The seismic crashing sound Bahamians heard over the past fortnight or so was the collapse of what was the already fractured and waning credibility of the Christie administration less than two years into its mandate.
The thunderous crash was followed by laughter and mocking by a mass chorus of Bahamians unable to contain their disbelief and derision following Prime Minister Perry Christie’s convenient regret at having called a referendum cum poll on regulating the numbers business and his failure to fulfil his promise to regain a majority interest in BTC for the Government of The Bahamas.
There is a direct line running between the referendum debacle to the BTC charade. They are both spectacular failures of policy and politics for Christie and the PLP, built on a Mount Everest of failures by a government in freefall.
With the gambling referendum Christie wasted time, energy and perhaps millions. He wasted perhaps even more time and energy trying to renegotiate a deal that was largely “irreversible” as former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham had advised.
Christie’s undisciplined talk on the gambling referendum and his overpromising on BTC landed him into a Rubik’s cube of confusion, none of which he was able to set straight no matter how many combinations he tried. Yet he will keep on talking himself into promises that he will never be able to keep.
Christie is the un-King Midas, the latter famed for his golden touch while, for his part, most things that the former promises or touches amounts to fool’s gold and failure which he seeks to explain away through what a commentator once described as articulate incompetence.
Articulate incompetence may be defined as promising something, failing to deliver on the promise, then articulating in often overwrought and flowery language the reasons for the failure, with no apology for having failed, all the while remaking the same promise in a never-ending cycle of so said, never done. See for example: National Health Insurance.
The litany of failure is staggering: The failure of the numbers referendum, the failure of the BTC deal, the failure to double the national investment in education, the failure to create 10,000 new jobs in the first year in office, the failure of a mortgage relief program, the failure to have introduced NHI, the failure to stem crime despite all manner of promises, and the list goes on and on.
Such monumental failure serves as backdrop as to why the BTC deal is being spun as a win-win, a laughable charade, wrapped in a cliché, inside a farce, akin to a fisherman seeking to distract from his rotting fish by lighting candles or burning incense to distract from the malodorous catch he’s been unable to sell. Having sold you a bill or kit of “fishy” goods, the fisherman cleverly gloats that it’s a win-win.
One commentator, often in sync with the party line, mocked the PLP’s newfound love of Cable & Wireless, opining that Olivia Pope must have been involved in packaging the BTC deal.
Pope, a fictional character on the TV series Scandal, “is a crisis manager ... dedicated to fixing problems and crises; protecting and guarding public images and reputations ... ”
No matter whoever may have served as a sort of Olivia Pope to help spin this mostly public relations deal, the PLP took a chapter from the playbook of the real life Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush’s spin master.
One lesson from that playbook: Never or rarely concede a fiction or talking point regardless of the facts, a variation of why let the facts spoil a good storyline.
So it was in a display of machismo and bravado that Bush flew onto the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003. Later that day, he delivered a nationally televised address boasting of the cessation of major combat operations in Iraq under a huge banner declaring, “Mission Accomplished”.
“The vast majority of casualties, both military and civilian, occurred after the speech” with scores more of Iraqis and US personnel wounded and handicapped and trillions spent in the conflict.
Christie had his own Mission Accomplished moment last week. With most of his cabinet lined up behind him amidst a swooning early Valentine’s Day love-in with C&W executives, as well as the PLP’s big guns set to spin, spin and spin some more, Christie announced in the Cabinet Room a “historic deal” on BTC.
This was a historic moment, but not for the reason Christie might wish Bahamians to believe. It was historic as a piece of grand political theatre that will enter the history books as a masquerade and monumental failure by the government, a failure that will help to define Christie’s legacy.
The government said that it paid nothing for what they got in the new BTC deal. That is most fitting as it got little to next to nothing more than the original deal.
Never mind the doublespeak, the technical gobbledygook, the evasions, the farcical spin, the bluster; Christie failed to achieve what he emphatically promised in a statement at Gambier House on March 27, 2011:
“I renew the pledge here this afternoon that when we become the government again, the PLP will regain the majority shareholding of BTC and return its control to the Bahamian people.”
Today, C&W remains the majority shareholder and in control of BTC. Those are the facts, no matter the government’s attempts at artful dodging, obfuscation and smoke-and-mirrors, a term referring to “where magicians make objects appear or disappear by extending or retracting mirrors amid a distracting burst of smoke.”
Recall the harsh language and insults Christie and others hurled at the deal with C&W, some calling the company unworthy, one of the nicer words used. Now they claim they never wanted management control and that C&W are so wonderful.
The notion that the PLP is making the best of the FNM’s deal is a canard. They have basically ratified what the Ingraham administrated negotiated.
After returning to office Christie indicated that they would not go ahead with the FNM’s plan to sell nine percent of BTC shares to Bahamians. Now the government has flip-flopped, saying that it will, yet another ratification.
There was the spectacle of Christie and a coterie of wizardly advisers, including Franklyn Wilson, having to so spectacularly backtrack with a new shuffle cum song-and-dance after some demonized C&W in the strongest possible terms.
In terms of the new BTC Foundation is it the case that though the government may create the Foundation that the shares remain the property of and in the name of C&W, even though the proceeds from the almost two percent of the shares are used for Bahamian community projects?
When the Foundation is created the public should be allowed to see the terms and conditions or articles of incorporation, whichever is pertinent.
It wasn’t only FNMs who mocked what Christie had for some weeks prior bragged of as a “big” announcement that turned out to be a minor or small accomplishment after all.
Embarrassing for the government was the scorn poured on the illusion of a “big” deal by nonaligned voters, by union officials, by PLPs, by the media, by commentators, by the business community, by those who believed the PLP’s propaganda of getting back BTC – basically by the nation at large.
There is a classic aphorism of what a dictator fears most: A drunk stumbling out of pub with a quip that shatters the pretensions of the dictator.
Likewise, in a democracy: Politicians fear mockery, the type of humor that penetrates thick skins, armor and veils, revealing the gaps and gulfs between what a politician claims and what people see or experience.
Such a shattering and historic moment for the Christie administration arrived last week, when, with giggles to guffaws, and titters and snickers to howls, Bahamians generally laughed at the claims made by the government of the BTC deal.
To a person, the interviews in the street on the ZNS evening television newscast following the “big” announcement were damning
One man jokingly referred to the prime minister with the words, “illustrious”, “grandiloquent”, “superlative”, mirroring a man appearing in a clip on Facebook using a similar string of adjectives to describe Christie. The man wore a PLP election t-shirt with a big X crossing out the words “Believe in The Bahamas”.
At an Elizabeth by-election rally on January 19, 2010, PLP candidate Ryan Pinder began his address by acknowledging: “My Party Leader the Right Honourable Perry Gladstone Christie, the most productive, competent, effective and serious Prime Minister in the Caribbean since Sir Lynden Pindling.”
It was funny then. Sadly, it is even more laughable now.