Young Man’s View: Ministers Get Their Final Grades In Cabinet Report

Monday 02nd, March 2015 / 08:17 Published by

adrian-gibsonEven if a minister has received a pass grade during these three weeks of the Cabinet Report, note that I will be watching closely and therefore they could either improve or be on a downgrade watch.

As I conclude today, I trust that the government would seek to answer various questions of the public concerning a number of decisions purportedly being made in our interest. I also leave with a few questions of my own.

Where’s the public protector, where is the promised Ombudsman as articulated in the governing party’s Charter for Governance? Where are the Auditor General’s statements and opinions on the various financial statuses of government entities and funds?

By and large, why does the public not know who the Auditor General is and the role of this individual?

We want to know of instances of wasteful expenditure and, for that matter, material underspending on essential areas (if any)?

I now put the Opposition’s shadow ministers on notice. You are next ….

• Comments and responses to ajbahama@hotmail.com

Prime Minister Perry Christie

PRIME Minister Perry Gladstone Christie (I know he likes the Gladstone to be added), the Minister of Finance and leader of government, has performed abysmally. He is a great orator and a nice guy, but he is also one of the worst leaders in the western hemisphere in terms of execution, implementation and being decisive on anything.

However, because we as a people accept shiftlessness and mediocrity, we vote for leaders that may be – in this instance – reflective of our thinking. Leaders lead … unfortunately the PM has not.

Thus far, the only firm action the Prime Minister has taken was to fire Greg Moss, who probably lacked the political clout that others seemingly have.

Mr Christie has been bumbling, ineffective and not proactive. Perhaps, he is overwhelmed by his office. The fact is, unlike Barack Obama and other leaders who have taken two-week vacations, Mr Christie has not. His work ethic is a sign of his commitment, but little returns have been yielded.

Many of the promised undertakings, set out in his mandate, are pending at the three-year mark (think mortgage relief, various referendums, the BEC sale, etc).

The PM does, however, sing, dance and entertain us with excellent “feel good” speeches.

Mr Christie is the ringmaster of the political circus. Unfortunately, he has played an integral role in all of the circus acts and the disconnect between speech and thought which has led this country down an unbelievable path of helter-skelter. Directionless and without focus.

His greatest failures are setting the tone of a complete lack of governmental discipline and, as a result, one could only lament the fact that the Bahamian ship of state is adrift in perilous seas.

His bold initiatives are seemingly poorly conceived and shoddily executed. His unwillingness to right obvious wrongs suggests that he is more Perry Christie-like than in his previous term.

There has been no reformation. His unnaturally dyed hair speaks metaphorically to his approach to running this country – that it’s all about show and little about substance.

Mr Christie has shown an apparent dereliction of due diligence. Whilst he is hawking himself as a great manager, he has been at the fore of a lacklustre government, rolling from one catastrophic scandal after another. He has become the king of the drawing board.

Bahamians are wondering when the Freedom of Information Act will ever be perfected and enacted and, moreover, if we will ever see the implementation of a Fiscal Responsibility Act. What’s more, thus far, the PM has been at the helm of a government that has seen several credit ratings downgrades thus far.

Of late, it seems that the PM has developed a new taste for travel, taking groups on expensive junkets to Singapore and the Vatican at, I’m told, purportedly some $17,000-$20,000 per person (flying first class).

Last year, Mr Christie gave a speech in the Cayman Islands on corruption.

Then, he said, in his address to an anti-corruption forum, that his government was working on an anti-corruption action plan that would foster transparency, a renewed focus on quality leadership and indoctrinate a sustained commitment to fight corruption.

Considering these remarks, one can see that these were merely idle vapourings, a woeful outpouring of mind numbing drivel on the international stage.

So, since the Prime Minister can be primarily blamed for the performance of the Cabinet that he selected and should shoulder the bulk of the responsibility for the performance thereof, we have all agreed to give Mr Christie a Z grade … a Zzzzzerrrrooooo!

Deputy Prime Minister Philip ‘Brave’ Davis

THE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works and Urban Development has become the “I-don’t-believe-nuttin-statistics-say” man of Bahamian politics.

He is personable and, during this term, has taken on the image of a Chicago-style politician. He sits at the helm of government’s cash cow, where contracts have purportedly been issued to party supporters and Davis loyalists on numerous occasions.

Thus far, Urban Renewal has been a failure. I trust that they don’t seek to advance a 3.0 when 1.0 and 2.0 have been so horrendously executed.

BEC is the chink in the DPM’s armour. It provides a great opportunity to offload that entity and perhaps provide better service – under new ownership – to the public.

However, once the government announced the RFP for the privatisation of BEC, we heard nothing thereafter with the DPM deflecting the media’s questions on a weekly basis.

What’s more, it was initially proposed that BEC would be divided into a transmission and distribution entity and one that generates electricity. Then that was changed and they decided to sell it entirely. And then that was changed and they have now decided not to sell BEC but instead to bring in a management company. So, now that the RFP has closed, what were recommendations that were purportedly made by KPMG?

BEC is hardly fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly, continuously leaving a large carbon footprint and, in addition to facing financial woes, persistently incurring maintenance issues.

When will the 27 BEC power plants be revamped to facilitate the incorporation of alternative energy? Moving forward, what will be the fuel hedging strategies being utilised by BEC?

The tourist industry cannot survive if the country is in a perpetual state of darkness, while lame excuses about load shedding and poorly serviced generators are promulgated.

Mr Davis must ensure that government buildings/offices – even if it means using prisoners – are freshly painted and not in the usual unkempt state. Frankly, quality roads have been inherited but there has been poor planning and co-ordination.

The DPM’s responses to direct questions have been nothing short of paradoxical and, of course, extremely cautious, from the “Letter of Intent’’ affair to potholes in the road (suggesting there were no potholes in Nassau) and so on.

Thus far, there has been no stellar achievement at his ministry.

The affable Brave Davis earns a D-plus.

Obie Wilchcombe

THE Minister of Tourism is a superb orator and, during his parliamentary presentations, is undoubtedly the government’s most charismatic and outstanding messagemeister. The minister is an excellent communicator, so much so that he has been amiably referred to as “Slick Willie” by some, as he could make one feel really good about themselves.

Of all of Christie’s ministers, Obie Wilchcombe appears to have the most remarkable work ethic. I can recall driving on Bay Street, sometimes at 6-6.30am, and seeing his vehicle parked outside and, once or twice, actually seeing him and his driver headed into the office. By all accounts, he is one of the most likeable and media friendly ministers.

Among my interviewees, there are those who said Mr Wilchcombe has been one of the key figures to have ignored the will of the public on the gaming referendum. One continues to wait to see if the legalisation of numbers will have the financial impact or produce the jobs – whether directly or indirectly – as have been projected.

Unfortunately, since the economic meltdown of 2008, the local tourism industry has taken some hits. This was highlighted in an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report which asserted that The Bahamas has lost the greatest tourism market share of any Caribbean nation in the post-recession years, with this nation ranked as the region’s most expensive.

I am told that the minister is seeking innovative ways to bring in tourists from new markets, but one notes that he needs great help from the Bahamian people at large and the Ministry of National Security, otherwise The Bahamas will continue to be rated as unsafe.

With Cuba opening, the government has to articulate and implement an effective strategy articulated to prepare Bahamians for the potential fall-out. Cuba is a viable threat – if not to the viability of the Bahamian product itself, then to its growth. Truthfully, Cuba currently draws more stopover visitors than The Bahamas and these tourists are the biggest spenders, the ones we should avidly pursue as opposed to boasting about numbers. This is against the backdrop of the apparent derailment of the I-Group, Ginn in Grand Bahama and delays at Baha Mar.

I am concerned about the report that the Ministry of Tourism has retained former NBA player Rick Fox on a rolling retainer that my sources describe as “ridiculous.” It has been alleged that every time Fox patronises certain events, it’s an expense to the public purse. Sources tell me that Mr Fox isn’t coming down and being so participatory in local touristic, cultural and other events solely because he’s proud to be a Bahamian. If this is true, what is the amount of incentive, if any, that is being disbursed to him?

We know that when cruise ships come into harbour, more than 20 per cent of visitors stay on the ship, never venturing off, especially since government has agreed for the cruises to operate amenities whilst in port. One notes that airlift causes the greater spend and stopover visitors spend an average of $1,100 on their stay as opposed to cruise passengers who only spend about $40.

However, I am concerned that consecutive governments over the last 25 years have allowed cruise ship operators to develop alternate destinations in The Bahamas, many of which are owned and operated by the parent company of the ship and which, by extension, means that even that $40 will be spent by them and is likely to be immediately repatriated. We must ensure that stores operated on cruise ships are closed while these ships are in harbour and that there are more opportunities for Bahamians. A cruise cartel should not be allowed to run roughshod.

That said, I’m reliably informed that airlift numbers are up by 4.9 per cent and that sea/cruise arrivals are up by 2.2 per cent. Sources within the ministry have informed me that new airlines have signed on to begin bringing visitors this year.

What distinguishes New Providence from other destinations in the Caribbean? It has the same generic waterfront as elsewhere, where the Hard Rock Café, McDonalds, Harley Davidson and the like are all situated.

There is little to no nightlife and the Downtown redevelopment is long overdue. Pompey Square is open but under utilised; and the proposed Charles Town tour has not materialised. Downtown could be developed as a cultural zone between 8pm and midnight every evening from Wednesday to Sunday, cordoning off areas and developing an income earning experience that incorporates open air dining with musical shows and a creative buzz.

Of course, shops/vendors would be open and making money and this experience could be replicated throughout the islands, engaging the tour operators and taxi drivers as well. According to tourism officials, they are working with the private sector to encourage the development of nightlife whilst also offering incentives.

I was pleased to discover that more of an individualistic focus is brought to tourism development on the Family Islands. Ministry of Tourism statistics show a considerable increase in Family Island airlift and, I’m told, officials are avidly working to improve the same by undertaking various initiatives, one being the “16 islands, 16 couples, one priceless day” last month. Weddings undergird a $113 billion industry and so it’s nice to see that The Bahamas is seeking to become to number one hotspot that people would prefer to visit and get married.

Further, there’s a need to encourage Bahamians – via tax breaks and marketing and construction incentives – to own the tourism product, from bed and breakfasts to lodges.

The minister, and the Cabinet-at-large (if need be), must also seek to resolve the automatic gratuity issues. In other destinations, gratuity is not a fixed 15 per cent rate, but instead patrons have options that they select dependent on service. I am keenly aware that service quality and product development is a concern of Mr Wilchcombe and that he has mandated there be a renewed focus on a quality tourist product and has recognised that service is in dire need of improvement.

To the minister’s credit, one would highlight the opening of new offices in Washington, DC, Texas and New York. Moreover, MOT officials tell me that The Bahamas now dominates the digital platform in the Caribbean, displacing Aruba as the most searched destination online. Most notably, young and vibrant Bahamians are now at the fore of marketing the country; hotel rooms are reopening on Grand Bahama and new inventory is coming on-stream on various islands including Nassau; and there is a noble effort afoot to highlight each island, here again with young Bahamians leading the charge. Incorporating locals actually fosters entrepreneurship and creates tangible linkages to tourism.

I am also informed that domestic tourism numbers are up, with Exuma, Abaco and Bimini up by approximately 12 per cent. However, ministry officials that I spoke to have admitted that there is a need for more events on the Family Islands and that they are working to highlight the treasures that exist in these places. In light of that, they are actively working with Bahamian entities to develop and distribute information relative to each island, which would – I’m told – encourage both foreign and domestic visitors – to visit the islands, to attend festivals, events and so on.

One would further credit the minister with the ongoing refurbishment of the Water Tower and the surrounding area and, also, for the newly proposed Bahamian music awards, which I’m told is an effort to preserve culture. Musicians such as Priscilla Rollins have already been assisted in attaining nightly performance contracts – by the ministry – in hotel properties such as Junkanoo Beach. The ministry will be issuing grants to playwrights, in an effort to use theatrical performances to regenerate the industry and develop the arts.

Obie Wilchcombe, who I believe is the frontrunner to become the next leader of the PLP, earns a solid B.

Glenys Hanna Martin

THE Minister of Transport and Aviation has done an unimpressive job. She has long promised to take control of Bahamian airspace but so far that has amounted to empty rhetoric. What’s more, I was informed by sources in aviation that 17 airports throughout our archipelago are on the verge of being downgraded by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Previous ICAO inspections have focused on The Bahamas’ civil aviation legislation, personnel licensing, aircraft operations and aircraft airworthiness. One notes that any negative findings, especially a downgrade of status with the FAA, would negatively impact business for Bahamasair and Bahamian-owned private airlines, plus potentially damage the tourism industry.

During the Ingraham administration, the ICAO submitted an “Action Plan for the Bahamas”, dated April 2012, which effectively said this nation had done the least – in terms of implementing an aviation safety regime – in the entire Americas region. The document raised major questions, noting that for two years leading up to 2011, little was done to act on recommendations made by ICAO during a February 2009 audit.

Whatever happened to the $50m Air Transport Reform programme that the government was working on with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)?

Mrs Hanna Martin has been the recipient of a number of ongoing projects, those being the redeveloped Lynden Pindling International Airport and a new airport in Abaco. Why was the opening of the Marsh Harbour International Airport so delayed?

I must credit her with ensuring that Family Island airports have now – for the most part – all had runway lights installed. As one who grew up on an island, I recall that whenever there was an emergency, vehicles would have to line up along each side of an airstrip so that an emergency flight could land.

The number of civil aviation calamities that have occurred recently has been worrisome. How often are these aircraft inspected? When will official reports be completed (and released) on many of these crashes?

During the minister’s tenure, there have been no changes in the transportation of people/things throughout The Bahamas. There remains no resolution in the challenges concerning taxi and tour operators and, frankly, the minister should advise that the moratorium is lifted so that market forces could determine who sinks and swims.

Bus transportation continues to be a royal mess. There has been little progress on a unified bus system.

There is a need for more aggressive traffic enforcement. I think that corruption suspected within the Department of Road Traffic has contributed to a lot of the accidents/drama on our streets, particularly when people could allegedly have their vehicles licensed without insurance.

The shortage of licence plates, licence discs and other essential items was stunning. It is absurd when one could leave the Road Traffic Department with a piece of paper saying they were there and that the department had no stickers to affix to the car.

This year, the minister earns a C-minus.

Jerome Fitzgerald

THE Minister of Education, Science and Technology is an affable chap who, I believe, will one day become a leader within the PLP. That said, either he has been muzzled effectively by the ill-advised nolle prosequi in which he was either an innocent victim or an unwitting accomplice.

Notably, we continue to graduate throngs of students who are functional illiterates. In his address this month to the eighth Inter-American meeting of education ministers, Fitzgerald disclosed that more than one-third to 40 per cent of the current Bahamian workforce had failed to graduate from high school. Mr Fitzgerald’s remarks are effectively the first cogent address by a politician that links poor educational achievement to The Bahamas’ growing competitiveness and productivity issues, plus a myriad of social problems.

He is right when he says that “substantive change in an educational system can take 10 to 20 years of intense sustained political will” and I trust that he has already begun the “grunge work”.

Mr Fitzgerald’s ministry faces many of the usual challenges. There does not appear to be a programme in place to stop social promotion and, though the minister may have spoken forcefully about change, we have yet to see a 2020 vision outlined for the ministry. I’m keenly aware that the minister has at least put together a bipartisan committee to draft such plans.

Violence in schools continues to be a concern, though the police have been posted to these institutions. The ministry must seek to incorporate more social workers into the educational process, visiting homes to discover why children are acting out in school compounds. The Ministry of Education must foster an alliance between schools and communities to tackle what appears to be a severe social disconnect.

There has to be a greater thrust – that all can see -– to move our premier tertiary institution, The College of The Bahamas (inclusive of infrastructure, staffing, technology, etc), to university status. We know that the process to select the COB president was tarnished by controversy and far from smooth.

The ministry must align the curriculum with the developmental needs of the country in order to imbue a strong sense of self, to speak to nation-building, to address the question of self-reliance and entrepreneurship, to teach the Constitution, etc.

Fitzgerald must be credited with having carried out early repairs and preparations for school openings in September. Indeed, there is also a need for the training and re-training of teachers.

Moreover, awful teachers must be weeded out of the system. In fact, The Bahamas needs a separate institution that focuses solely upon teacher training, vis-à-vis the former Teacher’s Training College in San Salvador. Teachers, if interested in furthering their studies, can then go on and complete their graduate studies at the local college/university. Greater attention should be paid to the recruitment of prospective quality educators, as well as to the impartial evaluation of teachers, rendering constant feedback between the Ministry of Education and schools. Additionally, a reward system for meritorious teachers, beyond the bi-annual teacher of the year exercise, should be commenced.

I would also recommend that the minister seeks to remove current Director of Education Lionel Sands. It is my opinion that he has been one of the worst directors in the last 20 years.

We have not heard much in recent times about the ministry’s sexual complaints unit. Whatever happened with that? When will classrooms be outfitted with cable tv/internet to foster interactive learning? Considering the overcrowding at schools – particularly those in south/southwest New Providence – are there any new schools on the infamous drawing board?

We have to work on this national grade average, which continues to be an embarrassing D. Frankly, it is high-time that we move away from standardised tests and develop other means of assessment. Not all students are academically inclined and, as a former educator, I know that some students would amaze you with their technical and vocational skills, but fail every exam put before them.

We need to consider seriously a pilot school programme where those brightest students who are academically inclined go to old Government High and those who are best at technical and vocational studies can go to a special school for that. I think the nation would be pleased with the long term results.

I still wait to see a doubling of the investment in education, as promised by the PLP during the last election cycle. Fitzgerald has to be credited for converting the Our Lady’s Catholic Primary School into an institution that caters to special needs students.

Considering the importance of science and technology as we strive to develop our people and diversify our economy, I think it should be disentangled from education and be a standalone ministry.

Jerome Fitzgerald is one of the better ministers and earns a C-plus.

Khaalis Rolle

THE Minister of State for Investments plays no real role besides getting the packages ready for the National Economic Council (NEC) if a matter concerns foreign direct investment. If the investment is from local sources, then he perhaps would not know. And, we know that the Secretary of the Cabinet sets the NEC’s agenda.

Rolle is a smart chap, accessible and down-to-earth. He has potential to contribute but there doesn’t appear to be any real opportunities to do so, particularly when one considers the presence of Baltron Bethel. Investment has slowed and is not as fluid as it should be.

I can’t give a full assessment for the state minister since it seems that he lacks the power to advance anything, only being able to meet, greet, have photo-opportunities or offer to take the picture.

For now, I will give Rolle an I for incomplete.

Ryan Pinder

I KNOW that the former Minister of Financial Services thought that he had ducked this assessment. But, no sir!

Pinder certainly participated in an esoteric wing of the Cabinet, apparently dealing with such lofty matters that few people either cared about or understood. Certainly, he – and others – must have thought that his work could not be said to have had any meaningful interest for the average or above average Bahamian, right?

Relative to the World Trade Organisation, Pinder left us hanging. The negotiations are still incomplete and our standing remains in limbo.

After announcing that The Bahamas government had agreed that it will achieve compliance under the United States Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) by negotiating and entering into a Model 1 Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with the United States Department of the Treasury, Pinder abandoned ship and left the table (and the government) whilst the negotiations were still incomplete.

Whatever happened to The Bahamas’ grant from the European Union which is given to all African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP) for regional and national development? Why didn’t we get a grant for the first time in history? However, many of the technical staff remain at the Ministry of Financial Services.

We know that he travelled a lot, but it is difficult to point out a single accomplishment of any significance by Mr Pinder.

For his time as minister, he earns a D.

By ADRIAN GIBSON

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