Opinion

Two ideas of politics

February 26, 2014

Historically, societies have struggled with the idea of what constitutes good governance and have devised different strategies to create order among their people. Even the Arawaks had their system of governance with chiefs, and in other societies the medicine men gave advice on what strategies should be followed and how. The Inca and Aztec civilizations also had sophisticated systems of governance, despite what other civilizations thought of them.
But, as we know, these were impacted on not so nicely by those who came from the outside. And the politics of how much government is necessary was reflected in these situations, and still continues.
This idea of what politics or governance should be about is shown in the writings of two political thinkers, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. And this has influenced governance up to the present. Hobbes wrote about what he termed the social contract, which he used to conclude that citizens ought to submit to the authority of an absolute ruler with unlimited power. He felt that for stability to be had, people should refrain from any activity that might undermine the political system. For example, they should not dispute the extent of the power of the absolute ruler, and should not rebel.
Many political writers feel that, because Hobbes lived in a period of social challenges, this was the reason why he saw law and order as being at the heart of politics. And they also see this as providing a basis for authoritarian and dictatorial systems, where the word of the political leader is absolute.
Political leaders in our modern context do not seem to realize that Hobbes stated these views because of the disorderly politics of his day. And some Caribbean historians note that the system of colonial rule in the Caribbean had clear features of Hobbes' politics. But another reason for the position on politics Hobbes took had to do with his concept of a state of nature in which humans lived their lives.
This alleged state of nature, is a condition without government where each person decides how he should act and is judge, jury and executioner when disputes arose. This is why Hobbes advocated absolute power for the ruler to enforce decisions to ensure security and a civilized life. But Hobbes does say this absolute authority is mutually recognized, because people come together to form an agreement to obey a common authority since they were incapable of protecting themselves on their own. This also involved a transfer of rights to this absolute authority in return for protection.
But Hobbes seems to contradict himself when he says that political legitimacy does not depend on how a government comes to power, but whether it can effectively protect those who agreed to obey it. He does say that the people are free to disobey some of the government's policies, but does not seem to appreciate that excessive power can corrupt individuals and cause them to become a law unto themselves and not act in the public good.
So here we seem to have the idea of government by dictatorship and the powerful. And many political leaders have taken their cue from this and used it as a political strategy to govern. This also suggests government by an elite, although the sovereign authority is mutually recognized and agreed to.
The other view of political governance advocated by John Locke states that men are free and equal by nature and that people have rights such as the right to life, liberty and property, independent of the laws of society. Locke further notes that legitimate political government comes from a social contract where people transfer some of their rights to the government to ensure the stable, comfortable enjoyment of their lives, liberty and property. And he adds that, since government exists because of the consent of the people, to promote the public good any government that fails in its responsibilities can be replaced with a new one. Locke also defends the idea of majority rule.
In general, Locke supports private property, minimal government and distrusted the use of power, but notes that factions should not be tolerated if their numbers grow to such an extent that they pose a threat to the state. And for him, government is a tool that depends on the consent of the people, and that the state is commissioned by the people to serve their interests.
Locke seems to present a more democratic and consensual view of politics. Government results from the consent of the people. It is not absolute, and its power is not absolute either. In Locke's view of politics, government is an instrument of the people to institute their wishes. It is not separated and apart from the people. Here we have a view of politics which puts the sovereignty of the people in the forefront.
Government is not above or on top of people, but is there to execute their will. People put a government in place to protect them and promote the good of everyone. And if it fails in this, it loses support and can be replaced. This is direct democracy, with the full weight and expression of people power.
But it so happens that politics in the Caribbean seems to be based on a form of deception. Although some political aspirants go to the people and ask for their support, the agreement is not reciprocal. What really happens is that, after voting for a political party, what the people appear to have really voted for is to put a certain number of people in jobs, which many could not get elsewhere because they lack the proper and relevant credentials, exposure and experience. The lives of many voters remain the same and what results from political activity is a form of tribal warfare, with the victory of one over the other accompanied by continued skirmishes until the next time around.
There is no concept of looking after the general will of the people, or of a social contract to which government and the people subscribe. Rather, Caribbean politics is legalistic, bureaucratic, and somewhat static and repetitive. It appears incapable of making the kind of radical changes that would transform the lives of constituents.
The authoritarianism of Hobbes' view seems to predominate over the real and direct democracy advocated by Locke. Political institutions in the Caribbean seem to pass legislation that has neither meaning nor purpose to the majority of Caribbean people. Our political systems reap from the people in the form of more taxes, rather than sow genuine development initiatives that enables them to use their energy and initiative to live a decent rewarding existence.
Good, caring politics does not allow poverty, unemployment and crime to be a constant feature of political life. This happens because Caribbean political systems do not provide people with a genuine vision of how things could be, with their help. And this is why we have societies where development initiatives, when manifested, are lopsided and appear not to have the desired impact on the circumstances of the majority.
Perhaps the Caribbean political directorate needs to study some of the political ideas of the ancient philosophers and gain some wisdom from them. To their surprise, they might find that what they are now struggling with was dealt with in antiquity. And people like Plato, Locke, and Rousseau would be a healthy place from which to begin the quest for a more ethical politics and a more authentic people-oriented development strategy, which could emerge; which is sustainable. But they would have to trust the people first. They will then understand that sometimes in order to move forward, you have to look back with new eyes and an open mind.

o Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and training, University of Leicester. He is a past permanent secretary in education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Publicizing the disbarment of lawyers

February 26, 2014

Lawyers occupy positions of trust. They are supposed to be our representatives and advocates. They at times handle our money...

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Retired police to sue for more than 100m

February 25, 2014

HUNDREDS of retired police officers are taking legal action against the government and the head of the Royal Bahamas Police Force concerning more than $100m in gratuities owed to them...

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The opposition should embrace a leadership fight

February 25, 2014

When political parties lose elections the spotlight is always on the leader. In the case of the Free National Movement (FNM) after the 2012 general election Hubert Ingraham, the leader at the time, resigned...

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The fiscal reform series: Consumption and proposed taxes

February 25, 2014

Fiscal reform and revisions to our taxation system are arguably the hottest topics in The Bahamas at the moment. The commentators on this very important issue have been diverse based on their expertise, professional background, political affiliations and objectives. While the variety of inputs has enriched the general discourse and invigorated the national debate among the populace, it has also contributed to the level of misinformation and frenzy on an issue that is so critical to the future of our country.
In the aftermath of the release of the government's white paper and draft legislation on tax reform, the discussion on the proposed value-added tax (VAT) has intensified with various stakeholders and groups expressing their views on the actions that should be taken to correct our financial imbalance. The suggestions have been generally constructive and have included proposals on the revenue and expenditure side. In this piece of the series, we briefly consider the role of consumption in the tax debate.

Decisions on government expenditure
There appears to be a general consensus that we arrived in this critical financial state due to practices by successive governments that were not always prudent over the years. In simple terms, we perpetuated the habit of spending more than we were earning. The imbalance created by this pattern has not been confined to The Bahamas and continues to impact countries across the globe as political leaders grapple with making the tough, albeit right, decisions for fear of backlash from the electorate at election time.
While it seems quite easy to suggest drastic cuts in government spending, it is not as straightforward when considered against the backdrop of the role of public expenditure in spurring economic growth. In the Bahamian context, the revelation that about 70 percent of salaries of public servants are deducted to pay for various goods and services - that is, to service consumer loans - adds to the complexity of this matter. This also highlights the impact that an irrational and/or ill-timed reduction of staff within the public service would have on our economy. The importance of caution in this instance does not eliminate the need for more efficiency and productivity within the public service.

The link to private consumption
Over the years, a number of local economists and financial analysts have decried the lack of a culture of savings and investment by Bahamians. It has been reported that about 95 percent of Bahamian dollar personal savings accounts have a balance of less than $10,000. Of particular note is the fact that statistics suggest that the average balance is less than $1,000. When considered in conjunction with the percentage of salaries earmarked for financing consumer loans as highlighted above, the overall picture raises serious concerns.
While we do not have the corresponding figure for the entire Bahamian workforce to include the private sector, the government remains the number one employer in The Bahamas and it is apparent that a debt crisis spurred by consuming more than we earn may not be farfetched.
The importance of consumption within any economy cannot be emphasized enough primarily due to the correlation between consumer spending, economic activity, business turnover, employment and economic growth. However, when consumer spending takes place on a large scale by individuals without the requisite financial wherewithal and is financed by loans obtained by persons who do not have the capacity to pay, the consequences can be devastating in the long run. The establishment of a credit bureau and prudent lending practices should assist in addressing this issue. However, the culture of spending more than we earn or can afford is not sustainable and will require a paradigm shift.

Taxes and discretionary income
One of the main points that have been raised in the tax reform debate has been the regressive nature of our existing tax system and the proposed VAT. There has been considerable debate on the need for a tax system that takes into consideration the earnings and purchasing power of persons in the allocation of the tax burden. The discourse has featured consistent reference to disposable and discretionary income of the populace. It is noteworthy to state that while disposable income generally refers to income after taxes, discretionary income is the amount of the disposable income left after deduction of other expenses such as utility bills and further expenses necessary to maintain a certain standard of living.
The opponents of VAT have cited income tax and payroll tax as viable alternatives while rightly stating that there is hardly any country with a consumption or sales tax system that does not also have a form of progressive tax such as income tax. Payroll taxes are levied on the payroll of employers and are paid either from employees' wages or employers' funds based on the wages paid. It has been stated that the existing infrastructure for the remittance of national insurance payments and business license fees provide for the easy implementation of an income or payroll tax system.
The counterargument on the inappropriate nature of income tax focuses on the fact that it discourages hard work, investments and individual progression. It has also been postulated that income tax in the current environment of sluggish economic growth and high unemployment will not broaden the tax base enough to generate the amount of revenue required to address our financial situation. This is not unconnected to the inability of income tax to capture some residents of The Bahamas as well as individuals outside of the organized formal economy who consume both goods and services within this nation.

Few questions to consider
There is no doubt that VAT in its strict sense is a regressive form of taxation, albeit as proposed it is expected to be more progressive than some of the existing taxes we have. Vital questions abound in this tax debate. In light of the demands on government, how much more can we tax our people? How much mandatory non-discretionary tax can Bahamians afford to pay since we have to raise additional revenue? VAT is a consumption tax which is paid by the final consumer; hence, the discretionary element of the VAT gives the taxpayer some control as to when (in terms of goods and services procured) and how much tax they pay (based on their level of consumption). Could this be useful in addressing our macro- and micro-debt crisis without hurting the economy? With the current rate of unemployment and underemployment, can the average worker afford more compulsory deductions from their wages? If businesses are taxed some more in the form of corporate tax, how do we expect them to create more jobs? Would we rather tax natural and corporate entities rather than consumption?

Politics and the tax debate
As can be expected in all debates with consequences for the country, politics continues to play a major role in the fiscal and tax reform discourse. Politicians must remember, however, that good politics is about serving the public in the national interest. It is no doubt convenient to postpone tough decisions and it is fair to say that we are in this predicament because successive administrations have been guilty of deferring the issue of tax reform arguably due to the potential backlash at the polls as well as appeasing foreign investors and the wealthy.
The Bahamas is bigger than any one individual, interest group or political party. There is too much at stake for us to base decisions of national importance on the potential outcome of the next general election; our focus should be on the next generation and the preservation of our commonwealth. The government has an obligation to make what it deems to be the right decisions based on the facts available considering feedback received from various stakeholders. Subsequently, it will be left to future generations to judge this administration for positions taken and/or decisions deferred.
We must continue to hold successive administrations to a high standard and level of accountability as it relates to the prudent management of our economy and the exercise of fiscal discipline from year to year. However, we must not forget the fact that a major overhaul of our tax system is inevitable and required for the sustenance of our freedom and national development.

o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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What are people thinking

February 24, 2014

"Public opinion is the thermometer a monarch should constantly consult."
- Napoleon Bonaparte

Earlier this month, we wrote about the developments related to web shops in The Bahamas one year after the ill-fated referendum on the regulation and taxation of web shop gaming and the establishment of a national lottery. For much of this month, there seems to have been a softening of the opposition in certain quarters and outright support from some parts of the community that heretofore were silent on the issue. In addition, following several articles that appeared in the media about the effectiveness of the official opposition, we thought it would be instructive to take the pulse of the nation on this topical issue as well as one other.
Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider This... what are people thinking now about the important issue of the regulation of web shops and how do they generally feel about certain members of the official opposition?

Referendum results
We previously reported that on January 28, 2013, the referendum results were neither conclusive nor persuasive. The voter turnout of just 48 percent of the 2012 registered voters was extremely low compared to the 156,000 votes cast in the 2012 general election, which represented an impressive 91 percent turnout of the 172,128 registered voters.
In the referendum, the total number of votes cast against the regularization of web shops was 51,146, or 62 percent of the votes cast, versus 31,657, or 38 percent of the votes cast in favor of regularization. We concluded that the low voter referendum turnout compared to that of the 2012 general election demonstrated that it would be erroneous to conclude that a majority of Bahamians are opposed to regularizing web shops.
In an earlier article, we proffered several reasons for the outcome of the referendum which we will not repeat here.

The January poll results
Also in the aforementioned article, we reported on the results of a scientific poll of 575 individuals that was conducted in January, noting that the number of persons who supported the regulation and taxation of web shops was 55 percent of those polled while 40 percent of the respondents opposed the prospect.
In light of that poll's results, we maintain that the referendum outcome in 2013 did not accurately represent the genuine national sentiment on this issue, particularly in light of the extremely low voter turnout.

The February poll results
M'wale Rahming, president of Public Domain, a Bahamian research company, recently conducted another scientific poll, this time of 606 persons, about local sentiments regarding the web shops and the results of this most current poll were even more instructive than the poll that was conducted last month.
In this later poll, persons were asked two questions: "1. If the government of The Bahamas announced that they were tabling legislation to regularize and tax web shop gaming as of March 1, would you support or oppose this decision?"
The results of the February poll indicated that 68 percent of the respondents supported the regularization and taxation of web shops while 24 percent were opposed to doing so. The results represent a 13 percent increase in support for the regularization and taxation of web shops over the January polling results. Instructive indeed!
The second question posed by Public Domain was: "If the government of The Bahamas announced that as of March 1 they would begin arresting and prosecuting anyone involved in web shop gaming, would you support or oppose this decision?"
The results of the poll indicated that 57 percent of the respondents opposed such action by the authorities while 35 percent supported doing so.

Results on the opposition's favorability ratings
We also asked Public Domain to poll the favorability ratings of members of the opposition, something that would probably be similar to what is known in the United States as a politician's all-important approval rating. Again, the poll was conducted on a statistically valid basis from 606 respondents. The opposition members who were selected to be polled represented a cross section of politicians. The following is a recap of the poll results:

The two persons who stood out in this exercise were Loretta Butler-Turner and Branville McCartney. It is interesting that, of all the FNM members who were selected for this exercise, she enjoyed the highest favorability rating; considerably higher than Hubert Ingraham, who also marginally outpaced the favorability rating for Dr. Hubert Minnis, the current leader of the official opposition. This is especially enlightening because she is a relative newcomer to Bahamian politics, although her antecedents are not.
In addition, notwithstanding his relatively low favorability rating of 35 percent, compared to his colleagues, John Bostwick, a virtual newcomer to Bahamian politics, has performed impressively, especially because he has a relatively low unfavorability rating which very closely compares with that of Loretta Butler-Turner. It can be suggested that the large number of persons who responded (for Bostwick) that "they did not know" is a function of his fairly recent entry into the political fray.
But it was Branville McCartney, leader of the Democratic National Alliance, who scored the highest favorability rating of all members of any of the opposition parties. It is also interesting that he enjoys the lowest unfavorability rating of all his competitors in opposition who were polled. Perhaps, based on the public's feedback, he should not be so quickly discounted by others in the political mainstream. And more importantly, he should conduct his own poll to help him to understand what accounts for his overwhelmingly impressive polling in this lot.
In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Public Domain performed a similar exercise for the Progressive Liberal Party but could not release the results of that poll because it has been retained to poll members of the PLP by another client and the release of those results would constitute a breach of confidentiality.

Conclusion
Regarding the results relative to the web shops, we repeat that the time is long overdue for the government to demonstrate bold, decisive leadership in this regard and to finally do the right thing by regularizing this activity which tremendously and positively impacts our economy by way of employment, business financing and other spinoff benefits that are not currently factored into the nation's gross domestic product.
Regarding the results relative to the favorability ratings of members in opposition to the government, it is apparent that challenges for the leadership of the FNM are in the cards. It is also very evident that Branville McCartney should be energized by his performance in this polling and, perhaps, begin an even more vigorous challenge to what has, up to now, been a firmly entrenched two-party system.

o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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PM's VAT consultant should be dismissed

February 24, 2014

The government has pledged to implement a value-added tax (VAT) on July 1. The 15 percent VAT is intended to expand the tax base in The Bahamas and bring more money in...

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The Caribbean church coming out of the closet on homosexuality

February 21, 2014

Valued theologian-therapist Dr. Lazarus Castang's response to my article is a treasure (The unbridgeable moral divide between the Caribbean church and homosexuals). It represents a clarity that is both concise and thorough. I see a rare pastoral willingness to jump out of the closet of internal church talk into the burning bush of public discourse.
This attitude elaborates a thoughtful view of subjecting the chaos of human sexuality under the ideal of faith. By uncovering a powerful vernacular located within a broad and deep knowledge of the Caribbean Christian tradition, Castang does not assume his faith. He chooses to wrestle with the morality of homosexuality so that we can see an ancient truth through new lens. Four concerns rivet my attention.
First, Castang stays clear of religious polemics. Although he conveys that the Caribbean church is morally committed to a heterosexual norm, he demonstrates that the distinction between law and religious practice is not sufficient to encourage a humane culture within the Caribbean. I couldn't agree more. My judgment is that the insistence on the truth of doctrine going up against the majesty of individual choice and civil obligations will not automatically produce ethical restraint within a culture that resists an exclusive morality.
Second, his critique that I left uninvestigated the impact that homosexuals have had on the Caribbean state and church is fair. I could have more fully explored how the openness of homosexual lifestyle has invaded our rigid morality about the role and function of human sexuality, while expanding our culture to live with diversity through an anthropology of wholeness. Further, I could have underscored the possibility of advocacy for a more inclusive democratic civilization that homosexuality has evoked. These effects deserve finer articulation.
Third, he opines that homosexuals must be prepared to bear the moral burden of Caribbean culture that frowns on their sexual practices. This keen observation, however, does not erase the manifestations of mental, spiritual and psychological anguish the church inflicts on homosexuals in its sincere efforts to condemn the sin and affirm the sinner. The church's uncompromising moral stance has far-reaching consequences. It shapes and informs wider communal behavior toward homosexuals, which often breeds callous practices, all of which fall outside a Christian love ethic that screams for justice.
Therefore, the church cannot merely acknowledge this problem with deliberate speed. If it is going to pragmatically merge its spiritual intelligence with this social dilemma, a transformative attitude towards homosexuals within Caribbean societies should produce a more genuine Christian disposition as well as a more just society.
Fourth, Castang is fully aware of the focus to make sexual choices in our pluralistic society realizable but affirms that the Caribbean church must act in accordance with the discernible heterosexual order of creation that Genesis explains, even though our fallen nature has put us at odds with the ideal of human sexuality.
My question to Castang is this: What do we do with this moral schism that is too wide for any bridge? If this is the case, then the church would have to abandon its efforts to employ the power of God to deliver people from sexual behaviors that it condemns.
I understand that the Caribbean's conservative morality is on display in a churning progressive political culture, and that clashes around issues of personal liberty and equality will occur. Yet, I believe that the Caribbean church should construct an ethical bridge where private virtue and public conscience form the matrix for doing good, bearing witness to the truth, and eliminating stereotyping in order to preserve the common good.
If not, the church will find itself trapped in an irony where the qualms of social conscience arise in the most intimate of human relations but the principles of Christian love become ineffective to these challenges.
If any movement is to be made in this moral standoff, either the church admits defeat or takes some risks. These risks should both affirm the gospel of Jesus Christ and respect the efficacy of a diverse society and, consequently, the humanity of homosexuals.
It strengthens Christian beliefs in the Caribbean to know that a pastoral voice could leverage the tensions between faith and feelings with sensitivity.
Castang offers conscientious citizens enough room to breathe, albeit without a sigh of relief. As an act of redemptive love, this may be a time to combat every injustice that paralyzes human life from within the sacred space of the church.
Even if his voice does not reform society, Castang's view can become an agency of the Kingdom of God for preserving one's integrity. An honest enthusiasm for resolving these tensions is superior to a disconnected existence. Still, the tragic limitations or sublime beauty of sexual tolerance in the Caribbean is dismantling.

o Dr. Isaac Newton is an international leadership and change management consultant and political adviser who specializes in government and business relations, and sustainable development projects. Newton works extensively in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, leadership, political, social, and faith-based issues. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Christie's and Minnis' deficit of leadership

February 20, 2014

With the country beset by lingering challenges and crises on various fronts we are faced with the least capable combination of leaders atop the major political parties since independence.
The country is caught between the chronic incompetence and indecisiveness of Prime Minister Perry Christie and the deep-seated ineptness of Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis.
In this time of crisis one of the broader challenges is a deficit of leadership: A government failing to deliver on core promises of reducing violent crime, and significant job creation and a litany of other promises, juxtaposed with an opposition stymied in confronting a failed government because of a leader woefully lacking in the political, policy and public communications skills necessary to check an out-of-control administration.
The deficit of leadership and the surplus of ineptness were on dramatic display at the House of Assembly last week with the presentation of the 2013/2014 mid-year budget communication by the prime minister.
During his presentation he concocted one of the more confusing and bizarre statements of his approximately 40 years in public life. As reported in The Tribune last Thursday, he declared of a meeting he attended: "'... I am the minister of finance and I am the prime minister, the minister of finance is not in this meeting, you [sic] are talking to the prime minister.
"'The minister of finance wants to go ahead with VAT as indicated, all of the mechanisms are in place for VAT to move forward, that is the minister of finance, but you are talking to the prime minister and the prime minister will hear you and the prime minister has not joined with the minister of finance.'"
Christie's statement portrayed a leader paralysed by indecision in a labyrinth of confusion attempting to avoid responsibility through what he obviously thought was clever indirection.
Christie has become a laughingstock, yet he doesn't realize the extent to which he is no longer taken seriously.

Opportunity
Speaking to the media following Christie's statement Minnis had a golden opportunity to respond quickly and to roast the prime minister, but Minnis is neither adroit nor agile in political combat.
Instead, inexplicably, out of left field, he criticized the government's radiation detection program, an important matter, but not one central to the matter at hand. It was as if he had slept through Christie's communication, another missed opportunity by the opposition leader who, using a well-known adage, never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Had Christie made such a statement in the British House of Commons he would have been laughed out of the chamber and quickly roasted by the opposition leader. He would have been severely criticized in the press and the political cartoonists would have had a field day with him. Alas!
The introduction of VAT is one of the potentially more complex, divisive and consequential economic developments since internal self-government.
VAT involves a fundamental shift - psychological, cultural, administrative and otherwise - in how we are taxed and how government is financed, especially for a country more used to indirect taxation as well as laxity in paying a range of taxes, often with little or no penalties for non-payment.
The Christie administration's handling of the issue has been a monumental disaster. Christie's statement made matters even worse. In making a final decision on VAT he is in a classic bind of dammed if he does and dammed if he doesn't, much of which has been of his own making.
What has mostly saved Christie is the startling ineptness of Minnis. He is the PLP's not-so-secret weapon to win re-election.
In politics one needs to be feared by one's opponents and enemies, as well as by opportunistic flatterers, remembering always that the opportunists will always have a for rent or lease or sale sign on their politics and conscience.
Sir Lynden Pindling feared Hubert Ingraham. Ingraham and Christie enjoy a healthy respect for each other's political strengths. Christie and the PLP fear FNM Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner. But they do not fear Minnis, and for good reason.

Ludicrous
Minnis recently made a statement that near rivals the ludicrous aforementioned statement Christie made during the mid-year communication.
As reported in The Tribune: "'If the government does not know how to do their job,' he said, 'I'm not going to let The Bahamas sink because of them. You're going to see us bring numerous bills and run the government from the opposition. If the ss PLP wants [sic] to sink, then the ss Bahamas won't go down with it. The FNM will ensure the ss Bahamas has a life vest on and will float while the ss PLP sinks.'"
Are we in high school? Run the government from the opposition? Minnis is barely able to run the opposition.
In another deer in the headlights moment for him, in which he didn't seem to initially appreciate his error, Minnis was lampooned for failing to give prior notice on a bill he wanted to introduce.
Any casual observer of the House understands the need to give such notice. Into his second term in the House, having served in the Cabinet, now nearly two years as opposition leader, Minnis didn't understand a basic parliamentary procedure that even a newly minted MP appreciates. Imagine what a disaster he would prove in attempting to run a Cabinet meeting.
If Minnis is this incompetent as leader of the opposition, imagine him in the extraordinarily more demanding and difficult job of prime minister. He would prove a disaster.
Worryingly, Minnis increasingly seems incapable of taking advice, becoming more autocratic and less tolerant of those who disagree with him. It is as if the office he holds and the one that he covets have gone to his head.
Reportedly, as a part of the PLP's opposition research, the party is collecting Minnis' endless gaffes and poorly crafted statements. Recall his statements on VAT and crime which were amateurish, riddled with errors of thinking and language, reflective of a stunning lack of policy judgment.
Minnis is frighteningly inarticulate. He would be demolished in a leadership debate with Christie. Minnis is not simply gaffe-prone. His pattern of endless and amateurish mistakes demonstrates that he simply lacks even the most basic political and parliamentary knowledge.
No wonder Christie opined that Minnis is unqualified to be prime minister - harsh criticism, especially considering the source.

Failed
Minnis often fails to defend the FNM's extraordinary record. Much of the PLP's new crime plan after the carnage in Fox Hill was taken from a previous FNM plan, much of which the PLP failed to continue or implement. Minnis called the plan, lame and vacuous.
Either Minnis did not read the new plan or he failed to understand its contents, neither scenario of which redounds to his credibility.
He should have criticized the government for failing to advance plans by the Ingraham administration.
Minnis seems deluded that he can just run out the clock and that dissatisfaction with the PLP and Christie will redound to his favor. He is sadly misguided.
If Minnis remains as FNM leader, Christie may feel confident that he can win re-election.
Christie's scenario may be based on the PLP base remaining with the party "come hell or high water", with the DNA garnering a significant number of votes because of overwhelming dissatisfaction by FNMs and others with the incapable and politically unappealing Minnis.
Yet despite its current leadership deficit, the FNM potentially enjoys better prospects than the PLP.
The PLP is stuck with Christie until he decides to leave, which may be no time soon. The possible successors to Christie have outsized weaknesses and vulnerabilities and limited public appeal beyond the PLP's base.
With possible leadership candidates like Dr. Duane Sands and Loretta Butler-Turner, the FNM can fix its leadership problem more readily than the PLP.
The PLP is widely loathed in the country and voters are hungry for a credible alternative. With its largely still untold history, its extraordinary record in government and possible appeal, the FNM may be poised for renewal and re-emergence as a more vital force.
But first the party must find a leader who can unite the party and appeal to a broad cross-section of voters weary of the PLP and desperate for a new direction, including many who voted DNA last time, but who now believe that they helped the PLP to win.
If the FNM wants to lose again, it will retain Minnis. If it wants to win again, it must find a new leader this very year.

ofrontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Referenda success and the fight between the parties

February 19, 2014

Chairman of the Constitutional Commission Sean McWeeney said recently that the bills for the promised constitutional referendum on gender equality may be tabled in the House of Assembly next month...

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Where does the road we trod lead us

February 19, 2014

The Bahamas for many years prided itself in its people in recognition of the fact that the people of this great nation are the greatest and most valuable asset this country possesses. It remains unfathomable and simply remarkable that this nation of islands has become the jewel of the West Indies relying on the blessings of sun, sand and sea, which are by no means unique to us. Our national anthem highlights the glory of the rising sun on our archipelago with a promise of hope for a small island nation called The Bahamas.
The level of prosperity we enjoy in The Bahamas cannot be dissociated from the indomitable spirit of our people and our tendency to hold fast to the morals and norms that were passed down from our ancestors. In simple words, we had a reputation for being a peaceable, respectful and embracing people. However, recent occurrences and the perceived level of decadence within our society have left many puzzled as to how we got to the point that we have arrived at today. Why are we experiencing such a high rate of criminal activity, disrespect for one another and, in some cases, outright hatred for one another? What is contributing to the high rate of teenage pregnancy, high school drop-outs and the apparent deterioration of the family structure? Why are so many persons, especially our young people, displaying a constant disrespect for persons in authority or those who are charged with maintaining the rule of law?
The answers are not straightforward but complex, as the problems have been created by myriad factors produced by a cross section of participants within the Bahamian society; yes, we got here because of all of us. It is for this same reason that no easy solutions are readily available to the many challenges that so vehemently confront us on a daily basis and we must retrace our footsteps.

The reasons for
the decline
Many have weighed in on what they believe to be the reasons for the deterioration in our society and the cause of the changing norms. Those who are believers in God have attributed the social ills to what they believe to be a lack of the fear for God and his commandments. A vast amount of Christians and members of the clergy are of the view that the Bahamian people have forgotten God, and a simple return to his care and commands would prompt a healing of our Bahamaland.
A school of thought holds the firm belief that a more practical and logical approach should be taken when diagnosing the cause of this national menace. Some commentators have opined that children are having children; others say it is due to the absence of fathers in the homes, others argue that an inadequate or broken educational system is the cause and we have failed to adequately educate our children; while others maintain that the problem lies in the fact that this generation of Bahamians is poorly socialized. It has also been suggested that the government is to blame because its policies over the years have been structured and executed in a manner that is set up to promote the failure of successive generations of Bahamians. However, there also exists a premise that the current state of affairs is as a result of the drug era in Bahamian history.

The diagnosis of
color blindness
The details of the diagnosis of our national issues will often differ depending on the individual or stakeholder to whom the questions are posed. In each case, it is often not unexpected that references will be quoted and some facts used to support the notion put forward. However, can it truly be said that these are the causes of the deterioration within our society? The argument that the church put forth seems to be gaining little traction with the apparent decrease in church attendance and dwindling contributions to the work of religious establishments. It can therefore be argued that there is sufficient collaborative evidence to highlight a correlation between deviation from the things of God and the moral decadence within our communities.
The other suggested causes are however dwarfed by a social ill taking root in our country. How can a society divided against itself begin to heal when we continue to allow so many forces to drive a deeper and continuous wedge between us? This new evil has given birth to political tribalism in the place of political allegiance resulting in a form of color blindness within our citizenry with the exclusive colors red and yellow (and most recently green). The new generation of Bahamians appreciate the value of our democracy and the intrigue of party politics albeit the latter takes a back stage to the national interest. For indeed we know that a house divided against itself cannot stand. While we are all entitled to our respective choices and opinions, no allegiance should compromise our integrity or ability to make sound righteous and just decisions or our ability to put service to mankind and country above our selfish exploits and desires.

Prescription of
social norms
The disturbing deviation from our historical social norms and moral values which helped to provide the necessary self-control and dignity required for the common good of our society has contributed tremendously to the predicament we face today. The culprits are numerous and spread across the Bahamian society starting with the parents who fail to instill discipline in their children at the earliest opportunity, to the increase in physical or emotional absence of fathers either in the home or in the lives of their children. In addition, the erring of various arms of society including parents, teachers, the church and/or the community to teach family life values and principles to the next generation of Bahamians continues to play a contributing factor.
In the end, we are experiencing changing norms within our society. This change fueled by political manipulation is arguably contributing to the social degradation that we are experiencing today. The new generation of Bahamians will not be swayed by political slogans or maneuvers aimed at self-preservation but will focus on nation building against all odds. We know that it is incumbent upon us to reverse the current social trend positively in favor of subsequent generations of Bahamians. We will march on until the road we trod and the path we take is one of national service and leads unto our God. For we know that the failure of Bahamians tomorrow will be upon the heads of those of us who exist today. Therefore, we must take an introspective look at ourselves and ensure that we are doing all that we can to make The Bahamas a better place. The change begins within us.

o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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Reducing inequality will boost economic growth

February 18, 2014

At first glance, it would seem this year's Davos summit will be off to an auspicious start, with news that the global economy is recovering faster than anticipated.Yet a closer look at the global situation reveals a potentially dangerous gap between profits and people.Corporate profits are up and global equity markets are looking forward to another year of plenty, while at the same time unemployment and household incomes stand still.The ILO's Global Employment Trends 2014 shows clearly that the modest economic recovery has not translated into an improvement in the labor market in most countries.Businesses have been sitting on cash or buying back their own stocks, rather than investing in productive capacity and job creation. In part, this is a result of continued weakness in aggregate demand, both at national and global levels. It is compounded by uncertainty about where new sources of demand will come from and uncertainty about public policies, for example on financial sector reform.The increased flow of profits and liquidity into asset markets rather than the real economy not only increases the risk of stock and housing price bubbles, but also damages long-term employment prospects.In developing countries, informal employment remains widespread, and the pace of improvements in job quality is slowing down. That means fewer people are moving out of working poverty.Add to that the fact that in most countries, workers have been getting a smaller share of national income and of gains in productivity, while more of the income is going into profit, and we have a major problem.Inequality is reflected in the depressed incomes of most households and therefore constrains consumption growth, which in turn reduces economic growth. It also causes public frustration, raising the risk of instability - the current unrest in many countries is fuelled by perceptions of unfairness.U.S. President Barrack Obama recognized this when he recently called inequality "the defining challenge of our time".Boosting demand for goods and services would go a long way towards creating the incentive required for companies to expand and create jobs. And that entails moving away from the aggressive fiscal consolidation pursued in many countries. It also means addressing the declining share of economic growth going to workers, stagnant wages and high unemployment that have kept household spending down.Increased wages lead to increased demand, so a key part of the solution is to set appropriate minimum wages and to have policies that reinforce the links between productivity and wages. Indeed, President Obama has called for raising the minimum wage and a similar proposal is hotly debated in Britain, while the new German government has agreed to create a national minimum wage for the first time.We need to focus on the productive economy, and make a firm commitment to investing in people, skills and jobs, and reducing economic disparity.If we fail to act, if we fail to tackle the youth jobs crisis, long-term unemployment, high drop-out rates and other pressing labor market issues, we will be destroying hopes for sustainable growth - and sowing the seeds of further, and perhaps deeper social unrest.o Guy Ryder is director-general of the U.N.'s International Labour Organization (ILO). Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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How well known is the CARICOM Charter of Civil Society

February 18, 2014

In the light of the judgment of the Constitutional Court in the Dominican Republic on the question of citizenship of persons born in that country, it is useful to bring into sharp focus the Charter of Civil Society for the Caribbean Community. This solemn charter was adopted at a conference of the heads of government of CARICOM at a special meeting in Port of Spain in October 1992 following the recommendation of the West Indian Commission.The Articles of the Charter spell out, inter alia, fundamental principles that are to govern our Caribbean society as regards human rights and freedoms, human dignity, the right to life, liberty and security of the person, equality before the law, the rights of women, children, disabled persons, workers, indigenous people, and family.The charter reaffirms confidence in the Caribbean Community as an association of states and territories bonded by common heritage committed to the fundamental principles of human rights and freedoms within a Caribbean integration embodiment.It contains 27 articles that constitute the integrated fabric of our Caribbean Community. One should therefore presume that the charter is well known to all the parliaments of our Caribbean Community, our external representatives, and that it has been tabled as a matter of record at every local, regional, and international organization or affiliation in which the Caribbean is represented. Further, it should be in every school, public and private library in the Caribbean region and in our local and regional institutions, as well as universities of higher learning. It should also be well known among our Caribbean scholars.It follows from the charter that any country wishing to become a member of the Caribbean Community must be aware of the charter's guiding principles and prepared to adhere to them before contemplating any request for membership. Is the situation in the Dominican Republic an example of lack of awareness?Caribbean governments and communities have an important role to play in the dissemination of those principles within our region and internationally.o Dr. Joseph E. Edmunds is a former senior research fellow, UWI, St. Augustine Campus; former director of research and development, WINBAN and former ambassador of St. Lucia. He is currently a consultant and senior advisor to The Edmunds Group International, LLC (www.theedmundsgroup.com). Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Citizens For Justice
Citizens For Justice

February 17, 2014

I refer to comments made by the Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt with regards to a matter before her court involving a pastor and a youth minister who were charged this week with indecent assault and cruelty to a child...

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Intellectually curious and creative

February 17, 2014

In a parliamentary democracy such as ours, the quality of the respective teams of candidates chosen by major political parties to contest general elections is crucial...

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Defending Ingraham against McCartney
Defending Ingraham against McCartney

February 17, 2014

The political wilderness can be a dark and lonely place.It is tough enough being in opposition...

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Divine DNA

February 17, 2014

As most of my regular readers will know, I'm a big fan of Joel Osteen, whose talks on TV each week are so very inspiring. He's a very positive person who presents a spiritual philosophy which uplifts people...

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The minister of finance

February 17, 2014

The chancellor of the exchequer is a man... entrusted with a certain amount of misery which it is his duty to distribute as fairly as he can.- Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Robert LoweThis week, the prime minister, in his capacity as minister of finance, delivered his mid-year communication on the state of the nation's public finances. During his communication, the prime minister confirmed that he "was wearing two hats over fiscal reform, that of prime minister and also as minister of finance". Therefore this week, we would like to Consider this... is it in the best interest of the country for the prime minister to also serve as the minister of finance?The Westminster modelIn our column last week, we suggested that, in some instances, we have deviated from the Westminster model of government. In order to consider the propriety of the prime minister simultaneously serving as the minister of finance, we should look to Westminster to determine whether this arrangement is in our best interest.In England, the chancellor of the exchequer is the title held by the British Cabinet minister who is responsible for all economic and financial matters. It is equivalent to the role of minister of finance or secretary of the treasury in other countries. The chancellor is the third oldest major state office in British history, dating from the time of Henry I, one which originally carried responsibility for the exchequer, the medieval English institution for the collection of royal revenues. The chancellor controlled monetary policy as well as fiscal policy until 1997, when the Bank of England was granted independent control of its interest rates. The chancellor also has oversight of public spending of government departments.Historically, the office started in 1221 with Eustace of Fauconberg (Bishop of London) and the office was occupied by notables such as Thomas Cromwell (1533-1540), who served under King Henry VIII, Benjamin Disraeli (1866-1868), Winston Churchill (1924-1929), Neville Chamberlain (1931-1937), Harold Macmillan (1955-1957), John Major (1989-1990), and Gordon Brown (1997-2007). Disraeli, Churchill, Macmillan, Major and Brown later went on to become British prime ministers. The present British chancellor is George Osborne and it is instructive to note that, in the British experience, no chancellor of the exchequer simultaneously served as prime minister. In England, the Chancellor's official residence is No. 11 Downing Street, very close to the prime minister's residence which is No. 10 Downing Street.The Bahamian experienceWhat has been the Bahamian experience? From the establishment of Cabinet government in The Bahamas in 1964, our experience started with a replication of the Westminster model but quickly morphed into a perversion of that convention. In the first Bahamian Cabinet, and for the next nine years, the minister of finance did not simultaneously serve as premier prior to 1969 or as prime minister after that, but that tradition was radically altered in 1984, eleven short years after independence.Bahamian ministers of finance included Sir Stafford Sands (1964-1967), Carlton Francis (1967-1973), and Arthur D. Hanna (1973-1984) during the Cabinets of Sir Roland Symonette and Sir Lynden Pindling. It was not until Hanna resigned from the Pindling Cabinet in 1984 that the tradition changed when Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling also served as minister of finance. Sir Lynden reverted to the time-honored tradition of the Westminster model by "firing" himself as minister of finance six years later and appointing Paul L. Adderley, who held the office from 1990-1992.The breach of the Westminster convention continued when Hubert Ingraham became prime minister in 1992, holding both ministries until 1995 when he also "fired" himself as minister of finance and was succeeded by Sir William Allen. Sir William held that position until 2002. Upon becoming prime minister in 2002, Perry Christie, following in the footsteps of the former prime minister, Ingraham, assumed both offices of prime minister and minister of finance, until being defeated by Ingraham in the elections of 2007. At that time, Ingraham also took on the position of minister of finance for his entire second five-year term. Upon being elected prime minister again 2012, Christie repeated the examples of his predecessors in office by appointing himself as the minister of finance. Inherent conflictsThere is little doubt that a prime minister who also serves as minister of finance faces inherent challenges and conflicts. As already observed, the dual role presents an important deviation from the Westminster model.Secondly, the primary role of the minister of finance is to protect the revenue. Situations undoubtedly arise when the exigencies of the state dictate that the minister of finance must advise the prime minister that certain actions must be taken which might conflict with the objectives of the prime minister. A recent example of this is the issue regarding the taxation of the web shops. The objective of protecting the revenue necessitates that the minister of finance should advise the prime minister to tax the web shops, while the objective of the prime minister is to pursue the role of consensus-builder and conciliator of opposing stakeholders. The minister of finance has the incontrovertible responsibility to ensure that taxes are extracted from various elements of society, regardless of the prime minister's objective to assuage those divergent or divisive constituencies.In addition, the current controversy with respect to the implementation of a value-added tax (VAT) suggests deeply different approaches by the prime minister and the minister of finance. The inherent implications of the roles of each potentially place these ministers on a collision course with each other that can cascade out of control.Third, when conflicts arise, the prime minister, who also serves as minister of finance, creates a schizophrenic dissonance in the single person who occupies both offices. There are times that the minister of finance must advise the prime minister that his proposed course of action is simply wrong. Robert Lowe, chancellor of the exchequer from 1868-1873, observed in the House of Commons on April 11, 1870: "The chancellor of the exchequer is a man whose duties make him more or less of a taxing machine. He is entrusted with a certain amount of misery which it is his duty to distribute as fairly as he can." That is not and should not be the normal role of the prime minister.Fourth, in business parlance, and few would suggest that government is not a business, the prime minister's role should be that of "chairman of the board" (the Cabinet), whereas the minister of finance serves more as the "chief financial officer". Responsible corporate governance requires that the chairman should not simultaneously serve as the chief financial officer. These are distinctly different duties often with deeply divergent objectives and responsibilities. Fifth, the Biblical admonition that "no one can serve two masters" also applies here. Serving simultaneously as prime minister and minister of finance implies an inherent conflict of roles and objectives which are often difficult to reconcile. Hence, the prime minister's suggestions that he simultaneously wears "two hats" also means those "two hats" could conceivably conflict with each other. ConclusionIn light of those who have served as chancellors of the exchequer and cognizant of the norms that were established by our former leaders relative to the potentially divergent roles and responsibilities of the prime minister and minister of finance, future leaders should determine how best to structure the government in a manner that will best serve our country. That we have deviated from the Westminster model in such an essential manner should require us to demand that our leaders should respect those institutions that for centuries have enhanced governance for the benefit of its citizens. We must respect those institutions and, more importantly, acknowledge that they were established that way in order for governance to run more efficiently and effectively. Or, in modern parlance, "if that nearly 800-year-old system ain't broke, why are we trying to change it?"o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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