It takes a certain chutzpah to attempt to manipulate problems one failed to address when in office, but of which one has now become conveniently expert out of office and promising to fix next time around. Welcome to the Opposition’s failed summer plans seeking yet again to blame the government for problems the latter is busy fixing and which the former failed to substantively tackle.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, who share a birthday this week, will both face their electorates in relatively short order. The summer prelude to their re-election prospects offers some clues into the lead-up to the general elections in their respective countries.
Both incumbents face voter frustration over jobs and the pace of economic recovery following the global financial downturn. Despite his generally deft handling of the crisis, Mr. Ingraham understands how appreciably the Bahamian recovery depends on the outcomes of debt crises in Europe and an impasse on raising the debt limit and tackling debt and deficit in the United States.
There has been unusually hot weather during the first two-thirds of the summer of 2011. With August quite young, we will see what the remainder of summer brings. The rising temperatures concern daily life as well as political happenings.
It has been a hotter summer for Mr. Obama, who turns 50 this Thursday, than for Mr. Ingraham. Not only has the U.S. president endured 110 temperatures in Washington D.C., he also had to slog and sweat through intense negotiations with an opposition party whose more extreme members have perfected the art of “no”.
Meanwhile, soaring temperatures and humidity have engendered all manner of stultifying and heated rhetoric as well as delirium abroad and at home not to mention overwrought climatic metaphors describing the domestic political context.
It has alternatively been suggested that there is a summer of discontent and that a tsunami of crises are threatening the Ingraham administration. It’s enough to make the prime minister want to stay indoors or at least have an all-weather terrain vehicle at the ready. Perhaps this winter there will be talk of political blizzards.
As someone who has battled real political and economic tsunamis, including the recent global financial meltdown, one imagines that the PM is deeply cognizant of yet setting his sights beyond the current challenges. Mr. Ingraham is not given to panicking or losing his head in a crisis, having been battle-tested over and over.
In politics as in history and life, it all depends on where you begin the story and how you tell the narrative. This has been mostly a summer of progress on many fronts despite the challenges of electrical blackouts, road works, and issues related to Mackey Yard.
On these issues the Ingraham administration is dealing with longstanding matters the Perry Christie-led PLP failed to address despite their feverish attempts to stoke the issues and manipulate them for political gain.
The Opposition left BEC in the red with the current administration having to guarantee a loan to purchase fuel. Under the FNM, BEC actually made a profit and was considered investment grade by the banks. The misguided manner in which customer deposits were refunded and other short-sighted ploys by the Christie government drove BEC into a financial spin making the corporation even more vulnerable to soaring oil prices when they came.
Recently, BEC had to pay cash for badly needed and extensive repairs and maintenance to their New Providence generating facilities partly because of the mess in which the Christie administration left the corporation. Blackouts did not become a thing of the past on the PLP’s watch despite their repeated pledges.
The PLP’s abysmal failure on road works set the New Providence Road Improvement Corridor Project back many years and will cost taxpayers approximately $50 million dollars more in fuel and other costs. That money could have funded many items in the budget, including earlier upgrades to BEC to prevent blackouts.
The shambolic Christie administration should take a double bow for helping to prolong the disruptions caused by road works that should have been substantially completed during their last term, as well as for depleting BEC and the Treasury of badly needed revenues to dramatically improve electricity generation at the state-owned enterprise.
And instead of pandering and cavalier hypocrisy, it should acknowledge its record at Mackey Yard of which Minister of Housing Kenneth Russell chastised them in a press statement last week:
“Unfortunately, the Progressive Liberal Party has sought to capitalize on the fact that the term ‘squatter’ has become synonymous with ‘illegal immigrant’ resulting in this subject becoming very emotive. The squatter issue, however, is not as ‘black and white’ as the Opposition would like you to believe, and there are many considerations which come into play.
“Mr. Davis [Deputy Leader of the PLP Philip Brave Davis] is very much aware of this and the fact that there is absolutely no difference between the UBP, PLP and FNM policies as they relate to the treatment of squatters.
“As the Ministry of Housing has continued to state, it was the Progressive Liberal Party government which began the regularization of squatters, on Housing land, as far back as the Nassau Village Subdivision in the 1980s. Additionally, it was the same government under the leadership of former Minister of Housing, Mr. Neville Wisdom, which established a price of $17,000.00 per lot. We decided to continue with that price, but to extrapolate a square foot price of $3.40 per sq. ft., which establishes equity between lots of varying sizes.”
The crime front is complex and will be addressed in detail in a later Front Porch. Here again the Opposition lacks credibility not only because Mr. Christie wants to appear tough on crime by invoking the death penalty, having overseen no hangings during his five years in office.
Mr. Christie proved not to be so tough on crime or able to ameliorate its causes during his last term, a failure that is contributing to escalating crime today. Both major parties and the wider society must accept varying levels of responsibility for the crime situation.
In actuality it is the Opposition that experienced a spring of discontent and a tsunami of derision with the release of the WikiLeaks cables and reporting by The Nassau Guardian. The fallout on Mr. Christie has been especially brutal. This has contributed to the dog days of summer for an Opposition unable to get political traction as it test-markets slogan after slogan.
The dog days of summer famously refer to summer’s hottest days usually between early July and early September in the northern hemisphere. They also refer to a period marked by stagnancy and a lack of progress, in this case the lethargy of the Leader of the Opposition, captured in the WikiLeaks cables and a reminder of his five years in office and general invisibility in his current constitutional role.
Summer has brought rains which have made things more vibrant and verdant, though not the shade of green of which some may daydream. Construction at Baha Mar is intensifying and for thousands who will find employment there and in the government’s 3,000 person job-training initiative this is a summer of progress.
Thousands are enjoying the new Saunders Beach Park and will soon enjoy the new Straw Market which will showcase many more Bahamian goods and talent. The demand for U.S. visas for travel is quite high and reservations for the new Copa connection between Panama and The Bahamas are in the ninety percentile. Work has begun on the new Gateway Road Project which will connect LPIA – where work on Phase II of the airport has begun — to a revitalizing downtown.
More pharmacies are preparing to facilitate the prescription drug benefits program which now covers all civil servants whose increments and promotions have been budgeted. For tens of thousands and their dependents this is progress.
In New Providence, the BEC blackouts have been reduced and traffic congestion is being reduced in various areas and will be further reduced when the ambitious road project is substantially completed. For residents and businesses in eastern New Providence they will soon have cleaner water with greater pressure.
Gas prices are falling because of trends in the international market. At home, the slashing of duties on various goods is quite noticeable especially on fruits and lunch meats, all of which will assist parents when it comes to back to school. The lowering of the discount rate will enable a corresponding reduction of the prime rate, which is good news for consumers, many homeowners and businesses.
Our track and field athletes have had a banner summer continuing to excel at competitions around the world. They will enjoy the new Thomas A. Robinson stadium the construction of which was started and completed during the current Ingraham administration. The next stage in the five-year transformation of the athletic facilities at the Q.E. II Sports Centre is underway.
Were this a summer of discontent, the former Christie administration would share mightily in the blame for making it so because of the Leader of the Opposition’s near paralyzing inability to act. It is this same inability that will allow him scant or no credit for what has made this a summer of progress.
Among swing voters the Opposition has a Republican problem. While President Obama is seen as governing and trying to solve problems, the Republicans are seen as complainers and obstructionists significantly responsible for the debt problem they are now trying to cast as a Democratic legacy. Sounds familiar?
Next year, we will see how U.S. voters respond to this Republican strategy. Similarly, we will see whether Bahamian voters arrive at the same conclusion that amidst significant national challenges that Hubert Ingraham has tried to solve problems and worked around-the-clock while Perry Christie when given a chance to act in a time of calm, demonstrated why he would have failed in a time of crisis.
Author of the Front Porch column in The Nassau Guardian
Commentator on www.bahama.pundit.com