HON. PHILIP BRAVE DAVIS MP
MEMBER FOR CAT ISLAND, RUM CAY AND SAN SALVADOR
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
CONTRIBUTION TO DEBATE TO THANK THE GOVERNOR GENERAL FOR HER SPEECH FROM THE THRONE
I rise on behalf of the faithful and hardworking people of Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador; islands to which I have strong familial ties and longstanding professional and social associations. I remain ever grateful to Almighty God for this privilege to stand here. I am, in fact, having served in this place since January of 1992, that makes me the Elder in this honourable House. To God be the glory!
Before I proceed to the substance of my contribution, permit me to lament the atrocity that took place on Cat Island over the past weekend. As I prepared for Sunday worship, I got the news that police had discovered the lifeless body of one or our American residents Janice Mildred Kessinger in bushes in North Cat Island. Unfortunately, she has now become just a number to some – Murder Victim 107. How tragic…
Today, I give condolences to her family and all who loved her. This incident has shaken Cat Island to its core. Ms. Kessinger was well-known and well-loved, particularly among the children to whom she extended so many acts of benevolence. I am grateful to police on Cat Island, who took her disappearance very seriously and acted accordingly. I am also grateful to their counterparts, who have acted likewise at the gruesome discovery.
Cat Island will memorialise Ms. Kessinger in the coming days. To die violently at any age is a grim consequence, but at 74, one expects that natural causes will be your likely demise. Yet, this is where we are today. May her soul rest in peace and may those who loved her find comfort.
This death is a symptom of a deeply rooted scourge on The Bahamas. In this place and otherwise, I have said that crime is not just an important issue. Crime is the most important issue facing The Bahamas. A government’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens; and we are traversing most violent years in our nation’s history.
Keeping people safe is not a small thing. On the contrary, it is everything. If our homes and streets are not safe, we cannot do great things as a nation – we cannot look to a prosperous future. We must win the war against violence. The alternative is unimaginable. I will speak to this issue further in my presentation, but for now, I needed to register this as priority.
Albert Schweitzer, a French-German theologian, gave us these words. He said, “At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” As I think on these words, I too recall the light that Her Excellency carries. Even though it was four months ago, I can see her now on the dais, delivering Her Majesty’s Speech within variable grace, impeccably clear articulation, and metered authority.
I am very grateful to Her Excellency as she executes her duties with such impartiality. She has kind words for everyone – not empty words. I will take the liberty and say that her actions have garnered the respect of this Honourable House and its members. I thank her not only for the Speech, but for her years of dedicated public service.
While the Governor General made a remarkable delivery of the Government’s legislative agenda, I believe that we are only now thanking Her Excellency because the governing side thinks that we have short memories. They would wish us not to remember to say that the Speech was a clear acknowledgement of the transformative foundation already constructed by the Progressive Liberal Party Government.
I was encouraged to hear that the Government has embraced the essential job-related skills training and specialised programmes for youth unemployment that we set in motion. I was equally encouraged to note that we had laid the foundation for wider access to justice. We created the Public Defender’s Office and the statutory ability to appoint more judges. We also reduced the time it takes for cases to come to trial.
We set the path to Customs and Treasury reform modernising the administration of public finances. We implemented the primary phase of National Health Insurance (NHI) as important components of this Government’s policy foundation. I can go on and on about it, but it would be too much. For clarity, though, I will say this side will support any policy which protects the poor and the vulnerable and those in which the national interests are protected and promoted.
We will not oppose for opposing sake as this Government did in opposition.
My brows raised and I smiled when I saw yesterday’s headliner for the “National Review”. It read “Spy Bill hypocrisy: FNM introduces in House what it railed against in opposition”.
Mark my words. The people of The Bahamas have only just begun to witness the extent of this Government’s hypocrisy. We sounded the alarm long ago, but sometimes, as my dear grandmother used to say, “Sometimes, ya gatta let people buck dey own toe.”
East Grand Bahama knows how buck toe feels. The entire Bahamas felt the backlash wielded by Moody’s in response to his Budget Communication. Even the international rating agency responded to the doom and gloom.
Members will recall that when I made my contribution to the Budget Debate, I warned the side opposite that the Communication should have avoided the language that was inordinately laden political mischief, grand-standing and disingenuous posturing. It sought to demonise everything that transpired during our term in office and frankly painted a sad picture for The Bahamas.
Moody’s responded on the 6th of July in very concise terms.
“Moody’s Investors Service has today placed the Baa3 bond and issuer ratings of the government of the Bahamas on review for downgrade.
“The decision to place the ratings on review was prompted by official statements that The Bahamas’ fiscal position was weaker than previously estimated and that the government’s debt ratios will continue to worsen over the coming years. This diverged from Moody’s expectation that the government’s debt ratios would stabilize in fiscal 2017, thus supporting the Bahamas’ Baa3 rating and stable outlook. Moody’s review will focus on evaluating the credit risks posed by ongoing economic and fiscal challenges, taking into consideration the recent revelations of fiscal deterioration as well as the new government’s proposals to arrest this deterioration. During the review, Moody’s will also assess how the Bahamas’ overall credit profile will evolve compared with those of sovereigns rated in the Baa and Ba categories.
“The Bahamas’ long-term local-currency bond and bank deposit country ceiling remain unchanged at A2. The long-term foreign-currency bond and bank deposits ceilings remain unchanged at Baa1 and Baa3, respectively. The short-term foreign-currency bond and bank deposits ceilings remain unchanged at P-2 and P-3, respectively.”
Of course, that sent East Grand Bahama into a scramble. Ouch!!! Bucking your toe really hurts! Grammy used to say, “What you give to the world, you can’t take back.”
I would not mind a fly-on-the-wall report of what happened to cause Moody to allow Bahamians to breathe a literal sigh of relief. We know the story.
New York, August 25, 2017 — Moody’s Investors Service has today confirmed the Baa3 bond and issuer ratings of the government of the Bahamas and changed the outlook to negative. The rating actions conclude a review for downgrade that commenced on July 6, 2017.
Moody’s confirmation of the Baa3 rating is driven by the following drivers:
1) Prospects for debt stabilization supported by the government’s fiscal consolidation program
2) The Bahamas’ credit metrics remain in line with Baa3 peers, with GDP revisions supporting an improvement in quantitative metrics
3) Despite higher government borrowing needs, government liquidity risk remains contained.
The negative outlook reflects potential downside risks to the fiscal consolidation process posed by weaker than- expected growth, exposure to climate-related shocks in the form of hurricanes, and implementation risks associated with measures to rein in expenditure growth and enhance revenues.
Absent successful fiscal consolidation, the Bahamas’ fiscal and credit profile would likely weaken. In addition, the sovereign is exposed to contingent liabilities stemming from state-owned enterprises and the Bank of the Bahamas, which would lead to a further deterioration of the government’s fiscal strength should these materialize on its balance sheet.
The Bahamas’ long-term foreign-currency bond ceiling remains unchanged at Baa1 and long-term foreign currency deposit ceiling at Baa3. The short-term foreign-currency bond ceiling remains Prime-2, whereas the short-term foreign-currency deposit ceiling is at Prime-3. The Bahamas’ long-term local currency country risk ceilings remain at A2.
It is becoming very clear and painfully obvious that this FNM Government has no plan and no vision for this country’s future. This is both unfortunate and unacceptable. Surely, by now, 217 days later, we have lost opportunities to bring more Bills to this Place. Our primary purpose in this Place is the passage of laws for good governance. Apart from Money Bills, we are with only a Bill that expands the powers of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and another the side opposite labelled the “Spy Bill” when we tabled it in February of this year. Ironically the very person who called on all right thinking and concerned Bahamians to march in opposition to the Bill is the very Member to table that which was so despised.
I take the liberty here to manipulate some words that my former Parliamentary colleague Melanie Griffin likes. They are based in scripture and says that “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” This very aptly describes the new leadership of the FNM. They have not changed. Hypocrisy is the order of the day. Hypocrisy and victimisation. God, help us all!
Let me show you the extent of hypocrisy. We proposed for the Interception of Communication Bill to entrust power to approve selective monitoring to the judiciary, a separate and equal branch of government. It is confounding that the Bill now proposes this power should reside with politicians. This cannot be right and it is certainly not progressive or forward looking.
In its current form, it must be rejected by right thinking freedom loving Bahamians as a rank and arrogant invasion of privacy. In its current form, the Bill violates the civil liberties and privacy by opening the door to political abuse and persecution. I daresay, it takes away rights from Bahamians when we in this place should be about deepening and expanding democracy through the expansion of civil liberties and rights of privacy.
The FNM government has distinguished itself over the last four months as a government of broken promises. The undercurrent of discontent cannot be ignored. The people are wondering if it is really their time. Notwithstanding all the noise to infer otherwise, the people have heard Government’s admission that The Bahamas is in good economic health.
The people are not likely to get an apology for Government’s abandonment of key promises either. Most people tell me that they can’t find their MP. They can’t hear from them. They can’t see them. I usually say, “Well, there are plenty of them to find.” But, it ain’t long now. Somewhere in the range of 240 weeks, we will go back to the same people for votes. Let them keep ducking and dodging and skirting around promises. The Bahamian people are taking notes.
When will Bahamians receive selective catastrophic care under NHI?
When can Bahamian students expect free tuition at the University of the Bahamas?
When will ordinary Bahamians receive tax relief on breadbasket items?
When can Bahamians expect the program that will lead to a unified busing system?
Hypocrisy and victimisation…These are the hallmarks of this Administration. We added 39,505 jobs to the national economy between 2012 and 2017.
Since this Government came to power, we hear and see news about firings almost on a daily basis. We have Bahamians living right here in The Bahamas, who thought it was their time, reading ads from Baha Mar on social media targeting US citizens and residents wanting to work at Baha Mar and live in The Bahamas. Many of the positions advertised are well within the skillset of Bahamians trained in the hospitality industry.
I can tell you that this recruitment exercise does not sit well with Bahamians as we battle an unemployment rate of just under ten percent. It took us five years to reduce unemployment to single digits. Bahamians want answers and rightly so. Let us hope that there is some plausible rationale.
But, Mr. Speaker
Even in the Public Service, there is a groundswell of discontent. Many, duped by this Government while in opposition, now see the error of their ways. So many effective and efficient officers have been stifled or sidelined, primarily because of their perceived politics.
How can we be silent when policies or practices that threaten to let go 600 to 800 contract workers in the Ministry of Education some of whom were hired up to ten years ago?
The process toward their regularisation was well underway. This is necessary to bring certainty to their lives and filter them into defined career paths. We succeeded in placing about half of the nearly 3,000 contract employees on the permanent and pensionable payroll.
I am advised that last week Friday, the Department of Inland Revenue began dismissing young people.
But, Mr. Speaker
The former Member for Fox Hill tried to steer Public Officers toward a sensible vote. He said, “Vote PLP if you want to keep your jobs.” It hurts me to say, “We told you so.” But we did.
I have not heard any good news coming out of Grand Bahama. Grand Bahama – an island that gave solid support to the FNM – an island with Cabinet level representation. They recently lost a cruise ship calling on its port. The Tourism Minister’s casual and insensitive response offered was that he was not concerned. What a message for suffering people! We all must be concerned when we lose business! This loss means job losses and a decline in the quality of life for our people.
The government’s mishandling of the Grand Bahama economy and specifically its failure to get the major hotels – the Grand Lucayan Properties – has intensified the uncertainty and the sense of hopelessness among Grand Bahamians.
I am concerned. The PLP is concerned. The lack of transparency, clarity and consistency in the government’s overall strategy of revitalising Grand Bahama’s tourism product and beleaguered economy is pathetic.
Misstatements and mixed message statements characterise this Administration. They send mixed signals that provoke scepticism around their policies.
A typical example is how the Minister of State for Grand Bahama indicated that a deal with the Wynn Investment Group was imminent. Eventually and abruptly, Wynn pulled out of the purchase for the Grand Lucayan Complex.
How did they get from the point of imminent sale to a pull out? Well, we wait to see and hear more conch salad stories in this Place. Yes, conch salad! Mixed right up!
I look forward to hearing the details of the government’s plan to take an equity position in the hotel complex as articulated by the Member for East Grand Bahama. Progress and updates on that front went totally flat and Bahamians are in the dark about the government’s strategic plan for Grand Bahama.
On this side, while in Government, we made tripartite efforts to aggressively reach a meaningful resolution in the best interest of Grand Bahamians.
Victimisation and petty spite saw the demise of a viable deal we left on the table. This is incompetence and has left many Grand Bahamians feeling that Government has either abandoned them or is not up to the task of leading the economic resurgence of Grand Bahama.
I condemn this Government’s ad-hoc approach to negotiations. At the same time, I urge all Bahamians to note that this Government is not interested in all the people. It is interested in some people. Take notes because sometimes our memories are short. This Government is clearly not committed to rapidly improving the dire economic situation on Grand Bahama.
This Government’s gross disregard for the economic strategy for Grand Bahama will negatively impact that island’s economy. This is no time for status quo. The status quo is the root of Grand Bahama’s economic malaise. Government must act and NOW!
We injected over $100 million in Grand Bahama during our Administration. Hurricane Matthew, however, had a severe deleterious effect on our intervention.
We wait now to hear about the proposal in respect of Carnival Cruise Port, which was earmarked for East Grand Bahama. I urge Government to make the right choice. Let go of the spite. Take on a new attitude.
I recently spoke at an event to celebrate Bishop Neil Ellis. There, I mused that God sometimes asks us to do strange things. When we listen, we are recipients of the full and abundant blessings of obedience.
Listening is the most useful tool I know.
I bring this up because an FNM government gave Hutchison Whampoa exclusive rights for any port development on the island of Grand Bahama.
This policy decision was a barrier to economic growth on that island. As Government, we secured a waiver of those rights through protracted negotiations with the principals. There is now no real barrier to the East Grand Bahama Port Project.
This side, through you, asks that side to look beyond this strange request. Listen to sage advice. Do some good for Grand Bahama. Not later…NOW!
I also caution Government in respect of repealing the Investment Incentive Act. This would be a travesty – a return to that which triggered economic stagnation – a return to the status quo.
I urge Government to get to work. The country is adrift as time is wasted trying to demonise political opponents and rewriting history. It’s the people’s time and all over The Bahamas the people are saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” The campaign is over. Get to work. The people are not interested in the pre-election campaign propaganda narrative. Action! Walk the talk!
When I began my contribution, I alluded to my consternation with crime. The carnage is a matter of grave concern to all Bahamians. There are too many reports of horrific nights of violence and boldface daytime gun slinging. Innocents at both ends of the age spectrum are affected. I spoke about Ms. Kessinger earlier. I now reflect on eight (8) year old Eugene Woodside, who perished in his mother’s arms, the victim of a stray bullet.
“Beyond Tears” was the headline in August that heralded the heartless murder of a sleeping eight-month old Shelton Tinker, Jr.
Within the last four (4) months alone, we have had more than forty (40) murders. Bahamians no longer feel safe. This horrifying rate of killing and bloodshed combined with an alarming rise in armed robberies must be stemmed.
This will surely erode confidence in public institutions mandated to protect public safety and security while threatening our social and economic stability. We cannot allow this phenomenon to continue.
It’s the people’s time and the people remember the Mount Moriah stridently saying that we would be safe with him at the helm because he had the answers to crime. Well, the people look to him now because he said that he understood the criminal mind and could out manoeuvre criminals.
He said all of our policies were all wrong and ineffective. Four months into the job, Bahamians still do not feel safe in their homes, on the streets, or in the workplace.
Crime is both destructive and complex at the same time and is driven by multiple factors including easy access to firearms, high unemployment and substandard living conditions due to a cycle of poverty, a condition too many of our children are forced to live in.
I am not interested in the foolish argument advanced by some apologists about bad boys killing bad boys. That does not give cover to a Government with no plan to fight crime and fails to address the murder of innocent law-abiding citizens and residents.
As the Member for Englerston said, this epidemic of violence requires the Government to go to another level. On an emergency basis they must collaborate with all relevant stakeholders in our country to develop a comprehensive plan that will yield results, both in the immediate short term and in the long term.
This must be done as a matter of urgency and the Official Opposition stands ready to collaborate in this national effort. Let’s get to work!
It would be insensitive of me to close without speaking to issues concerning Hurricane Irma. I commend the Government’s efforts to evacuate our Southern islands. This evacuation, I am certain saved lives. When I visited Ragged Island, I witnessed sheer devastation. “Unliveable” was the headline.
Ragged Islanders are about demonstrate their resilience. They are about to show us how they can rise from ashes. Salina Point too! They will rebuild. I urge Government to assist their efforts.
We cannot fault Ragged Islanders or any other’s reluctance to leave their birthplace. I have said it more than once in this Place. Bahamians have a right to live and work where they choose by virtue of their citizenship. I directed this particularly at Elizabeth before and I do so now with good reason.
Very early, they must learn that the 80 people in Rum Cay – the 72 in Ragged Island – the 700 in the Berry Islands – all have the same rights accruing to them as those who live in New Providence.
They are all citizens. None has priority over another. Each has the right to live where he or she wishes and Government’s obligation to them is to ensure that they have, at minimum, access to essential services; and, where possible, access to enhanced services.
Nothing is too good for any Bahamian. Nothing is too good for Cat Island. Nothing is too good for San Salvador. Nothing is too good for Rum Cay.
Nothing is too good for Ragged Island.
In the same way that our medical personnel will be identified for other countries on a volunteer basis, that proposal should be made for Ragged Island. They are our first priority. They are our constituents. They are why we are here in this Place of Privilege.
Whatever happened to the “Back to the Island Campaign, which [was] anticipated to become the largest migration of Bahamians back to the Family Island”? What an awesome opportunity to start from scratch!
This dovetails into an “I told you so” moment. At the start of this Administration, this side was severely criticised for our decision to demit from making payments to the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF). We told the Government that experts in the Ministry of Finance, Met Department and the Port Department advised that self-insurance would be more cost beneficial to Government. This came after we were unable to make any successful claims in respect of Hurricane Joaquin.
Up to that time, The Bahamas had been paying premiums in the tens of millions and was unable to collect anything.
Following Matthew, I am advised, CCRIF wrote the Government suggesting that we may have qualified for loss compensation, this suggestion was referred to the team that had advised earlier and it was that team’s considered view that we would not have qualified. The persons who advised us are still in the Public Service.
The Honourable member for Killarney promised this House on several occasions to table the letter received from CCRIF confirming forfeiture of some $33 million but to date has flatly refused to do so.
Ahead of Hurricane Irma, the Prime Minister was pleased to advise that we had expended around $2.8 million. The Bahamas received a reported settlement of $234,000 in post hurricane claims.
I told him so! This is a waste of public resources was the result of rank political posturing rather than adhering to the advice of senior policy experts and technical advisors in the Public Service.
What a painfully humiliating and expensive lesson. Maybe the Member for Killarney will finally reconcile himself to the policy of self-insurance against damages from natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes.
I take the time spent in this Place very seriously. As I mentioned earlier, we are here for very clear reasons – to make laws, to represent and act on behalf of voters and citizens, to scrutinize the work of the Government.
On this side, we are committed to holding Government to account for its promises to the Bahamian people. We have all heard the legislative agenda, which Her Excellency delivered so well.
It’s the people’s time now. So, I admonish Government to put the needs of the Bahamian people first.
I stand for the people of Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador. With them, I salute Her Excellency for the Speech from The Throne. I look forward to lively, robust and passionate debates on behalf of the Bahamian people. May Almighty God continue to bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.