By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune News Editor
IN a 2009 tribute to Sir Clement Maynard, then Governor-general Sir Arthur Foulkes wrote that “politics, that most noble of professions, can sometimes, descend into something approaching savagery. And it seems that there is no greater fury in the political arena as when colleagues turn on each other”.
Sir Arthur’s words ring particularly true in the current state of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), a party that in recent weeks has used debate on the floor of Parliament to launch vitriolic attacks and personal insults at each another.
Indeed the government’s efforts to push bills through the House of Assembly which are meant to bring about a constitutional referendum and value added tax (VAT) – some of the most important pieces of legislation the Christie administration will bring in its five-year term – have been overshadowed by internal opposition to the bills and back-biting within its own party.
Prime Minister Perry Christie has not escaped the onslaught and has been caught off guard by attacks from two of his “new generation” MPs – Dr Andre Rollins and Greg Moss. Both have embarrassed the nation’s leader and exposed the glaring cracks within the governing party. At times, Dr Rollins and Mr Moss attacked the government on its policies more viciously than some members of the official opposition.
While many Cabinet ministers and other senior PLPs publicly lick the prime minister’s boots and sing his praises, Mr Moss and Dr Rollins have the audacity to hold the government’s feet to the fire, in the most public way possible, over the issues that many average Bahamians have complained about for a long time.
Both men have echoed calls from members of the public, urging the government to be accountable and to deliver on the myriad promises that helped the party win the last election.
ON THE OUTS
Perhaps the one who will suffer most for his dissent is Dr Rollins. His disagreement with the prime minister appeared to be more personal than Mr Moss’ statements. As he raked the government over the coals on a number of issues in the House on Wednesday, the Fort Charlotte MP appeared disgusted with the nation’s chief, even going so far as to say he is tired of hearing Mr Christie quote scripture in the lower chamber.
Free National Movement (FNM) Chairman Darron Cash was right when he said last week that Dr Rollins’ days in the PLP appear to be numbered.
After the Fort Charlotte MP lambasted Mr Christie, it was only a matter of time before the PLP knives would come out and draw political blood. Although members of the PLP have consistently said that the party welcomes opposing views and encourages free thinking, over the past few days many have hit out at Dr Rollins and are already appearing to ostracise him from the fold.
Keith Bell, minister of state for national security, on Friday dared his colleague to leave the PLP, urged him to resign from his seat and declared that he would challenge the Fort Charlotte MP for the constituency. He added that Dr Rollins only won his seat in the 2012 election because he was on the PLP ticket and said, “if the FNM and the DNA want him, they can have him.”
“The fact is that he has challenged the leadership of this political party, more importantly the honourable prime minister, who has gone beyond – far beyond – to bring him up, mould him and help him,” Mr Bell said. “The fact that he is able to say that the honourable prime minister has done a number of things, not only should he resign as chairman of the Gaming Board, but he should also resign as member of parliament for Fort Charlotte. And I challenge him. I challenge him for that seat.”
On Saturday Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald suggested that Dr Rollins’ recent actions may have carried him to the “point of no return” within the party. However, he said, it is up to Dr Rollins and the leaders of the PLP to decide if he stays in the party.
“I think it’s unfortunate,” the Marathon MP told reporters. “Mr Rollins is a bright young man, but I think like everything else in life you have to know where the line is and have to understand that once you cross that line, there is a point upon no return.
“There is a great mantra that before you can lead you need to follow and I don’t condone anyone talking to anyone in leadership in that manner. It would have been better if he would have exercised a bit more discretion. We have forums internally where people are very vocal internally behind closed doors, we don’t always agree and just because we don’t agree we don’t take it personally, but there is a place to voice those sort of concerns and that place is not in the House of Assembly.
And last week, Agriculture Minister V Alfred Gray suggested to The Nassau Guardian that Dr Rollins mishandled his dispute with Mr Christie. He too said that Dr Rollins is free to leave the PLP.
“I’m not sure what he’s trying to accomplish. But I’m sure there was a better way. He can always become an independent or even join the FNM. He’s free to do either of those things,” Mr Gray said.
Before his entry into the PLP, Dr Rollins made a name for himself as the outspoken leader of the now defunct National Development Party (NDP). Dr Rollins unsuccessfully vied for a seat on the NDP ticket in the 2010 Elizabeth by-election but made headlines by heavily criticising both major political parties and their policies.
It seems as if the PLP thought they would be better served with Dr Rollins as an ally than an enemy and quickly absorbed him into the party.
Dr Rollins joined the PLP in early 2011, just a year shy of the May 2012 general election. He was heralded as one of the “new generation” PLPs, a bright young man who, among others, would inject new blood into the party.
“We welcome Dr Rollins into our family as the PLP has always prided itself in having a big tent,” the party said in a statement released on February 16, 2011. “Andre’s decision to join us is evidence that the policies and ideology of the PLP has broad-based appeal and offers the best hope and option for the progressive future development of the Bahamas.
“Dr Rollins represents a cadre of young, well-educated, aggressive, energetic, brave and idealistic Bahamians prepared to choose public service at tremendous personal sacrifice and inconvenience. This level of patriotism is laudable and a shining example to many young Bahamians who yearn for a better Bahamas.”
At the time, the party also said that Dr Rollins had a promising future in the PLP due to his “knowledge, tenacity, vision and passion to build a better Bahamas.”
Since joining the party, and helping the PLP clinch the general election, Dr Rollins did not do as expected and fade into the background like a happy camper.
In November 2013, Dr Rollins took his first public swipe at the Christie administration when he hit out at the discriminatory elements of the draft Gaming Bill, which upheld the ban on Bahamians gambling in casinos.
For Dr Rollins, then Gaming Board chairman, it was a bold move.
The Tribune understands that Dr Rollins was chastised by senior members of his party for his stance, and warned that he was a newcomer to the party and better hold his tongue.
In June, during the 2014/2015 budget debate, Dr Rollins continued to unleash his fury at the government. He warned PLP “loyalists” that they are setting a “dangerous” precedent by criticising members of the party who express differing views from the party line.
In fact, Dr Rollins said such action could cause the public to believe, whether true or false, that the interest of the party exceeds the interest of the nation.
It is unclear if Dr Rollins will remain in the PLP now that his feelings for the leadership of the party have been made so clear.
The FNM and the DNA have both said they would welcome his entry to their respective sides.
But quickly abandoning one party for another will likely do more harm than good to Dr Rollins’ political stock.
“It will be interesting to see what he does,” said one political observer, who did not want to be named. “Rollins has to be very careful right now, you don’t want to get a reputation as standing for no principles. When he was in the NDP, the PLP and the FNM were the worst, when he went to the PLP, he criticized the FNM. His decision making will define what he is, whether he is principled or whether he is a political opportunist. If I were him, I would lay low. Andre can be much more of an instrument of change within the PLP than without.”
The observer said while Dr Rollins has carved out a niche for himself as a bold thinker, he has also drawn negative publicity due to his opposition to some of the constitutional amendment bills and using debate in the House of Assembly to assert his heterosexuality.
“Andre has had his moments but he is all over the place,” the observer continued. “He is kind of like Leslie Miller or Rodney Moncur, they are polarizing figures. These are people that people listen to, sometimes they make sense, sometimes they (don’t). It’s the same thing with Andre, now you can say that’s passion or that he is an uncontrolled loose cannon.”
The infighting within the PLP makes interesting fodder for gossip and sells newspapers. However, the internal tensions are enough to entertain and distract the public from the important issues at hand: the much-needed referendum on gender equality and VAT, the biggest overhaul of the country’s tax system that Bahamians have seen in decades.
Parliamentarians are expected to return to the controversial Constitutional Amendment Bills when the House of Assembly meets today.
Hopefully the government can get its house in order, so that it its cat-fighting does not distract from the important issues.
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