Following an unprecedented rejection of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) at the polls last week, PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts encouraged PLPs last night that now is not the time to cast blame, make excuses or overanalyze, but to learn “some very important lessons”.
Addressing supporters at a PLP National General Council (NGC) meeting, Roberts said the desire for change was great, and the Bahamian people expressed their free will.
The PLP secured four of the 39 constituencies.
The Free National Movement (FNM) won 35.
“Clearly there are some very important lessons for us to learn from this rejection at the polls, therefore, we must immediately roll up our sleeves and cause for the required corrections and adjustments to be made,” Roberts said.
“I hasten to point out that this electoral experience is not unchartered waters for us.
“I remember well the party’s loss at the polls in 1997 when only a handful of PLPs were elected and there was a call from FNM (Free National Movement) supporters for the PLP to change its name and to rebrand its image.
“PLP MPs and senators ignored the naysayers, but aggressively engaged the FNM inside and outside of Parliament, and five years later the Bahamian people re-elected the PLP to government in very strong numbers in 2002.”
Following its 1997 election defeat, the PLP had five seats.
It was in opposition at the time.
In the 2002 election, the PLP secured 29 of the 40 constituencies to the FNMs seven.
“In acknowledging our defeat, I said the people spoke loud and clear, and there is an adage that the voice of the people is the voice of God,” Roberts noted.
“We believe this and humbly accept their verdict, notwithstanding [there] were large numbers who refused to vote.”
According to unofficial statistics from the Parliamentary Registration Department, voter turnout was 87 percent.
More than 159,000 of the over 184,000 registered people voted.
In 2012, there were fewer people registered, but voter turnout was 90 percent.
The department has not revealed the number of ballots that were not counted due to being spoiled or otherwise.
Roberts wished Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis well, but said he fears Minnis will encounter many challenges in keeping his team together, pointing to the fallout among FNM parliamentarians in December.
Roberts said it is amazing that the FNM government is now prioritizing the agreement concerning Baha Mar, when it had “no interest in the truth surrounding the Baha Mar agreement” while in opposition.
Former Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson repeatedly promised to release the sealed agreement the government signed with the Export-Import Bank of China, but never did so.
Instead, the government released the heads of agreement with Baha Mar’s new owners, Chow Tai Fook Enterprises Ltd.
Newly sworn in Attorney General Carl Bethel has said the sealed agreement is an issue of national importance that the Bahamian people have a right to know about.
In opposition, Minnis promised an FNM government would have the documents unsealed.
“Since the Baha Mar deal seems to be the priority of the attorney general, the PLP asks that in light of the FNM government’s declaration of honesty, trust and transparency in governance, that they compare the concessions the FNM government negotiated, compared to those negotiated by the PLP government,” Roberts said.
“For once, the FNM should allow the Bahamian people the benefit of unfiltered empirical data from which to draw their conclusions.
“The Bahamian people are owed that much respect.”
Key issues in the 2017 campaign included the details surrounding the Baha Mar agreements, crime, use of value-added tax (VAT) revenue, education and the economy.
Last night, Roberts indicated that Minnis will find that all VAT revenue collected was deposited into the public treasury, every penny is accounted for and was used to finance the increasing cost of government operation.
He said it will be the prime minister’s “painful obligation” to admit this to the Bahamian people.
The FNM campaigned heavily on VAT, making the case that another PLP term would see more taxpayer dollars wasted.
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham even suggested that public hearings ought to take place into the “secretive” dealings of the Christie administration, including how VAT revenue was used.
Roberts said the FNM’s campaign was based on “deception” and Bahamians were led to believe the Christie administration stole the VAT money.
“It’s a very clear example of how the FNM will govern our Bahamas,” he said.
“There is an old Bahamian saying: ‘When you spit in the wind it blows back in your face’.”
“As a political leader, former Prime Minister Perry Christie’s legacy is secure, as his public policy fingerprints and footprints are indelibly etched on the public institutions that drive change and progress, that define the increased modernization of our beloved democratic state and sustained national development,” Roberts said.
Roberts commended the former prime minister on behalf of the PLP.
He referred to the introduction of VAT, National Health Insurance (NHI), the University of The Bahamas, the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI), Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival and social intervention programs such as the National Training Agency and Urban Renewal 2.0 as landmark policies Christie oversaw.
Roberts said history will be kind to Christie.
He said between 2002 and 2007, 19,000 jobs were created and another 33,000 jobs were added to the economy in the last five years, notwithstanding a “protracted global economic recovery”.
According to data released by the Department of Statistics in November 2016, since May 2012, more than 31,000 jobs have been added to the economy.
The number of people employed in May 2012 was 160,650 compared to the 192,385 employed in November 2016, the survey showed.
Additionally, 1,500 people were hired last month when Baha Mar had its soft launch opening.
Roberts added that the PLP’s best and brightest days are ahead.