In a number of days, we will draw the curtains on the current year. 2023 has been quite eventful and the ability of a small island nation like ours to generate non-stop news has been on full display. We highlight the good, the bad and the ugly of 2023.
2023 marked 50 years since The Bahamas attained independence and there was no shortage of fanfare, celebrations and parties. The organizing team must be applauded for their efforts and the success of the events celebrating this milestone for our nation. As a “born, bred and ga dead” Bahamian, the celebrations were a reminder of the ingenuity of our people. That being said, a full accounting of total taxpayers’ funds spent at home and abroad on the festivities should be provided in the spirit of transparency and accountability. To say that we have come a mighty long way as a country would be an understatement. In the midst of the celebrations and parties, the need to chart the course for the next 50 years must not be forgotten. We must build on the legacy and work done by those who came before us; planting proverbial trees to provide shade for the next generation.
Cost of Living
Bahamians across the country will remember 2023 as a year of high prices and inflation. They will recall a year that saw prices increase while their pay cheques remained the same or saw minimal increases to keep pace with the high cost of living. We saw our people struggle to make ends meet with high gas, electricity and grocery prices among others. Many looked to the government for some relief and the government pointed in the direction of global trends in inflation. The imposition of VAT on breadbasket items was felt by the masses and most vulnerable in society. Our people sought notable relief in taxes but received none.
The menace of crime continued to plague our nation in 2023. As of the writing of this piece, another homicide had just been reported and the total number of homicides for the year seems to have hit triple digits yet again. These are not statistics; they were our sons and daughters whose lives were cut short due to violent crimes. We also saw a disturbing pattern of violence against children and women with some attribution to domestic violence. Then there were the heartbreaking reports of child abuse and neglect which proved to be fatal in some instances. The horrifying accounts of what transpired in these cases warrant a deeper conversation and targeted responses to curb this ill in our society.
Arraignment of MPs
During the year, the nation watched with interest as one former and two current Members of Parliament were charged in connection to allegations of bribery, corruption, money laundering, rape, assault and threats of death. While these are high profile cases, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty applies to the MPs just as it does to every citizen of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. Nonetheless, the arraignments of individuals who were elected by the Bahamian people and entrusted with governance were some of the highlights of 2023.
The Ministry and Department of Immigration dominated the news for weeks during 2023. The swearing-in of Bahamian citizens during a funeral and directives relating to undocumented immigrants generated much discourse during the year. Then there were the leaked internal communications and the unceremonious removal of the Director of Immigration by the government. The removal of the Director was seen by the public as an act of victimization. Bahamians clamored for good governance legislation that provided avenues for whistleblowers and access to information which ensures that the government is held accountable.
The Reset – Proroguing and Shuffling
On Saturday, August 12, 2023, the prorogation of the previous parliamentary session was announced on the steps of the House of Assembly. This effectively wiped the parliamentary agenda clean and cleared the questions tabled by the Official Opposition paving the way for a new parliamentary session which commenced on October 4, 2023. The general public was left puzzled by this unusual move albeit it had been clear that the government was on the ropes with controversies and scandals surrounding its members. The keyword used to describe this unorthodox move by the Davis administration was “reset” which is often used when something is not working properly or as it ought to. The shuffling of the Cabinet and reallocation of ministerial portfolios was further evidence that the government knew it had to make changes with plummeting public confidence in the administration.
Obadiah H. Wilchcombe
We lost a native son of the soil, a patriot and servant of the people when Obadiah Hercules Wilchcombe transitioned from this world. Our nation was shocked and thrust into mourning on that fateful morning of September 25, 2023 when the news of his passing broke. The tributes and accolades that followed from all sides of the political divide are a testament to the true measure of the man fondly called Obie. The demise of this beloved MP triggered a by-election for the West Grand Bahama and Bimini seat – a PLP stronghold. The PLP held serve as its candidate the Hon. Kingsley Smith won the seat convincingly.
The PLP’s 55th Convention was held between November 9th and 11th, 2023 in the year that the Party commemorated 70 years since its establishment. What was supposed to be an occasion to reflect, celebrate and galvanize party faithful received media and social media attention for a different reason. The initial disagreements on the Party’s choice for the West Grand Bahama and Bimini seat boiled over into the race for chairmanship of the PLP. There is hardly anyone who would disagree with the notion that this race became ugly in the days and weeks leading up to the Convention with some mudslinging, innuendos and personal attacks on the candidates. The situation became so contentious and toxic that the Prime Minister and PLP Party Leader had to go against established protocol to take a side while stating that he did not support the other candidate. The PM’s choice prevailed by garnering 57% but with 43% voting against, it was apparent that some underlying issues remain.
The curious case of the current administration’s decision not to fully comply with the procurement legislation that they supported and voted for while in Opposition remained a nail-biter for many. Even more shocking was the admission by the Financial Secretary that following the law was a “work-in-progress”. In essence, we had a government that deliberately refused to follow the law that was passed in Parliament. The subsequent publication of an incomplete list of contracts issued since the current administration took office lent credence to the lack of commitment to transparency and accountability.
BPL stood alone in a category of its own and as a trending topic of discussion in 2023. In a year that has been described as one of the hottest (if not the hottest) in history, Bahamians suffered much with load shedding, unavailability of electricity and astronomical power bills. The significant increase in electricity costs was felt by both individuals and businesses alike. It was clear that the decision made by the current administration in relation to the continuation of the fuel hedge program contributed to the pain and suffering of consumers. The failure to move expeditiously towards renewable energy over the years also came to haunt us in 2023. The impact on the Family Islands was even worse and many went without power for weeks. It was not surprising that the Bahamian people were irritated by the finger-pointing and ramblings in the House of Assembly when all they wanted was an affordable and reliable power supply.
Bad Roads and Obstacle Courses
2023 was the year that the bad roads turned into obstacle courses for motorists and endangered the lives of many. While this has been a concern in years past, it was amplified and Bahamians complained daily about the negative impacts on their lives. The costs of broken axles and destroyed tires amidst the high cost of living were too much to bear for many. The creativity of our people was unleashed by this vexing issue, with memes showing conversions of potholes into pools and nurseries dominating social media. The new Minister of Works has promised to fix (and not patch) the deplorable roads and we are hopeful that better roads are ahead.
The FNM made the news for myriad reasons in 2023. As the Official Opposition Party, the party sought to fulfill its constitutional role of holding the governing party accountable to the Bahamian people. The FNM was sometimes distracted by internal conflicts spurred by a faction within the Party that didn’t seem to support the current leadership team. The FNM’s loss of the by-election for a PLP stronghold seat emboldened this faction to call for a convention presumably to challenge leadership. 2023 also saw the reemergence of former Prime Minister Ingraham and former FNM Leader Tommy Turnquest on the campaign trail in support of the Party.
There are other stories in 2023 that didn’t make the list due to space constraints. They include the hosting of CARIFTA and the Bahamas Games, the FTX saga and the government’s response, the EU blacklisting of The Bahamas, the awarding of contracts to party supporters, the IMF warning on the fiscal deficit, record tourism numbers with 8 million tourist and counting, issuance of taxi plates, the resignation of the PLP’s MP Petty as WSC Chairman, the collapse of roof or trusses at R.M. Bailey, unpaid government workers and the frequent travel miles accumulated by the government among others.
As we recap the year that was, we look forward to the year that awaits us. In the solitude of our personal thoughts, many of us can be honest enough to admit that there are still reasons to be thankful despite our challenges. While we celebrate during the yuletide season, let’s be kind and sensitive, remembering those in need and those who will go through the holiday season with an empty chair that was once occupied by someone they held dear. I wish you and yours a safe, healthy and happy holiday season.
Written by: Arinthia S. Komolafe