Your Excellency, the Governor-General and Mrs. Smith;
The First Lady, my wife Ann-Marie;
Deputy Prime Minister I Chester Cooper & Mrs. Cooper;
Honourable and Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Over the past few days, I have spoken in earnest about my intention to lead an administration that works in partnership with the Bahamian people.
For me and my colleagues, the concept of ‘Servant-Leadership’ is not just an idea.
We want to transform governance in our country and make ‘Servant-Leadership’ a living, breathing reality.
I shall say more about this at a later date, but for now, I wish underscore the fact that an essential component of ‘Servant-Leadership’ is the need to work together: to consult, to consider, to understand and to action the ‘will of the people’.
We have all seen how the rule by one man has damaged our country.
We will not make that mistake, and will do everything possible to work in the best interests of the Bahamian people.
And so today, as we welcome into post, the seven Parliamentary Secretaries who have just been sworn in, I want to take the opportunity to expand a little on the broad reasoning and rationale behind the Cabinet appointments.
Our country is in crisis.
These challenges are unprecedented in scale and scope, in breadth and depth.
Experience in government has taught me how easy it is to get caught up dealing with what is urgent, because of the need to address the day-to-day priorities.
The result is that, if you are competent, you just solve the present problems.
In our present situation, doing just this will be no easy feat.
But in solving the day-to-day problems, the bigger things are left undone
Our mandate is bigger than that.
The Bahamian people voted for change: big change, transformational change.
Unlike the previous administration, we intend to keep our promises.
This requires work.
This requires effort.
And if you are determined to get things done, first of all you need to make sure you have a team in place that is heavily focussed on the things you wish to get done.
This is why in my remarks yesterday, I alluded to the need to put ‘all hands on deck’.
Afterwards, members of the press queried the need for the size of cabinet that I have appointed.
It made me realise that I needed to spell out in greater detail, exactly what the job of this Cabinet will be.
Put briefly: the challenges are multi-faceted and multi-layered.
And the opportunities we intend to create are great.
Let me explain.
For example: when we talk of the health crisis, getting on top of the Covid-19 pandemic is the most urgent, most obvious issue.
Every country in the world has encountered challenges, but the previous administration failed miserably, which is why The Bahamas was consistently ranked at the bottom of the global league tables: 179th out of 180 countries, for the government’s handling or mishandling of the pandemic.
We urgently have to fix this, and implementing our Covid Action Plan alone could take all of the Minister’s attention.
But there is so much more that needs urgent attention: the collapse of the healthcare system; the collapse of the Rand Memorial Hospital in Grand Bahama; the non-functioning clinics throughout our islands; the shortage of doctors and nurses; the exhaustion and complete demoralisation of all healthcare workers that led them to strike recently – and the list goes on.
These are not the usual problems of an incoming Minister of Health.
If we are to solve these problems, and yet still, expand opportunities by getting NHI back on track, build new hospitals, expand medical tourism and so on, it will take determined effort.
And we go even further: if we are to succeed in our wellness programme, and support the many Bahamians who are struggling with mental health issues, many arising from the catastrophe of Dorian and the pandemic – if we are to succeed in this programme, it needs focussed attention.
Let me give another example.
We currently face a desperate crisis in housing in our Bahamas.
And virtually nothing was done to address it during the past 4 1/2 years.
What does this mean for governance?
There has been a sharp rise in homelessness, which means that Social Services needs to more actively and better support those who are affected.
It is not good enough to offer people shelter for just a week.
So we need to increase the stock of temporary and permanent housing.
This falls under both the Ministries of Housing and the Environment.
Thousands of people still struggle with rents and mortgages, so there are the issues of affordability to deal with.
Many people are still living in their cars, in tents, and in sub-standard accommodation.
Others are living in very crowded conditions with relatives or friends.
I am deeply concerned about the loss of dignity, and the loss of a sense of security that comes with living in this way.
When you think of the impacts on health and education that go with living in such conditions, then you begin to really appreciate what our administration has to deal with.
On top of all these present crises, longer term, we need to ensure that our housing needs are adequate to meet the estimated growth in population.
And we need to ensure that our housing stock is sufficiently resilient to withstand the future impacts from climate change, with the anticipated increase in number and frequency of hurricanes, and the rise in sea levels that come with it.
As I have said on many occasions, we do not flinch from these challenges: we are prepared to face them head on.
But we need the resource, especially the human resource to do it.
Then think, really think about the other challenges: in education, about the state of our crumbling infrastructure with the roads, with BPL, with water and sewerage; and this is before any mention of the state of the public finances. Remember the $10 billion in debt? $10 BILLION DOLLARS IN DEBT? We need to rescue our economy from the edge of this fiscal cliff.
If we are to address these many crises, while at the same time creating the opportunities and implementing the fundamental change that we have been mandated to by the Bahamian people, then I say again: WE NEED ALL HANDS ON DECK!
And so I turn now to today’s appointments of parliamentary secretaries.
Around the Commonwealth, Parliamentary Secretaries undertake important functions, supporting the work of their Ministers, especially in parliament.
We have made substantial promises in our intention to be open and transparent, and to be held accountable.
And so we have to also take seriously how we ensure that parliament functions well, so that our democracy can continue to develop and thrive.
To support the work of the Minister of Agriculture, I have appointed MR. LEONARDO LIGHTBOURNE. His strong track record as a successful entrepreneur will help to support our efforts, especially in respect of enhancing food security.
To support the work in the Office Of The Prime Minister, I have appointed MR. LEON LUNDY. His experience as an accountant, in the hospitality industry, and in community development, will help to ensure that our initiatives have impact on the ground, helping the very people they are meant to benefit.
To help address the specific needs of the people of Abaco, which is still suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, I have appointed MR. KIRK CORNISH. His practical experience of the national infrastructure gained through his work with the Water & Sewerage Corporation, will support our work in helping to rebuild the communities of Abaco.
I have already referred to the enormous challenges we face in dealing with the economy. And so to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, I have appointed MR. WAYDE WATSON. His wealth of knowledge and experience in technology and in the community will tremendously enhance the operation of the Ministry.
As we move to resume our engagement internationally, seek out opportunities to help grow our economy, and benefit from global support around climate change, I have appointed MR. JAMAHL STRACHAN to support the work of the Minster of Foreign Affairs. Given his professional experience within that ministry at the consular level, he will be able to provide immediate practical support to this portfolio.
As tourism returns, and our investment climate improves, we do not intend merely to back to the way things were done before. It is clear that the old ways no longer work for the vast majority of ordinary Bahamians. And so, to support the work of the Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation, I have appointed MR. JOHN PINDER.
The portfolio of the Ministry of Works & Utilities is broad and expansive, much of it impacting the day-to-day lives of the Bahamian people. Because of his first-hand knowledge, expertise and experience of working for BPL, to serve in this Ministry I have appointed MR. BACCHUS ROLLE.
I have every confidence that each of these appointments will serve the Bahamian people faithfully and well, and help to bring about that New Day we have promised.
As we go forward, I ask you to continue to pray that we may succeed in all that we do on behalf of and for the benefit of the Bahamian people.
May God continue to bless us all, and bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.