2012: The FNM’s new plan
The governing party puts forward its vision for the next five years
By Taneka Thompson
Guardian Senior Reporter
Nassau, The Bahamas
With three weeks left until the general election, two of the three major parties jockeying for your vote on May 7 have released their blueprints for governance. Last Thursday night, before thousands of jubilant supporters who converged at R.M. Bailey Park for a mass rally, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham unveiled the Free National Movement’s Manifesto 2012.
The FNM’s extensive, 120-page document touches on the party’s plans to reduce and prevent crime, tackle illegal immigration, improve the country’s educational system, diversify the economy, reform the tax system and improve life for all Bahamians. It places a heavy focus on youth development, national volunteering, business expansion and economic development of the Family Islands.
On Thursday afternoon, the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) released its Vision 2012 and Beyond – a document which sets out that party’s policies on crime, immigration, the economy and social issues. At the time of writing this article, the official opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) had yet to release its five-year blueprint, called “Our Plan”. However, the party asserted that it had been releasing critical components of Our Plan, such as its crime fighting platform Project Safe Bahamas and a mortgage relief scheme for homeowners facing foreclosure, over the past several months.
While this is by no means an exhaustive look at Manifesto 2012, I have highlighted a few areas which should be of concern to voters.
In no other area has this administration faced more criticism and backlash than its crime fighting strategy. Murders climbed to record levels under the FNM’s watch and incidents of other violent crime and anti-social behavior grabbed headlines during the past five years, in spite of the myriad of policies the government put in place to curb violence.
Critics from the opposition maintain that the government failed to deliver on its 2007 mandate for crime fighting and continue to lay the blame for the crime statistics at the government’s feet. It is not surprising then that the fight against crime is listed as the main concern of the next FNM administration.
“Ensuring the safety and security of all Bahamians is our number one priority,” the manifesto says. “The business of police must be preventing crime not simply responding to it... Our aim is not just to control bad behavior but to change it.”
In the document, the FNM lays out 11 ways it plans to ensure that the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) not only responds to crime, but also helps to prevent criminal behavior. The FNM plans to accomplish this by increasing the police’s visibility and presence on the streets. Low visibility is a common complaint from many in society who feel that officers spend too much time in their squad rooms and not enough time patrolling known criminal hot spots and neighborhoods which have become targets for housebreakers and armed robbers.
The FNM said during its next term in office, it will boost the ranks of the Royal Bahamas Police Force by 250 officers; require officers to spend half of their weekly shifts working the beat; and require police to spend as much time on the streets at night as they do in the daytime. The FNM also said it will marry community policing with modern technology to increase the predictive capability of the police force and expand closed circuit television to assist in crime prevention and criminal detection. The FNM also says it will require district constables to hold monthly meetings in their areas to keep residents aware of crimes committed in their communities.
While placing more police on the streets and beefing up the command of the RBPF may put some residents at ease and catch a few criminals in the act, it will do nothing to root out the spirit of lawlessness, disorder and general disregard for human life that so many in our society are afflicted with. Focusing on at-risk youth, instilling positive values, education and affirmative life skills are the only long-term solution to the crisis our country is faced with.
There are several long-term initiatives in the FNM’s agenda that could lead to positive results if they are properly introduced and maintained. One such policy is identifying troubled youth when they display anti-social or violent behavior in the school system. The FNM says it plans to create “a fast and effective program in the school system and at the community level to address the early display of anti-social behavior by young persons as well as a targeted program for repeat offenders”.
Other proposed policies in the FNM’s manifesto for youth development include a mandatory community service program for government school students; creating a summer institute for boys making the transition from primary school to junior high; and creating a youth outreach initiative.
Under its education platform, the FNM promised to ensure that every child is adequately numerate and literate before he or she leaves the third grade.
The manifesto says the FNM will create a mandatory work experience program if elected for another term, which will ensure that all high school seniors complete a minimum number of apprenticeship hours before being allowed to graduate.
The FNM also plans to place a heavier focus on skills training by expanding technical and vocational skills training offered at public high schools and increasing the budget allocation to the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI). The next FNM administration also plans to bolster programs at BTVI so that it can certify skills levels and standards for Bahamians trained in construction, plumbing, masonry, electrical work, etc.
Another key issue in this election will be job creation. According to recent figures released by the Department of Statistics, the country’s unemployment rate was 15.9 percent as of November 2011. The unemployment rate for young people was 34 percent and the unemployment rate in Grand Bahama stood at 21.2 percent.
Unemployment and crime go hand in hand and in order to stem the level of violence and theft on our streets, the government must focus on job creation. In order to stimulate job creation, a responsible government must look out for small businesses and create grants and stipends which allow them to remain afloat and keep people employed.
In its manifesto, the FNM said it will foster small and medium business development by giving more incentives to the manufacturing and industrial sectors; it will promote and encourage small resorts and bonefishing lodges that are Bahamian owned; and give incentives to entrepreneurs to open up shops in the Family Islands and create employment in those communities. If re-elected, the FNM says it will also offer a one-time apprenticeship financial incentive to manufacturers for each apprentice they take on.
Although tax reform is noted in the manifesto under its plans to modernize the economy, just how the FNM will address the issue if re-elected is not made clear.
“Accelerate taxation system reforms to reduce dependence on border taxes and broaden the tax base,” is all the manifesto says on the issue.
Financial analysts have long maintained that the country has to move away from its heavily customs based tax regime to another taxation system which makes us more competitive in the global trade market. Tax reform is also needed so that this country can fully comply with international trade agreements such as the one signed with the World Trade Organization.
Bahamians are expected to turn up at the polls in record numbers to vote in a new government. This election cycle there are many choices. Three parties are fielding 38 candidates each and there are a handful of independents and fringe party members all hoping to be elected to Parliament come May 7.
In New Providence, it is now impossible to avoid the billboards and posters with the smiling faces of political hopefuls which crowd every corner, or to ignore the political ads filled with promises and election pledges which play every few minutes on the radio and television.
However, voters should not be fooled by the fanfare and theatrics which are commonplace in “silly season”. In between the gibes, wisecracks and blame laying which are thrown about at political rallies are slivers of the real issues that will affect this country for the next five years and beyond. The concerned voter, and every Bahamian interested in the future of this country, should make an informed choice based on the policies and promises each party and candidate has made on the campaign trail, along with their records in office.
The discerning voter should decipher the grandiose promises from the probable initiatives that can be implemented over a five-year period before he or she makes a choice.
Apr 16, 2012