Another general election without substance?
By Arinthia S. Komolafe
Nassau, The Bahamas
Now that the election bell has been rung and the anticipated date for the election is scheduled for May 7, 2012, one can’t help but wonder what lies ahead for the Bahamian people during the next government’s term of office from 2012 to 2017.
It is now officially four weeks prior to the election date and we have yet to receive a single manifesto from any of the political parties vying for the top spot in governance. The opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) is running a campaign primarily based upon improving the economy, job creation and crime reduction and has released literature to that effect. The newly formed Democratic National Alliance (DNA) has based its campaign on “real change” and being a viable alternative to the established parties outlining its proposals on certain issues such as the economy, crime and illegal immigration. As anticipated, the governing Free National Movement (FNM) is running a campaign based upon leadership, delivery on its promises and its ability to manage the economy in the midst of the global economic crisis.
The economic situation
Nationwide commentary suggests that Bahamians are concerned about both microeconomic and macroeconomic issues affecting their lives. From a microeconomic standpoint, they are concerned about the government’s inability to create permanent jobs, improve education and ensure that they are able to maintain a decent standard of living. The issue of home ownership and the deepening mortgage crisis remains of utmost concern to the middle and working classes of the electorate. It is also an understatement to emphasize that the electorate abhors the reality that in 21st century Bahamas. Widespread job opportunities are still restricted to the tourism and financial services sectors or the civil service.
On the macro-economic front, there is widespread uneasiness about the rising government debt level in the face of reduced government revenue; a U.S. economy that is slowly recovering; high food and fuel prices; and corresponding increases in the inflation and unemployment rates that are believed to have a high correlation to the high crime rate. In the past five years, unemployment has doubled to more than 15 percent; the national debt has doubled to more than $4 billion; and crime, including the heinous crime of murder, evidence a fast-paced upward trend with approximately 500 murder victims to date.
While it is true that governments across the world, including developed nations, were faced with some of the challenges outlined above, it has been reported that the Bahamian government had at its advantage several investment projects left on the table by the former Christie administration that had the potential to create additional jobs. The PLP opposition has reiterated this point and accused the government of what it termed as the “stop, review and cancel” policy which it argues expedited the recession in The Bahamas.
We will never know the true impact that these projects would have had if they had come to fruition. What is clear is that the government lacked a clear and prudent fiscal, monetary or economic policy that would have guided us through this recession with minimal casualties of unemployment, crime and home foreclosures.
The FNM, which is traditionally considered to be both politically and fiscally conservative in contrast to the PLP’s social and liberal approach to politics and fiscal management, has done very little to distinguish itself in this current term of office from the manner in which it is perceived a PLP government would govern.
The introduction of the prescription drug program and unemployment benefits, which would traditionally be seen as PLP policies, are necessary safety nets that all progressive governments should implement. However, due to the regressive tax structure in The Bahamas, low to middle income earners bore the brunt of the implementation of these initiatives through increased taxes in the midst of an already challenging economic climate.
Where are the ideas?
It is rather unfortunate that in spite of the lessons supposedly learned during the financial crisis and with the election date fast approaching, all the political parties have not provided to the Bahamian people a comprehensive action plan to address the pressing issues facing our dear nation. Rather, we seem to be headed to another election season in which silliness and petty issues are magnified. I submit that what is lacking in The Bahamas today is not intellectual capacity or a shortage of innovative ideas, but rather our leaders do not have the political will to implement policies that will move the country forward.
The Bahamian electorate has become weary of campaigns without substance which fail to expressly articulate in clear terms how the country will be put back on the right track. Political parties will do well in unequivocally committing to tax reform, economic diversification, reducing the budget deficit and national debt in the interest of future generations by producing a viable plan as documented in their respective manifestos. A commitment in this regard will ensure in the long run economic stability, growth and development.
In the absence of manifestos to date, it is without a doubt that the build-up to this year’s general election will lack the necessary substance to foster sensible debates on pertinent issues and ensure effective scrutiny of the next government. Politicians should be advised that the old tricks of sheer rhetoric and glorified baloney will no longer satisfy a people that desire more for our Bahamaland. The political parties seeking employment as the next government of The Bahamas should note that the increasingly informed electorate demand details of their proposed monetary, fiscal and macroeconomic policies before they cast their votes for them. The stakes are too high to entertain politics as usual.
• Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed to:firstname.lastname@example.org
Apr 12, 2012