same standard as ordinary citizens in relation to the commission of a criminal offense.

"Citizens have a right to expect that their private communications would enjoy the protection afforded them under the laws of the country."

Save The Bays sued the minister and the government for publicly releasing the private emails, and the minister was ordered to pay damages of $150,000. Before the elections, the matter remained on appeal.

Many Bahamians were appalled by the public exposure of private emails by a Cabinet minister who enjoyed an exceedingly high level of parliamentary privilege. However, parliamentary privilege requires a very high standard of parliamentary responsibility. There was a general view that the minister’s conduct in this matter crossed the line of public decency and considerably contributed to the narrative that the Christie administration would do anything to score political points.

 

VAT

On January 1, 2016, the government introduced the value-added tax (VAT), which many persons were convinced was justified, given recurrent annual fiscal deficits and a rapidly rising national debt. The government initially indicated that VAT would significantly contribute to a reduction in annual fiscal deficits and would ultimately foster the reduction of the national debt.

Like most persons, Bahamians do not readily welcome new taxes, although there was overwhelming public acceptance that the government needed to increase public finances, particularly for the stated purposes for which VAT was introduced.

The rollout of VAT was generally commendable and the VAT revenue impressively augmented the national coffers by $1.1 billion. Notwithstanding that success, the annual deficits continued to rise, as did the national debt. Therefore, the public repeatedly demanded that government explain where the VAT money went. Several months before the general election, the government attempted to explain how the income from VAT was spent, although by that time people had lost confidence and trust in anything emanating from the government.

The government’s lack of transparency regarding how this new tax was being managed greatly contributed to the narrative that the government was squandering this windfall revenue, at best. At worst, the public perceived that the government was grossly negligent in its transparency and accountability for this new tax that raised more than $1 billion.

The government’s explanations were not credible and its management of this matter greatly debased the public’s trust in the Christie administration.

 

National Health Insurance

Early in the Christie administration, the government announced that it was determined to implement a National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme for all Bahamians. This was a noble objective, but was virtually stillborn, because it was neither particularly well thought out nor clearly articulated.

The government spent millions of dollars on foreign private consultants and got very little to show for its investment. Prior to the general election, a comprehensive plan had not been unveiled, the persons who were supposedly the greatest beneficiaries of the scheme were none the wiser about its specifics, and the major stakeholders, namely the medical profession and insurance industry, who were critical to the scheme’s success, were equally uncertain about the details, practicability and cost of NHI.

As we approached the general election, the government made several abortive attempts to resuscitate this failed scheme.

Bahamians grew increasingly suspicious of the government’s intention regarding NHI. The government seemed more concerned about its legacy than in introducing a well-considered, generally accepted and reasonably priced NHI plan.

The government’s failed NHI plan further contributed to the erosion of trust by a people who increasingly looked askance at their government’s desperate, last-minute endeavors and maneuvers.

 

The Baha Mar debacle

The Baha Mar resort on the island of New Providence was originally owned by Baha Mar Resorts Ltd. and managed by CEO Sarkis Izmirlian. The initial resort included four hotels with 2,200 rooms, 284 private residences, a 100,000-square-foot casino, a 30,000-square-foot spa and a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course.

The resort was initially scheduled to open in December 2014, then delayed to April 2015. Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which permitted reorganization rather than winding-up, was filed on June 29, 2015 in a Delaware court, but dismissed that September.

A Bahamian judge appointed provisional liquidators to be in charge. The resort blamed its misfortunes on delays in construction without any source of income to resolve the problem. The financiers and primary contractor blamed the delays on mismanagement by the developer.

Many Bahamians blame the government for interfering in a dispute between two private entities: Sarkis Izmirlian and the China Export-Import Bank, the project’s funder. Some persons believe that, if the government had not intervened, the resort would have opened a long time ago. Perhaps, but we will never really know.

That the courts sealed the details of the transaction that ultimately took Baha Mar out of liquidation and found new owners has angered very many Bahamians. Bahamians concluded that the government, in its haste to open Baha Mar with the inherent jobs bonanza that would have resulted therefrom before the May election, possibly gave away too much to achieve a political purpose.

If the government was not concerned about the public’s reaction to the concessions that it granted to the new purchasers, it was argued, why not encourage the stakeholders to remove the court’s seal on the transaction?

Once again, the government’s lack of transparency, shrouded in its propensity for deep-seated secrecy regarding the “new deal”, further eroded the public trust in a government that had long ago lost its way.

 

Conclusion

In the final installment of this series, we will examine how the PLP’s pre-election convention, the arrogant sense of entitlement, and charges of corruption and conflicts of interest contributed to the FNM’s overwhelming victory that has sent the PLP into a profound tailspin, one from which recovery may take a very long time.

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.


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