It is often a cliché to speak of a crisis of leadership in the political arena, a claim made by ancients and moderns alike.
And yet, at the start of 2013 and approaching the fortieth anniversary of independence, we are beset by arguably the weakest and most incapable leadership at the helm of the major political parties since 1973.
This is not an argument for a third party, especially as none of the current groupings offer much by way of leadership.
Hands down, the governing Progressive Liberal Party is now led by the most lacklustre and unimpressive prime minister in an independent Bahamas. At the end of last year, Perry Christie was again entertaining audiences with his signature Junkanoo shuffle.
The Christie shuffle is characterized by a frenzy of activity of limited duration, a fit of ersatz passion and performance art, and gyrating in place, giving the appearance of motion. It is a fitting metaphor of his prime ministership since his return to office last May: Plenty activity but little forward motion.
At least Christie is able to project the illusion of leadership, much as the Wizard of Oz projected the illusion of omnipotence, at least for a spell.
For his part, Dr. Hubert Minnis is unable to disguise that he holds the joint distinction as the most unimpressive Leader of the Opposition and as the least capable Leader of the Free National Movement.
Christie is adept at speaking extemporaneously, at length, using a torrent of words, when just a few carefully chosen ones will do. Had Christie given the Gettysburg Address instead of Abraham Lincoln, the US Civil War may still be raging and undecided, waiting for Christie to mercifully declare, “In conclusion ...”
Dr. Minnis displays the locution of circumlocution. His New Year’s Address seemed like a practice run, not ready for prime time. In content and delivery it was like watching the president of a high school student council offer his thoughts on national issues. Not bad for a senior, but for the Leader of the Opposition it failed to meet the grade.
Consider this passage:
“In 2012, many projects and buildings started to take shape and form amongst (sic) the architectural landscape of our great nation. One such project was the ground breaking (sic) of the new wing at the Princess Margaret Hospital, which will, in time, help to bridge the divide and usher in e-health which through technology will create One Bahamas, where key elements of healthcare services are delivered via technology throughout our archipelago.”
Besides the obvious errors, the tautological twists are like a grammatical maze from which there is no escape. Exactly what divide is being bridged? Haven’t various telemedicine initiatives already ushered in e-health? Doesn’t the very term e-health imply technology, brought to you today by the letter E.
The passage captures Minnis’ thought process and public communications: One is never exactly sure what he is saying, nor sure that he understands what he is trying to say.
Then there was this:
“My fellow Bahamians, for our country to move forward, we must learn from our past. For our country to steer upward we must channel outward, for our country to continue onward we must work together.”
Even providing room for poetic licence, how does a country steer upward? And, what exactly is channelling outward look like? Are we swimming, or in a canoe, or at a séance? Sadly, the attempt to “channel” the national motto spun out of control, crashing before take-off.
When Moody’s downgraded the sovereign credit rating for The Bahamas towards the end of 2012, Christie responded with his usual trifecta of bluster, babble and blather. There is at least one other ‘b’, but this is a family newspaper.
Then there was the inept and incoherent response of the Leader of the Opposition, who repeatedly stated that the downgrade had something to do with “e-x-p-e-n-d-i-t-u-r-e”. How extraordinary. One can only imagine how impressed were foreign governments, Moody’s and analysts of the International Monetary Fund by this groundbreaking insight.
This is standard fare when Minnis is asked to respond to a policy question absent his advisers or a crib sheet with ready answers. Usually, one has the impression that asking him a basic question of policy is akin to asking a non-English speaker a basic rule of English grammar or the meaning of a saying like, “Out to lunch.”
There is another saying of which readers may be familiar. The comedian Rodney Dangerfield often quipped with exaggerated gestures, “I don't get no respect!” Christie must know well the feeling. Within the space of mere weeks several of his colleagues showed him little respect “as prime minister”.
Following the Moody’s downgrade, Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis said that despite the downgrade there would be no need for new taxes. Was he authorized to say that by cabinet and by the Minister of Finance? Given the state of public finances various tax increases may be inevitable.
If the junior minister is wrong in his policy assessment, it speaks to the dysfunction at the heart of a freewheeling government in which Christie is mostly, yet again, a ceremonial prime minister. Apparently, anybody is free to say whatever they want under a system of individual and collective irresponsibility that is a Christie administration.
In the US, the inability of the Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner to marshal his caucus, has led to his designation as SINO or Speaker-in-Name-Only. Christie has become PMINO or Prime-Minister-in-Name-Only.
When it came time to deliver a national address on the referendum questions, PMINO was in the dark. Asked at Junkanoo about the address that Minister of National Security Dr. B. J. Nottage was set to give on the matter, Christie was surprised, pleasantly so, basically saying, oh, good for him.
Not only should Christie have given the address; he seemed out of the loop on an address of national importance by one of his ministers. One sincerely wishes that at least the powers that be allowed him to see a copy.
Speaking of national addresses, at least Dr. Minnis was able to deliver a new year’s address, despite its, charitably, uneven content and halting delivery. Christie seems incapable of such foresight and discipline.
Then there is the diss and lack of respect shown to Christie by the little known political novice Gregory Moss, MP for Marco City, and former NIB Chairman, who has wounded and embarrassed his prime minister with scathing effect.
Yet, soon after his dismissal, there was Christie bragging that all is basically hunky-dory and that Moss has such a great future. Christie even remembered that he was smiling in a picture taken with Moss at a restaurant in Grand Bahama following the blowout.
Why the accolades and love-in with Moss following such rancour? Is there more to the story? Is there a National Insurance-Gate in the offing? Time may tell. But what is clear now, is that Christie’s colleagues show scant respect for his authority.
These include party Chairman Bradley Roberts and the Chairman of the Gaming Commission Dr. Andre Rollins who have likewise embarrassed Christie with statements related to the gaming referendum.
Over in the FNM, with each session of the House of Assembly, increasing numbers of FNMs and others are concluding that Dr. Minnis is completely in over his head and incapable of truly challenging a weak, incompetent and dysfunctional government.
Perry Christie is a lacklustre prime minister. That Hubert Minnis is unable to parlay this into political success speaks even more to his weaknesses and ineptitude as Leader of the Opposition.