STRAIGHT UP TALK
APRIL 29TH, 2004
WHEN INGRAHAM SPEAKS PEOPLE LISTEN
“I conclude by saying that notwithstanding my hiatus from active politics, I have no less interest nor concern for Freeport, Grand Bahama, for Abaco, New Providence or any other island in our country, than I did when I was in office as Prime Minister. The welfare and betterment of The Bahamas remains my obsession, my only obsession. And so I say, so long as those who are in, advance The Bahamas and all its people, people like me, who are out, will be comfortable with our station in life. I say no more today.”
With those few parting words during his remarks at the recent Grand Bahama Association of Administrative Professionals, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham ignited debate about a possible return to the leadership of the FNM. Indeed, one of the most intriguing questions in this country today is: Will Ingraham return?
Like him or not, Mr. Ingraham’s political presence in our society is undeniable. Perhaps only Sir Lynden commanded a more imposing presence. The Right Hon. Hubert A. Ingraham is a gifted leader and an astute politician. Creating intrigue about himself comes easy. What he wanted to say in Freeport he said and what he wanted to achieve he achieved. He wanted people to hear what he said and they did. He knew people would talk about what he said and they are. There are many politicians in our country, high and low, who covet such a skill.
Some leaders are merely shooting the breeze, hoping that someone would help them deliver. That has not been true of Hubert Ingraham, he was a doer, an achiever. He not only “says what he means and means what he said”, he knows what he wants to achieve and focuses on getting it done. This is a rare quality in Bahamian political leaders these days.
Asked about Mr. Ingraham’s remarks, Sen. The Hon. Tommy Turnquest, leader of the FNM, said that he was comfortable with Mr. Ingraham as his predecessor, a sitting MP and a retired Prime Minister. Interesting! This much is certain, Sen. Turnquest ought to have no worries about anyone contesting for his position in the party; indeed he should expect and welcome it. Only a stagnant organization lacks multiple contenders for its top post.
Additionally, Sen. Turnquest, as he rightly pointed out, must remain focused on his agenda, which is to imbue the confidence of those he leads and those he seeks to lead. Succeed or fail at this, he has no other charge. In the end, the arbiters of his faith will not be his contenders but those to whom he makes his case for leadership.
Interestingly, Prime Minister The Right Hon. Perry Christie has not commented on Mr. Ingraham’s remarks on this occasion as he did on the last occasion Mr. Ingraham spoke in Freeport. Perhaps the PM wants to let sleeping dogs lie.
Don’t be mistaken, however, PM Christie hears every word Mr. Ingraham says publicly - perhaps even some of what he says privately. And he takes them all seriously! The message to PM Christie from Mr. Ingraham was clear, “Be productive and work for all the people and I will have no motivation to come after you.” For a competent leader, this would be a small challenge. However, given Mr. Christie’s performance to date, as assessed by many Bahamians, Mr. Ingraham might just be brushing off his political hat for an imminent return.
Frankly, this columnist does not believe that Mr. Ingraham wants to return to leadership. However, if the circumstances are mitigating enough he could be persuaded to do so. Who should worry about this? Not anyone with true leadership ability because if they cannot persuade others to choose them above Mr. Ingraham, they may not be the best person to lead. After all the leader is the one people choose to follow and not the one they have to follow because there is no one else.
Are there other people in this nation, in the FNM capable of leading, as Mr. Ingraham did? Yes. However, they must make that case to the people who matter, even if they must do so in a head on contest with Mr. Ingraham. Indeed a competitive but respectful bid for leadership between strong contenders breeds life into an organization and energizes its people. Perhaps leaders in The Bahamas have become too accustomed to coronations.
It is no wonder that so many of them come to expect, yea even demand unbridled submission to their will. Leaders should contend for and continue to justify their leadership. This challenges them to be productive and accountable, both necessary for effective service to people.
I would not refer to the Prime Minister as a silly man. That would be rude and arrogant. By the same token, Prime Minister Christie should not refer to his people or their thoughts as “silly”, whether he accepts them as legitimate or not. Frankly, PM Christie’s remarks in this regard seem rather arrogant. Either this or they are a sign of immense frustration, perhaps even overwhelming pressure.
The Christie administration is not a “do nothing government”. Rather, it is more of a do nothing new, fresh, impacting or promised government. And, it is a do things that are unflattering for a government to do, such as renting foreign bleachers for Junkanoo, allowing Korean Boats to enter the country under scandalous circumstances, so mistreating one of its own senior senators that he was forced to resign and leave the party, allowing a cabinet minister to rent from a government agency under a charge of conflict of interest, producing embarrassment for the country with the poor handling of the Haitian crisis situation, allowing a shameful feud at BAIC involving senior members of the government, allowing a sitting MP to come into utter disrepute through a declaration of bankruptcy by the courts, causing a major investor to pull out of a proposal due to indecisiveness, and the list goes on.
It must be terribly frustrating for the Prime Minister to have promised the world to Bahamians and to deliver, if anything, a village, at least as far as many Bahamians are concerned. It must be even more frustrating that his supporters are criticizing him as harshly as his detractors. If he were wise, PM Christie would avoid being defensive and insulting, referring to his own people as “silly” and their concerns as “silly distractions”. If he were wise, he would listen and make prudent changes in the way he does things. After all, the final arbiters of his success as leader are the people. Public relations will not help him if what he needs to do is change, especially if rather than change he resorts to denigrating those he serves and who express concerns about the way he is serving. This is a sign of weak leadership.
The fact is that the PM’s critics come in all shapes, colours, sizes, creed, ethnicities, nationalities, political persuasions and socio-economic backgrounds. Of course, the PM knows this; this is why he and his party have launched a public relations campaign to tell people what they believe they have done. If they thought that only opposition members were criticizing them, they would see no need to do this. However, many PLP supporters are as adamant as persons opposite that the Christie administration has not performed up to par. To change this, the administration must change, either change itself or be changed. Period!
“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people”. Mohandas Gandhi