Bahamas: Voters Want Answers
By Candia Dames
25 August 2005
Many Bahamians are anxious to hear from Prime Minister Perry Christie on a number of issues of concern, including the much discussed Petrocaribe oil deal, the liquefied natural gas proposals, the decision to remove Sir Stafford Sands from the $10 bill, and the governmentís progress in establishing a national health insurance scheme.
But his illness, which struck back in May, coupled with the traditionally slow summer period means that the Prime Minister has been off the front pages for weeks.
In January 2004, Mr. Christie started what he promised would be a quarterly Ďmeet the pressí event where reporters could pose questions to him on a variety of issues. But it was an initiative that was short lived. In fact, nearly six quarters have passed without the event taking place again.
Mr. Christie also has made no national addresses for the year.
The Prime Minister had promised after returning to work nearly two months after his slight stroke that he would hold a press conference soon to address a number of issues of national importance that arose during his illness. But that too has not happened as yet.
There are other issues that some people want an update on. For instance, after much talk about the redevelopment of Bay Street, the transformation has still not started, leaving some merchants asking why.
Speaking about the planned downtown overhaul at his partyís last convention in November 2003, the Prime Minister said, "We have to change and we have to do so without delay."
But that was nearly two years ago.
At that same convention, he also announced that work on the Heads of Agreement for the $2.5 billion Ginn investment project for West Grand Bahama was being finalized.
"I have assured the Ginn group that my government is committed to bringing the project on line as speedily as possible," Prime Minister Christie said at the time. "We have therefore agreed to complete a Heads of Agreement as quickly as possible so that this project can be underway early in the New Year."
But the New Year of 2004 came and left, but there has still not been any Ginn deal sealed.
The need for better public relations on such matters is something some Bahamians pointed to on Wednesday.
PLPís are also conceding that the government has to do more to improve its PR.
Only recently PLP Chairman Raynard Rigby said that itís a shortcoming the government needs to address.
For Bahamians waiting to hear from the Prime Minister, the concerns are varied.
"I would like to see [the Prime Minister] report on the Petrocaribe oil deal because I am not getting sufficient information from [Minister of Trade and Industry] Leslie Miller," said Jacob Rolle, a teacher at Central Andros High School who was on Bay Street on Wednesday.
"Another point is I am very apprehensive about the dealing with the president of Venezuela and his connection with Cuba. I donít think the U.S. would like us to be involved with those two dictators so we have to be very careful how we move ahead with friendly relations with those two countries."
Ricardo Mackey, who also teaches at the Central Andros High School, said rising oil prices continue to be a major concern and he too would like to hear what the Prime Minister has to say about Venezuelaís plan to sell fuel to the region at significantly lower costs.
"Right now thereís a concern about gas prices in NassauÖsomething needs to be done about that because gas only goes up in the Family Islands, it never goes down whereas gas fluctuates in New Providence," Mr. Mackey said.
He added that civil servants also want to hear specifics from the Prime Minister on planned salary increases given that the cost of living continues to increase.
"I think we need to find out whatís going on," he said.
If he could hear from the Prime Minister, Mr. Mackey said he would also like him to report on the status of the national health insurance scheme, something that was a part of the PLPís platform when it was elected to office in 2002.
"I think it would be good if we have this kind of medical plan," the Andros schoolteacher added.
Darnell Finlayson, a straw vendor, has something closer to home on her mind. She said that she would like the Prime Minister to speak directly to straw vendors about when a new straw market will be built on Bay Street.
The old market was destroyed by fire in September 2001, nearly four years ago.
"We need our straw market back because [the makeshift one] is in a bad condition," Ms. Finlayson said as the rain poured around her.
"The floors are flooding. The tourists canít walk inside. Theyíre getting all wet. It needs to be in a better position for the tourists.
Four years is enough time to build our market and I donít know why we donít have our market back, but Prime Minister, we really need a market back for our guests."
Across the street, Anthony Gibson, a manager at Diamonds International, said he too would like to hear from the Prime Minister as it relates to a timetable for a new straw market.
"I know there have been many promises made to the [vendors]. I have been in [the market] and I have seen the conditions these people have worked under. Right now, this is the rainy season, only God one knows how they make it in there," Mr. Gibson said.
Mr. Gibson also raised the issue of Petrocaribe.
"What I really think we need to look at right now is this gas situation," he said. "What I think is that we need to go full force ahead and get this thing on the run."
Allan Whyley, a retired Bahamian, also has Petrocaribe on his mind. He said that itís one issue he too would like to hear the Prime Minister speak about.
"The Petrocaribe accord has been so politicized. To comment on it intelligently, you have to know more about it and we donít have that," Mr. Whyley said.
He also noted that the Prime Minister earlier in the year announced that the government would have approved one of the liquefied natural gas projects before the end of January. But that never happened.
Mr. Whyley said Bahamians want to know from the government what it intends to do about the proposals on the table. He hopes that the Christie Administration rejects them.
"I really donít want the government to approve LNG," he said. "I think [Mr. Christie] needs to make a statement about LNG. These are issues that need to be addressed, but there are more immediate things happening with the small man that need to address. The government needs to say exactly what is reserved for Bahamians in this economy because I see foreigners coming in here and doing everything."
Lionel Carey, who said he was one of the chairmen of the former Vanguard party, said he like many Bahamians would like to hear an update on LNG.
"In the U.S. if they donít want that in their own country, I think thatís a lesson for us. We have tourism and we have to be sensitive about anything that could affect it in a negative way," said Mr. Carey, who now works in the Ministry of Housing.
Mr. Whyley, meanwhile, said that the immigration issue is also one that many people are concerned about.
"Thatís something that really needs to be addressed seriously," he noted. "What is happening? Donít the people deserve to be brought up to date?"
But not everyone thinks the Prime Minister is being too quiet on issues of national importance.
Mark Symonette, a law student, said various Ministers have been doing a good job at reporting on what has been going on in their individual portfolios.
"There are a number of issues that are outstanding," Mr. Symonette said. "But I feel that the Prime Minister is doing an excellent job given the economic and social climate that we are in. I think we must remember that the Ministers of the government are appointed to handle their portfolios and I think they are doing an excellent job also.
"They are reporting on their particular portfolios so I donít see a need for the Prime Minister to get involved in every issue."
While a guest on the Love 97 Programme "Jones and Company" nearly two weeks ago, former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Clement Maynard said that the government appeared to be falling down in reporting to the public on what it is doing.
Itís something he indicated needed to be addressed.