Opinion

The Christie/PLP lottery: Selling out the poor and middle class

April 03, 2014

The Bahamian middle class is under enormous pressure and threat. The fallout from the Great Recession continues with a new normal of largely stagnant wages and significantly less disposable income.
While the fortunes of many of the wealthy in the west and here at home are rebounding, many in the middle class have lost or are losing hopes and dreams along with homes, small businesses and life savings.
The expanding gulf between the wealthy and middle class is growing with income inequality rising. For many poorer Bahamians, incomes and prospects continue to worsen.
Poor and middle class families have typically had to juggle bills. But the new normal after the Great Recession makes the juggling more difficult, more anxiety-ridden.
The result is an increasingly complex sort of lottery for many Bahamians who now have an even more difficult time deciding what portion of what bills they can afford to pay down at a given time.
The juggling involves electricity and other utility bills, school fees, small business expenses, mortgages, groceries, health care and other expenses.
With jobs being lost, by one or more income providers in a household, many more families are at the financial brink with little funds in checking accounts and near maxed-out credit cards with ballooning interest payments.
During the 2012 general election the FNM, led by Hubert Ingraham, offered a variety of proposals in response to what promised to be a slog toward more vibrant economic growth amidst a dramatically changed economic environment post 2008.
Ingraham promised what he thought the country could afford given fiscal constraints and revenue prospects.
Expansive
Conversely, many of the economic and social proposals offered by Perry Christie and the PLP were significantly more expensive than those of the FNM, which did not seek to outbid the PLP's more expansive promises.
Thousands of hurting poorer, lower middle income and higher middle income individuals voted for the PLP based on four specific proposals the party repeatedly and solemnly promised.
Many families bargained that the PLP's compendium of promises represented a middle-class rescue package. Instead, more of the middle class have plunged deeper into debt with seeming little relief on the horizon.
Employment, housing and home ownership, education and health care are critical in terms of economic security and survival for the middle class.
The PLP promised a quick 10,000 jobs. The unemployment rate went up higher than during the Great Recession.
The PLP promised to double the national investment in education. The education budget was cut.
The PLP promised quick action in implementing National Health Insurance. Instead, yet another study is on the way, with many families a health care crisis away from bankruptcy, and the PLP offering additional excuses.
Famously, the PLP promised an expansive mortgage relief plan. That plan died a quick death, despite the budgeting of $10 million for relief and repeated assurances of help.
As famously, Christie intervened to assist his upper middle income and chronically tax delinquent VAT coordinator with mortgage relief, despite having abandoned the vast majority of those he promised to help who were on the verge of losing their homes.
Christie beat his chest in self-praise of what he did for his VAT coordinator, cheered on by a Greek chorus of ministers including the minister of works and the minister of agriculture.
When the chest-thumping and cheering dies down, scores of homeowners will still be without the aid and comfort the PLP promised and certainly nowhere as near a priority as are select friends of the prime minister.
Correspondingly, in two and a half years, the Christie administration's record on building homes has been abysmal.
Callousness
Christie campaigned as a leader of compassion and empathy. He has largely governed with callousness and indifference. With Bahamians losing homes, Christie has waxed about an official residence for the prime minister, and of the need for a prime ministerial coat of arms.
He seems to be living in a parallel universe. Meanwhile, the question of government revenue tells a tale.
With the middle class and many businesses struggling, the PLP initially proposed a 15 percent VAT rate on various goods and services, though that rate now seems negotiable.
The Christie administration's handling of VAT is a monumental disaster. Uncertainty on the tax proposal is damaging business confidence and investment prospects, with the disastrous roll-out or non-roll-out likely affecting the broader economy.
Recall Christie's all things to all people pandering on VAT with the bizarre statement on the division within his government on the tax between the prime minister and the minister of finance.
With the middle class struggling the Christie administration's likely improbable timeline for a VAT roll-out, unclear regulations, unready tax collection system, and the initial rate of taxation seemed a perfect storm likely to damage various businesses with the prospect for job losses in certain sectors.
Christie has been a thoroughly incompetent prime minister. But it is his and the PLP's sell-out of the poor and middle class that is chilling and revealing.
Life involves a natural and social lottery. The lotteries of life involve chance, luck and happenstance.
In the natural lottery our genetic make-up is critical. Some are born with a greater predisposition of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Mychal 'Sweet Bells' Thompson was certainly a hardworking athlete. But his genes made a difference.
The genetic lottery can mean all the difference as to whether one typically enjoys a sunny disposition or suffers from chronic depression. From general health to the distribution of talents, the natural lottery is highly influential though not necessarily fully determinative.
Circumstances
The social lottery involves the circumstances of birth from income levels to the cultural and religious heritage into which one is born.
Being born into a higher income family does not make one naturally more intellectually gifted than being born into a lower income family. Yet circumstance quite often determines economic prospects and educational attainment.
Political and economic debates have raged for centuries over the state's role in balancing or negating the effects of the natural and social lotteries of life.
For progressives, government plays a critical role in addressing the inequality involved in life's lotteries, especially on matters such as ensuring access to education, health care and a variety of social goods.
Public action can go a long way in terms of equality of access if not equality of outcome. Which raises the question of gaming lotteries. A lottery is unlike other businesses. It is based exclusively on chance and luck.
Walk into a grocery store, spend $20 and you come out with that amount of groceries. Walk into a web shop or play $20 online and you come away with a "hope" which is more often than not dashed.
You usually come away with nothing or next to nothing, rarely winning that pot of gold at the end of an ever-elusive payout at the end of an imaginary rainbow.
In playing numbers most people lose substantially more than they gain. Lotteries often prey on fear and hope, superstition and randomness. It involves the ultimate irrational exuberance. Still, lotteries can transform certain human traits into certain common goods and gain.
A public or national lottery is typically designed to expand opportunity and equality for citizens. They ensure a greater common good than do private lotteries which overwhelmingly concern the narrow interests and greed of a few, with little by way of return to the mass of citizens.
Because of the nature of lotteries, in most civilized societies they are largely government-owned and for a reason. These societies utilize lotteries to help rebalance the lotteries of life which leave fellow-citizens in need of help from the state.
Accordingly throughout the U.S., the U.K. and many other countries lottery profits are used overwhelmingly to fund public goods such as education rather than to primarily enrich already bulging private coffers.
National lotteries are decidedly more consistent with the demands of social justice than are privately owned lotteries.
The Christie administration now seems on the verge of regulating or legalizing a system that will transfer millions upon millions more into the hands of a few at the expense of thousands of poor and middle-class Bahamians.
If it does so it will be one of the worst betrayals of the Bahamian people in an independent Bahamas, a moral disgrace, an affront to social justice, another sell-out to moneyed interests and a grave insult to the poor by a party that no longer deserves the names progressive or liberal.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Why crime is a political issue
Why crime is a political issue

April 02, 2014

Political parties are elected to government to solve problems. For example, if there are no roads and people have difficulty getting from place to place, members of the electorate want men and women in power who are able to fix the problem and build roads...

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My daughter's lesson on domestic violence

April 02, 2014

Every morning, on the way to school, my eldest daughter's job is to read the newspaper's headlines or top stories to me as I drive...

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The fiscal reform series: About that VAT

April 01, 2014

The views and commentaries on the proposed value-added tax (VAT) system have been as diverse as they have been inconsistent. What makes the discussion even more interesting is that the divergent opinions have come from economists, experts in this form of taxation and industry leaders.
There is often the tendency for facts to either be lost or manipulated in a prolonged debate, with the loudest or most frequent message being perceived as the ultimate truth. It is therefore important that we filter out the proverbial noise in the market and unravel the actual facts that will enable us to develop our own opinions on the proposed VAT framework. In this article we briefly consider the various utterances made by both local and foreign individuals as they chimed in on the ongoing debate on VAT in The Bahamas. We will subsequently embark on the tasking journey of understanding VAT and what it means for the average Bahamian.
The Barbados experience
It was reported a number of weeks ago that the Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, Dr. Delisle Worrell, had indicated that VAT is an anti-tourism tax and had hurt that country's local industry. Worrell was also reported as stating that the tax is very complicated and suggested his preference for a simple sales tax. We will examine sales tax as an alternative later.
A few days after the aforesaid report on the comments of Worrell, The Nassau Guardian quoted Lalu Vaswani, president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), as saying that VAT has been good for the economy of and businesses in Barbados. Vaswani noted the level of concern and anxiety within Barbados prior to the implementation of VAT; an experience that seems similar to the current pre-VAT environment in The Bahamas. Of particular note was his reference to an adage that a rope in a dark room feels like a snake. More recently, Mark Shorey - a VAT expert out of Barbados with about 20 years experience in VAT consultancy and a member of the VAT implementation unit - weighed in on the VAT debate in The Bahamas. Shorey remarked that anti-VAT hoteliers will not be satisfied and indicated that training closer to implementation may be more effective. In the end, Shorey suggested, the implementation of VAT in Barbados was successful and is a model that could help The Bahamas.
Chronicles of the local commentaries
Comments attributed to past and present government officials with responsibility within the Ministry of Finance have been consistent insofar as they relate to the urgent need to address our fiscal imbalance. These individuals have also been backed by some locally respected professionals who have cautioned that we are between a rock and a hard place with the window for remediation closing with each passing day. A common concern has been the rate at which VAT is introduced, with recommendations for a rate lower than the proposed 15 percent.
The main opponents of VAT from the business community have been fervent in their campaign against this form of taxation, arguing that it is not appropriate for The Bahamas and would increase the cost of living while further shrinking the middle class. A study of jurisdictions that have implemented VAT will show that the fear and anxiety being expressed is not unique to The Bahamas, nor is it unusual for various interest groups to voice their concerns. The emergence of groups that purportedly represent the populace and average citizens has also inserted a unique dimension to the ongoing debate on VAT.
WTO accession and a replacement tax
We know that the government requires among other measures on the expenditure side, additional revenue to correct our structural recurrent deficit. However, the recent revelation by the co-chair of the Coalition for Responsible Taxation that the group was not aware that the reduction in tariff rates has to be immediate and cannot be phased in as The Bahamas seeks to join the WTO is indeed food for thought. This raises the question of how effective the government has been in explaining the link between our efforts to join the WTO and the introduction of VAT.
It appears that the case for our urgent accession to the WTO has not been adequately presented to the average Bahamian. It can also be argued that not enough has been said to sensitize the public to the fact that VAT is intended to replace the significant amount of revenue the government will be forfeiting as tariff rates are reduced to facilitate our accession to the WTO. Perhaps this is an indication of the oft manifested culture of addressing matters in vacuums or isolation without due attention to the bigger picture. It follows therefore that if VAT on goods is expected to replace existing tariffs on goods, the introduction of VAT should be neutral in relation to government revenue. This will not however be the case as the government expects to raise some $200 million in additional revenue from VAT on services which have been untaxed for quite some time even though our economy is for the most part service based.
The progressive aspect of a regressive tax
There is no doubt that VAT cannot be classified as a progressive form of taxation and is generally regarded as a regressive tax. In this regard, there have been numerous criticisms of this proposed tax system and suggestions for alternatives which are deemed to be more progressive in nature, including income tax.
Warren Buffett - the man often referred to as the Oracle of Omaha and regarded as one of the greatest investors of all time - has been a proponent of the rich paying more taxes in support of the philosophy of U.S. President Barack Obama. Locally, businessman Tennyson Wells has been quoted as stating a similar view, albeit from the perspective of a different school of thought on welfare, allocation of the tax burden and the trickle down paradigm. Nevertheless, as research has shown that individuals who are more well off spend a higher percentage of their income on services than goods when compared to the less well off, one can conclude that the introduction of VAT will increase the amount of taxes paid by the upper class in our country over that paid by the lower class. It should be noted that this does not eliminate the expected increase in the cost of doing business for companies, though this will ultimately be borne by the consumer.
VAT versus sales tax
The complicated nature of a VAT system has been a major component of the concerns raised by the private sector with preference for a sales tax being expressed. The government had documented its rationale for proposing VAT as opposed to other forms of taxation in the white paper released in February 2013. While the paper did not provide ample details on the analysis conducted on each type of tax prior to the selection of VAT, the superiority of VAT over sales tax in terms of enforcement mechanisms is apparent.
It is therefore understandable why the government would prefer VAT over a simple sales tax. It is a known fact and Shorey confirmed that VAT has inbuilt self-policing and compliance features which reduce the level of resources that the government will have to allocate to its compliance efforts. In effect, VAT creates a level of accountability, responsibility and transparency that makes registrants and in some cases consumers, agents of the Central Revenue Agency with significant incentives and penalties ensuring that the government receives VAT payments. On the other side, it is expected that businesses will prefer a sales tax system which is easy to administer because it requires the collection of taxes at the point of sale instead of throughout the production/value chain as required in a VAT regime.
Conclusion
The German-born American artist Hans Hofmann famously stated that "the ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak". It is time to rid ourselves of the unnecessary commentary in the VAT debate and focus on the facts necessary to move the discussion on fiscal and tax reform forward. Only then can a constructive discussion about the VAT that has become associated with fear and uncertainty, as well as proposals for viable alternatives, begin. Next week we will take a deeper dive into the features of VAT and the contents of the draft VAT Bill and regulations. In the interim, the various stakeholders need to disclose all the relevant details and simplify the information necessary for all to comprehend.

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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The fumbled, failed fiasco of BTC

March 31, 2014

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
- George Bernard Shaw
There is nothing more important when living in an archipelagic nation like ours than good communication. That's why mail boats came into being early in the 1800s in order to connect the men and women living in our islands. That's why telephones came to the country in the early 20th century so families could remain connected even though they might decide to live on different islands. That's why we invested in a radio system a little later in the 20th century so that information could be transmitted from end to end of our island chain. As we matured as a nation and entered the 21st century, we had the very reasonable expectation that our ability to communicate would not only improve and expand but would become even more reliable. Apparently, we were misinformed.
Therefore, this week we would like to Consider This... what is the state of telecommunications in The Bahamas since BaTelCo was privatized?
Telecommunications in The Bahamas
International telecommunications began in The Bahamas in 1892 with the connection of the first submarine telegraph cable from Florida to the western part of New Providence in an area that was and still is known as Cable Beach. Then the first manual telephone exchange was installed and on October 5, 1906, the first telephone system opened in Nassau with 150 subscribers; thus, international telegraph communication preceded domestic telephone service by 14 years.
Regulation and control of telephonic services was established under the Colonial-run Telegraph and Telephone Department (later the Telecommunications Department), until the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1966. This act created a state-owned corporation, Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation or BaTelCo, which, until its privatization in 2012 to Cable & Wireless, operated as a monopoly of telephony and related services.
The Telecommunications Act, which became effective on March 25, 2000, repealed the earlier act, paving the way for the privatization of the company.
As of 2012, BTC had approximately 137,000 fixed lines, 141st in the world and approximately 254,000 mobile cellular lines, 176th in the world.
The privatization nightmare
During his second term in office, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham announced that his government would privatize BaTelCo, ostensibly to move that public corporation to a first-world telecommunications company that would introduce state-of-the-art technology, enhance service quality and hopefully lower prices as a result of the operational efficiencies that a privatized company would provide. In addition, there was a promise of eliminating political interference from the management of BaTelCo, a practice that some suggested had evolved into a "fine art" under the PLP government over its 25 years in office.
It took nearly the next two decades to convert the privatization dream into reality. There were countless missteps and mistakes made by successive administrations en route to privatization. But one thing is irrefutable. Ingraham pointedly and emphatically asserted that he would not even discuss the matter of privatization with Cable & Wireless, a company which had not even submitted a bid to purchase BaTelCo. He probably correctly arrived at that "intransigent" and "irrevocably voiced" position because of the dismal reputation that that company had earned throughout the Caribbean.
It was therefore stunningly surprising when Bahamians learned that Cable & Wireless had been "invited" to propose on the privatization of this national asset. Not only was it invited to submit a bid for our greatest national treasure, it actually won the bid! This move left many Bahamians stunned as to what could possibly have transpired between the government's initial pronouncements and its final position to sell this asset to a foreign company it had initially categorically rejected - and at a price that seemed significantly lower than its intrinsic value suggested.
The vast number of Bahamians believed at the time, and even more so now, that the entire privatization process was misguided, mismanaged and mired in a quagmire of confusion that was not in our best national interest. It is reported that Ingraham made an 11th hour futile attempt to reverse the decision taken by his government to sell a majority interest to foreigners.
The fumbled, failed fiasco of privatizing BTC was birthed out of the vortex of the perennial love affair that we have historically developed for foreign ownership of our important national assets.
The current situation
Today, a privatized BTC has demonstrated that the decision to sell to Cable & Wireless was a national nightmare of epic proportions. Since BTC was sold, we have experienced what can only be described as the worst telephone service in the country's modern history. Land line and cellular calls are frequently dropped, cellular telephone calls customarily fade in and out like a tenuous apparition, depending on where you are on the islands, and the customer is often faced with a complete black-out of services for no apparent reason. Ten days ago, the entire island of New Providence and consumers on the Family Islands had no cellular service whatsoever for most of the day. That failure prompted BTC to print a full-page ad in the dailies, apologizing for "any inconvenience caused". And what have we heard from the regulator, URCA, in all of this? Absolutely zippo! No one is protecting the public interest because of the power of corporate might.
BTC was developed, managed, and financed by Bahamians and, for many years, provided impressive dividends in the millions of dollars to the central government. When we reflect on the tumultuous events caused by foreign managers at BaTelCo back in the 60s and 70s, we are reminded of how hard Bahamians worked to rid the corporation of those managers, making it 100 percent Bahamian. For some unknown reason, it really appears that the Ingraham government, in its decision on privatization, was determined to go backward, with no regard for the competence, ingenuity and business acumen of Bahamians who could have continued to manage BTC under its privatized reincarnation.
Conclusion
It is sad but true that what Bahamians spent decades developing into a modern, state-of-the-art telecommunications company has taken foreigners only a few short years to depreciate, devalue and degrade.
In 2014, our telephone services leave so much to be desired. We should demand more from the regulator and actively petition the government to move with alacrity to introduce more competition into the marketplace, so that the consumer will have a choice and the ability to fire the provider who does not deliver quality, efficient, reliable and reasonably priced service.
We are also concerned, and will closely monitor, the proposed relationship that BTC is slated to develop with the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (BCB) with specific application to television. If BTC's past experience is any indication of things to come, this does not augur well for BCB or Bahamian consumers. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, until we are provided with real and reasonable telephony choices, we must daily endure yet another bungled blunder of the political directorate that has saddled the Bahamian people with the fumbled, failed fiasco of BTC.
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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Teachable moments

March 31, 2014

What is it that distinguishes "great leadership" from "leadership"? It is the ability to stimulate and encourage, making people want to act. Taking advantage of teachable moments, great leaders show us not just who we are but who we can be.
At the times when we are at our lowest and doubt ourselves, he (or she) encourages us to rise above our situation. A great leader appeals to our better angels and encourages us to see that many of our limitations are self-imposed, to be our better selves.
The Bahamas suffers from a failure of great leadership at a time it needs it sorely.
What do I mean by teachable moments?
Our government is desperately in need of money. The consequences of failure are dire. We impose taxes to collect revenue but people are not paying their taxes. More money must be raised and therefore people must be encouraged to pay. The task is made all the more difficult because, unlike other countries, the obligation to pay taxes is not considered to be a part of the Bahamian culture.
Despite all the protests in the market, Bahamians can afford to pay more taxes than they are now paying. The enormous profitability of web shops is illustrative of this. "Numbers" do not produce anything. People spend huge amounts of their income on numbers and yet continue to lead their lives and meet their obligations. I look in amazement when I see our leaders point to taxing web shops as an integral plan for the raising of money and think themselves brilliant for devising it.
The truth is that all money spent on web shop gaming is available for the payment of taxes. In allowing the web shops and taxing them, what we are doing is letting other individuals collect it for us and, as a reward for doing so, we allow them to keep the bulk of the money collected. Taxing some of it and letting web shop owners, and maybe an occasional individual, keep the rest, in a time of national need, can be counterproductive. You can have a moral position on numbers one way or the other, but to support it to the detriment of our ability to provide basic needs and services is self-defeating and contrary to our self-interest as a community.
We can legislate more taxes but, when people don't pay existing taxes, how can we rely on payment by them of even newer taxes? Leaders have the power to make laws exercising the coercive power of the government to oblige persons to act. However, unless those laws are accompanied by strict draconian penalties enforced constantly, laws alone cannot ensure compliance. This can be imposed in a dictatorship but not in a society where leaders are subject to elections.
The people must be taught the importance of the obligations we owe each other in living together as a society; that we must each contribute to the general costs without persons who can afford to contribute wanting a free ride. We must also feel confident that the money we provide the government is spent wisely and in our best interests and not for the benefit of the few.
Characteristics of great leaders
The great leader is a teacher who is aware that he must, at times, "carry" his people where they need to go. For this he needs credibility and the trust of the people. Leadership is a sacred obligation and privilege. It is not an entitlement nor is it a favor to the people. He needs the wisdom to teach and like a teacher must know how far to push and when to call a break.
First the leader must by his own life show that what he is saying is possible.
"Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing," said Albert Schweitzer.
The recent hurling of allegations by members of Parliament, each that the others do not pay their taxes, is disappointing. The subsequent admission by the prime minister that many parliamentarians live in "the shadows" is even more so. His cry that this must be condoned because these are hard times and that we all are suffering does not give encouragement. Leadership is about sacrifice and if you wish to be a leader then there are obligations you must bear without excuse.
Second, the leader must be able to educate, charm or even cajole people into doing the right thing. This is where oratory becomes important. However, not just empty rhetoric but words to serve a purpose. President Barack Obama has had at least two teachable moments where as a leader he rose above the fray and attempted to communicate a necessary message.
The first dealt with religious intolerance. Whilst a candidate, the accusation was hurled that he was a Muslim. His response was to deny that he was a Muslim but then to postulate that even if he was, it was no reason to condemn him or disqualify him from being president. He then educated people on the importance of tolerance.
The second dealt with race when Henry Louis Gates, a black university professor, was hauled out of his home in a white neighborhood and arrested without cause. Obama then addressed the question of racial prejudice.
Sir Lynden Pindling had teachable moments.
When, as some cry, he "forced" disclosure (then called "the sunshine law") down the throats of our parliamentarians, this was necessary but unappreciated. His opponents (inside his party and out) failed to see that this was necessary if parliamentarians were to have the moral authority to convince people to modify their behavior in their own best interests. It is perhaps unfortunate that this has become lost on our present parliamentarians who see this merely as a breach of their right to privacy or, as ironically phrased by the prime minister, to live in the shadows. In consequence, they have largely ignored the sunshine law.
Again, Sir Lynden saw early the need to introduce national service to decelerate the then creeping decline in the discipline and moral awareness of our youth. Unfortunately, the credibility and trust reposed in him had been so diminished that his detractors were able to stymie his efforts by raising doubts as to his motives. As these youth themselves are now parents of youths, we are paying a steep price today resulting from the unchecked rise in crime caused, in part, by the failure to institute national service in the mid-1980s.
Our leaders now are so concerned with winning the next election that they are reluctant to challenge any destructive behavior in the people for fear of unpopularity.

o Luther H. McDonald is an attorney and partner at Alexiou, Knowles & Co.

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The eternal PLP leader
The eternal PLP leader

March 28, 2014

By the general election of 2017, Perry Christie will have been the leader of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) for two decades. And for 10 of those years he will have served as prime minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas...

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Want real change in The Bahamas It's time for active citizenship

March 28, 2014

On July 10, 2013, the Commonwealth of The Bahamas celebrated 40 years of independence.
The annual recognition of self-determination inherently gave way to a national reflection on self-evaluation and an assessment of how far we have come as a nation and what is the way forward for the next 40 years.
An objective, fair and realistic evaluation would render a judgment incredibly favorable to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. As the adage goes, "To whom much is given, much is expected."
We, the Bahamian people, have been given a great country by our God, our forefathers and Bahamians of generations past. The expectation now even more than ever is for every Bahamian citizen, every one of us, to make individual contributions to the continuous advancement and further greatness of our beloved commonwealth.
As we embark upon the next 40 years, all of us must embrace an active citizenship, one that asks: "How does my attitude, my lifestyle and my behavior either contribute to the increasing development or gradual weakening of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas?"
An active citizenship that says to be born Bahamian is not a right, but a privilege, a privilege that must be honored by an equal and unshakeable resolve to "do my part" to make The Bahamas better.
Occasionally lost sometimes in the usual rhetorical scuffle and paralysis of analysis that at times handicaps the national dialogue on pertinent issues is a fundamental and undeniable fact that history has been a witness to time and time again. When real change and transformation altered the Bahamian national landscape in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, it was an active citizenship that served as a catalyst.
From the Burma Road Riot in 1942, to the taxi cab blockade in 1958, to the historic vote of Bahamian women in 1962, to Bahamian independence in 1973, to the formation of both the Free National Movement and the Progressive Liberal Party, these historic events have been shaped by ordinary Bahamian men and women with extraordinary passion, resolve and selfless love of country.
Admirably, we have become a very vocal and critically thinking citizenry, but the ongoing sense of entitlement, over-reliance and excessive dependency on government have in many ways reduced the incentive for some Bahamians to be involved in their own development.
There must be a collective commitment to change the status quo and create a country for active citizenship to flourish. We must foster a culture that rejects the idea that political access to the Public Treasury is either the only way or the primary way for economic empowerment to occur. Governments ought to not simply act on behalf of the Bahamian people. They should act with them and create an environment ripe for economic independence and empowerment.
So while I do concede that social services agencies and programs are necessary to act as a collective safety net for our brothers and sisters who are ill-equipped and less fortunate, they cannot be embraced as a sustainable method through which we empower. We the citizens must be engaged sufficiently that we ensure that political, business, civic and religious leaders are accountable for their actions as we have to be accountable for ours. We must work with other community stakeholders to forward development, provide serious long-term solutions for our social, economic and educational ills.
Each of us should champion the concerns for those who have no voice and those whose influence is limited by virtue of education or economics. An active citizenship and social agitation is the bedrock of any mature democracy and it must be dynamic, visible and vibrant. Let me submit this, that our desires for our country are directly connected to what we are willing to give it individually. Now let me register this admission for the record. There are thousands of great Bahamians who helped to build this country and there are countless others who make their contribution to their community and this nation everyday. Yet, there still remains a sizeable portion of the population who sit on the sidelines; people who spectate not participate. Simply put "the work is plentiful in our country and the laborers are few".

Self-advancement
We must embrace the notion that each of our roles is significantly important to the transformation of our country. Whether you are the right honorable prime minister or a painter, an engineer or an evangelist, a taxi driver or a janitor. We must all lead from where we stand and alter our surroundings for the good of The Bahamas. It is my belief that we must weave into our social fabric a sense of a "through the corner", "in the yard", "everyday" patriotism. An ever-present patriotism that will stir the soul of the Bahamian people daily and incite a level of pro-activeness and a relentless focus on nation building. I'm reminded daily of the impact of this when I talk to and observe a remarkable lady on the corner of Meadows and West Streets affectionately known as "Mother Blessed" as she cares for and transforms the lives of young children in the Bain Town community. I'm reminded of this when I drive on Baillou Hill Road and see Troy Clarke of the L.E.A.D institute as he inspires the young men in his program. I am reminded of this when I think of Tyrone 'Goose' Curry of the Foundation Junkanoo group, who works tirelessly to uplift the spirits of the young men and women in the Chippingham area.
There is, however, a stark and festering reality that has been with us for decades that seems to evade our consciousness and that is there is no amount of legislated public policy that can stem the instances of chronic lawlessness, social deterioration and corruption that we are now facing. To begin to usher in the change needed it will involve an active citizenship and an engaged, aggressive, demanding Bahamian citizenry whose members work tirelessly within their circles of influence to begin to eliminate and battle those elements of our society that weaken us as a country.
We have much to be proud of as a country and are truly blessed for having been given the Commonwealth of The Bahamas by our creator. We are therefore both citizens and caretakers. Let us remind ourselves daily that citizenship is not simply a status of national residence. It is an unwritten, sacred, solemn and binding pact between us and our country. We are exposed to unlimited privileges of being Bahamian; the absolute advantages of our climate; our geography, our seas. We benefit from a sometimes, yes, challenged but underestimated thriving democracy and a stable economy. We are in the elite and enviable position of being one of six countries in the world that have United States pre-clearance. We enjoy the relatively peaceful and tranquil experience that is the Bahamian way of life. All that is asked of us is to do our part and make individual and collective contributions to our Bahamaland that has given us so much. We reap the harvest from our land but in my humble view too many are unwilling to till the soil for the next generation just as the land was prepared for them.
There is no more room for idle hands or the absentee citizen. For the very same community and society we neglect today are the same ones we will become victims of tomorrow. We must awaken those patriotic passions and cultural ideals that were so prevalent during the pre-independence years and those immediately after. There must be a huge shift in how we view our citizenship. Let us harness that unique Bahamian spirit of excellence that has given us world-class leaders, scholars, actors, painters, song writers, musicians and athletes and become consumed by what will make us individually better neighbors, ideally better Bahamian citizens, because the future of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas depends on it.
o Shanendon E. Cartwright is the founder and facilitator of Vision 21 - an educational, motivational and interactive lecture series on leadership.

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The FNM, the equality of women and the progressive cause

March 27, 2014

By royal mandate the House of Assembly was established in the Bahama Islands in 1729 during the governorship of Woodes Rogers.
The institution was intended for white men of means. Slaves, their descendants and women did not legally qualify to sit in the House. White men of lesser means were unable to sit by virtue of their lower economic standing.
The institution evolved over the centuries, becoming the centerpiece of Bahamian democracy representing the relative advancement and equality of various segments of society.
During the second and third decades of the last century, R.M. Bailey and the politicians C.C. Sweeting and S.C. McPherson formed a political group, the Ballot Party. McPherson, like Stephen Dillette, Walton Young and others before him, were among the first blacks elected to the House.
In the 1940s Dr. C.R. Walker, Bert Cambridge and Milo Butler engaged the struggle for racial equality, championing the cause as members of the House.
Still, the largely undemocratic nature of the assembly involved not only those eligible for election. It also concerned those "qualified" to vote. As noted by Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes in an independence address last year: "One had to be male to register to vote. One had to own or rent property of a certain value. One male could vote in every constituency in which he owned or rented property... A lawyer could cast a vote for each of the companies registered at his office."
The gross inequality of the system was overwhelmingly directed against blacks and women.
Intransigence
In her famous January 19, 1959 philippic and plea for female enfranchisement Dame Dr. Doris Johnson understood how difficult the road ahead was in the face of male intransigence.
She might not have fathomed then the resistance ahead by the men of the PLP in regard to gender equality well beyond voting rights.
She drummed in 1959: "This mobilization of our energies was called forth by the challenging statement issued by the Right Honorable Secretary of State Mr. Lennox-Boyd on 13th April 1958 that there was not sufficient interest on the part of Bahamian women for him to recommend the enfranchisement of women at that time.
"This statement by the secretary was issued despite the fact that a petition signed by more than 3,000 women had been presented to Mr. Lennox-Boyd by a delegation of women from the Suffrage Movement.
"To add insult to injury, Mr. Lennox-Boyd at the same time recommended the extension of the franchise to all males who have reached the age of 21. May we remind you that there has never been any demand from our husbands and sons to secure their rights, but these are freely recommended..."
Women secured the vote in time to participate in the 1962 general election. They would not secure a seat in the House for another two decades. It was not the Old Guard alone which stymied the election of women to the House.
Sadly, ironically, it was some in the New Guard in the PLP who failed in helping secure a woman a seat in the people's assembly.
It is unfathomable, unconscionable, that a PLP which raised eternal hell in dismantling the Old Guard's resistance to blacks attaining political power, failed to move heaven and earth to quickly get a woman elected to the centerpiece of Bahamian democracy.
From the inception of the PLP in 1953, and most certainly from the 1956 general election until 1987 - over 31 years - a Bahamian woman was never afforded nomination for a safe or winnable seat in the House by the party.
Shattered
It was not until 1982, two and a half centuries after the establishment of the House, that a woman was elected to the chamber. It was the Free National Movement which shattered the glass ceiling, successfully running Janet Bostwick.
What makes the narrative more compelling is that the accomplishment came while the FNM was still in opposition and enjoyed a limited number of winnable seats. The party made a calculated gamble in the advancement of Bahamian women.
For decades prior, the PLP, which enjoyed a surplus of safe seats, refused to run a woman in any of those constituencies, though they nominated any number of men with limited intellectual capacity, poor character and a talent for corruption.
It seemed that the PLP preferred a dumb man over a smart woman. Even the brilliant Dame Doris was given a nomination for a seat in Eleuthera, which she stood no chance of winning.
Likewise the highly accomplished Mizpah Tertullien, who was nominated for the unwinnable Shirlea seat. The sexist pattern was to nominate women as tokens for seats the PLP could not win.
Bahamian women were integral to the success of the PLP in terms of votes, grassroots organizing, fundraising, branch development and other support. But apparently women were not good enough to sit among the men in the House.
Except for the brief period Dame Doris served in an early Cabinet of Sir Lynden Pindling, not a single other woman sat in the Cabinet of The Bahamas during the PLP's initial quarter of a century rule. Apparently, women were also not good enough to serve in Cabinet.
The election of Janet Bostwick was part of a broader progressive vision which became resident in the FNM after the departure of the Dissident Eight from the PLP.
That split came about for a number of reasons, including the abandonment of various progressive principles and ideas by Pindling's PLP. Among the eight were Warren Levarity and Arthur Foulkes, two of the leading architects of the PLP progressive advocacy group the National Committee for Positive Action.
Unmatched
Over the decades they were joined by other progressives including Edmund Moxey and Hubert Ingraham, whose record on gender equality is unmatched by any Bahamian prime minister.
With the FNM's 1992 victory three women were appointed to Cabinet posts with portfolio assignments in health, social services, national insurance, transport and the public service.
After a Cabinet shuffle during that term, women were appointed to portfolios dealing with education, foreign affairs and that of the attorney general.
The FNM irrevocably shattered many glass ceilings for women, including in the judiciary and Mount Fitzwilliam.
Following the 1997 election both the speaker of the House, Italia Johnson, and the president of the Senate, Lynn Holowesko, were female. A mid-term change of senators resulted in 50 percent of the Senate being female.
One of the few progressives remaining in what quickly became a reactionary cult of power around Sir Lynden Pindling was A.D. Hanna, who reportedly noted in recent years that it is the FNM which now appears as the more progressive of the two major parties.
With majority rule secured, the PLP largely abandoned women. At the 1972 Constitutional Conference the party opposed the right of automatic citizenship to children born outside The Bahamas of a non-Bahamian husband.
The issue was a significant matter of contention, with the FNM delegation arguing for full equality for women.
The FNM made another calculated gamble toward the advancement of women with the 2002 referendum, but the PLP, in a gross act of political expediency, campaigned against the equality amendment.
In office, the FNM dismantled institutionalized sexist policies and laws the PLP maintained for a quarter century.
The FNM required that male and female officers engaged in the public service be treated equally regardless of marital status.
It ended the practice whereby male public officers were routinely promoted over women and winning higher salaries because they were invariably seen as the principal "breadwinner".
Abolished
The FNM abolished the dower and made surviving spouses, regardless of gender, heir to the matrimonial home. It abolished primogeniture.
Who sits at the table, whether in the House or in Cabinet, makes an enormous difference in terms of policies and attitudes generally and on matters relating to equality.
The next wave of equality is on the horizon. It will include not only more pro-family and gender equality policies. It will include also significantly more women at the heart of political decision-making.
Of historic moment this may include Loretta Butler-Turner, the granddaughter of Sir Milo Butler, a progressive with unimpeachable credentials.
Majority rule helped liberate some from their fears and prejudices. The greater involvement of women in elected office may do likewise. But perhaps more significantly she is Milo Butler's kin and an FNM, rooted in the progressive traditions of her grandfather and the party she now calls home.
Like the offspring of prominent PLP families, including those of the late Charles Maynard and Dr. Duane Sands, she decided to leave the PLP and join the more progressive FNM.
Butler-Turner is revealing herself as a champion of all Bahamians, whether black or white; gay or straight; rich, middle class or poor; PLP, FNM or DNA. And no matter whether male or female.
Gender remains a significant factor in political life. Still, today, the bulk of the electorate appears decidedly more motivated by a leader's vision and values. Decidedly less concerned as to whether a leader is addressed as Mr. or Madam.
The FNM may be on track to shatter the biggest glass ceiling yet.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Changing the conversation: Assessing VAT and the nation's fiscal crisis

March 26, 2014

Anyone watching the news or reading the newspapers in the past few months would have heard some elements of the government's planned implementation of value-added tax (VAT). The private sector has mounted opposition to the introduction of VAT and some have raised concerns whether VAT is the best taxation regime to wrestle the gloomy state of the national finances. It should be stated at the outset that VAT is widely employed and recognized in many developed countries as an appropriate model for modern tax collection.
With the publication of the white paper and the value-added tax bill, there is no doubt that the introduction of VAT is a major and radical policy shift in our post-independence fiscal management. If introduced, it will amount to the alteration of an archaic taxation regime that has been in place from the colonial days. It too will have the distinction of modernizing our approach to taxation matters and hopefully will signal a new paradigm in the collection and allocation of the state's finances. The planned introduction of VAT has major consequences for The Bahamas and therefore it is vitally critical for members of the public to be informed and engaged in the consultative process. Given these realities, it is imperative for the public dialogue to be analytical, informative and frank.
VAT is generally considered a complex and robust tax. Although VAT is not the most progressive of taxation methods, it is viewed as having vast benefits in a multi-tax regime principally because it is a consumption tax. VAT is similar to retail (or sales) tax but is collected in smaller increments throughout the production or service delivery process. Its method of collection does not allow the "full" tax to be paid by the final consumer.

The tax is collected by all entities providing taxable goods and services and is imposed on sales to all purchasers. It allows for a set-off of a business' VAT liability from that of the amount paid for the purchase of the goods and services delivered to the consumer. It has a net-like-effect in the calculation of the total VAT liability owed to the government.
There is need for further explanation and discussion as to whether the "Bahamian" design of VAT will be based on a broad consumption base by an inclusion of all forms of government services. There must also be further consideration to whether there will be neutrality between public and private sector provision of goods and services. Additionally, deliberation must also be given to whether VAT will employ a credit-invoice method and if there is value in the imposition of the intended multi-rate as opposed to a single uniform rate. There has not been sufficient discussion about the increased administrative burden it will place on businesses and the government and whether the rate(s) will be high enough to raise sufficient revenue to accomplish the tax reform measures. These are weighty matters that require broad consultation and public education so that the implementation is progressive and seamless.
Further, special consideration must be given to small businesses and those entities which carry out non-commercial services in light of the added costs associated with VAT compliance. At present, the definitions of "business" and "taxable activity" in the bill are broad enough to include some charitable and religious services and possibly certain non-commercial government services. Although the bill exempts services relating to religious and charitable functions, all ancillary services may not be exempt. This was the experience in the United Kingdom (for example) where children's clothing had a zero rate VAT but some items in that category were still not exempt (i.e., a basic T-shirt versus one with embellishments).
It is interesting that the bill seeks to create a distinction in the taxes collected from goods and services for local and international consumption. This approach questions whether our present economic model justifies such a division given the limited taxpayer base. We also must examine whether there is any merit in retaining the payment of license fees in the port area in Grand Bahama under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement if VAT is to create a broad base tax regime. Emphasis must also be directed at ensuring that poor Bahamians are not unduly saddled with a greater taxation burden. In this regard, the bill provides exempt status for certain basic food items and services. The question is whether the identified exempted goods are adequate to provide the required protection for the poor and marginalized. It must be noted that some critical services are not subject to zero exemption, albeit they are heavily utilized by the poor.
There are clear advantages if VAT's application is broad based and levied as a single rate. It should stimulate economic efficiency and can also increase consumers' choice. It can also have the effect of allowing consumers to properly and wisely allocate resources in a democratic fashion.
The rationale for the exemption of financial services and international transactions requires further public explanation. The intent may have been to blindly continue the decades' old "protectionism" of foreign banks and financial service providers. For local banks and financial services providers that are majority owned by Bahamians who cater to a predominant foreign clientele, no exemption should apply. Similarly, foreign banks and financial institutions, whose shareholders are predominantly non-Bahamians and whose control is outside the geographical waters of The Bahamas, should not enjoy exempt status. These matters should be further reviewed within the context of whether VAT will be a barrier to the further expansion of the Bahamian financial services sector and the overall economic growth across all sectors.
It must also be recognized that unlike other nations that have employed VAT, the national conversation is not centered on the introduction of VAT in conjunction with the harmonization of income or capital gains taxes. This means that our approach should be fundamentally different to that of the United Kingdom and New Zealand (and other OECD countries). The primary focus should be to attain the greatest potential for overall revenue generation by taxing goods and services enjoyed by all consumers, particularly those who may repatriate savings and profits to onshore or other offshore jurisdictions without the payment of taxes under the present structure.
Our present taxation regime is unitary and based on fixed rates for business licenses and customs duties. Even within this simple system of taxation, noncompliance is remarkably high. It is also true that no matter the taxation method or model, tax evasion is inevitable. In the U.S.A., income tax evasion is projected at between 18-20 percent. It is possible that in The Bahamas the rate of tax evasion is at the higher threshold of 40 percent for customs duties, real property tax and business licenses. The government hopefully has built into its revenue projections and analysis a reasonable percentage for tax evasion, as VAT will not likely put an end to the culture of tax noncompliance. In fact, it may be arguable that tax evasion may be simplified and enlarged with the introduction of VAT, as it may lend to counterfeit inputs and "ghost" transactions. The United Kingdom pegs its tax evasion for VAT to around 13 percent and in OECD countries it is around 18 percent on average. The experience of the developed economies is that VAT is more prone to evasion when more categories of goods and services are excluded and multiple rates are utilized. There are other valuable experiences and lessons that we must take stock of and seek to find creative ways to eliminate in the Bahamian roll-out of VAT.
Government spending and tax collection
Thus far the debate on the new tax has placed too little emphasis on the relationship between VAT and the growth of government spending. Assuming that the government is able to raise more revenue with VAT it must not be a panacea for an exponential increase in government spending and the expansion of government noncommercial services. The fact that there is a need for a more modern approach to taxation demands that the government similarly create a legislative frame that ties government spending to the total amount of taxes actually collected in any fiscal period. There must be dual responsibility and accountability on the taxpayer and the government in the collection, allocation and spending of the tax dollars.
Bahamians fully understand that the government requires a broader tax regime to meet the growing demands of the society. Bahamians are also in tune with the culture of non-tax compliance, which is across all economic classes. Thus far the debate is glaringly and intellectually hypocritical by the failure or refusal to discuss all of the other available options for tax-credit expansion. There is a need therefore for the policymakers to engage in a larger purposeful discussion about taxation (period) and the best measures to increase taxes, albeit in a grueling recession. The debate must also focus on the "new" measures and methods that must be introduced to improve tax collection. There is no denying that presently the government is doing a lousy job in collecting real property tax and in the assessment and collection of customs duties and business license fees. Just as the present system allows for tax evasion, one hopes that the culture of a few paying the tax bill will not remain a staple of our fiscal discipline and management.
Governments are elected to lead. But they are also elected to govern responsibly, sensibly and fairly. There is no fairness in a taxation model that will drive people into poverty and create a further burden on those who are not able to meet the basic needs of human existence. The Bahamian people are duty bound to reject any taxation regime that favors over-taxing the poor or that creates a windfall for those who can afford to pay more.
The honorable prime minister was correct when he suggested that the government should slow down the process. At present there remains too many unanswered questions, and too many other viable options that require public explanation as to why they cannot be employed to fix the nation's fiscal crisis. It is therefore incumbent on the government to change the conversation and to review all options, inclusive of a payroll tax, to assess and determine if there are other robust models which can be implemented to assist in the expansion of the tax base. The government must also lead by example and must demonstrate to the public that it recognizes that it must reduce waste, foolish and extravagant expenditure and poor fiscal planning. It can lead by recognizing the constitutional provisions on the size of Cabinet and by creating a more lean, responsive and progressive public sector.
There is much merit in a simple and easy to understand taxation regime that better aids in tax compliance.
The government should revisit its overall taxation strategy and devise a plan that fits well within the nation's future needs and achieves our international competitiveness. The fact is that there can be no new taxation regime without an engaging public dialogue. Leadership on these matters demands a pragmatic approach to the nation's daunting fiscal challenges and the full engagement of the Bahamian people. The process must be transparent, intellectual in its analyses and focused on improving the quality of the tax product (VAT or a viable alternative).
o Raynard Rigby is an attorney and former chairman of the Progressive Liberal Party.

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The South Bahamas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists present "Then Came the Morning"

March 25, 2014

Easter themed dramatic musical premiers April 16th at the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts...

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Union demand must be resisted

March 25, 2014

The union representing workers at the Customs and Immigration Departments has been upset in recent weeks. The Bahamas Customs, Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) recently won a strike vote over its outstanding labor issues with the government...

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The fiscal reform series: Political music chairs

March 25, 2014

The game of musical chairs has been around for quite some time and is often played at functions to the delight of both participants and spectators. The game begins with a number of players and a number of chairs which is one less than the number of players. Music is played and while the music is on the participants walk or dance around the chairs. However, when the music is stopped, the players must race to find a chair to sit on and the individual without a chair is eliminated. The game continues until the chairs are reduced to one and last man or woman sitting when the number of chairs is reduced to one wins the game.
The vital topic of fiscal reform over the years can be likened to the game of musical chairs. The metaphoric reference to this game is an interesting one albeit the only difference is that the last man or woman standing in this instance has been left to address this matter and must face the music. In essence, fiscal reform had become a game of political music chairs but now the music has stopped and chickens have come home to roost.
The participants over the years
The public discourse on the issue of fiscal and tax reform has rightly highlighted the fact that successive administrations have contributed to the current state of our financial affairs. The main players of the fiscal reform political music chairs have been the administrations of both the Progressive Liberal Party and Free National Movement. However, it would be disingenuous not to state that the levels of prudence and/or extravagance exerted by each administration have differed.
The fact that the percentage of our revenue obtained from taxes is one of the lowest in the world suggests that we have not sought to keep up to date with global trends and the changing landscape of our country. Additionally, the reality that we have depended heavily on custom duties and import taxes for so long shows our level of planning in a world of globalization and free trade.
The Band-Aid approach
The lack of courage to make the difficult decisions on fiscal reform over the years led successive administrations to use quick fixes to plug holes in our finances. Hence, the government adjusted tariff rates year after year in attempts to raise sufficient revenue to cover its expenditures. Additionally, some fees were increased sometimes to the detriment of businesses and private individuals in order to minimize recurrent deficits.
It is apparent that the plan of the current administration to curb spending, improve revenue administration, implement a more progressive form of taxation and spur economic growth should have been implemented several years ago. Had such a plan been developed when it ought to have been done, we would have had the luxury of phasing in our fiscal reform plan without our backs up against the wall. We chose to cover fractures with Band-Aids knowing full well that casts were required to fix the structural fiscal problems of The Bahamas.
The delight of the spectators
It is important that the private sector and we the Bahamian people take responsibility for our role as spectators in this game of political music chairs. The danger of political tribalism could not be better shown than in this instance as we failed to adequately hold successive administrations accountable for the management of our financial affairs. While the music played, we were entertained as we demanded more from the government on the expenditure side without considering the consequences of spending more than we earned.
On the part of the private sector, it is encouraging to see the current level of engagement on the proposed implementation of value-added tax (VAT) in The Bahamas. However, this also begs the question as to where the leaders of industry have been hitherto. Unfortunately, the discussion is being held at a time when the country is at a crossroad; at a period of desperation for our commonwealth. While the tax concessions were being given, tariff rates were being reduced and we amassed considerable debt, it seems that we were comfortable as long as there was no direct threat to our profitability or survival.
The hypocrisy of opposition parties over the years is even more profound due to the contradictions of positions taken. These positions were accompanied by complaints against and criticisms of the government of the day for not doing enough (which requires spending more or giving up more revenue in concessions or tax breaks), overspending and not having a comprehensive national economic plan. Sadly, upon assumption or regaining political power, the former opposition parties chose to maintain the status quo. It is therefore mind-boggling to see that we are only just considering fiscal reform in 2014.
The stoppage of the music
There is no doubt that the music has now been stopped and the current administration has been left holding the proverbial bag. Unlike the traditional game of music chairs, the government of the day in winning the competition and being elected is constrained to confront the important issue of fiscal reform under the watchful and prying eyes of international rating agencies and multilateral organizations.
This is indeed quite a time to be the government and a convenient period to be the opposition party. Long overdue discussions are being held and recommendations are now being made while the clock is ticking. We must face the fact that the downgrade of our sovereign rating and potential devaluation of our currency in future is imminent if we do not act now. We must remain cognizant that we do not have the luxury of time and the urgency of now demands calculated action in the short term.
Conclusion
There must be full acknowledgment by our political leaders across the various political parties that they have all failed over the years to put country first on the issue of fiscal reform by the reluctance to make the tough but right decisions on this issue of national importance. The rationale for their inactions may not be fully known but it is clear that political self-preservation was a major contributor. The fear of repercussions at the polls appears to have crippled successive administrations in this regard.
Once they admit this failure, it is incumbent upon them to now work together to address this matter.

It is unhelpful and counterproductive to simply disagree without offering realistic alternatives. In the midst of this debate, we must also not forget that tax reform is not unconnected to the globalization effort and the move toward trade liberalization with our accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Hence, commentators must consider the bigger picture and resist a myopic view to simply avoid VAT.
In the final analysis, it would seem that the game of political music chairs is a permanent fixture of our politics, and Bahamian politicians have mastered the art of finger-pointing. Regrettably, this game is played out on every issue of national importance in our nation. However, as is often said, when you point a finger at someone, the majority of the other fingers are pointing at you. The only saving grace for the individual pointing the finger is that when the music stopped, he/she was only watching as a spectator even though he/she had his/her day at the reins of power.
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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Missteps and missed opportunities

March 24, 2014

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill

During the past few months, there have been instances where some of our public officials, on all sides of the political divide, seem to have taken leave of their senses. The country now appears to be coasting on a directionless and purposeless trajectory, seemingly on auto-pilot, with no clear direction or knowledge of where we are headed. Some members of the governing party appear to be off on a frolic of their own, without any sense of belonging to a unified team, while the Official Opposition continually fails to offer any substantial, philosophically-based alternatives to governance, apparently intent on opposing for its own sake.
Therefore this week, we would like to consider this...will the missteps and missed opportunities of the recent past result in a political culture that will be characterized by single-term governments for the foreseeable future?
A real sense of purpose and direction
In the early days of our modern political history, dating back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s, our politics were driven by a real sense of deeply-rooted and philosophically-based national purpose. Beginning with the advent of party politics in 1953 and inspired by a unified national psyche that characterized the march to majority rule in 1967 and culminating with political independence in 1973, our national development was driven by clearly defined and innately intuitive ideals of a national mission. That no longer seems to be the case. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost our focus, irretrievably ensconced in a vortex that whirls from the surreal to the stultifying.
For better or worse, our development from 1967 to 1992 was aided, and some would argue, possibly retarded, by the fact that, during that time, there was a continuity of leadership by a single political party, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). That 25-year rule was interrupted by the election of the Free National Movement (FNM), which had a 10-year run at governance from1992 to 2002. The next 10 years witnessed two one-term PLP and FNM administrations, previously unprecedented in our politics. Then in 2012, the PLP won the elections and some would now argue that if that party continues on its current trajectory, it will once again be a one-term government. So what has happened?
A more demanding and intolerant electorate
One reason for the precipitous pendulum swing that resulted in one-term tenures is today's more demanding electorate, whose tolerance and patience for high quality performance by the government is short-lived.
In the case of the PLP, which ruled from 2002 to 2007, the intolerance of the electorate was driven by charges of corruption and scandals in office, coupled with a sense of indecisive leadership. In addition, the electorate believed that too much emphasis was placed on foreign investors at the expense of our own citizens who did not have the same level of attention, access or support from its government.
In the case of the FNM, which ruled from 2007 to 2012, the electorate quickly tired of the autocratic and bellicose leadership style of the prime minister, coupled with a miserably mismanaged multimillion dollar road works program that disrupted the lives of thousands and displaced and closed down the businesses of many others.
The current state of play
Today, with less than two years in office, the people are again murmuring about the PLP government, an unprecedented case of "buyers' remorse" in such a short period of time. Since coming to office, the government has moved to contain one crisis after another, beginning with the firing of the chairman of the National Insurance Board, a failed referendum on web shop gaming, and considerable opposition to the government's indecisiveness and insensitivity to Bahamians who believe that they should be free to gamble in casinos in The Bahamas.
In addition, many Bahamians believe that the government has poorly executed its tax reform program, including its vastly unpopular value-added tax (VAT) proposal. The opposition to the VAT proposal has also been heightened by the unpopular rescue efforts of the VAT chief spokesman following his admission of dodging real property taxes, particularly in light of that person's strong stance against persons who are not compliant with respect to the payment of the proposed value-added taxes. All of these missteps and mistakes were exacerbated by the recent admission by a parliamentarian that he has physically abused a woman.
In addition, there are many of the party faithful who feel that the government has done little to reward their loyalty to the party, while rewarding, and in some instances favoring, some persons who have vociferously and overtly opposed the party.
It is also patently obvious that the people have no more tolerance for the "yuck it up style" in Parliament where opposing forces seem to display little civility in the House of Assembly and less so in the Senate. It is also crystal clear that the People want thoughtful solutions and serious lawmakers who are expected to behave like law abiding citizens.
The electorate is short of patience with a short attention span and, if this behavior persists, will look forward with great anticipation to expressing their displeasure at the polls in a little over 37 months or possibly earlier.
What does this mean for our democracy?
In light of these developments, the important question that the PLP must urgently address is whether, through its performance in office, they are breeding single-term governments and, if so, what is the danger of that?
Most reasonable people will accept that the 25-year run that the PLP enjoyed under Sir Lynden was too long and that the country is not well-served by such long tenures of any political party. We believe that it is a very positive thing for the people to change governments from time to time. By the same token, it cannot be beneficial for our democracy or for the continuity of governance if, because of the pronouncements and actions of elected officials, we constantly experience the yo-yo changes of one-term governments. Such an eventuality does not foster stability of governments.
Conclusion
If we are going to promote stability of governance and afford a government a reasonable opportunity to fulfil its mandate, the government of the day must fully appreciate that they are constantly and continually being evaluated. Therefore, they must minimize their missteps and take advantage of every opportunity to ensure that they enjoy the confidence of the people who have entrusted them with leadership. Political parties must fully understand the prevailing intolerance and impatience of the electorate and the consequences of such sentiments. If these parties persist in behavior that insults the intelligence of that electorate and if they ignore the tenets of civility in office, they will forever find themselves on the wrong side of the electorate whose lack of tolerance for nonsense and miscreant behavior will result in them being turned out of office after just a single term.
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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Haiti's problems continue: Claims of sanctioned trade abuse at the border

March 22, 2014

Inasmuch as there has been a significant amount of attention placed on the issue of Haitians born in the Dominican Republic being stripped of certain rights by the Dominican Republic, overlooked and may be argued just as perverse is what appears to be systematic and apparently sanctioned trade abuses by the Dominican Republic government. This relates to the export of products into Haiti through gaps in the border shared by the two countries.
Case in point may be the case of poultry and eggs, where the Dominican Republic exports over 400 million eggs per year to Haiti through several of the more than 50 unofficial trading centers on the Dominican side of the border. While it is clear that there is need for products like poultry and eggs in Haiti, the possible dumping of unregulated, sometimes expired, untested and untaxed Dominican products undermines the concept of fair trade and denies the Haitian government much needed tax revenue.
Importantly, it also belies the argument that Haiti is open for business. A recent investment by Jamaica Broilers and local partners may well be an example of how the current situation conspires against an effort by investors in Haiti to build out a viable business. For the Haitian small farmer involved in poultry and egg production, the future, considering the possible unfair trade practices being employed, is bleak and could be catastrophic.
To be clear, the efforts of investors such as Haiti Broilers to produce hatchlings, feed, eggs and broilers for the local market cannot address the needs of a population of over eight million people. There is, as a result, space for many players, including legitimate Dominican exporters and/or investors. However, the current framework that apparently facilitates the illicit movement of unregulated goods can in no way be allowed to continue. In trade terms, the effective dumping of products into Haiti with the apparent blessing of the Dominican government needs to be checked before it destroys a nascent industry and the livelihood of small farmers. The situation can also be viewed as a red flag to other parties interested in investing in Haiti.
To be fair, the unwillingness or inability of the Haitian government to exercise controls and collect taxes on goods coming across the border serves to highlight a significant problem for Haiti. This however does not absolve the government of the Dominican Republic of responsibility for a situation where the unregulated trade of foodstuffs in locations that are unsanitary, is being conducted within its borders.
While there has been fanfare surrounding the recent signing of protocols by government officials of both countries on the issue of poultry and eggs, the lack of a regulatory system to ensure the quality of product remains. Licensing and certifying of facilities, health permits, and the storage and refrigerated transportation mechanisms needed to guarantee safe foodstuff remains unfunded. This, while it is argued, producers in the Dominican Republic continue to flood the weak border infrastructure.
Some solutions that have to be considered include increased support for border control and sanitary systems for Haitian authorities by the international donor community. Failure to support mechanisms to collect lost tax revenue allows for claims of the development community being complicit in perpetuating a system that will have Haiti as an unfettered market for products that may or may not meet international standards. Worse, it dooms those involved in agricultural production to unfair competition, as they are liable for import duties at the seaports they use to bring in necessary inputs while goods coming access the border are likely to enter freely.
Fundamentally for investor and small farmer alike, in the face of any trade abuse, the Haitian government will have to advance a system that protects local businesses from any alleged unfair practices. It has to also promote and incentivize the development of local industries that create employment and address food security. All this with the support of the development community that claims to be committed to seeing the country prosper.

o Anton Edmunds is the head of The Edmunds Group, a boutique business and government advisory service firm that focuses on the Caribbean, and a senior Associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). He can be contacted by email here and prior posts reviewed at the firm's website: www.theedmundsgroup.com. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Hello Caribbean: Is it the criminal data or lack of policy

March 21, 2014

The region often talks about crime, and that is always good, but ignores the root causes of crimes. Far too often, when one has a criminal record, he or she is treated as an outcast and their ability to be heard diminished. This is no different from the stigma placed on teenage pregnancy. The pride of the Caribbean is just as important as any policies, but it is a two-edged sword.
Today, government has to find an effective way to manage the offender population rather than community isolation. It has to utilize the community, from the church, to the boys club and other outreach programs. Gone are the days when one is sent to the countryside to live with a grandmother or an older aunt because of shame. We are now more connected than decades ago. This is not an argument to relax on criminal behavior.
When national security leaders make crime a priority, however, despite good efforts, far too often when leaders find common ground in solving major issues, strategies seem to serve political sides rather than the law and justice in general. The same applies to an economic agenda. Although politics is everywhere, there comes a time when the elections are over. The concept of multidimensional approach that addresses emerging threats must cover all aspects: rehabilitation, vocational and career development, and ensure a fundamental social justice component. These are not mutually exclusive.
Today, I challenge any member of this region's public safety departments to look at their offender population who are sitting in jail waiting to be tried, and see how long they have been incarcerated before due process. Sure, we must ensure that a person who has allegedly committed a crime has due process. However, sometimes the pre-trial period far exceeds the actual length of sentence the court can impose and this can only lead to more frustration and distrust in the system.
The good news is that recent reports have shown a reduction in crime. However, simply scanning these Caribbean news headlines there is always a crime-related story. Crime is not unique to the Caribbean alone, but these local issues cannot be compared to what is going on in industrial countries such as the U.S. to satisfy frustration locally. Here is why: If an individual is killed next door for example in the U.S. very rarely the neighbor has an idea what happened until one might ask, "Have you seen Bob or Malcolm?" Take that same person killed on the beach in the Caribbean; this could have a rippling effect on the tourism industry, and the community in general as these issues will be magnified tremendously.
When we look at a downward trend as it relates to crime, we cannot only highlight the actual numbers of deaths as the common denominator. When the numbers are reduced, it should be commended by the efforts implemented by law enforcement. However, can we say the success of a nation is being measured by the amount of deaths reported? Crime is beyond a gun war; it is domestic violence, financial, organized crimes, kidnapping of school students, poor schools, rape, incest, abuse, robberies, drugs being sold in front of schools, older men preying on young schoolchildren who are not at the right age to engage in relationships and easy access to alcohol and thefts. All these areas have to be reported.
Managing crime must cut across all political sides. In these debates, crime rates are often viewed through the lenses of political sides. Where a downward slope can be found, all sides should praise it because all sides are linked together in moving the country forward. No one political party is immune from crime.
Risk analysis
Some of these individuals have serious mental health issues that were not treated and later led to these problems; family dynamics, such as broken homes, and victims' crimes, poor education, and the lack of opportunities. They are depressed, and have been frustrated with their leaders, and any outlet to become belligerent will often take place.
A police officer is always the first responder to incidents. Therefore, an officer who has been afforded a high degree of discretion in the exercise of his authority, and in some events, since one's attitude and preferences can often shape how he or she acts, it is important that one exercises self-control even when he/she can get away with negative behavior.
As the rhetoric continues about getting tough on crimes, do they actually know these criminals, and their whereabouts? For example: someone who has been deported and suddenly arrived in your town. This person has been gone since he was 15 months old, and the only thing he shares with the local people is a birth certificate issued in the same government building.
Upon arrival back to the island, no one knows why this person was deported. Not all drugs dealers are killers, and not all killers are drug dealers. Some of these individuals were simply caught for being at the wrong place and, through affiliations, or a past incident after which they have turned their life around, suddenly become part of the massive deportation policies being implemented from the U.S., Canada and England.
The lack of support and labeling when they arrive often forces them into illegal activities. In some crime-fighting events, local officers have lost colleagues in shootouts, and this is not that deportees are long-time criminals. It is simply they have better weapons skills stemming from early exposure and the easy access to weapons back in the U.S. and other areas from where they were deported. Now authorities are left wondering why an officer was killed. Sometimes it takes more than one big tent to get to know these people. I am not implying that measures have not been taken, but more needs to be done with the right training and proper resources in place.
How do you screen this person?
Reducing crimes does not always lie only with apprehension and incarceration of community criminals. The recruiting of right police candidates is equally important. A comprehensive analysis is paramount to ensure that not because one enters service to society he or she is the correct person for the job. It is essential that they have the right mind to serve and protect, and not just another way out of poverty, and to earn a paycheck and, in addition, using their power as a platform that engages in illegal activities. The potential here for corruption can be high. If one is being viewed as part of the problem, the community often sees all as a bad bunch.
Perception
Throughout the world, law enforcement officers die frequently in the line of work. However, the numbers can be high at times in the overall Caribbean region. There seems to be a level of disconnect as to the important role officers play in restoring order and other public safety issues. Install a permanent reminder to let future officers be aware that their service is vital to maintain democracy peace and freedom.
How do you reduce crime when law enforcement is seen as part of the problem rather than the solution? In the same communities where these officers serve, often people demonstrate and call for the release of accused individuals, even when the evidence points to guilt. Again, it is sometimes linked to the overall lack of hope and trust in the criminal justice system, as they often received more support from other criminals than the opportunities to find real work.
On the other hand, nothing is accomplished when individuals take to the streets with knives and machetes to resolve disputes and political disagreements. Today, it appears guns have replaced an individual coming down the hill with a piece of stick after a disagreement occurred. These individuals must take the time to research issues, seek a mediation process, arm themselves with information, and when one meets a senator, ask questions how their numbers are going to work and what the backup plan is if all fails. I have never seen anyone being released after committing a crime because he/she had no idea of the laws.
Moving forward, how an offender transitions back the community, the support one receives, including victims, will be more critical. Furthermore, how that society provides intervention(s) will have a significant impact in the long-run as to more guns being bought, alarm systems installed to protect homes, purchases of groceries and other goods online delivered in armored trucks.
These communities need to attract investments, and sometimes development is the only way it can generate employment, but we cannot develop more private beaches disguised as five-star hotels and homes only to shut out the local people who maintain roads, cut the grass and clean the bathrooms. This depends on what kind of future society we want to create. When leaders use the media in cases of child neglect, there has to be a balance as to the social and political data when these disparities occur.
Reintegration
Society cannot sustain growth when one segment is being shut out: my philosophy on crime will remain tough and that if one commits a crime, the only solution is that he/she equally does the time. Building any society will need a holistic approach. It is more than likely that, given the geographic location of these towns, and the lack of resources, an offender will be back in the same area as the victim and how do you reconcile that without retaliation?
Just as much as victim support is critical, the offender needs the same level of support.
Incarcerated individuals often struggle in the re-entry process. We have to reduce some of the inhumane ways these offenders are being treated both inside and outside of the prison walls.
A paradigm shift cannot be the new buildings we develop, and ignore other problems as to some of the root causes and how to address these issues. Often an individual goes to jail for stealing a goat, few coconuts, or a fight, and someone gets hurts. Although we must not minimize the impact on their victims, however, one returns to the community after a period of incarceration as a cold-blooded killer stemming from indoctrination housed with hard-core criminals.
Suddenly, this offender arrives back from prison without any level of supervision and/or resources, parents are gone and could not be buried in the town they were born in. The small districts often remain empty, abandoned, and some are riddled with the ghosts of the past, now occupied by substance abusers stemming from the economic investments that have diminished. The only shop on the street is a small liquor bar; manufacturing has left because of privatization; a once treasured area has now been taken over by greed, and access to alcohol for the ones we condemn only plays to a high recidivism rate. This I believe has contributed to more gang activities, crime-infected areas that often have created more victims.
Several counties have begun to modernize their prison system and have instituted policies to move the offender forward once they return to society. St. Lucia and Barbados have good modernized prisons. I am sure there are others. However, it is ironic that these two countries have some of the lowest crime rates when compared to others, and have attracted solid investments.
There is no fundamental correlation to this trend. For example, building better prisons will not reduce crime. In a recent study, as Fared Zakaria noted: Building of prisons dollars far exceeded amount spent on education. He talked about not only the higher rate of incarceration in the U.S. compared to other counties such as Japan, Germany and Mexico; the amount of money U.S. states spend on prisons has increased at a faster rate than on education. This did not have any positive impact on the over two million individuals now sitting in jail in the U.S.
Moving forward
We must ensure that some families who lost loved ones to violence and are scared to make the trip to pay their final respect because they too are in fear of being re-victimized must be addressed. It is very sad when victims are turning to voodoo worshiping, and other material idols, to solve crimes; and for medical issues because they too have lost hope. Our leaders have to educate and minimize the risks through education and against exploitation of the elders and allow the law to solve crimes rather than some abstract ideology.
The hope is that when one takes a short walk to the next Parliament building, or drives over a bridge, think about what policy will be supported or be introduced for the homeless, victims of crimes, and countless others in the shadows. If he or she finds employment, it can have a positive impact on any proposed and anticipated crime and GDP numbers.
If the system does not change course, prisons will be bigger than supermalls in the next decade. The migration of people looking for better job opportunities will be fewer because their own system of government has failed while unemployment remains high across several nations, and especially among the youth.
The final hope is that, as this region strives for better communities, it must give back where it can and promote peace over conflicts. When one has a good idea, it should be analyzed and be promoted if it can make a difference.
As the area transitions this year, nothing will immediately stop the rate of crimes being committed each day on the streets. Domestic violence, rape/sexual assaults, substance abuse, kids going to run down schools or teens being forced into early relationships with older men just to survive, or being forced into child labor, will not change. One in four women will be a victim of some type of rape or sexual assault. Furthermore, corruption, human rights issues, victimization, and other community conflicts are just a few roadblocks this year that the region has to deal with. Some communities will still fear police while engaging in illegal activities. Others still will be prosecuted because they are different
Why should you care when the only problem some of us have encountered today was the snow outside that kept them from riding a bicycle or the crab grass in the lush lawns? It is simple; create a solid economic, peaceful, happy, and healthy environment and when you are in the region whether as a return resident or visiting, or reconnecting with one's heritage, the stay will be smoother. However, the region must develop a universal blueprint to move everyone who wants to move forward.
o Derrick Miller holds a bachelor of science degree in economics and finance, an MBA degree in global management and a master of science in criminal justice leadership. He is also a graduate from a top U.S. federal law enforcement academy and has been a part of the criminal justice and public service field for over 14 years. mhmld@aol.com. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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The PLP's abandonment and betrayal of Bahamian women

March 20, 2014

The depth of sexism and misogyny in the political party bearing the names progressive and liberal has reached another historic low point, perhaps a nadir, in the Progressive Liberal Party.
It follows in a succession of betrayals by the party which helped to usher in majority rule because of the votes of women, whom the PLP largely abandoned over ensuing decades. And still, under the Christie administration.
Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller's repulsive story of battering a woman, accompanied by complicit laughter from male PLP colleagues was shocking enough. The narrative has advanced well beyond Miller's brutish words.
The unfolding chapter is the PLP's cold silence in the face of Miller's misogyny, mainly that of the prime minister but also the women of the PLP who seem cowered into silence by the men of the party, somewhat mirroring the frightened silence of some women following the infliction of physical and/or emotional violence.
Miller's behavior also mirrors a pattern typical of domestic violence as he arrogantly paraded around gloating about how much he loves and has done for Bahamian women, even though he was clueless as to the extent of domestic violence, clueless as to how his post-battering claims conduct typifies the cycle of domestic violence.
This includes his grandstanding and chest-thumping of what he has done for certain women, generosity that a gentleman should keep to himself, as well as his "grand" gesture of offering the pittance of $1,000 to the Crisis Centre, which the organization rightly rejected.
South Andros MP Picewell Forbes decided that he too wanted to be a poster boy for misogyny and sexism.
Forbes refused to apologize for laughing at Miller's story because others had laughed too, an adolescent mentality that refuses to accept responsibility for one's behavior, an odious example of boys will be boys.
Forbes doubled down on his idiocy: "We are living in a world of political correctness. Everyone's so sensitive. Things you could have gotten away with saying in a certain way five years ago can't be done now."
Translation: Please, please let me continue to laugh about women being beaten mercilessly. Heard any good jokes lately about beating up gays and lesbians, the disabled or Haitians that we can laugh about in the House?
Disturbing
Still, it is the silence of the PLP women that is more disturbing in significant ways, more puzzling, depressingly heartbreaking.
The message of the PLP women in the House and in the Cabinet to young girls and women is: In the face of brutality and bigotry, keep your mouth shut if you want to continue to enjoy the favor of men.
And silence still by Prime Minister Perry Christie who found time to defend the indefensible with his VAT coordinator but who is utterly failing to defend the integrity and interests of Bahamian women in this episode.
It is Christie's standard non-response to ride out bad news by remaining silent. But, the septuagenarian leader is making a grave error as the Miller firestorm is proving cancerous to the PLP.
The misogyny in the PLP is so deep-seated that the party's leaders refuse still to rebuke Miller even though it is clearly in their political interest to do so. The longer they remain silent, the worse the damage.
A friend who owns a retail store offered the story of a 20-something female sales assistant, disposed towards the PLP, who simply doesn't understand the party's silence. She gets it. The men in the PLP mostly do not.
In their studied silence Christie and the PLP are transmitting to young and female voters, who constitute the two largest demographic and electoral groups, messages about the party's disregard for women, about tolerance for domestic violence, about women as second-class citizens, about the PLP's collapse as a progressive and liberal force.
The prime minister's mindset about women was on display in his bizarre comments last year about being a gladiator, code language for a certain machismo. His actions and inaction are even more egregious.
Like so many men, Christie simply doesn't get it, seemingly betting that Miller's comments constitute a light rain, instead of the strong category of hurricane that they are, expanding still.
In this storm Christie seems like a climate change denier refusing to acknowledge the severity of the problem.
To understand the scale of the misogyny and sexism it may be useful to reframe the issue and to highlight the PLP's history of neglect.
Imagine
Imagine if Leslie Miller had advised the House of his viciously beating a dog in an act of animal cruelty. The PLP's likely response: Outrage.
Imagine Miller talking about brutalizing a disabled person. The PLP's likely response: Outrage.
Imagine Miller talking about brutalizing a tourist. The PLP's likely response: Outrage.
Recall Miller's claim of brutalizing a woman: "I tell her I get tired, man. My hands hurting a little bit... give me a break." The PLP's actual response, silence, i.e., following the laughter.
Imagine if an MP of the racist Old Guard had stood in the House and boasted about beating black people.
The PLP would have rightly unleashed fury upon his head.
Depressingly, sickeningly, in a betrayal of the suffragettes, in a betrayal of Dame Dr. Doris Johnson, who was not allowed to present her petition for female enfranchisement in the House chamber, in a betrayal of generations of women, past, present and yet to be born, the PLP has remained silent in the face of Miller's vulgar misogyny.
In the U.S. and the U.K., had a Democratic congressperson or a Tory MP boasted about battering a black person or a woman, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron respectively would have expressed outrage as would the party colleagues of the batterer.
For his part, Christie, who mounted the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last year to speak of civil rights and who recently accepted a civil rights award, has remained silent in the face of Miller's cruel words.
It is one thing to mouth the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is an entirely different matter to actually be a drum major for justice and equality for women. Sadly, Christie's abysmal record is consistent with that of the PLP, where the narrative of betrayal and abandonment stretches decades.
Distrust
There was always mutual distrust between the suffragettes and the PLP. In the light of history the suffragettes were largely correct in their suspicion of the commitment of certain elements of the PLP when it came to advancing women's equality.
Gender equality is as much a civil rights issue as is racial equality. Yet the PLP so often told Bahamian women, to hell with you.
Except for the brief period Dame Doris served in an early Cabinet of Sir Lynden Pindling, not a single other woman sat in the Cabinet of The Bahamas during the PLP's initial quarter of a century rule, not a single one. Hubert Ingraham's first Cabinet boasted several women.
From the inception of the PLP in 1953, and most certainly from the 1956 general election until 1987 - over 31 years - a Bahamian woman was never afforded a safe or winnable seat for the House of Assembly by the party. It was not until 1982 that the FNM, while in opposition, shattered this glass ceiling, successfully running Janet Bostwick.
At the Constitutional Conference in London in 1972 the PLP rejected the FNM's proposal to give Bahamian women full equality with men in certain matters relating to citizenship. During the 25-year reign of Sir Lynden's PLP, full constitutional equality for women was never addressed.
In 2002, given a chance to correct a historic wrong, Christie's PLP turned its back on Bahamian women. Having voted for constitutional equality in the House, the once progressive and liberal party reversed course in one of the grossest acts of political expediency in Bahamian political history.
The pattern of neglect was repeated from 2002 to 2007, Christie failing in a "second chance" to ensure full constitutional equality for women as promised.
History will record that the first referendum proposed by Christie was one of a commercial rather than constitutional nature; a plebiscite designed to guarantee windfall profits for special interests rather than the broader interests of Bahamian women.
Today, still under the PLP, the interests of a few numbers men seem more urgent than the rights, needs and protection of tens of thousands of Bahamian women.
When asked if the failure of the 2002 referendum hurt Bahamian women, Christie, in one of the most shameful and sexist statements ever made by a Bahamian politician, dismissively, insultingly, and insensitively said no.
Today, Christie and the PLP are play-acting as great champions of women's rights after years of entrenched sexism and a failure to remove discrimination, after helping to scuttle legislation on marital rape, after silence in the face of a claim of brutality against a woman by one of its MPs.
Even Leslie Miller begrudgingly half-apologized for his comments. Sadly, Christie and the PLP apparently lack the sense of justice and empathy to go further.
Next week: The FNM's record on women's equality:
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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The re-emergence of activism and conviction in The Bahamas

March 18, 2014

This month has been quite eventful in Bahamian politics to say the least, with numerous reports documenting statements by diverse individuals on myriad issues of national importance. The debates have not only been revealing but they have also further revealed the beauty of the democracy we enjoy as an independent nation.
In the midst of the discussions, it is important to consider whether the utterances made have been based on convictions or constitute mere political rhetoric. We must also ask ourselves whether there has been a paradigm shift in our way of thinking and the status quo in politicking is slowly giving way to objectivity in the national interest.
Activism in the early days
The freedom, liberties and privileges we enjoy as a politically independent nation were obtained from the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors. Indeed the popular African adage which states that if we stand tall, it is because we stand on the backs of those who came before us or on the shoulders of many ancestors clearly describes this fact.
Our forefathers and foremothers made sacrifices and were prepared to stand alone to their own personal detriment for causes they believed in. The stances they took were grounded in the belief that their labor and pain were prices worth paying for the betterment of our commonwealth. Inadvertently or consciously considering the biblical passage that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed, they endured ridicules, criticisms and persecutions for the sake of future generations of Bahamians. Events such as the Burma Road Riot, the General Strike and Black Tuesday, just to mention a few, stand out as demonstrations of genuine struggles for the advancement of the Bahamian people.
The comfort and curse of success
There is a perceived notion that the level of success we have attained over the years from an economic and political perspective has made us complacent as a people. There is no doubt that we are blessed to enjoy a stable democracy, third highest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere and a high standard of living combined with the fact that we are strategically located as the gateway to the Americas. However, does this mean that there is nothing else to strive for? Can we rest on our laurels and simply do nothing to improve the lives of our people? In essence, have we arrived as a nation?
The recent financial crisis and the Great Recession, among other events, have highlighted some of our vulnerabilities and the proverbial chinks in our armor. From economic, political and social perspectives, there remain several areas in which we are behind the rest of the world including gender equality, political maturity, economic empowerment of our people, accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and progressive taxation. Unfortunately, we seem to have adopted a mentality that suggests that we need not do much more and we can survive in isolation from the global village and our regional counterparts.
Political expediency in The Bahamas
This writer has been consistent in stating that we no longer need politicians in the traditional sense due to their myopic vision and shortsighted nature. The Bahamas requires statesmen and stateswomen in this new era to propel her to the next level of greatness. We know that politicians have their eyes set on the next election while statesmen and stateswomen focus on the next generation. The new generation of Bahamians is weary of political maneuvers and games; we seek political leaders that have their hands on the pulse of the people and are prepared to stand up for them against all odds - like the Bahamian politicians of old whose sacrifice affords today's Bahamians privileged lifestyles.
At this juncture, it is important that reference is made to the political debates on tax reform, gambling by Bahamians, sexual preference and violence against women and girls in recent times. We must be cognizant of the fact that an important trait of any true leader and aspiring leaders must be conviction and passion for causes that they promote or oppose in the best interests of the people they lead. In this regard, our leaders must note that the people will remember the positions they took even when these were unpopular, controversial or deviated from that of their political parties or groups to which they are affiliated. Such positions must be grounded in logic, justice and righteousness and must not be selfishly motivated, but result in benefitting the Bahamian majority.

It is also worth noting that people often remember the silence of those who gave no opinion either for or against.
The voice of Bahamian women
We, the women of this great country have a rich history and have inherited an admirable legacy from our foremothers; in particular, we continue to honor the women of the suffrage movement. A large delegation of Bahamian women recently attended the 58th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). It is worth stating that the delegation of women consisted of individuals of diverse backgrounds and political affiliations with a common goal to see the empowerment and advancement of women in The Bahamas. This emphasizes the point that true activism should extend beyond status and affiliations that so readily divide us.
The theme for the 57th Session of the CSW last year was the "elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls". This important topic was the focal point of two articles published in The Nassau Guardian on May 28 and November 6 2013 respectively. Bahamian women also united in bringing more awareness in this regard with a week of activities including the launch of Orange Day last year as the Zonta Clubs of Nassau took the lead in this regard.
The condemnation of the ill-advised comments by a member of Parliament in the House of Assembly on alleged violence against a woman have been in order and will hopefully serve as a message to persons that the Bahamian people take this matter seriously and will not tolerate any form of violence against women and girls. In the aftermath of the apologies rendered, Bahamian men and women must not stop creating awareness and working together to achieve gender equality and end this barbaric act of violence. More importantly, it is incumbent upon more Bahamians - particularly those in leadership, to exercise the aforementioned spirit of our forefathers and foremothers and express opposition to words or actions that threaten the peace and tranquility of our society and communities.
The champions of the masses
In every generation, individuals of conviction, passion and principle emerge to defend the commoners and fight for causes that promote their wellbeing. They sometimes stand alone and are labeled as rebellious or branded as outcasts for what they believe in. The roads they travel are not easy or comfortable. Nevertheless, these are challenging times in which more than ever before the people of The Bahamas are seeking activists and true advocates who will emerge as their champions. The heroes of the new generation of Bahamians will be assessed based on the following words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Are we witnessing the re-emergence of true activism and conviction in The Bahamas or are the recent events isolated? Only time will tell.

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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Commending the Crisis Centre, and condemning Leslie Miller

March 17, 2014

Dear Editor,
I want to thank Dr. Sandra Dean-Patterson and the Crisis Centre for all that she and the center do to help Bahamian women and children who are the victims of abuse.
I also express appreciation to the center and its many volunteers and supporters for all they do to educate Bahamians of every race, gender, religion and political affiliation against abuse and in support of respect for the dignity of every human being.
It is a very sad day for all of us when months and years of work undertaken by dedicated professionals and volunteers at the Crisis Centre and in schools and community organizations around our country to educate against violence and abuse is so casually dismissed by a irresponsible man masquerading as an "honorable gentleman" on the floor of the House of Assembly.
Shame on Leslie Miller for his supremely inappropriate remarks about beating a girlfriend.
Shame on each and every one of his parliamentary colleagues who thought his ridiculously dangerous storytelling was something to laugh about.
Shame on the speaker of the House for not demanding that the MP immediately withdraw his offensive and damaging words from the record of the House.
May God have mercy on our small country because it often seems nowadays that we are very lost.
- Geoffrey Cooper

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Putting country above party and self

March 17, 2014

"My critics will argue that I am a horrible politician. When the Christie government was on the brink of disaster, some might argue that the best political move is to let them plunge over the edge. I do not believe that such a posture is in the country's best interests."
FNM Chairman Darron Cash
In Greek mythology, Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, is a figure of tragedy. She had the power of prophecy, accompanied by the curse of never being believed. A more common version of the story is that, even though she served as a priestess of Apollo and had taken a vow of chastity in order to remain a virgin for her entire life, she was given the power of prophecy by Apollo so that he could seduce her but, when she refused him, he gave her the curse of never having her prophecies believed, no matter how accurate or logical.
This week, Darron Cash, the chairman of the Free National Movement (FNM), came under considerable criticism from his colleagues because he courageously cautioned the party's leadership that they had taken the wrong position in several matters of national importance. Therefore, this week we would like to Consider this... by taking such a bold and courageous position on matters of national importance that are in opposition to the FNM's stated policies and political positions, has Cash relegated himself to a position similar to that of Cassandra whose prophesies, no matter how accurate and logical, are dismissed by those who hear them, namely his colleagues?
The background
In a recent communication to the FNM executive committee, Cash stated that the purpose of his memorandum "is to invite the party to sacrifice its current (yet short-term) political advantage over the PLP government in favor of doing something directly through words and actions - that I believe will be in the country's current and long-term best interests".
Cash criticized two FNM policy positions: the first related to the regulation and taxation of web shops and the second to the party's opposition of the implementation of a value-added tax, especially without offering any concrete alternative recommendations. The latter was especially hypocritical and disingenuous because, as Cash noted, the same value-added tax would have been implemented if the FNM had been returned to office in the general election of May 7, 2012.
The FNM position on web shops
In his memo, Cash chronicled how, in 2010, then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham confirmed that the FNM council and parliamentarians "greatly support" the regulation of web shops in The Bahamas. He also noted that "our FNM government facilitated the expansion of the web shops. Then we 'elevated' them by calling them in for formal talks, indirectly validating what they were doing. We then gave them more licenses. How have they now become devils?" It is crystal clear that the FNM, while in government, which included three of the current parliamentarians who then served as Cabinet ministers, supported the regularization of web shops.
However, after losing office on May 7, 2012, and before the referendum on January 28, 2013, the FNM, now in opposition, reversed its earlier position on regulating and taxing the web shops. Cash noted: "The leader of the opposition drew a hard line by declaring that the FNM would not support the government because it would not go against the results of the non-binding opinion poll."
Cash maintained, "...that is not a sustainable position. There is no ultimate political escape from a definitive tough position on web shops and gaming. I propose an official position in support of the government's decision to normalize web shops. I propose an early decision."
Cash also astutely observed, "If we want to inspire a new generation of Bahamians to support the FNM and follow us, we cannot be entirely like the FNM that thousands of those new-generation-Bahamians rejected on May 7, 2012. In my view, the announcement to oppose the government's planned action on web shops plays into the narrative that all the FNM wants to do is oppose anything the PLP does for opposing sake. In the new debate over web shops we have an opportunity to perform a course correction."
The FNM position on VAT
In his memo, Cash also challenged the FNM's position on value-added tax which the government intends to implement on July 1, 2014. He observed that FNM supporters were interested in understanding the party's position on VAT and that "the November statement on VAT by the leader [of the opposition] was regarded less as a statement of alternative tax policy and more as an attack on the government for offering a tax option that Bahamians would later learn that the FNM's own minister of state for finance had stated publicly that the FNM would have considered. To reiterate the point, we have to date offered no specific alternatives to VAT."
Stepping back from the edge
In his missive to the executive committee, Cash stated, "My critics will argue that I am a horrible politician. That might be true. At a time when the Christie government was on the brink of disaster some might argue that the best political move is to let them plunge over the edge. I do not believe that such a posture is in the country's best interests. There comes a time when the dream of a new Bahamas must come face to face with the reality of The Bahamas as it is today. Our party must demonstrate the ability to act in a different way."
Political maturity in putting country first
We disagree with those who might suggest that Cash is "a horrible politician". We believe that what he represents is a breath of fresh air in our domestic politics and a level of political maturity that is sorely lacking and badly needed throughout our body politic. We also strongly disagree with the deputy leader of the FNM who suggested that Cash "may have been misled by PLP propaganda" and "is probably misguided in some of the utterances that the PLP has put out there". Why did she not say the same a few years ago when, while she was a Cabinet minister, Cash took another principled stand against the FNM's sale of BTC? Moreover, following that very public divergence from stated FNM policy in favor of what he believed to be best for the country, if Cash was seen then as so easily swayed by opposing political rhetoric, why was he entrusted with the very sensitive and important post of FNM national chairman?
No, we must look at the deputy leader's current criticism for what it is. Spoken like a veteran practitioner of the old-school, tit-for-tat, "don't take no last", scorched earth political approach of an earlier era, the FNM deputy leader has demonstrated anything but a progressive posture; instead, she is demonstrating an approach that is characteristic of the deeply divided partisan polemics that have resulted in the current ineffectual, gridlocked governance of the American "democratic" system. We deserve better and Cash alone has demonstrated that he is prepared to do better.
Conclusion
We hope that the level of political maturity that we have seen this week from Darron Cash represents the next generation of politicians on all sides of the political divide who will be guided by putting country above party and self.

If Cash's mature approach is a precursor of the political behavior that will evolve in the 21st century, then our country will be better positioned to overcome the issues that will surely continue to confront us and emerge as the strong, secure, successful nation we all want to see.
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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