National Address

 December 22, 2014

My Fellow Bahamians…

The last several years in the history of our great country have proven difficult. We have faced many challenges. Record unemployment, a stagnant economy, a widening national debt, increased instances of violent crime; skyrocketing electricity costs, and an illegal immigration problem that threatens the very foundation of our sovereignty as a nation. Perhaps even more troubling than all these issues though, is the lack of leadership and good governance that we now face. 

During the last general election, the Progressive Liberal Party, then in opposition claimed to the have the answers to the things that ailed us all. They promised ten thousand new jobs, mortgage relief for struggling Bahamian homeowners and a vibrant economy. They promised to effectively manage the country’s resources and address the growing criminal element. This PLP administration promised to encourage developments on the family islands with Mr. Christie promising to secure anchor projects for every single island in the country. While on the campaign trail this PLP government claimed they were ready to govern on Day 1, promising improved leadership and good governance. Most importantly, they promised to put you FIRST! Bahamians across the length and breadth of the country took the PLP at its word. You believed them when they promised to Believe in Bahamians. Unfortunately, those promises have become nothing more than a hollow, empty campaign slogan. 

In place of the good governance and economic prosperity we were promised, Bahamians have endured even MORE economic hardship under this Christie led administration. The anchor projects which he promised would provide jobs, and economic stability have yet to be seen, in fact development outside of New Providence has slowed to a near complete stop. In their Charter for Governance the PLP promised that on day one and within its first 100 days of governance, they would work to expand the economy, create jobs, and encourage entrepreneurial endeavors. That however, has not happened. After nearly three years of PLP governance, the country’s economy continues to struggle and Bahamians have instead been forced to witness the decimation of the country’s middle class; while government officials continue to spend tax payer funds wastefully on extravagant trips, poorly planned and poorly executed initiatives. 

Under this Government, the country’s national debt has exploded placing even further strain on the country’s economic growth prospects and widespread job cuts in several major sectors of our economy including banking are just some of the hallmarks of this administration’s term in office thus far. 

Now, in the face of such lackluster economic performance coupled with only marginal improvements in the country’s unemployment statistics, the government is preparing to increase the tax burden on struggling families. In less than 30 days, Value Added Tax will completely alter the country’s current tax system; a move which will immediately impact the local economy. Still, hundreds of Bahamian Business owners and citizens remain unclear about the finer details.

In less than 30 days, the price point on key goods and services including the already high cost of electricity will go up. While the cost of fuel on the global market continues to drop, reaching its lowest point since 2008, BEC customers have paid significantly more money on their electricity bills due to a rise in fuel surcharges; a reality which will only be further exacerbated by the implementation of VAT. These increases come sadly, on the heels of promises by government officials that customers in New Providence and around the country would see decreases in their power bills. It has become clear however, that this government is not the least bit concerned about saving Bahamians money on their electricity costs. Instead, public comments from government officials suggest that this administration is interested ONLY in how much MORE money they can make on the backs of struggling Bahamian families. 

Promises to introduce greener energy solutions have also ended in failure, as plans to introduce solar energy or other less fuel dependent energy sources have apparently been shelved by this government. In fact the corporation’s officials in October of this year dismissed any suggestions of providing concessions to residents who wish to invest in alternative energy.

While hundreds of families struggle to keep the lights on in their respective homes, thousands more continue to lose their homes to foreclosure. The government’s efforts at Mortgage Relief proved to be a dismal failure and in the months following the collapse of their initial plan, this administration has yet to present another working option leaving Bahamian families with little hope for the future.

Even as the country presses toward VAT’s January 1 deadline, questions remain. After years of failing to adequately collect the country’s current taxes, can this government be trusted to collect VAT and how will that money be spent? We have yet to be told. How will the average Bahamian fare? 

With less than 30 days to go before VAT implementation, this government has done a poor job of ensuring that the general population is ready and that the poorest and most vulnerable among us will not be further disenfranchised. At a time when many Bahamians are accustomed to celebrating the birth of Christ with merriment, parties and fanfare, mothers and fathers hoping to give their young children a Merry Christmas will find it even more difficult to provide meals much less purchase gifts.

The impending challenge to our nation’s economy is only one of several pressing issues now facing us. As we wait for lawmakers to find ways to encourage economic development, we also continue to grapple with the issue of crime. The Bahamas, with a small population of just fewer than 400 thousand people, has experienced crime at the levels of countries 3 times its size. The fear of crime continues to be of major concern for Bahamians especially here in New Providence. In recent weeks, newspaper headlines, television and radio reports have detailed the horrific instances of violent crime; from fatal home invasions, shootings in traffic and even the sexual assault and brutal killings of visitors to our shores and the killing of a police officer. With just weeks left in this year, the country’s murder count has already hit triple digits and is showing no sign of slowing down.

Indeed, the criminal element has affected most, if not all families around the country, my own included. This government, which campaigned and won the election by convincing Bahamians that they were prepared to govern on day one, has failed at every turn to bring any real solutions to country’s crime problem. The criminal element has become even more emboldened by the government’s inaction, targeting Bahamians of every socio-economic status including the daring home invasion at the residence of the Deputy Prime Minister and even the murder of the PM’s Press Secretary. The apparent inability of this administration to make the necessary changes to its legislative agenda on crime has also fueled undue speculation and criticisms of the commitment of the executive arm of the Royal Bahamas Police Force and has even called into question the country’s crime statistics. Meanwhile, the Ministers responsible for the country’s National Security have waffled between a position of combativeness and defensiveness to one of outright dismissiveness and insensitivity when questioned about their obvious failures in the fight against crime. The fight against crime in this country should involve more than just the purchase of new vehicles or short-term strategies. Until the government of the Bahamas moves to defend the rights of its people rather than enable the criminals among us, we will continue to live in paradise but be paralyzed by fear.

Add to the current criminal element, legislators and lawmakers who themselves fail to follow the law and what you have, is a nation on the verge of collapse. The past two and a half years have been filled with countless instances of unlawful behavior on the part of our political leaders. To date, scores of parliamentarians have failed to adhere to the laws on public disclosure. 

Several more government officials have found themselves at heart of conflicts of interest and instances of blatant corruption; yet, none have been brought to justice. After unlawfully signing a multi-million dollar letter of intent on behalf of the government, justice came slowly for former Parliamentary Secretary Renward Wells who initially refused to resign even though he admitted to signing the document. Meanwhile, it has been more than a year since the government wrapped an investigation into alleged impropriety at the National Insurance Board, and while evidence of wrongdoing was found, no criminal charges have been filed. Most recently, the media revelation about missing pharmaceuticals at the Princess Margaret Hospital has resulted in no arrests or prosecutions to date; this despite the millions of dollars the alleged operation cost the public treasury. 

As the country continues to wrestle with crime, the equally vexing problem of illegal immigration continues to be a boil on the heel of this nation’s move toward progress. In recent weeks, the issue was thrust back into the spotlight following the comments of a Bahamian national of Haitian decent. His comments exposed the feelings of frustration, anger, mistrust, and prejudice which have festered in both Bahamian and Haitian communities in this country for years; feelings which, if left unchecked, could spell catastrophe for our country. 

For far too long, successive governments have played a major role in allowing this issue to grow and intensify. We can no longer pretend that systemic corruption within the department of immigration which has manifested in the sale of passports and travel documents, the bribery of immigration officers, the over-charging of applicants and the general exploitation of the current system, has  directly contributed to the critical situation which now exists.

The issue of illegal immigration has for years placed a burden on the country’s already waning public resources creating additional problems within the public school system as well as the department of social services which in recent years has become overwhelmed by the number of persons needing government assistance.

Issues with illegal migration have also placed a significant strain on the country’s already deficient healthcare system. In the face of those deficiencies, the government has proposed upgrades to the country’s healthcare and the implementation of a National Health Insurance Plan. Unfortunately, as with so many other of its promised initiatives, this government has already failed to ensure that any such plans are properly planned, cost effective, and have been fully and comprehensively explained to Bahamians. So far, the government has been unable to offer a definitive cost analysis, despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on foreign consultants to ascertain that information. In a time when the government continues to bemoan the state of the country’s finances, how can they proceed with a plan that could cost the government millions which it does not have? In recent months, officials within this Christie government have conceded that the plan in its current form cannot and will not see full implementation by the 2016 launch date. Such behavior is indicative of the way this administration has handled the country’s affairs since coming to office and inspires NO CONFIDENCE in the ability of this government to successfully carry out its mandate. 

Yes my brothers and sisters the past several years have been difficult. This vessel of nationhood on which we are all passengers has seen its share of rough seas. Thankfully though, a lighthouse, a beacon of hope is visible in the distance and in a short time, Bahamians everywhere will be able to seek shelter in it. Unlike the governments of the past the Democratic National Alliance understands that Bahamians now, more than ever, require more than just political rhetoric. We offer no empty promises, just a commitment to Freedom of Information, transparency and good governance with a view to propelling this country into finer nationhood.

A DNA Government would move first to lower the national debt through a series of strategies which include the elimination of government waste and the reigning in of government spending. We further pledge to implement mechanisms which limit opportunities for governmental corruption – including giving authority, independence and power to the auditor general – while collecting outstanding government revenue in a way that is both efficient and cost effective there by limiting the need for the implementation of new and burdensome taxes. While the issue of tax reform is indeed an important one, such monumental changes to the current system cannot and must not take place in a vacuum. Instead, any such plans under a DNA administration, would seek the input of the private sector with a view to creating the best possible model for THIS country rather than adopting an ad hoc version of plans executed elsewhere in the world.

The diversification of the country’s economy will be critical to ensuring economic development in the future. Unlike previous administrations that have focused primarily on the foreign direct investments to sustain the economy, the DNA proposes a strategy that will empower domestic investors and make Bahamians owners of industry in their own country. The time has come for a government that will offer Bahamian investors the same level of concessions as is provided to foreign investors. Doing so will encourage such investments, create jobs, and strengthen the overall economic picture.

The creation of a stable economy under the DNA would also mean an in depth assessment of the country’s natural resources and the role they play in creating a sustainable economy. For far too long, such natural treasures, many of which are unique only to the Bahamas, have been mismanaged, sold off or destroyed. These resources however, hold great entrepreneurial potential for citizens of this country. Our geographic location and its archipelagic makeup give the Bahamas a unique advantage over many other countries in the region, with each island offering diverse and unique environmental experiences. Rather than simply selling off these natural treasures to the highest bidder, a responsible government – A DNA GOVERNMENT – would work not only to protect the delicate ecosystems which exist, but also enable Bahamians to become owners in an economy driven by a culture of environmental responsibility. 

That level of environmental responsibility would also oversee the introduction of alternative energy sources as means of lowering the overall cost of energy. In a modern day Bahamas and under a DNA government, Bahamians will have access to energy sources ranging from solar and wind to waste energy and bio-diesel. Such a move will lessen the burden on both business and residential customers and contribute to a decrease in the cost of living while bringing the country more in line with international standards on energy production and conservation.

My Fellow Bahamians…

Providing a sustainable economic development plan is important. Equally important however, is the protection of our people and our borders. As I have said before, it is the responsibility of a good government to ensure the protection and safety of its citizens. A DNA Government will work to do just that. Our current system of justice, which has consistently churned out more and more career criminals, MUST be OVERHAULED to address the shortfalls in the existing mechanisms of judiciary.

It should be noted, that crime is an issue that should NOT be politicized. It is not an issue that can be solved overnight. However, with a focused and sustained effort on the part of the legislative and judicial arms of government, its various agencies of law enforcement, and each individual citizen it CAN BE DONE! 

The war on crime must start with the process of holding each individual citizen and residents, regardless of their financial, social or political status ACCOUNTABLE TO THE LAW! This crime strategy will also include the execution of criminals who warrant it and rehabilitation of those who require it, while simultaneously working to close up loopholes within the law that are often easily exploited. In order for us to get a handle on the criminal element, we must PUNISH CRIMINALS! Our society cannot function properly if those who break the law continue to go unpunished. Under a DNA government one’s political or economic connections will NOT be a hall pass for wrongdoing. 

Similarly, on the issue of Illegal Migration to our shores, a DNA government is committed to ensuring that the laws of this country are enforced. As a former Minister of Immigration, I understand all too well the challenges associated with policing our porous borders. For too long the issue of illegal immigration has been politicized and emotionalized. The DNA proposes the creation of clear immigration policies moving forward to ensure that the dignities of our fellow men are not destroyed. The DNA recognizes the delicate and sensitive nature of this issue and pledges that in the process of upholding the laws of our sovereign nation, we will work to protect the country’s international reputation while sending a strong message to all wishing to live among us, to avail themselves of the LEGAL channels.

My Fellow Bahamians…

Over the last forty years, our country has grown leaps and bounds yes, but we have also had our share of growing pains as well. Both major political parties have in the past, been given an opportunity to Lead. You have trusted them time and time again with the future of our nation and future of generations of Bahamians yet unborn. Sadly, they have squandered the opportunity that we, the people have given them; an opportunity to bring about an era of change, and prosperity for our people and an opportunity to unite our chain of islands.

Yes, this ship the SS Bahama-land has seen its share of rough seas, but we are a strong and resilient people. We are a people who serve a God that continues to keep us even in the most trying of times, we are a nation of survivors. As we continue to chart our course to the future, the time has come for all us to look to the Lighthouse; a beacon of hope in the dark, guiding us safely to shore. 

The Democratic National Alliance is that lighthouse. As this year draws to a close, we must prepare to enter the New Year with a renewed sense of commitment, a firm resolve and a comprehensive plan to propel our nation forward. 

As we enter the yuletide season, I understand that the impending challenges may hinder many Bahamian families from enjoying the many Christmas traditions that have long been a part of our customary celebrations. Despite these challenges though, it is important that we as a people remember the reason for the season and use this as an opportunity to foster new feelings of unity, togetherness, and Christian love for one another. 

Now, more than ever we must become our brother’s keeper. Now more than ever we must become the protectors of our culture, and our values. Now more than ever we must seek to uplift and encourage the downtrodden among us. We must all take on leadership roles where they become available. Then and only then can we be sure that the future of the Bahamas becomes bright again. 

I encourage all of you, my fellow Bahamians to join with us as we set sail for 2017 and beyond. Until then, from my family to yours, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year for us all. May God bless you and God Bless The Bahamas. 

Branville McCartney 
DNA Leader

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Democratic National Alliance - Bahamas

The mission of The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) is to ensure that the needs and aspirations of Bahamian people - to be owners with the government in the political, cultural, and economic development of the nation - are met. The DNA is devoted to upholding, protecting, and deepening the democratic rule of law in society by promoting openness and accountability in governmental affairs, social justice and equality, and the right of the people to self-governance and authority in determining their own destiny.