Let’s be honest, former Gaming Board chairman Dr Andre Rollins is evolving into a political rock star and upstaged every speaker contributing to the debate on the new Gaming Bill—grabbing all the newspaper headlines and setting tongues wagging—whilst also overshadowing the Official Opposition’s entire parliamentary caucus.
I think that in politics and in life, we must understand that there must be room for sensible disagreement and dissenting voices. What makes Dr Rollins voice all the more discernible is the fact that he is an insider—the PLP’s Member of Parliament for Fort Charlotte—and, as such, he is able to inflict so much more damage than an opponent. Unfortunately, though he appears to be standing with and for the people and speaking on behalf on his constituents and the wider populace, I have heard very emotive terms—from traitor, turncoat and so on—associated with him by members of his party. Rollins’ contribution in the House of Assembly on Wednesday was an expression of the thoughts and concerns of the Bahamian people and any politician who does not have their ears to the ground enough to realise that these utterances were a reflection of that of the masses needs to simply take a hike!
Andre Rollins is effective because he is passionate, charismatic and listening to Bahamians whilst the old guard is clearly playing politics, forgetting who they serve. He is effective because not only is he a PLP, but he is the immediate past chairman of the Gaming Board, so if anyone has the credibility to speak on these issues, he does and his carriage of the issues has been in a way that is not so dissimilar to when Prime Minister Perry Christie and former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham had so much credibility when they broke ranks with the Pindling administration in the 1980s. Like Rollins, Christie and Ingraham’s voices also resonated with a sceptical public and they both were re-elected and ended up becoming prime ministers.
Quite honestly, Prime Minister Christie will not be able to soften the dent that comes from Dr Rollins’ brilliant soliloquy in the House on Wednesday. Noticeably, there was not a single point of order and all members were as quiet as a church mouse, clearly listening intently and no one ventured to stand on their feet to refute anything that he said. What’s more, in some instances, he used the words of members of his party in making his case. Dr Rollins also dealt with the attempts of key figures in the government to disingenuously claim that their about-face on the regularization of web shops—though the public rejected it in the botched referendum— was due to the cautionary notes/statements of Central Bank Governor Wendy Craigg. I too share the view that Ms. Craigg is being thrown under the bus in the interest of political expediency and clearly the government knew about the problems relating to money laundering and violation of the gaming laws by numbers men long before the referendum and long before Ms Craigg had a word to say. Frankly, a large percentage of the current Cabinet are attorneys!
I’ve long held the view that the government should hastily pass legislation to amend the gaming laws as it relates to Bahamians gambling locally and thereby legalise the Bahamas’ favourite pastime. But, as I said last week, I take issue with the way this legislation has been drafted, discriminatory against Bahamians, prohibiting free enterprise and appearing to be legislative platform to engage in corrupt and intimidatory practices along partisan/personal lines.
I don’t trust any politician enough to give a sole politico the kind of power set out in the legislation.
The local gaming industry transcends numbers; it is multifaceted and includes ATM operations, casino games and lending and borrowing facilities. One cannot confidently say that the government has set about addressing many of the associated vulnerabilities—for example money laundering – presented by this soon to be regularized sector of the economy, particularly since, according to Central Bank Governor Wendy Craigg, the web shops currently threaten to undermine proposed plans for a Bahamian Credit Bureau.
“Other measures, such as the refusal of commercial banks to accept what they have reasonable grounds to believe are proceeds of illegal gaming, would also be taken into account by the assessors from anti-money laundering/counter terrorism financing standard-setting agencies. However, assessors would also look at measures taken by law enforcement to address offences against the Lotteries and Gaming Act,” Mrs Craigg said.
In her press statement at that time, the Governor further acknowledged the increasing concerns about fixtures in the web shop gaming industry offering mortgages and pay day loans, in contrast to, and in competition with, the commercial banks. She noted the significance of such lending practices and said that such activities could lend to the destabilisation of both the formal, legal banking sector and wider Bahamian economy.
Why hasn’t the Financial Action Task Force’s recommendations been tabled? FNM Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner is right when she said in the House on Wednesday that “questions of money laundering by certain enterprises and the good names of the Bahamas remain at bay and are of great concern.”
Are the web shop operators going to pay back the $1.5 million that was spent to conduct the opinion poll—and I’m not talking about the sweeteners that have likely already been meted out?
Among others, Andre Rollins has become the conscience of Bahamian politics and stole the day on Wednesday. Whilst he appears to believe and feel what he’s saying, which is a far cry from when one is just trying to score cheap political points, it also seems that he does not care what impact his comments may have on him, instead choosing to stand with the people. Rollins has re-invented and rebranded himself and has become a political guerrilla that the public is embracing. Frankly, the FNM itself could learn a thing or two from the tactics being currently employed in communicating the will of the Bahamian public, free from political correctness.
The recent trade union action—whether legal or not—speaks to the pall that has now settled over the country. The gold rush appears to be a bit tarnished and the governing party may well be treading water from this point on for its political survival. As a friend reminded me yesterday, former British prime minister the great Winston Churchill said that there are some who will trade party for principle and others who will trade principle for party. It appears that Minister of Social Services and Community Development Melanie Griffin—who I’ve grown to like over the years for her humility and ability to connect with people—seems to have traded her moral and spiritual stance (she said she was against gambling in any form) for party, essentially saying that her party must do what it must. Mrs Griffin, who has told me in time past that she felt I did not like her, is one of the best MPs in the House and she has my respect; I just have a problem that she seems to have discarded her convictions in the name of politics. What’s more, I support the legalisation and regularisation of web shops and gaming across the board, however it is not being done in an across-the-board, non-discriminatory manner and I cannot support that!
It also seems that the governing party is about to jettison its second referendum, placing it on the perpetual backburner. I have said that the constitutional referendum should be delayed to allow for proper education, but will it ever be brought to the fore and, if bill number four is the hindrance to gaining the public’s support, why not drop that bill—if only temporarily or for a re-write upon consultations with the public—and move forward with the other three?
Clearly, as it relates to the gaming bill, the Whip is on and MPs are seemingly being required to abandon their personal convictions for the survival of their party. All MPs who ever want to be respected in this country need to hold firm and demand that no form of discrimination is further perpetuated against the Bahamian people in 2014.
When one looks at the government’s fumbles, from VAT to gaming to constitutional reform and so on, it is clear that one couldn’t write a Shakespearean tragedy in this manner.
Now, I know that Dr Rollins will likely not be re-nominated; however, I do not think that anything will be done to him at this time, otherwise his party would risk making him a political martyr! If they toss him out in the way that Ingraham and Christie were expelled from the PLP, his stock would soar. We shall see……….