April 4th, 2002

It is an army clothed in the armour of a righteous cause.  It wears upon its head the helmet of integrity and it holds its head high.  Its eyes shine with sincerity of purpose and a vision of greatness.  It clutches in its left hand the sword of social justice and in its right the scepter of truth.  It is a vast and mighty army.  It is the army of the Progressive Liberal Party. And tonight it is on the move!

I come before you tonight as the Supreme Commander of that army.  And I charge you all to be of good courage for the battle is upon us!  The campaign has officially now begun!

For the next Eight and Twenty days, with a fresh wind blowing at our backs, we will fly on the wings of impending victory from one end of our country to the next, delivering our message of hope; delivering our promise of a glorious new beginning for our country; and delivering our pledge to build a brighter tomorrow for all Bahamians.

So tonight I want to send out a message that will sound to the outer reaches of our Commonwealth.

Inagua and Mayaguana! Acklins & Crooked Island! Exuma, San Salvador and Cat Island!  Hold on tight! Hold on for just a little longer! Help is on the way!  North & South Eleuthera! Harbour Island and Spanish Wells!  Hold on tight! Hold on for just a little longer!  Help is on the way!

North & South Andros, Bimini and the Berries, Grand Bahama and Abaco!  Hold on tight!  Hold on for just a little longer! Help is on the way!

New Providence! From Adelaide to Yamacraw, from North to South, from East to West!  Hold on tight! Hold on for just a little longer!  Help is on the way!

But there are some, you know, who do not think that our people are need of any help at all.  From where they sit - in their mansions high up on a hill - everything looks rosy and bright.  From where they sit, in the comfort of their own arrogance, they think that everybody in this country has it made in the shade.   And so they puff out their chests and go bragging all over the country about what a wonderful life they have created for the Bahamian people.  You hear it every time you turn on your radio.  You see it every time you turn on ZNS TV.  You read about it every time you pick up the newspaper.

But it makes me realize that The Bahamas those people see is not the country most of us see.

I see thousands of Bahamians living in barricaded homes, too fearful to go to sleep and too afraid to come out because of the terror and mayhem that engulf their communities.

I see the slaughter of the innocents.  I see a 7 year old boy who comes home from school one day and is blasted into eternity from the barrel of a shotgun while he sleeps.

Tommy T. may not see it but I see children who are afraid to go to school because of the violence that stalks their playgrounds or lies in wait for them on the way home.

I see hundreds of young men who have given up on hope and given in to guns.

I see hundreds of young men and women who have given up on hope and given in to dope.

I see violent crime out of control in our cities, in our neighbourhoods and increasingly in our homes.  Lives are being snuffed out. Limbs are being mangled.  Nerves are being frayed.  Tensions are exploding into violence, increasingly against loved ones. And fears are intensifying as never before.

I look around and see that drug trafficking is back in full force.  I see drug gangs engaged in tit-for-tat gangland-slayings that have sent the murder-rate sky-high.  Instead of going around telling nasty, dirty lies on me and my Party, Tommy T. the FNM should be focusing their attention on stamping out drug-related violence and combating the increasing flow of illicit drugs.

And they around here bragging about all the good they did?

Well, no Government anywhere in the world has the right to brag about anything if it fails to deliver on the most fundamental need that every individual and every family has: the need to feel safe and secure in your own home and on your own streets and on your own job.   If you can’t deliver that, if you can’t provide safety and security and peace of mind, you can have no bragging rights about anything else.

But that’s not all I see that’s different from what Tommy T and the FNM see.

I see illegal immigration out of control, threatening the social stability and future of our nation.

I see thousands of school children in overcrowded classrooms being taught by frustrated, underpaid teachers.

I see hundreds of young girls who have given up on hope and given into pregnancy.

I see industrial unrest threatening to burst wide open.  I see workers who are angry and fearful; workers who feel oppressed; workers who feel that they are being beaten down and beaten back; workers who feel that their pleas for justice in the work place fall on the ears of a Government that is both deaf and dumb.

I see the frustration of underpaid Police and Defence Force Officers who put their lives on the line for us every day but who can never get any attention from the Government except at election time when it is too little too late.

But that is not all I see that Tommy Turnquest in his mansion on the hill cannot see.

He is up and down bragging about how prosperous Bahamians have become under the FNM.

He can say that because he does not see the Bahamians in distress and in want I see every day.

I see far too many Bahamian families still struggling to make ends meet.

I see hundreds of school children who still go to school without lunch or to bed without supper.

I see old-age pensioners still waiting in long lines to collect pensions that are too little to live on.

I see too many families who still have to fry fish and conch-fritters out on Montague Bay to raise money for major surgery because there is no National Health Insurance system to help them out.

I look around and see too many low-income families still living in slums or renting sub-standard apartments because the Government’s Housing Programme has let them down.

But that’s not all I see that Tommy T. doesn’t see from his mansion high up on the hill.

I see family island communities that are dying from economic starvation.  Mayaguana, Acklins & Crooked Island, West End and East End Grand Bahama, and South Andros are economically deader than a doornail.  The list of neglected Family Islands goes on and on.   Eleuthera, in particular, needs special mention once again.  The economy of mainland Eleuthera is no longer endangered; under the FNM it has become extinct.  Every single resort in the South, in Central, and in the North of Eleuthera is now closed and the workers sent home.  Unemployment in South Eleuthera alone is now at 90%.

And this is the economic prosperity Tommy T. is bragging about that?

But that’s not all I see that Tommy T. cannot see from his lap of luxury in his mansion high up on the hill.

I see mothers and fathers who go for a Sunday drive along the coast and worry whether there will be any more beaches left for their children to go to when they grow up.

I see young Bahamian professionals who are making decent salaries but for whom the price of land to build a nice home has been driven up beyond their reach.

I see young Bahamian professionals in the financial services and tourism sectors who see their ambitions for upward mobility shriveling up because the FNM Government of Tommy T. is still handing work permits out like candy – giving away jobs that young Bahamian professionals have been educated and trained for but simply cannot get because of a Government that has no faith in their ability to climb the ladder to the top.

I see young Bahamian bankers and financial service specialists; I see trust officers and secretaries and clerks and messengers who have lost their jobs or are in great fear of losing their jobs in offshore banks and trust companies. And why?  Because the FNM Government panicked when the FATF and the OECD put a gun to their head and told them where to sign.

Just like they did with the referendum, the FNM Government rushed through a whole bunch of new laws that took us further than we had to go – and it scared away good, solid, perfectly legitimate business to places like Switzerland.  And when these institutions left, the Bahamians who worked for them found themselves jobless on the street, with no money to meet their mortgages, no money to educate their children, no money for anything.  And more banks are folding up and leaving town because of the FNM’s mishandling of the blacklisting threats.

And the workers of Barclays and CIBC still don’t know where they stand, except that there is bound to be significant downsizing if and when the two banks merge into one.   It will leave many more Bahamian workers pounding the pavement looking for jobs in an industry that has shrunk to a shadow of its former self because of this bungling FNM Government.

People are suffering out there, Tommy T.  People are in fear.  You simply don’t see it.

Tommy T. may want to brag about the prosperity his Government has created for some.  But as for me, I must concern myself with the many who are still waiting for that prosperity to touch them or who are in fear of losing the little they have.

Those are the people I am fighting for.  Not the greedy but the needy.  Not the powerful but the weak.  Not the big shot but the small man.  Not the hotel bosses but the middle-managers and the line workers.  Not the big, bank bosses but the mid-level managers and the workers beneath them.  Not the great titans of transportation but the taxi-drivers who are being squeezed out all the time.  Not the big business tycoons but the struggling entrepreneur who is always given the runaround by the Development Bank or some licensing authority.

Those are the people who need our help, Tommy T.  The big boys can take care of themselves.  They make their own luck.  It’s the little guy who gets shoved around and kicked out into the street who needs our help.

And I want you to know tonight that if there’s one person who is going to be there to help that fella get back on his feet, it is going to be Perry Gladstone Christie.

That is what my mission in public life has always been about and that is what it will always be about.

But it must also be the mission of our entire Party.

We cannot be in this for what we can do for ourselves but rather what we can do - and must do - to help others; to help build a country which prizes compassion for one’s fellow man as the highest of all its social virtues; a country in which we treat each other with kindness and mutual respect; a country in which each of us is his brother’s keeper; a country in which we care about our neighbours and the communities in which we live; a country in which we help each other, build up each other and watch over one another; a country that is secure, whose streets you are not afraid to walk on by day or by night; a country in which Bahamians are the boss and not the servants; a country that is prosperous not for the few but for all; a country whose people feel good about themselves and hopeful about their future.

That is the Bahamas I want for my children and it is the same Bahamas my mother and father wanted for me.

And I want it for all Bahamians.  It doesn’t matter to me whether you are young or old, man or woman, black or white, Baptist or Catholic, well-off or not so well-off, city-dweller or family islander, PLP or FNM, we are all bound together as brothers and sisters in the Great Bahamian Family and we must never again allow petty prejudices and hatreds to lead us into the temptation to divide or to victimize.

I will never allow that kind of primitive ideology to cheapen and debase the ideals that I have set for the next Government of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas.  This is not about settling old scores.  There will be no “payback” time under my administration.  I am going to treat all Bahamians like family.  There will be no victimization of anyone.  I am a democrat not a tyrant.  I will be too busy helping people to have any time for hurting people.  And it’s just not in my nature to do it anyway.

And when I speak about this, I speak on behalf of the entire Government I will lead.  If I hear about any minister of mine trying to practice any victimization on anybody the next time he hears from me, it will be to tell him to clean out his desk and head for the door.  Victimization is an evil I put on par with corruption in high places.  Neither will be tolerated under an administration headed by Perry Christie.  Of that you can be assured.

You see, I want to help build a great country.  And this I know: we can never achieve greatness unless we first learn to get along with each other.  We must celebrate our diversity, whether it be ethnic, religious, political or social.  We must celebrate that diversity, not condemn it; we must nurture it, not suffocate it.  We must never persecute someone just because he thinks differently or votes differently than we do.

Believe me, then, when I say how resolutely determined I am to lead the way in creating a new PLP for our times.

And we must lead by example.

We must conduct ourselves in Government according to an uncompromising code of complete integrity and transparency.  If we set the right example at the top, it will filter all the way down to the bottom, both in the public sector and in the wider society.

But my vision doesn’t stop there.

We have become a hard-edged society in which cruelty towards others and disrespect for others are eating away the social fabric of our nation.  Selfishness and self-centredness have taken centre-stage on our jobs, in our schools, on the streets, and increasingly in our homes.  Everything is now all about getting what we want when we want it no matter who is in the way and no matter who gets hurt.

The flip side of that same coin is that our sense of common purpose and our faith in the nurturing and sustaining power of living together on the basis of personal sacrifice for a greater good are shriveling on the vine.  Our sense of neighbourhood has evaporated; our commitment to the integrity of family life as the basic building block of a strong society is under heavy bombardment; our ability to moderate our social behaviour, our capacity for civility and respect for human dignity and the sanctity of life are in grave danger of disappearing altogether.

In my vision for a new Bahamas, I see a radical reversal of that descent into social chaos and moral decline.  In my vision, I see our religious leaders and their congregations forming a new alliance to spearhead the return to those traditional values that once made our communities and neighbourhoods not only oases of peaceful living but a classroom in which children were daily taught the importance of good manners; of respect for their elders and for one another; of honesty and a commitment to strive for the common good of all.

We have to re-seed our communities with the values we know work so well based on our own upbringing within strong and cohesive families within strong and cohesive neighbourhoods, which collectively made us a stronger and more cohesive nation.

But my vision for a greater and better Bahamas does not stop there.

I want to create a system of National Health Insurance so that poor people will stop dying simply because they are too poor to pay for major medical attention.  This is the greatest national disgrace of all! How can we call ourselves a caring, compassionate society when the difference between whether a young child lives or dies depends on whether he or she is covered by private health insurance or not; or whether the parents have the money to pay for the operation or not.  That such a situation still exists in our country is a stain on the social conscience that must be removed.  And it will be removed under my administration because the PLP will treat the introduction of National Health Insurance as a matter of the most urgent priority.

But my vision for a greater Bahamas does not stop there.

I want to create a fully functioning democracy that maximizes the participation of the Bahamian people on a regular basis, not just every five years.  We need to have more referenda on national issues; we need to open up the “committee system” of the Houses of Parliament so that the public can be included in the hearings. We have to establish standing commissions for constitutional reform and for other important matters with broad mandates to consult the Bahamian people widely and thoroughly.  We have to deepen local government and devolve real power to our local councils.  In short, we must bring our people more directly into the whole process of governance.

But my vision doesn’t stop there either.

We must forge a new partnership, a new spirit of co-operation with private enterprise, both local and foreign.  I am fully committed to free enterprise as the only viable engine for economic growth and expansion.  But as a Government, we have to cut down on all the red tape that stifles new investment and, just as importantly, we have to spend more time listening to the legitimate needs and expectations of investors.  Rather than just laying down rules, we have to develop more structured and regular consultation with the private sector so that our economic policies can be developed accordingly.  In no other way can we jumpstart our faltering national economy and provide the necessary incentives to revitalize our dead or dying economies in the Family Islands.

In relation to foreign investment, I have said before and I say it again tonight that there will be an unexpected but pleasant surprise in one of the key cabinet appointments I will be making.  It will send the message that the red carpet has been rolled out to all legitimate foreign investors of good will who are prepared to work with us in building up our economy so that prosperity can touch the lives of all Bahamians.  We need local investment but we need foreign investment too and the policies of the Progressive Liberal Party will encourage and stimulate both.

If my vision for The Bahamas can be encapsulated in just one sentence it would be this:  to steer our nation towards a fairer, more dignified, more peaceful and fulfilling way of life so that we can all live in harmony in a universe of social justice, equal opportunity and prosperity for all.

And it won’t be long now because Help is on the Way.

But first, we must win the war! And we must win it honourably.  There will be no dirty tricks on our side.  And there won’t be any dirty money funding us either.  I insist on a disciplined, courteous, peaceful, honourable campaign.  Let every member; let every supporter of our great party deport himself and herself accordingly.  Do your duty.  Do it efficiently.  We are all counting on you.  Every assignment is important.  Go about your business and do not allow anyone to distract you.  Do not be up in anyone’s face.  I don’t want to hear about anybody tearing down any posters either and I don’t want to hear about any cussin’ or carryin’ on.  Be a role model of disciplined, orderly campaigning.  That’s the only way to win!

And so, in closing, I give you this charge:

The bugle has sounded!

Every man to his station!  Every woman to her post!

Forward, March!

March on PLPs, March onward to victory!