The performances of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are severely wanting on the range of issues related to gambling. Perry Christie’s performance has been abysmal. Dr. Hubert Minnis has been wrong-footed, wobbly and confusing.
Most pronouncements by the government and the opposition respectively have generally proven to be rambling, inconsistent and curiously unreflective, with some exceptions. Thankfully, the debate has been joined by others who have raised critical issues and common concerns.
Two of these are the Anglican and Roman Catholic prelates, both of whom issued pastoral reflections. The latter word is key, as the respective documents were decidedly more reflective, well-researched and deliberative than the hastily concocted announcements by the PLP and the FNM.
This is unsettling as it is the obligation of the government and the opposition to present to the public, policy ideas and the philosophy informing their views on the many issues relative of gambling.
The leadership of both parties bear responsibility for the embarrassing and inexcusable failure to address in a more detailed and thoughtful manner the array of issues related to legalizing gambling. Still, Christie and Minnis bear a particular responsibility.
The roll-out of the government’s web cafe referendum, driven mostly by Christie, ran into a storm of opposition coalescing into a super storm seemingly as quickly as Hurricane Sandy made up its mind and took aim at The Bahamas and the US with dedicated fury.
Battered by a torrent of criticism, questions, and a looming loss, the government postponed the referendum, and added a question. Still, it continues its march of folly, rescheduling a vote for January 28 of next year.
Christie’s mad dash to hold a gambling referendum is beyond curious. He has failed still to explain the rush in sensible or convincing terms. Given the breadth of issues to be considered, even as a prelude to a vote, a responsible government would allow for a more extensive process inclusive of greater study, public information and discussion.
One only has to look at the Prime Minister’s roller coaster of endless mistakes, thus far, to appreciate that we are nowhere near ready for a vote. Christie appointed a second constitutional commission to review possible amendments to the constitution. The first commission of his previous term met, issued a report, then nothing happened.
Given the multifaceted nature of gambling, including the various types of gambling, the government might have appointed a commission to comprehensively study the topic. Apparently, the listening Prime Minister has plugged his ears on this particular issue.
Meanwhile, late in the debate, the opposition proposed such a commission. Unfortunately, by the time this announcement was made, the Leader of the Opposition had already made a hash of things.
Soon after the general election, Dr. Minnis announced that he would vote for legalized gambling, even though the government had yet to announce the question(s) to be formulated and put to voters.
Even a greenhorn politico likely would not have made the mistake of showing his opponents the cards in his hands. One can imagine the glee in the PLP over Minnis’ amateur hour.
As it appears that Minnis failed to consult widely with his colleagues before making such an impulsive statement, he signalled early that collegiality may not be his preferred leadership style.
But a greater and glaring mistake was the failure to appoint considerably earlier, a study group within the FNM to consider policy ideas on gambling. Indeed, the country and the opposition knew for some time the government’s intention to hold a referendum on gambling. Why was Dr. Minnis so lax, laid-back and late in appointing such a group?
The maxim, “Chance favors the prepared mind”, clearly eluded Minnis on the gambling issue. When the Christie administration fumbled and stumbled on the issue, neither Minnis’ mind nor that of the FNM were prepared to quickly, aggressively and coherently seize the moment politically and policy-wise.
With the government at its most vulnerable since May 7, and Christie flip-flopping from one position du jour to the next, the opposition enjoyed a potential winning suit if it played its hand steadily and diligently.
Alas, even after realizing that one’s opponents are playing a bad hand, and that your hand is improving with every deal of the cards, some people are not gifted with the quality of strategic thinking required to take advantage of the political poker required of successful leaders.
While the Opposition Leader did not display the Christie flip-flop, he performed what might be termed the Minnis zigzag. At a press conference, he muddled through a statement which advised Bahamians that if they don’t know the answers to various referendum-related questions they should vote no.
Pressed as to whether the Opposition was proposing a no vote, Minnis bobbed and weaved, much to the bemusement and amusement of various reporters who found his performance weak and lacking in clarity. An obvious rejoinder to Minnis’ statement: If and when voters are satisfied with various answers, should they vote yes?
Coupled with his tentativeness and rocky performance, Minnis’ zigzagging has seen him call at first for a postponement of the referendum, and now for a halt and the appointment of a commission to study gambling, contradictory positions satirized in Sideburns in this journal last Wednesday.
That edition of the Nassau Guardian contained even worse news for Dr. Minnis. Mistakes are made in every field from politics to journalism. Still, given the nature of their crafts, politicians and journalists have a particular responsibility to get the facts straight, especially easily-verifiable facts.
On Monday of last week, Dr. Minnis stated that the UK-based firm Dixon, Wilson & Co. lacked gaming expertise. Having been pounced on for weeks, Christie saw an opening, quickly counterpunching, landing a direct blow on Minnis, suggesting that the latter failed to properly research the point.
The blaring headline, “PM questions Minnis’ qualifications to lead”, was also intended as political mischief by Christie. Still, it spoke to the lingering and mounting concerns of voters and party members about Minnis’ rocky performance as leader, grasp of policy, and electability.
Many wonder how such a basic error could be made. Christie rubbed it in: “What’s so shocking is he’s (Minnis) been a minister of the government. And this group has been retained by his government ...” Christie’s intention was to make Minnis seem incompetent, not ready for the main stage. This was bad enough.
That same day in the House, Minnis doubled-down on his error, stating that an individual the government utilized no longer worked with Dixon, Wilson & Co. The PLP pounced again, noting that the gentleman in question serves as a consultant for the firm.
Such compounded errors reflect poorly on the opposition, making it appear amateurish. Dr. Minnis cannot afford many more mistakes such as these. The Leader of the Opposition must demonstrate that he possesses the wherewithal to delve competently and confidently into matters of policy. He must demonstrate also the ability to think on his feet in front of reporters and on the floor of the House.
Thus far, his performance and steadiness in these arenas has not inspired confidence. Moreover, as he is the leading voice of the party’s philosophy, principles and policies, he must articulate a coherent and thoughtful message, both in terms of language and presentation.
In the House last week, freshman opposition MPs, Theo Neilly (North Eleuthera) and Peter Turnquest (East Grand Bahama) proved articulate in terms of substance and presentation. Others may wish to follow their lead.
As for Christie and Minnis, surely they can cause to be produced position papers and policy speeches that begin to match the substance of the reflections of Bishop Boyd and Archbishop Pinder.
These clerics seem to better appreciate the need to reflect and inquire of matters of public policy in the method and admonition of a noted scholar: “attentively, intelligently, reasonably, and responsibly.”