October 02, 2014
I have remained in Haiti for a whole year without traveling abroad, with the exception of a one-day stint to Elias Pinas, Dominican Republic, observing the effect of climate change on the country. I am pleased to report happily, that Haiti, akin to its people, is resilient to climate change. Resilience is that capacity to fight against the rigors of life, to rebound with vigor and continue to grow while surmounting the stress of daily living or daily obstacles.
The issue of climate change is a hot topic today as the United Nations assembles in New York to demand the nations of the world to reflect and ponder on the consequences of gas emission on each continent and each country in a climate summit meeting preceding the larger World Climate Meeting next year in Paris. In parallel to the UN assembly, some 300,000 people marched in New York City under the label People's Climate March on Sunday, September 21, to sensitize world decision makers on the need to take action to remedy this dangerous environmental situation.
I have observed over the past five years that rain has been constant and regular in Haiti every night from April 1 to November 1. This year this pattern has been reversed - it is only this September that rain has come every night, a common and hospitable companion to the vegetation in Haiti.
In spite of the lack of rain, food production has been abundant in the country. The flowers leading to the formation of the crops (since there was no rain) have remained on the trees, giving up a crop that reminds one of the seven good years announced by Joseph to the Pharaoh.
Francis mangoes, the Haitian green gold from April 15 to July 15, in the peak season, have filled the shelves of the supermarkets not only in New York but were plentiful in the open markets in Haiti. The small season for the mangoes that usually arrive in January is already in full harvest in September.
As soon as the mango crop was gone for this year, the kenepa and the giant apricot were all over the shelves in July and August, providing the itinerant merchants with a new line of goods.
Guava, the versatile fruit, which is good for juicing and marmalade, was plentiful. It reminds me of the good old times when guava was not in the food chain of products to be sold but used as a dessert for the pigs.
The avocados have been on top of their game for the home consumers in September, in spite of the fact some of them have crossed the frontiers to be sent to the US via Dominican Republic shippers.
The sour note is the orange crop due in November and December, which is compromised due to the fact that the citrus is being harvested while green and not mature enough for consumption. The ministry of agriculture and commerce failed to take adequate steps to facilitate the importation of oranges from other countries during the off-season to satisfy through the year the need for oranges in the chain of consumption.
This rosy canvas painted early also has its dark side. In October and November, the many mahogany trees will be ready to deliver millions of seeds from the pods that resemble a pear or an avocado, with hundreds of seedlings that could replenish the Haitian flora. Very few people, including the personnel of the ministry of environment and the ministry of agriculture, are aware of that bonanza. The seedlings will be lost in the wind instead of being put in the soil to enrich the Haitian nation with a green and permanent endowment.
The coffee trees have almost disappeared due to the fact that most of the trees have been cut for charcoal, the ready-made local commodity with a safe and sure market, since 90 per cent of the households use that fuel for home cooking. Charcoal should be the business of the government making money from discarded trees or trees planted just for that purpose. The ministry of environment should be a giant moneymaker for the citizens of Haiti through charcoal production and the exploitation of precious trees such as ebony and mahogany.
Climate change has produced a perverse beneficial outcome with the produce in season remaining later and that for the next season coming out earlier. I have seen soursop (reportedly a good defense against cancer) due for the spring season already on the shelves in autumn.
The magic of Haiti is also in its many rural fiestas. I have followed this summer the cultural festival of saints in the northern part of Haiti. It is an exceptional trail based on the manifestation of Catholic fervor and voodoo engagement. It brings you right back to the Middle Ages when religion was at the center of life.
The festival of saints, an historical tradition proper to Haiti, is not correctly exploited. Very few tourists take part in that summer-long fiesta that a reasonable country bent on wealth creation would exploit to the utmost. The religious procession through the frontier streets of Ouanaminthe, for example, on August 15 for the feast of our Lady of Assumption, is soothing, comforting and filled with ecstasy that could replace several sessions of psychiatric consultation.
The people of Haiti, living in extreme natural wealth while vegetating in the midst of extreme poverty, have not yet found the magic formula to create wealth for all. Haiti, through its resilient biosphere which suffered raw exploitation by the colonial French and wrong exploitation by its people and its own governments, is still ready to deliver its wealth.
It needs the right vision that will stop the discrimination against 90 per cent of the population. It needs excellent infrastructure and sane institutions from the capital to the most remote rural villages. It needs to recalibrate its divine mission of an emancipatory nation bent on helping the failed nations of the world to create a sense of common vision for the future that includes "le vivre en commun" amongst all the sectors of the population.
On a more practical level, Haiti needs the shepherding support of the Caribbean Export Development Agency. I have noticed that no application was received from or at least no award went to Haiti in the call for proposals for funding to help the agro-processors to meet the stringent standard of food safety in produce exportation to the EU and to the United States.
This, more than magic or anything else, will help Haiti and its people incrementally enter the highway of wealth creation by sending its organic avocado, soursop, passion fruit and guava to connoisseurs in London, Paris and New York.
o Jean Charles is a syndicated Haitian columnist. This column is published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.
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October 01, 2014
Consider the complex of challenges before the international community, especially vulnerable small island states, such as The Bahamas and other CARICOM members, as well as various Commonwealth countries in Africa and the Pacific.
The threats range from the effects of climate change with rising sea levels and droughts to human trafficking and the trade in guns and illicit drugs, helping to fuel alarming crime rates and piracy, as well as other security challenges including international terrorism and cybercrime.
Many countries are reeling still from the fallout of the Great Recession with trade and financial services and banking regimes often rigged in favor of the global powers inclusive of governments and corporate behemoths. Youth unemployment is staggeringly high. Income inequality is on the rise.
There are the ongoing challenges of development in fields ranging from education to agriculture to the increasing health challenges posed by an epidemic of chronic non-communicable diseases and infectious diseases.
Singular shocks such as a hurricane can wreck a national economy, as evidenced by Grenada and other natural and human-made disasters in other countries.
There remain the issues of sustainability, the outflow of human talent to more developed states and the need to augment the capacity of the state and civil society to meet these challenges, inclusive of the expansion of technical and technological know-how.
In a recent commentary, Sir Ronald Sanders, a noted regional columnist and international author and scholar, and now candidate for secretary general of the Commonwealth, argued why he considered it best for Scotland, with a population of approximately 5.3 million, to remain in the United Kingdom.
Sir Ronald argued that it made both Scotland and the U.K. stronger, globally and in Europe, and was good for Britain's standing in the commonwealth. The question of scale and size is critical for all states in meeting the rush of challenges left over from the last century and the emerging threats of the 21st.
For smaller and medium-sized states in an ever complex and more integrated international community, such scale and capacity is enhanced through membership in various international intuitions and regimes, prime among them, the Commonwealth of Nations.
The Commonwealth Secretariat's website notes: "The commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 independent and equal sovereign states. It is home to 2.2 billion citizens, of which over 60 percent are under the age of 30. The commonwealth includes some of the world's largest, smallest, richest and poorest countries, spanning five regions. Thirty-one of its members are small states, many of them island nations."
The Commonwealth is at the center and the periphery of the global commons, uniquely poised as a multilateral institution, and in critical ways unencumbered by some of the power politics of the United Nations.
The secretariat's website further notes: "The Commonwealth Secretariat promotes democracy, rule of law, human rights, good governance and social and economic development. We are a voice for small states and a champion for youth empowerment."
At the heart of the secretariat is the secretary general, who, is responsible for:
o promoting and protecting the commonwealth's values;
o representing the commonwealth publicly; and
o the management of the Commonwealth secretariat.
The secretariat "provides guidance on policy making, technical assistance and advisory services to Commonwealth member countries. We support governments to help achieve sustainable, inclusive and equitable development".
The Commonwealth is readying to elect a new secretary general at the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) at Malta in November 2015, with a Caribbean national set to serve in the post.
To many, the best person for the post is Sir Ronald, a former diplomat, who has been nominated by Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne. His columns appear regularly in the two leading daily journals
Sir Ronald's is a unique and informed voice, combing a Caribbean inflection and deep commitment to the region, with stellar international, diplomatic and academic credentials.
He is one of the leading Commonwealth academics on small states and is the author of "Crumbled Small: The Commonwealth Caribbean in World Politics".
He has lent his determined voice in support of equality, fairness and inclusion, and is well-known throughout the commonwealth, with extensive travels in the Caribbean, including to The Bahamas on several occasions. He has visited every Commonwealth CARICOM country and lived and worked in five of them.
He is a prodigious intellect, a gifted and prolific writer and articulate speaker, having worked in government, business and civil society. His regional and global brief includes political, economic and social affairs, with work in international bodies ranging from UNESCO to the International Foundation for Animal Welfare.
Sir Ronald's website chronicles his international career: "His diplomatic career spanned two periods between 1982 to 1987 and 1996 to 2004. He was twice high commissioner to the United Kingdom for Antigua and Barbuda and ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO). He had special responsibilities for negotiations on financial and trade matters in the WTO and with the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)."
Sir Ronald, currently a senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, has an intimate and deep knowledge of the Commonwealth and the secretariat, where he has served as a special adviser on small states and has been a member of the board of governors of the secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation.
He served in 2010-11 as a member and rapporteur of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group (EPG) to devise a report to reform the workings of the commonwealth.
The report "A Commonwealth of the People: Time for Urgent Reform" will be the basis for the restructuring of the organization and its current strategic plan. Sir Ronald would hit the ground running as secretary general.
With the complex of challenges before the Commonwealth and the Caribbean, he is not solely an excellent regional candidate for the post of secretary general. He is one of the best candidates for the post in the commonwealth.
Sir Ronald Sanders' gifts and experience match the challenges and opportunities we face as a commonwealth of shared values and interests.
o firstname.lastname@example.org, www.bahamapundit.com.
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October 01, 2014
Most people agree that the electoral system is one of the gravest dangers facing democracy in the Caribbean. For sure, in order to safeguard and shield their individual rights and freedoms, it is central for a democratic people to profile the government of their choosing. On the other hand, it is also essential to understand that the very tenets of democracy can be destroyed if partisan politics continue to govern the electoral system in Caribbean countries.
While it may appear a dangerous fallacy to suggest that "electoral offices in many Caribbean states should redouble their efforts in carrying out programs of education and information to promote public awareness of the democratic process", it is also a timely reminder to note that much of the political trend in the islands can only be understood through the electoral system.
Notably, it is the chief election officer that administers and supervises the conduct of elections and not the power of a presiding government attorney.
Whereas the conduct and actions of election officers in many Caribbean states are beyond reproof and they continue to serve civil society led by the sovereignty warranted in their constitutions, attention must also be drawn to the role of the Organization of American States (OAS) in fulfilling its mission of providing objective analysis of the electoral process in Caribbean nations.
As a result it is now imperative for the OAS to re-examine the political environment in which the elections are taking place on the Caribbean island of Dominica as it could help thwart voter intimidation and act as a measure to preserve innocent lives and detract from the use of fraud and violence.
More significantly, the OAS' point in its election 2009 summary that "the Caribbean island of Dominica is one of the few remaining countries in the Caribbean without a voter identification card" and its strong proposal that voter ID cards be issued in time for the 2014 general elections" has gone by unnoticed by the ruling bureaucracy.
Elaborating further, it was also the OAS' recommendation that "the Skerrit administration in consultation with the opposition and the electoral commission, consider the implementation of an identification card system to registered voters of Dominica to facilitate the complete revision and updating of the voter registry."
Yet this recommendation lies somewhere in limbo.
Most obvious is the fact that "despite an estimated population of 69,000 persons, the voter registry in the Caribbean island of Dominica contains approximately 65,000 names and that the list also contain names of people who are deceased or have moved out of the country and have not returned." This problem has still not yet been amended by the Dominica electoral commission as they move on into the 2014 elections.
And, coupled with all of these issues - and the blatant disregard for the rule of law and lack of respect for the democratic process by the ruling regime - the recurring concern over the use of state resources for party political purposes again haunts the Caribbean island of Dominica.
Informed sources indicate that prominent government employees in various overseas missions are publicly campaigning for the ruling Dominica Labour Party in violation of the rules on the participation of public servants in political activity. The mobilization and air transportation for overseas voters to return to Dominica to vote is also another issue that should be of primary concern to the Dominica electoral commission, international election observers and to the ruling body of the Organization of American States.
Moreover, if partisan extremism is a important key in understanding the electoral system in the Caribbean, another is the enmity between the social democratic philosophy of the Dominica Labour Party's and the United Workers' centrist political position. The opposition remains barred access to the media in coverage of political campaigns or opportunities to air paid advertising.
It follows that if citizens are not allowed free access to information and ideas, they are robbed of their individual rights and dignity. The current dictatorial actions that now silence open debate and free expression on the Caribbean island of Dominica transgresses the United Nations human rights declaration treaty resolution 59(I) which states: "Freedom of information and expression is a fundamental human right and ... the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated."
Forthwith, it must be understood that the role of the opposition is also central to a democracy, and this should awaken the awareness of the Dominica Christian Council and the Dominica Evangelical Association of Churches to champion an election code of conduct that ensures equal access to the media, open debate and the modus operandi to instigate investigations into acts of election fraud as sketched out in the Dominica House of Assembly Elections Act Chapter 20:01 of 1951, and under part V which deals with election offenses.
As Stina Larserud, IDEA assistant program officer for electoral processes contended, "choosing an electoral system is one of the most important institutional decisions for any democracy." It is meaningful to note that although the colonial legacy of 'bicameralism' is still favored in the legislative process, it is now time for Caribbean nations to begin reviewing and revising their electoral systems.
o Rebecca Theodore is an op-ed columnist based in Washington, D.C. She writes on national security and political issues. This column is printed with the permission of Caribbean News Now.
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September 30, 2014
The debate and focus on good governance has been for the most part constrained to the private sector. This may not be unrelated to the emphasis on good corporate governance practices by regulatory agencies and governments particularly in the aftermath of financial scandals that have plagued corporate giants over the last few decades.
The Enron debacle and major corporate governance failures in companies such as WorldCom, Parmalat and Lehman Brothers have highlighted the importance of not just having corporate governance codes but also ensuring that they are effective and properly implemented. While the referenced scandals ended up in the public domain due to the scale of the repercussions from the corporate failures, the reality is that on a daily basis the absence of good governance practices continues to impact institutions the world over. This week we focus on the important role of good corporate governance in the public sector in The Bahamas.
The concept of corporate governance
Sir Adrian Cadbury defined corporate governance as "the system by which companies are directed and controlled". It is an established fact that companies have a corporate personality and are distinct legal entities from their owners, who are often referred to as shareholders. The owners appoint directors that are the alter egos of the company to oversee the management of the entity's affairs. The responsibilities, duties and potential liability of directors are enormous; hence, the role of a director is not one that should be taken lightly.
In addition to the shareholders who have a stake or interest in the performance and success of the company, there are other stakeholders which may include employees, customers, regulators, suppliers and the general public. These various stakeholders have their own interests, which may be unique and sometimes conflicting. Good corporate governance is aimed at ensuring that a company is managed in the interest of the shareholders with due regard for the interests of all other stakeholders. This requires good stewardship by the directors and prudent administration by management.
The catalyst for good corporate governance
An in-depth study of the history and origin of the various corporate governance codes and standards established over the years will show that they were born out of failures in the governance of entities across the globe. These events placed focus on the operations of boards, the role of directors, remuneration of directors, financial reporting, the role of external auditors and the oversight of management just to mention a few. The result of the studies that ensued would identify transparency, accountability, fairness and responsibility as the main pillars upon which good corporate governance is built.
In The Bahamas and particularly in the local financial services industry, the promotion of good corporate governance practices by companies has been driven by regulators such as the Central Bank of The Bahamas, Securities Commission of The Bahamas and Insurance Commission of The Bahamas. Publicly listed companies are also subject to certain corporate governance and disclosure rules.
Generally, the aforesaid requirements are consistent with international best practices and draw from various standards across several jurisdictions. However, there has not been a major push or drive by successive governments for public corporations and statutory bodies to adopt the vital principles of good corporate governance and the implementation of corporate governance codes for these entities.
Governance and public corporations
It is no news that the overall structure and operations of public corporations and statutory bodies in The Bahamas is different from that of the private sector. There are valid reasons for these distinctions based on the ownership structure, unique mandates and overall philosophy governing these entities. The weight attached to the interests of each stakeholder group is one of the unique differences albeit this needs to be balanced appropriately.
The sole shareholder or majority owner in most of the captioned bodies is the government of The Bahamas and by extension the Bahamian people. While the entities are not in business solely to maximize profits, they owe the people of this country the duty of exercising prudence, financial discipline and good governance in order to protect the taxpayers' funds. This is why the concepts of good corporate governance should be embraced, adopted and codified by public corporations and statutory bodies.
In appointing members of the board of statutory bodies, it is important that the government ensures that individuals that are selected are not only able to contribute to the deliberation of their respective boards but are also aware of their duties and responsibilities. It is also incumbent upon the government to ensure that roles and mandates are clearly defined to avoid confusion and ensure the success of operations.
In this sense, subsequent to the Director's appointment, members of statutory boards should undergo appropriate orientation on the entity as well as their role and be mandated to go through continuing professional development on an annual basis. For its part, the government should reassess the effectiveness of statutory boards via an annual evaluation exercise prior to the reappointment of individuals. All of these requirements and others would ideally be contained in a formal corporate governance code for all public corporations in The Bahamas. Deviation from provisions of such a code should require an explanation by the entity in question in its annual report.
A national corporate governance code
It is the view of this writer that the time is right for The Bahamas to consider drafting and implementing a National Corporate Governance Code (code). While this may seem like an enormous task to embark upon, there are several resources and international standards on this vital topic from which we can build our own unique document. In essence, we need not reinvent the wheel but rather draw from documents such as the OECD Principles of Corporate Governance, Commonwealth Association for Corporate Governance document, UK Corporate Governance Code, US Sarbanes-Oxley Act, German Cromme Code and South Africa King Reports among others. It should be noted that the fundamental principles within all the referenced standards are identical.
The proposed code will clearly address among other things, the roles of the chairman and chief executive officer, board composition and structure, board procedures, matters reserved for the board and delegated authority to management, appointments to board, evaluation of board effectiveness, related party transactions, code of conduct for board members, board balance, supply of information to the board, corporate social responsibility, the audit function, risk management, internal controls and disclosure. The code will contain principles that constitute minimum standards but can be customized by statutory bodies to suit their specific operations.
The implementation of or transition to the code by the private sector should not be onerous seeing that most of the larger companies in The Bahamas would ideally have robust corporate governance policies in place already. The code should adopt overall principles that can be implemented commensurate to the size and nature of an entity. However, all public corporations and statutory bodies should be required to fully implement the code in their corporate governance policies under the oversight of the minister responsible for the body in question.
The gains of good governance
The benefits of good corporate governance are often pronounced in the performance and financial results of an organization. Public corporations and statutory bodies stand to gain likewise from good governance practices with the added advantage of better serving the public interest and better stewardship of the Bahamian people's resources.
Our economy will also be better off in a society and culture that promotes ethics alongside good corporate governance in the public and private sectors. In speaking on East Asia's financial meltdown, Dr. Jesus Estanislao, Founder of the Institute for Corporate Directors in the Philippines and former finance minister, clearly articulated the important role of corporate governance in an economy. Dr. Estanislao remarked: "I see corporate governance as a basic foundation of reform, which really strengthens and modernizes an economy that is wired into the global marketplace".
In the final analysis, the incorporation of good corporate governance practices into the fabric of our economy will further boost investor confidence, enhance the public perception of our corporations and enhance The Bahamas' reputation among the community of nations.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to email@example.com.
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September 29, 2014
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."
- Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:15)
Recently, the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC), through some of its members, has taken positions on public policy that have left many Bahamians more confused by their utterances instead of being enlightened on national issues that are debated in the public square.
For example, several members of the BCC, and a number of other prominent pastors, have become "sensitized" to the idea of how taxes generated from and regulations imposed upon a legalized numbers industry could benefit The Bahamas. On the other hand, a few prominent pastors, including BCC members, have maintained that any parliamentarian who votes in support of the gaming legislation should be voted out of office in the next election. Accordingly, this week we would like to Consider this...What is the role and relevance of the Bahamas Christian Council in today's Bahamas and does the council speak for the Christian church in The Bahamas?
The Bahamas Christian Council
According to its website, the BCC "is constituted to promote understanding and trust between the various parts of Christ's church in The Bahamas at all levels; to further Christ's mission of service by joint action of Christians in The Bahamas; to witness for the Christian community in The Bahamas on matters of social or common concern". A noble mission indeed, but has the BCC accomplished that mission?
The BCC does not enjoy the full participation of all the major denominations in The Bahamas. For example, the Roman Catholic Church does not actively participate in the council and, although the Anglican Church is represented on the council by a prominent prelate, the Methodists and the Seventh Day Adventists, along with the aforementioned denominations, often find it necessary to issue official statements on public policy that are either in contradiction to or at least more intellectually and scholarly sound than the positions that are enunciated by the BCC. Other religious groups, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, have always declined to participate in the BCC's membership, deliberations and pronouncements.
Today's BCC can be described as a select group of special interests that are dominated by a few denominations. In fact, it has morphed into an organization that resembles a "political action committee" and not a council of churches in the traditional sense.
More recently, it has become a group of pastors who seem to be more interested in telling people how to vote than addressing issues from a spiritual or moral perspective. In fact, it has been suggested that the BCC has generally abandoned the moral argument.
What has become patently clear is that the BCC does not always address moral or social issues with a unified voice. As observed in another column in this publication, Front Porch by Simon, regarding the debate on the bill to amend the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act of 2009, the BCC's "rolling responses have been so scattered, chaotic and whiplash-inducing, that the [BCC's response to the bill] seems to depend on what day it is, how you read [its] statement, and then how you pick through the minefield of their tortured explanations on what they are trying to say.
"This lack of clarity has made the council appear amateurish, not serious and irresponsible on weighty matters of public policy."
By contrast, the statement of Roman Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder was described by Simon as "markedly different in terms of moral imagination, pastoral sensibility, scriptural exegesis, intellectual reach and an understanding of the relationship between church and state, Bible and constitution and citizenship and discipleship".
Regarding that same sexual offenses amendment, the statements issued by the Conference of the Methodist Church and Seventh Day Adventist leaders were considerably more informed and scripturally sound than that of the BCC.
We agree with Simon's observation that "besides the loss of authority by a broad cross-section of Bahamians, [the BCC] has lost credibility among significant elements of its own membership".
The gambling debate
In his column, "WHITE FILE: Thanks to the BCC, too many still walk in darkness", the late P. Anthony White, a prominent, long-standing icon in St. Agnes Church, observed on the issue of gambling that "there has...been the never-ending case of the council's position on the matter of the numbers business in The Bahamas, an issue stretching back to years before majority rule".
"It has been an issue with which successive governments of the old United Bahamian Party, the Progressive Liberal Party and the Free National Movement have wrestled, but could arrive at no point of resolution because, it is widely believed, of the influence of the Bahamas Christian Council," he said.
"The council, an organization with what has been seen as a litany of flexible principles, has traditionally said no to gambling, beginning in the early 1960s, when the UBP government refused to bow and allowed casino gambling by issuing exemptions to the colony's anti-gambling laws.
"The Progressive Liberal Party government...back in 1979, actually drafted legislation which would have legalized a lottery in The Bahamas. The matter went to Parliament for a first reading, but never went any further.
"The then powerful Bahamas Christian Council's continuing position on gambling powerfully prevailed. Politicians were not prepared to risk their popularity and electability by angering the church.
"That position prevailed, ironic and hypocritical in its nature, despite the quite obvious fact that so much of the proceeds of winning numbers-players ended up each Sunday in the collection plate, to a great extent funding the rich and expensive lifestyles of pastors who shamelessly ascend pulpits and rave against gambling."
As we observed in last week's article, on the issue of gambling, the BCC has yet to produce one iota of evidence that the Bible condones or prohibits gambling. We maintain that if they could they would, but they have not because they cannot.
The council's future
We believe that a re-engineered BCC has a vital role to play in the orderly development of The Bahamas. That role should be to recognize the need for the council to better analyze, address and articulate the fundamental factors that have led to the inundation, erosion, and decay of our national, social and moral fabric.
The BCC should be about promoting public discourse regarding the abject poverty in which so many Bahamians live, propose realistic solutions to arrest the cancerous cankers of hatred eating away at our young, at-risk men and prescribe methodologies by which we can overcome the constant challenges for restorative justice that perennially elude us.
Above all, if the council is to actually function in the normative sense, it should be more inclusive in its membership and comprehensively reassess realistic approaches to the suffocating social ills that surround us, including equality of opportunity and the attainment of human rights for all of our citizens, without reference to color, creed, gender or sexual preference.
The council must also unambiguously address how to bridge the deep chasm that exists between those in our society who have amassed enormous material wealth and those who have not. It should also emphasize our collective responsibility to safeguard those who do not enjoy the fruits of the nation's successes.
The council's voice should be heard regarding issues that concern the environment, crime, high unemployment, positive interventions for the young and dispossessed in our society and the overcrowding of our communities. The Christian Council's relevance will also be measured by the extent to which it can diffuse deeply divergent denominational differences while simultaneously ameliorating bona fide ecumenical advancements.
If the council is to reset and restore its relevance in the modern Bahamas, it must demonstrate how all citizens can better navigate the relationship between legal rights and Christian values, always cognizant of the inviolable principle of the separation of church and state in a secular, pluralistic democracy.
If we are to have a fully functioning, prescriptively proactive and effectively engaging Christian body, we should shun those who would be wolfish on important matters and allow true shepherds to lead the flocks along the kinder and more compassionate path toward a more positive and flourishing future.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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September 27, 2014
The value-added tax (VAT) initiative in The Bahamas has taken some interesting twists and turns down the road of reform, from the VAT Bill tabled in the House of Assembly in late August 2014, with an implementation date of January 2015 - a change from the initial July 2014 date for implementation.
The road hasn't been easy, to say the very least. But, it's a road that must be traveled and all parties involved should look at it as a solution to a lot of the fiscal problems and financial management issues we face in The Bahamas.
Be that as it may, the messaging of VAT with the subsequent reform efforts it is supposed to usher in has not been articulated extensively enough.
The financial secretary of The Bahamas, John Rolle, is the key spokesperson for the initiative - a very brilliant man by all accounts from all sides of the Bahamian divide. However, public speaking and presentation might not be his forte.
No one else has been more prominent in this exercise. Everyone else is virtually non-existent in this entire affair; the VAT coordinator is MIA, if there is one. The minister and minister of state for finance are consumed with political and policy agendas affecting the entire country, as they should be. The international consultants that were engaged on this matter should be more forthcoming.
I would wish, however, for those warning of hell and war-zone, with the main spokesperson seeming to be a little disconnected with his knowledge, to pump their brakes. Hold on for just one minute. Here's why:
For starters, it's not as if we all don't already know, though maybe not as much as Minister Halkitis and Rolle, where The Bahamas stands with regard to public finances. Years and years of waste, mismanagement, revenue leakages and high interest rates were met by this current political administration, some of it the result of their actions and a good portion of it from previous administrations.
It's also not a secret that The Bahamas is one of the least taxed jurisdictions in the Caribbean/North American region. Figures provided by the Heritage Foundation show Haiti is estimated as being the least taxed with a 9.4 percent tax to GDP, while Barbados is the most with 32.6 percent. The Bahamas is in third place with an 18.7 percent tax to GDP ratio, behind the Dominican Republic with 12 percent tax to GDP. The USA is situated at just about 30 percent.
These figures do not indicate, however, the amount of revenue collected as a result of the tax to GDP rates. In fact, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its Staff Report from 2013, estimated that less than 50 percent of all revenue is collected through our various revenue collection agencies. Some feel that figure is a very liberal estimate.
Without a doubt, even the recent downgrade by Moody's that puts the Bahamas Sovereign Credit Rating at Baa2, just two tiers above junk bond status, again shows the need for reform in a fundamental and most significant way.
The messaging on taxation reform, VAT, revenue enhancement measures and necessary budgeting reforms, is not going as well as could have been hoped. For obvious reasons, the content is sometimes difficult to grasp, but also the presentations have been somewhat terse in their representations, almost as a means to bring people to an understanding of the gravity of the situation in a concise manner in the shortest time possible.
Some hopeful suggestions at this time for bridging this gap are necessary.
For starters, what we would wish to see is more written commentary by the VAT team on all imparted information and tasks completed thus far. Aside from the public forums where presenters are made available to the public, written commentary adds not only a piece of information people can digest and study on their own, but also a way for points to be articulated more clearly as opposed to the rabble-rousing atmosphere of town hall meetings. This current political administration has met this extremely messy and controversial challenge head-on. We have to give them that.
Secondly, social media should not only used, but maximized and utilized effectively - particularly with regard to visual media, video presentations and junkets of news releases, guidance notes and their relevant updates and changes. The advent of electronic information highways and social media lends to regular print and television media an added kick, as information is readily and easily stored and made accessible to people that wish to review it at a later date.
Last, and certainly not the least, picture graphs, flow charts, process maps and the like should be used more effectively. Particularly with regard to the VAT mechanisms - points of entry for goods and the payment process and points of sale for goods and services. And also for the VAT return mechanism and how that should work.
A host of other initiatives could be undertaken to improve the VAT messaging and the optics of this entire initiative. Even though there are persons paid to coordinate this, we must take it upon ourselves and act responsibly as citizens: understand the weaknesses; pinpoint where efficiencies and lessons can be drawn; and work towards minimizing the fallout, as opposed to the wholesale destruction and chaos if not handled properly.
We owe our country our best efforts, despite the bottlenecks, the psychological damage already done by even the slightest intimidation of reform, the personalities that may invade the process and the political fallout from particular interest groups, all of which can become very problematic currently and in the future.
o Youri Kemp is president and CEO of Kemp Global, a management consultancy firm based in The Bahamas. This article was published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.
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September 25, 2014
The level of ignorance about our constitution is widespread and disturbing. The ignorance is particularly alarming on the part of those who pretend to know about such matters, including certain pastors who repeatedly demonstrate a stunning ignorance of constitutional issues as well as certain inveterate writers of letters to the editor, not to mention certain uninformed radio talk show hosts.
Despite such willful ignorance, we are constitutionally a secular state. The preamble to the constitution has a Christian reference, but the preamble has no legal force and is not dispositive in deciding constitutional questions.
Chapter I Article 1 of the constitution does have legal force. It notes: "The Commonwealth of The Bahamas shall be a sovereign democratic state". Not a theocracy, not a Christian state, but a democracy.
Ours is a secular state with a constitution dedicated to protecting certain fundamental rights and freedoms, not a theocratic state in which the doctrines of any religion or denomination reign supreme in adjudicating constitutional matters.
The constitution does not protect or advance any notion of Christendom, in which Christianity is the state religion, nor does it grant any religion the right to force its doctrines or force its will on other citizens.
As a secular state, we enjoy freedom of expression and conscience. We enjoy freedom of religion, a pivotal freedom historically in the advancement of democracy.
Freedom is indivisible. In a secular democracy, religious freedom is a part of a charter of rights and freedoms from which citizens ought not to be excluded because of a circumstance of birth. Whether one is black or white, male or female, and regardless of sexual orientation, one has the right to assemble, to express oneself freely, as well other rights.
Again, the Bahamian constitution is not a Christian charter. It is not based on Christian scripture or the doctrines of any religion.
Those who would deny certain rights to gays and lesbians might want to note which of their own rights are dispensable. Those who are denied the right to freedom of religion or other rights around the world, similarly experience the deprivation of certain rights as experienced by many gays and lesbians globally.
The overriding issue is not about whether one is a Christian persecuted in a predominantly non-Christian country or a woman denied rights in a given society or gays and lesbians denied certain rights. The fundamental issue is about fellow human beings denied or accorded their dignity and rights.
Some who left or escaped from Europe for the Americas, beginning especially in the 16th century, were seeking religious freedom and freedom from persecution. Still, history is replete with pernicious ironies: Many with newfound freedoms often failed to observe or grant rights to others.
Some in the original U.S. colonies persecuted others on religious grounds. People of African descent and women struggled for centuries to achieve fundamental rights, despite the notion of their supposedly being created equally.
Freedom of religion is a critical element of pluralism, both of which emerged as central democratic themes following the French and the American revolutions.
We continue to debate the scope of pluralism in the 21st century, three centuries later, even in democratic countries. The contours of the debate are centuries old and thoroughly modern.
In parts of the Islamic world, mostly in the Middle East and in Africa, pluralism is anathema to the restricted world views of those who contest the notion of a secular state and religious pluralism.
Yet, even in the West, including at home, there are fundamentalist, mostly Protestant voices, who contest or are uncomfortable with a secular state and various forms of pluralism. Some Protestants are still learning the lessons of the democratic revolutions beginning in the 18th century.
The history of Roman Catholicism's engagement from the 18th century to the middle of the 20th century with the democratic revolutions is instructive for many fundamentalist Protestants in The Bahamas who still appear so shockingly pre-modern, anti-democratic, anti-intellectual and unenlightened in significant ways.
In the 19th century when Pope Gregory XVI was confronted with the ideas of freedom of conscience, freedom of the press and freedom of speech he described them as "delerimenta", which may be translated as utter madness
Recall Pastor Myles Munroe's recent freak-out about an event scheduled for gays and lesbians, and his apocalyptic and apoplectic ranting about the extinction of the human race, a seeming conspiracy hatched by gays and lesbians and unwitting heterosexuals. It's enough to make one join the doomsday preppers.
Things began to change in Roman Catholicism in the 20th century, in great measure due to the seminal work of an American Jesuit who appreciated the positive elements of democracy and the need for the church to engage in dialogue with democratic polities.
Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J., was silenced by the Vatican for a period of time, but his vision came to fruition, beginning in earnest with his decisive contribution to the Second Vatican Council's, Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Liberty).
Fr. Bryan Hehir is one the world's leading experts on Catholic social thought, with an intimate knowledge of the scholarship of Murray. In a presentation entitled "Catholic social teaching: A key to Catholic identity", the Office for Social Justice of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, based on remarks by Fr. Hehir, notes "three significant statements about politics" in the Declaration on Religious Liberty.
The presentation observes:
"1. The church accepts religious pluralism in a society as a given.
"2. The church accepts the secularity of the state...
"3. The only thing the church asks of the political order is the freedom to function, not favoritism but the freedom to function. The church wants neither favoritism nor discrimination in the exercise of its public social and religious role.
"Therefore, we are not excluded from the debate because we are religious. On the other hand, we are not to be given any special treatment because we are religious."
In significant ways, many fundamentalist Protestants in The Bahamas have not intellectually come to terms with some of the basics of a modern pluralistic democracy.
Many of these churches crave favoritism, have difficulty accepting the secularity of the state and believe that the state should enforce their doctrines. Some are even still grappling with the implications of the separation of church and state.
Certain comments on the church made during debate on the Gaming Bill by Prime Minister Perry Christie, his deputy, Philip Davis and Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe were too broad. Still, there is an important point to be made.
Certain Bahamian churches and church leaders have fallen into bed as the handmaidens of various Caesars and political leaders. Many of these relationships are permissive, with various church leaders seeking state power, appointments, influence and handouts like the power-hungry and avaricious religious high priests of ancient times and the moneygrubbers in the temple.
For some politicians, the payback is votes and the turning of a blind eye by some church leaders to certain political conduct. And yes, a number of church leaders have been in the pay of numbers bosses.
Forget the notion of separation of church and state; there often hasn't even been reasonable distance by those who conflate the state, the Kingdom of God, and their own temporal kingdoms with all the requisite trappings of luxury in the interest of self-aggrandizement and self-promotion.
Further, considering the bizarre, at times unintelligible, poorly crafted statements released by some religionists who cannot manage the language with any degree of sophistication, it is no wonder that they are unable to appreciate certain ideas, complexity and nuance, preferring instead pop-theology and a truncated gimmicky version of the Gospels of Jesus Christ.
It is quite humorous to observe how obtuse and pre-modern in their theological worldviews are many of those who use modern communications technologies and are ferried on jets around the world to profit from their curious versions of the Christian message.
So steeped in the democratic tradition of pluralism and religious freedom is our constitution that it allows for conscientious objection in times of war. During his recent visit to the predominantly Muslim Albania, Pope Francis pressed the case for religious freedom and tolerance as well as dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
It is many centuries between Gregory XVI and Francis. Yet, fundamentalism remains in many quarters, with some certainly more extreme than others.
Many religious fundamentalists share a common agenda: discomfort or hostility toward pluralism, varying degrees of male supremacy and sexism, extraordinary antipathy or hatred toward gays and lesbians and displeasure with a secular state.
Thankfully, the democratic revolutions continue to unfold, with the arc of freedom bending toward greater equality and tolerance.
It is one of those ironies that it is often through secular states and constitutions and democratic pluralism that human rights and social justice are more greatly advanced than by those who claim to love their neighbors as themselves, but who fail to guarantee to their neighbors the same rights they so dearly cherish.
o email@example.com, www.bahamapundit.com.
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September 24, 2014
In the past, I've written on very sensitive issues and controversial topics, as I most certainly will again in the future, but nothing I've written before has compared - with respect to the level of feedback received - to last week's 10 reasons Bahamian college graduates don't want to come home.
The quantity of messages received and social media commentary shared, as well as the nature of the sentiments expressed therein, tells me that the exploration of this topic is both timely and crucial, and that the complexity of the young, college-educated Bahamian's decision to return home after graduation is widely experienced and deeply felt.
Some readers were misguided in their interpretations of my article, its caption, and its intention, thinking: a) it was meant to be a complete list of reasons why Bahamian college graduates don't want to come back home, b) it was comprised of things only experienced by Bahamian students and graduates and by no one else in any other place in the world, and, c) it was to be used as a tool to instruct Bahamian college graduates not to come back home.
All of these interpretations are inaccurate.
To understand the necessity of a writer to weave fact, circumstance, experience, opinion, and language, to create something relatable, stirring, and useful, and how a writer captures an audience's attention and draws them into discussion, would allow for a more accurate interpretation of the '10 reasons'. Getting to know the writer facilitates this understanding.
Even though it is a means of self-expression and a mode of catharsis, I write to encourage others to find words and ways to express themselves honestly and rationally, and to share stories and ideas with them, with the hope that they will share theirs with others, so we can all learn from one another and develop a level of understanding and acceptance that strengthens us as a collective.
I write also to gauge and engage the feelings, perspectives, and tendencies of a wide group of people, irrespective of age or sex, on matters they should be thinking about on a regular basis in order to be more involved in fortifying their culture and their country.
I am a keen observer; my ability to express easily and fully comes from watching and listening, which in turn allows me to develop heartfelt thoughts and feelings about the world around me.
I use my expressive ability to give voice to the people who may not have found their own.
My writing is not intended to require anyone to agree with me or to give me a position on a topic and then beat people over the head with it.
I feel very deeply and sincerely about the things I choose to write on, and everyone can and will take from my writing of experiences and observations whatever they should. In the course of my thinking, analyzing, and sharing, if it leads to healthy debate on important matters, then that, I consider, a byproduct of my original objective.
Curiously, those who have on many occasions been uncomfortable with or opposed to my words have often said that I've allowed my experiences to affect my judgment, and to this I simply say that everyone does.
Each one of us human beings is affected by our life experiences and, we, subconsciously or not, allow them to create the basis of our thinking; it's only natural.
Every experience is a benchmark for living, and, if we don't consider our experiences as we live, then why do we live? Our lives are a series and mass of experiences, some we may want to have repeated and some we would sooner forget, but they are the foundations of our humanity.
Moreover, any writer worth her/ his salt should always seek to stir her/ his readers with human experiences. Otherwise, what do we write for?
Whether a writer is trying to convince someone of something, or simply to inform or to share, knowing how to capture the attention of the reader and how to reach that reader beyond the writing on the paper or the screen, without argument, without the burden of trying to get them to agree, means the writer's work is halfway done and likely to be more impactful.
If you write and you can't connect with the people you write for without forcing yourself on them, then you need to do something other than write. But, as long as you do write, you should try to write about things with sincerity, so your readers can be more open to your words and to feeling welcomed into the larger dialog.
Writers usually have a lot to say, but readers help them to define what they will say next, to the benefit of both the writer and the reader.
My own position
Being as sincere as I can be on the matter, I will say that my perspective on Bahamian brain drain does shift between the absolute and the uncertain, because, on the one hand, I know what my country desperately needs to grow, even to survive, but I also know that four or five, 25 or 40 returning college graduates trickling in over the next few decades won't get us to where we need to be, at least not in this century and certainly not in time to reverse the impact of lost Bahamian intellectual capital. A precise action is needed and it would have to be implemented fully in one fell swoop.
What is most factual about this issue of Bahamian brain drain is that there is a serious and valid concern on the part of young, college-educated Bahamians, and it is not to be taken lightly.
Many of these young people want to come (and stay) home if their specialties allow, but they feel strongly that the tendency of Bahamian decision-makers to turn to non-Bahamians for exclusive expertise is as common as sand on our beaches. Were it not for the longstanding and pervasive lack of national self-worth, always looking to the outside for the answers, the problem of brain drain may have ceased to exist right now.
Listening to the feedback on the topic, it is also clear that there are many other people, not only the students or graduates, who are affected by this flight of Bahamian human capital to the rest of the world. Parents, sponsors, and potential beneficiaries of this group's skills and talents who lose out when these graduates don't return to The Bahamas are also greatly affected. The problem is not just a problem of the individual anymore, especially when it's replicated many times over.
What's most alarming (though not surprising) to me, in analyzing all of the comments I've received on the subject, is that it appears as if the Bahamians who reject the possibility that a majority of young Bahamian college graduates could and do genuinely feel averse to their home country, and have very acceptable reasons for feeling like they best not return, are more likely to be Bahamians with elevated financial or social means, with a financial or social structure or network having been in place for them when they decided to return to The Bahamas; they are the well-connected and the well-funded, not the average Bahamian student who has struggled from day one to afford college, or struggles with family obligations, or struggles with basic finances and living expenses the moment they set foot back in The Bahamas.
Those arguing that the '10 reasons Bahamian college graduates don't want to come home' are mostly irrelevant really don't understand the scale of the problem. They have little to no concept of lack, what it means to eat a can of corn for dinner, or pay all living expenses on a $200 per week salary, after spending $20,000 per year in tuition (loans) to escape poverty! And they don't understand it because their worlds are closed to it. They have no experience with it; again, they are not nor have they ever been the average young, Bahamian college graduate with legitimate concerns about returning home that go far beyond successfully curing nostalgia.
Ironically, but perhaps tellingly, many young Bahamians vehemently arguing that Bahamian college graduates should return home have themselves stayed away for many years before returning, only doing so when it was at their convenience, or when they were "set", or when there was something established for them to return to in The Bahamas.
There is another option
The decision to live and work abroad after graduating from college does not mean a Bahamian college graduate turned expatriate to or in another country cannot contribute to the development of their country of birth.
They can - and I feel very strongly that this should be done by each and every one of them - return once per quarter or at least once per year to "give back", to share their expertise by hosting clinics, seminars, workshops, and trainings, interacting with the people who need them, and with the students who need to learn from them, as they once needed to learn from others. It can be done. It has been done, even if only in small numbers thus far.
And maybe that is where we need to start to resolve this brain drain issue, by providing a small incentive in the form of free or reimbursed airfare to expatriate Bahamians so they can return to The Bahamas expressly to share their knowledge at reasonable intervals and structured events and help develop their native land.
And, if this could be done, and 'coming home' at intervals is still too much to ask of these original Bahamians domiciled elsewhere, then the problem will not be with the country's lack of effort but with the people's lack of concern.
Realistically, over the long-term, without great financial or other incentives to return to The Bahamas, en masse - an acre of land on a Family Island for their first homes or first businesses, an annual travel voucher, etc. - these young people are not going to sacrifice the next 20 to 30 years of their lives and earning potential to move back home for conch salad, Junkanoo, and free baby-sitting for their children. They will visit home to enjoy these things and that will suffice.
For Bahamian college graduates, the beginning and growth of a career, and obtaining work experience abroad, usually occurs in conjunction with other personal pursuits of relationships, family, etc., which often means that young Bahamians stay where they are abroad because they have to now consider quality of life factors, world exposure, and opportunities not just for themselves but for their children.
The reality is that opportunities do not abound in The Bahamas, no matter your age or education, without access to sufficient, bordering on substantial financial resources. And what you will pay to live in The Bahamas, for decent quality food, housing, utilities, transportation, education, and any other necessity of life, far outstrips what you get. And this ties back to...
Economic value and productivity
A country and a culture of people who are unaccustomed to reasoning, analyzing, planning, creating, and innovating will not easily catch up to the competitive appeal of any country or culture that is already accustomed to these things being the essentials of a productive society.
The Bahamian college graduate has gone abroad and discovered the true definition of productivity, and that becomes a feature of life that they cannot live without. They will identify the minimal value placed on productivity by their birth country in comparison to another, and they will seek to be in the place where they can not only be industrious, but where they are valued monetarily and professionally as a measure of their industry, the place that gives them (and their children) the best chance at a productive, prosperous, and meaningful life. With that in mind, while reconditioning its approach to the 'Bahamian brain drain' problem, The Bahamas (government or citizenry, whoever can do it) will need to simultaneously recondition its people to be active participants in the fruitful evolution of their country into a productive nation.
Today, the problem of brain drain in The Bahamas isn't just a problem originating with a lack of opportunity, but it is attributable also to a ballooning number of unproductive Bahamians who just live out their entire lives sucking every bit of life and opportunity out of their surroundings without giving life and opportunity back to the country they call home.
More ambitious Bahamians will not want to be associated with this fruitless lifestyle and until a general lack of productivity becomes less of a problem, Bahamian brain drain will always be a viable alternative for the college-educated Bahamian.
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September 23, 2014
The question as to whether leaders are born or made is one that will continue for years to come with valid arguments being put forward on both sides of the debate. However, this discussion pales in comparison to what happens when the aspirations of an individual to lead are accomplished. It becomes quickly crystal-clear to a newly elected or appointed leader and observers that it is not an easy task being in a position of authority.
In a country such as ours, it would be an understatement to state that the demands of the populace are not easy to meet. The reality is that, while the majority elect persons to lead, leaders must govern both the minority that did not support them as well and serve the entire country. This is where the true test of leadership lies, and only the courageous and wise will succeed in this role. In this piece, we consider the travails of leading in the unique and blessed country called The Bahamas.
Leaders and the led
It is no news that effective leaders at some point or points in their lives would have been led by another. For indeed how can one lead without knowing how to follow and be led by another? It is in the discipline of discipleship that leaders form their ideologies and build their characters to emerge as leaders of men and women. This is important, as leadership is more about servitude than it is about prestige and authority. Humility, compassion, conviction and integrity are key prerequisites for persons that are or aspire to be leaders.
The problem with some of our political leaders and aspiring leaders is that they want to lead without being led or having been led. They forget that, even after election or appointment, their decisions and actions ought to be led by the people of The Bahamas. More importantly, they ought to govern the country and themselves in the best interest of the Bahamian people. The following words of the father of our nation, the late Sir Lynden O. Pindling, to his parliamentary colleagues in his farewell speech echoes through time to today's leaders and aspiring leaders of tomorrow:
"Leaders, we must not forget, do not make themselves. They are made instead by the people they lead, by the people who believe in them and by the people who are prepared to follow them not out of fear, or because it might be the in thing to do, or because of some hypnotic spell, but because deep down there is a faith that moves them to lift us up to a height above their own in the hope that, from the lofty perch to which they have raised us, we can see what they cannot and, having seen, we, as their leaders, can point the way forward into the tomorrows that await us all".
The above statement is evidence that leadership bestows a responsibility to inspire, uplift and direct.
The voice(s) of the people
The popular quote that the voice of the people is the voice of God is often referenced in the aftermath of voting by an electorate. This saying suggests that the voice of the majority of an electorate ultimately conveys not just the wishes of the majority but is also a reflection of the will of the most high.
In a parliamentary system of government such as ours where general elections are held once every five years, does this mean that the people are silent in-between general elections? Certainly not; the expectations and yearnings of the electorate can be heard by those that keep their ears to the ground and hands on the pulse of the populace.
One of the biggest challenges faced by political leaders in addition to staying in tune with the people they serve is the ability to filter the myriad voices of different stakeholders to ascertain the true voice of the Bahamian people. While talk shows, print media and social media may be instructive or helpful in assisting political leaders in this regard, it is often apparent that the audience and contributors to these media are loyal and sometimes the same individuals. Hence, true leaders must remain on the ground and in the communities and constituencies they represent to listen to the people they were elected to serve - their employers.
Public and private sector leadership
The focus on political leadership in The Bahamas oftentimes leaves little time and room for discussions on the oversight of government agencies, public corporations and private companies. In actuality, the principles of good leadership and stewardship are not confined to political leadership but extend to governance in the public and private sectors.
It is often stated that leaders in the public sector ought to emulate some of the practices of their counterparts in the private sector. The challenge with this proposition is the mentality and level of accountability attached to the public sector when compared with private enterprise.
In the private sector, companies are generally in business to make profits and the consequences of bad decisions are often seen in the performance of the entity. Additionally, the productivity of the workforce in the private sector is tied as much as possible to compensation as well as job security.
The ideology of public sector workers is generally one that is grounded in job security, regardless of productivity or performance. The level of emphasis placed on customer service in both sectors is almost like night and day to the detriment of the public sector in The Bahamas. This does not suggest that the private sector is not without flaws, especially in commitment to ethics, the social conscience and consumer protection. However, the point here is that effective leadership must transcend politics to the public sector and corporate Bahamas.
Preparation for leadership
The market for leadership training and seminars is huge with patronage from individuals from all walks of life enrolling in courses to prepare them to be leaders. While these sessions and programs in some cases provide useful tips for aspiring leaders, there is no better teacher than experience. Experience in this context does not mean that only seasoned individuals with several years in leadership positions qualify; rather it means that personal experience in roles requiring leadership is the ultimate grooming ground for true leaders.
Indeed there is a difference between 10 years' experience and one year's experience 10 times. The main factor here being the quality and depth of the experience acquired over time as well as the lessons learned from such experiences.
A quick look at great leaders over the years will reveal that some of them emerged while still cutting their proverbial teeth in the midst of perceived veterans and elder statesmen or stateswomen. The late Sir Lynden O. Pindling, Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama are prime examples of young leaders that were deemed not to have the requisite experience. In the same vein, the contribution of the late Nelson Mandela in his twilight years will not be forgotten by the world.
The point here is that youth or the perceived lack of relevant experience should not be a deterrent to leadership. After all, Enron had an experienced and very qualified board of directors while veterans presided over the Great Recession all over the world. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, said it best when he stated that "If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes - then learn how to do it later". No one is ever fully prepared for leadership.
Going where eagles dare
Governance in 21st century Bahamas is not for the faint-hearted or timid; it is reserved for those who recognize that a paradigm shift is required in order to lead the Bahamas a generation after political independence. A more enlightened and demanding Bahamian population is seeking reform in all sectors of the economy and spheres of society.
We have become intolerant of mediocrity while subpar service from the public or private sector is deemed unacceptable. Taxpayers are simply asking for better stewardship, financial discipline and transparency in the management of the country's affairs.
Political leaders in this new reality will have to go where only eagles dare and be able to withstand the increased scrutiny of the citizenry. Corporate and public sector leaders will not survive with an archaic management style which ignores the fact that processes are managed while people have to be led.
The leaders in government agencies and statutory bodies will have to deviate from the status quo which has promoted inefficiency and indiscipline in some entities if The Bahamas is to succeed in years to come. In the final analysis, a change in the framework of leadership across our archipelago of islands is inevitable. The question is whether there are sufficient men and women willing and available to effect this long overdue change.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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September 22, 2014
In the first part of this series, we reviewed the reaction to the legislation that the government recently tabled in Parliament to regulate and tax web shops, despite the public's rejection of that proposition in the January 28, 2013 gaming referendum. Before the referendum, the prime minister proclaimed that he would abide by the referendum results. Subsequently, however, he changed his mind and introduced legislation that would regulate and tax web shop operations.
Accordingly, this week, we will continue to Consider this...Are some of the religious pastors who fought and won the referendum poll correct in their accusation that the prime minister's positional reversal and subsequent actions have signaled the death of democracy in The Bahamas?
The position of the pastors on the gaming poll
Some members of the Christian Council have caustically criticized the government for ignoring the will of the people and, in so doing, foreshadowing the death of democracy in The Bahamas. They suggested that the prime minister has lost his moral authority to govern because he reneged on his promise to abide by the referendum results. Other members have also asserted that they will not participate in any future referenda because they are not confident that the government will abide by the will of the people.
A few pastors have gone as far as maintaining that any parliamentarian who votes in support of the gaming legislation should be voted out of office in the next election.
In arguing their case, none of the pastors seems to appreciate that there are some referenda that are binding on the government, while others are not. For example, the gaming referendum is not one that binds the government to the will of the people, particularly if there are compelling reasons not to do so. The upcoming constitutional referendum, however, is binding and the government cannot act in contravention thereof.
To do so would result in a constitutional crisis which no government would be able to survive. Finally, the president of the Christian Council said that "we have many examples in the Bible of people and nations who go against the will of God." While that is not disputed, he and his colleagues, in all their discussions on this matter, have yet to produce one iota of evidence that the Bible condones or prohibits gambling. I am sure that if they could, they would, but they have not because they cannot.
The prime minister and his deputy responded to the pastors, suggesting that "not one of them has a passport to heaven" and that others have turned a blind eye to web shop gaming for decades.
We will have more to say about the role and relevance of the Christian Council in today's Bahamas next month in this column.
The official opposition
In the meantime, the leader of the official opposition has stated that the prime minister and deputy prime minister have "attacked God's representatives...and when you attack God's earthly representatives, that is a direct attack on God". The leader of the opposition could arguably correctly characterize some pastors as evangelists or perhaps even prophets; but to suggest that they are "God's earthly representatives" can only be described as quintessential hyperbole.
The official opposition's position on the gaming referendum and its reaction thereafter has been disingenuous and duplicitous, at best, and, at worst, laughable. It is disingenuous and duplicitous for the opposition to oppose this legislation because some of the same members who now serve in opposition served as ministers in the Ingraham administration which intended to regularize web shop operations while they were in office, but did not have the courage of their convictions to do so because of their inability to gain the support of the Christian Council.
The fallout from
No reasonable person can persuasively argue that the prime minister and his government have not taken a big hit on this one. Perhaps the most serious consequence of the decision to act in contravention of the voice of the people is the erosion of the credibility of the prime minister and his government.
The entire gaming referendum process was fraught with mistakes and missteps by the government. The prime minister himself has admitted to making mistakes, the most egregious of which was seeking the will of the people in the first place. Christie should have followed Ingraham's playbook and proceeded with making the regulations for web shops without the cost of a referendum; but he also should have gone further, as he has now demonstrated, by having the political will to proceed by doing what is best for our country.
The prime minister also erred by declaring that he "did not have a horse in the race", fully cognizant of the urgent revenue needs of the country and the potential for blacklisting if no proactive move was made to regulate this sector.
The prime minister erred again in saying that he would abide by the results of the referendum, knowing full well that this type of referendum was not binding, particularly armed with the knowledge that the jurisdiction faced negative reaction from the international agencies if the government maintained the status quo.
The greater good
We believe that the prime minister and his Cabinet have weighed the considerable political fallout against doing the right thing and have made the right decision in the interest of the greater good. Several important factors would have informed their decision.
First, the web shops are an integral part of the economic Bahamian reality and the displacement of the persons employed in this sector would be harmful, irreconcilable, unjust and unrealistic.
Second, this economic sector provides a vitally useful service, particularly on those islands of The Bahamas where there are no banking institutions.
Third, the passage of the legislation and the resulting regulations will minimize the possibility of the jurisdiction being blacklisted by the international agencies.
Fourth, the enactment of this legislation will empower young Bahamian entrepreneurs to more meaningfully participate in the economy as owners in an area which heretofore has been the primary domain of the foreign Canadian banks. We realize that the commercial banks, especially the foreign commercial banks, have far too long been onerous and oppressive.
They have done little to encourage entrepreneurial development because of their stringent lending policies that are determined and dictated by their headquarters in Canada or Barbados.
Fifth, too much money in the form of banking profits leave the jurisdiction by way of the repatriation of profits of the foreign commercial banks. We believe that, in the fullness of time, web shop owners and regular Bahamians who invest in their companies will establish Bahamian banking institutions, much like the Bank of The Bahamas and Commonwealth Bank. Once the web shops are regularized, their stakeholders will have the opportunity to compete more effectively against the foreign banks, which will result in their profits remaining within the jurisdiction. We should not lose sight of the fact that some of the antecedents of at least one commercial Bahamian bank started in a business activity which, during the years of Prohibition, was considered illicit.
Sixth, the government will be able to increase its revenues from license fees and taxes from the web shops. It is anticipated that at least $25 million annually, which presently escapes the public coffers, will be paid.
In the final analysis, we firmly believe that the prime minister and his government have made the right decision for the economy, despite excessive opposition and criticism from spiritual and temporal quarters whose arguments are neither cogent nor persuasive. In years to come, we submit that historians will look back at this time in our history and will conclude that, consequential upon the debate surrounding the regularization of this sector, the Christie administration has not only laid the foundation for a tectonic transformation of our economy by empowering young, new Bahamian entrepreneurs to participate in the economy as they have never done before, but that the entire process has led to the deepening, not to the death, of our democracy.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to email@example.com.
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September 19, 2014
o The following is the written communication of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell to the House of Assembly on Wednesday, September 17, 2014.
With immediate effect, we will not accept applications for people who do not have legal status in The Bahamas to work and anyone who comes to do so, the application will be refused and the applicant will be arrested and charged and deported.
The Cabinet is considering a permanent prospective ban on all people who have come here illegally and have been deported so that they will not ever be able to qualify for a permanent status in The Bahamas.
We are allowing a period for comment before proceeding with a formal proposal in this regard. The intention is to have new regulations or policies in place on this subject by January 1, 2015, subject to any exigencies.
With effect from November 1, 2014 new procedures are to come into force with regard to work permit procedures, and it is envisaged that the regulations will be amended and the policies accordingly.
The suggestions are out now for comment. Meetings have been held with various stakeholders including the Haitian ambassador and the leaders of the Haitian community. They are expected to meet again with the prime minister and the deputy prime minister.
The proposal is that as of the 1st of November, 2014 employers who wish to apply for first-time work permit holders - that is, persons with no status in The Bahamas who are from the Republic of Haiti - will have to do the following:
1. Come to the Department of Immigration and pay the processing fee of $100, provide the labor certificate, the cover letter, the stamp tax of $30 and the employee information sheet in Nassau.
2. That information will be forwarded to the Embassy of The Bahamas in Port-au-Prince where the individual applicant will fill out the application form and provide the supporting documents. The individual applicant must be certified as personally seen by an embassy officer in Port-au-Prince.
I also wish to announce that we will as of November 1 require all persons who live in The Bahamas to have a passport of the country of their nationality. Those people who have been born here will get a particular residence permit which will allow them to work and live here until such time as their status pursuant to any application under the terms of the constitution is decided.
This will also allow access of children to school. This will not apply to the children of those who are here illegally.
The Haitian president and the ambassador have confirmed that they will be able to meet the demand for these passports.
The holding of a foreign passport does not prejudice the right of anyone under the constitution to apply for citizenship of The Bahamas.
In addition, it is proposed that as of November 1, the practice of issuing certificates of identity to non-nationals born here will cease. These will only be for Bahamians who have a need for an emergency travel document or where in accordance with our international obligations we are to issue them to non-nationals.
Again, these matters are now in the public domain for comment.
The idea is to ensure that people are properly documented if they are living in The Bahamas.
The situation with immigration in The Bahamas is most vexing. The new class of recruits should graduate at the end of October; I think there will be 60 in that class. A new class has been chosen and will begin shortly thereafter. The RBDF is working actively on the high seas. The level of interdictions on land is ongoing.
There is so much criminality involved in immigration that these new rules and procedures are necessary in order to get on top of this problem.
This requires the efforts of all Bahamians to guard our borders and protect our country. We are particularly concerned about what is happening in Abaco and special attention is being paid to that island and to Eleuthera where many residents believe that things have gotten totally out of hand. It is important for us to address it before it gets out of hand.
There are reports that there are in some sections of those islands no-go areas for public officials. This cannot stand and this will be stopped.
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September 18, 2014
Oddly, last week the head of government bared his soul in front of the press. It is important to note that, in our system, the prime minister is not the nation's chief executive. In our parliamentary democracy, the constitution rests executive authority in the Cabinet. Ours is not a U.S.-style presidential system.
Having abandoned his solemn promise to honor the results of the gambling referendum Perry Christie offered a confession of faith: "Faith tells me that there is no minister of religion in the world that can give me a passport to heaven and that ultimately that is where I want to be..."
We all want to go to heaven. But before the appointed hour, there is likely somewhere else that Christie wants to be after the next election: returned to the lofty heights of the prime ministership which has become his cloud nine.
Christie and God must sort out their affairs, with the creator rendering final judgment upon him. Still, voters will render unto Caesar Christie their political judgment on his stewardship in office.
Verily, such earthbound judgment is nigh. In matters of faith and politics, contrition and penance precede forgiveness. Christie has never really asked for forgiveness or demonstrated genuine contrition for having betrayed the will of the people.
Having broken his word and in failing to show contrition for double-crossing the electorate, Christie may well pay political hell with voters, many of whom are angry at his administration's smugness, arrogance and betrayal of the democratic trust, to name a few political sins.
Voters sense in their guts and hearts some of the essence of those they choose for high office. Christie enjoyed a bond with voters, an easygoing manner and empathy, making him a likable personality.
That bond began fraying during Christie's first term as head of government, one of the reasons he became the first prime minister in an independent Bahamas to lose after a single term. Though re-elected in 2012, the party did not win the majority of the popular vote.
Christie's likability has nose-dived, as he is seen by many more Bahamians as out of touch and someone liable to break promises at the drop of a hat. He has lost considerable public trust and affection and is now widely unpopular. He has lost touch with the soul of the nation.
Even many, perhaps most, who voted yes in the gambling referendum, remain stunned by his betrayal of the final vote, including his lame excuses for going back on his word. Many scoff at his claim that he and the PLP had no horse in the gambling referendum.
During debate on the Gaming Bill in the House of Assembly Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner summed up the views of many: "They told us they had no horse in the race. What they had were several horses in the race, with jockeys on each one of those horses galloping toward the finish line, all tended by grooms and trainers, all flying their colors.
"Now, since their horses dropped dead in the race, they are fully determined to drag them across the finish line, by hook or by whatever means necessary."
In the spiritual life and in politics, of the seven deadly sins, pride is often seen as the deadliest, because it may obscure other sins. Hubris is a version of pride.
The hubris is stark, disturbing. This is the first government in an independent Bahamas to dismiss the results of a democratic vote, which the government said it would honor.
Christie self-reverentially described himself as a great democrat. He lauded a march downtown in support of the yes campaign as a wonderful display of democracy.
After all his talk about democracy, the self-proclaimed great democrat ignored the results of the referendum. Having decided to dishonor the vote he should have resigned and called a general election. Instead he has turned out to be spectacularly hypocritical, his democratic credentials shot to hell.
What might this portend? Having served as a consultant to an oil exploration company with a resulting conflict of interest, Christie postponed a promised referendum on oil exploration. Strangely, the postponement was announced by the environment minister, not the Cabinet Office or the Office of the Prime Minister.
Conflict of interest
Given Christie's conflict of interest and his dismissal of the gambling referendum, the prime minister might similarly ignore the results of such a vote, which is unlikely to be held in any case.
Not in keeping with our parliamentary system in which the governor general is head of state and in mimicry of a U.S.-style presidential system, Christie beamed that he wants a prime ministerial coat of arms.
At a chamber of commerce conference he proclaimed, "I, the country", which should perhaps be the motto on his coat of arms, especially in light of his contempt for the will of the people after the gaming referendum.
The loss of trust and respect for Christie has reached such lows that he's being pilloried and satirized in popular culture. K.B. recently released Captain Kangaroo, a single comparing Christie to the eponymous U.S. television children's entertainer.
Those who loved Captain Kangaroo may be annoyed at the comparison. Still, the point is made as to the loss of faith in the direction of the country and the prime minister.
Christie and the PLP have earned the country's mistrust and enmity. The equality referendum has now been promised for a vote a stunning five times.
Christie's gross act of political expediency and flip-flop during the 2002 referendum and his betrayal of the 2013 vote are largely responsible for the impending defeat of the postponed referendum, which might never be held this term.
If women fail to gain equality in the foreseeable future, the fault is Christie's and the PLP's. They have so poisoned the referendum process, first by betraying the 2002 agreement with the FNM on reform and then by betraying voters in 2013. Such betrayal of the common good is now commonplace by the PLP.
History and irony are mocking Christie. The self-adoring man who bragged that he had the public goodwill necessary pass an equality referendum has earned so much bad will and loathing that he is the greatest stumbling block to gender equality. History will not treat him kindly in this regard.
"Animal Farm" author George Orwell famously wrote about the misuse of political language, of its evasions, cant and miscasting of the facts in service of baser motives. The misuse of such language has come to be known as Orwellian.
In the eighth annual Dr. the Hon. Lloyd Barnett O.J. Lecture held at the Eugene Dupuch Law School in September 2013, entitled "Contemporary constitutionalism and the consent of the governed", Christie self-servingly whitewashed the role that he and the PLP played in poisoning the democratic and referendum process.
Note Christie's Orwellian language during the lecture: "I need to emphasize that in both the 2002 constitutional referendum and the 2013 gambling referendum, there was a complete absence of consensus among the main political parties. This fact alone, given the acute political polarization of Bahamian society, may well have pre-ordained the failure of both initiatives."
What fact? There was political consensus. The results were not pre-ordained. As opposition leader, Christie agreed with the legislation, with the PLP voting for the amendments in the House, before their spectacular flip-flop.
Christie proclaimed during the lecture: "[We] must find effective ways to elevate issues of constitutional reform and change above the political fray, tapping instead into what Lincoln called 'the better angels of our nature', where we can all meet on the common ground of patriotism and love of country, looking only to what is best for us as a people, rather than as soldiers in some transitory partisan cause."
Having chosen the worse angels of our nature in 2002 in pursuit of partisanship in the service of political expediency, Christie is one of the last people who should utter such a line.
Fast-forward to the 2013 referendum, the results of which Christie ignored in the service of the numbers bosses. In breaking his word, we were again reminded of Orwell's warning of the abuse of language, with Christie trying to make a virtue of his betrayal. What is essentially a sell-out, he sought to bathe in virtuousness. It will not wash.
If Christie and the PLP sought to implement a national lottery, with the proceeds mostly going to public purposes rather than many more millions for private greed, Bahamians may have understood the change of heart.
Instead, he betrayed the will of the people to serve the interests of a few. This is neither virtuous nor democratic. Whatever Christie's interior disposition, he has betrayed the soul of the nation by becoming a hindrance to gender equality and by selling out to vested interests in the big numbers game.
God help us all!
o firstname.lastname@example.org, www.bahamapundit.com.
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September 17, 2014
While we have to, as individuals, take responsibility for creating our own opportunities where there may be none in sight, I do blame in larger part, and please excuse me, the "mo fros" who established the original protocols and norms of the educational system in conjunction with the Bahamian workplace, which together created so many disconnects between education and employment that The Bahamas would today find itself hemorrhaging most of its educated population to the workforces of other countries.
As a Bahamian with a college education, I cannot imagine the plight of Bahamians who have not had the chance to learn a trade, to study locally or abroad and to become certified in something that can at least form the basis of a career. I am having the hardest time, still - for 15 years now - and I have college diplomas. If I'm struggling so, how on Earth are people who have no credentials surviving?
Rather than return to the Venus flytrap they call home, college grads would sooner take their chances in a foreign land of greater opportunity than resign their lives to barely getting by, consequently putting off career, more education, family, and dreams, because they can't afford to do anything more than survive when they choose to come back home to work. The system works in opposition to their success. How?
One: In The Bahamas, a Bahamian can't get a job with no experience, and they can't get experience without a job; like the dog chasing its tail, they chase opportunity in a system designed to limit access, even with a college degree.
In spite of the fact that many job ads call for the applicant to have a degree, the work experience component of the ads placed by businesses in The Bahamas often makes college graduates unqualified for the advertised positions. These Bahamian citizens are marginalized further when illegal immigrants and expatriates can work more easily in The Bahamas, because their lack of (truthful and verifiable) experience goes under the radar.
For Bahamian college graduates, the building blocks of their education become stumbling blocks, as it appears the working world imposes a penalty for choosing college over entering the workplace directly after graduating high school. Those who go to university and those who don't will meet a similar cyclical challenge of work experience, but there's a special version of it suffered by college graduates that has a lot to do with...
Two: They can't get a decent job without a good contact or current or recent work history, which is not likely they will have if they've been abroad for several years. They have to know someone who knows two to four other people, one of whom may be able to give access to a workplace, somewhere, without requiring you to already be on a job (or have 10-plus years of experience), be it relevant or not, to the graduate's preferred specialty.
Moreover, if the college grad chooses to job search solely on the basis of merit, as many educated youths tend to do when their thoughts of the future are still idyllic, they're in for a rude awakening. Few things happen by the book in The Bahamas, and unless new graduates learned while in college how to circumvent processes and manipulate systems, these young people are severely limited with options for gainful employment.
Networking, if you can call it that in the backdoor culture of The Bahamas, has to begin in earnest long before graduation, maybe even as early as one's date of birth, given that who you know proves more important than what you know when it comes time to enter the Bahamian working world.
Three: They can't find meaningful work in their chosen or studied field. Because they can't practice their specialty (unless it's medicine or law), they work elsewhere for a while, which inevitably turns into years, and in the end they spend too much time caught in the routine of working to make a living instead of working to build a life.
College students return, having graduated from English, art, psychology, biology, music, politics, and they're forced to work in hotels or banks just to earn a few dollars or to start building work experience. The problem here is not with paying your dues to make it, but rather that a college grad can't truly follow her or his passion with no structured career paths in place to exercise the knowledge acquired while obtaining an expensive education.
And all education is expensive. To make matters worse, if the graduates are innovative, it just throws them back even more with respect to time and opportunity, because few people respect the innovator's bright ideas - at least not until those people see that the same ideas bring monetary reward, or notoriety, at which point they will either jump aboard the train, or hijack and steal the train.
Four: What they actually do on the job, when they are lucky enough to get a job in their desired field, contributes minimally to their growth in that field. They're filing when they're qualified to analyze and strategize. They're at the copy machine when they could be drafting contracts. They find it difficult to hone their expertise in order to become experts themselves when other experts are brought in around and over them to get the very opportunities the college graduates need to excel but are instead left to attend solely to menial tasks.
They learn the ropes, yes, which is important to sharpen that academic know-how, but they can't use their training to its fullest because they are blockaded by internal forces that regard them as a threat and therefore bend over backwards to keep these college-educated young people limited with respect to the number of occasions they have to utilize the full range of their talents and skills.
Five: They get paid pennies, certainly as compared to what they would earn and the quality of life they would have if they chose to live and work elsewhere in the world. The minimum starting salary offered to them at the first level of employment does not meet the minimum standard they expect, oddly, in a country that hastens to brag about its U.S. par value dollar.
And yes, absolutely yes, there should be a minimum standard. But minimum standard does not mean low standard. Of course, a new recruit should bring something substantial to the table when arriving at the table, and should not expect to collect if they have no real talent or skill to contribute, like the fast food employees in America pushing for a minimum wage increase to $15 per hour.
But, in reality, further education costs a hell of a lot of money, whether you're privately or fully funded or not. And college graduates need a return on their (parents' or sponsors') educational investments. Securing a good ROI is a first rule of business, is it not?
Six: They cannot reconcile the typical Bahamian work requirements to meet their modern day circumstances. They are expected to clock in and out at nine and five, with one hour of lunch between noon and two, and a couple of pee breaks.
But gone are the days when this template worked effectively and each person left high school to have only one or two jobs in their respective lifetimes until they reached retirement age and collected a pension. That worked well for our parents, when things didn't move at warp speed or the cost of living wasn't 10 times greater.
But, the way the world is structured today and the way it operates, with rapid evolution of technology and communications, means business changes quickly. And to keep up, an employee must change quickly, which, essentially, includes updating and improving self and adapting to the realities of modern life.
As a result, employers must also change their traditional business models and diversify staff composition for a better balance of full-time and long term versus part-time/ contract and short term employees, and make allowances for things like remote systems access and mobile work, flexible hours and paternity leave. If a university graduate needs these options and gets them abroad, it's another reason not to come back home.
Seven: They are horrified by the closed and restricted mentality of the Bahamian people. After their exposure to the world beyond the sunny isles, college graduates have energy, hope, inspiration, motivation and momentum to change their country for the better, only to return home and get smothered by the spirit-killing energies of disenfranchised citizens and spirit-killing family and friends, some of whom are genuinely unaware of their gloomy dispositions, but others who are fully aware and quite happy to keep living in their rain boxes.
When the opportunities of the educated to become further educated are seen as rendering others ignorant, insecurities abound and opportunities dwindle. Bahamians are traditionally closed-minded, and even though we know this when we're amongst our people, when we leave and come back after a long time has passed, it is a total shock to youthful ambitions and an automatic turnoff to the idea of moving back home.
Eight: They are depressed and deterred by a crumbling society: the crime, poverty, illegal immigration; the lack of respect for environment, cleanliness, decency and personal property - all further worsened by the fact that a couple hundred thousand people are squeezed together on one small island.
This new place they see is not the place they left behind when they set off on their quest to make a difference in the world. And with the rapid degradation of a society living in close quarters, it's not the first place one wants to call home either, but for the sun and sea and the loved ones for whom it is still home.
But the work it will take to change the environment and carve out their own opportunities within it, to help to build the nation at least to where it should be, is more than a new graduate wants to undertake. Rather than be depressed and demotivated, the Bahamian college graduate will seek a life outside of The Bahamas, at least for the time being, where there are more options for greater peace of mind, hoping they will find something improved in their home country when they finally decide to return to it.
Nine: They are shell-shocked by the slothful and lax approach to life and business in The Bahamas. After they get beyond the novelty of being back home, when it comes time to actually get things done, they encounter a mass of people on permanent mental vacation where nothing very productive or progressive can happen, whether at all or for extended periods of time.
The pace of life in The Bahamas, though enjoyable for unwinding, is unacceptable for actual goal achievement and real economic or social development. When most things which are necessary or worth doing take ridiculously too long to do, it is counterproductive to individual and national progress, but, more importantly, it limits individual success and leads to an overwhelming majority of frustrated people who are constantly unhappy or angry.
The gross inefficiencies which lead to such frustrations are more worth enduring in a place where the college graduate is more valued; home, amongst compatriots, sadly, is often not that place.
Ten: They are competing with foreign imports of labor, legal or illegal, wealthy or poor, for a place and stake in their own country, and paying more for less opportunity in the end.
Bahamian citizenship gives them no real advantage. Their home no longer caters to them, if ever it did. Real property is priced beyond the reach of average Bahamians and the status quo-keepers - political elite and realtors in constant hot pursuit of the foreign investor - are fine with keeping it that way.
The cost of basic utilities and food is already following the same untenable incline, and alternatives are few and far between, particularly with a current administration which sees fit to force the people to buckle down and tighten belts, when they know they've never taught them anything about buckling down or tightening belts, and when they themselves do not do it, within the scope of their public or personal obligations.
Case in point: We can't keep the power on but we're spending $9 million on a Junkanoo Carnival with minimal guarantees of short, medium or long-term economic benefit. How does this exemplify a concern for the priorities of the Bahamian people? Who wants to come home from college and not be a priority in their own country?
What we can expect
Bahamian students won't return to The Bahamas, as long as there is somewhere they believe is better for them to live and contribute while achieving their goals and fulfilling their dreams. The effort required to convince them otherwise will continue to be gargantuan and outside of the ability of anyone currently in a position to see it through.
Education (abroad) is an escape route from a place where there are no incentives for citizens to return and to contribute to nation building, because the culture is not one of productivity and innovation, but rather of silent acceptance and expectation of reward for remaining obedient to the boss-worker, master-slave, tourist-native mindset. This is not the thinking of younger, college-educated Bahamians, who have climbed and are still climbing out of their country by way of the overseas university "fire escape".
Others, like me, have been hustling for years, refusing to give up on the possibility that there could be prosperity and fulfillment in our country of birth, with our respective talents, when most of our peers took the "better" option when they graduated from college. But there aren't many of us left (here) who feel this way about our home and, in time, if deprived enough, we too will bid our beloved country adieu.
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September 16, 2014
The use of the phrase "change agent" has become common in The Bahamas today as individuals emerge from all walks of life claiming this title. The adoption of this self-description by many persons in our country today has become convenient because it suggests that they represent a new breed that is uncomfortable with the status quo.
Questions arise, however: Do we actually have in our midst genuine agents of change? Are these change agents are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to bring about the changes they desire? Do we have enough of them to not only challenge the status quo but achieve the necessary results for the betterment of our country?
A critical component of this discussion is the magnitude of the changes being pursued and the timing of efforts to change that which in some cases has become a part of our culture.
The convenience of activism
The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he stated that "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 adversity". In the same vein, it is quite easy and common to take positions that are consistent with the views of the majority; after all this does not ruffle the proverbial feathers of anyone or any establishment. This explains why individuals that are regarded as "yes men or women" are hardly catalysts for change and talk less of a revolution.
It is intriguing to see how many of our political leaders take stances when there are hardly consequences for their positions. Going further, it is not surprising but disappointing to witness how the views of politicians change when they are no longer in power or cannot influence policy in a significant way.
In light of the normal practice described in the preceding sentences, one can understand why, in spite of their shortcomings as human beings, the three prime ministers of The Bahamas since independence would have had to deal with consequences of confronting the status quo. However, one thing they all had in common was the ability to skillfully navigate our parliamentary system of government to arrive at a place where they can bring about the changes they sought.
Conviction, loyalty and politics
While it is often easy for human beings to act and fake for prolonged periods, it is difficult to manufacture conviction. This is why true political leadership is reserved not only for individuals of courage but more importantly persons with deep convictions which govern their service to their people. It is therefore important that we ascertain the philosophies of our current and aspiring political leaders; we ought to ask them what they believe in and obtain their views on a range of issues of national importance.
As a nation we must not equate conviction with betrayal, and an individual's beliefs should not necessarily bring their loyalty to our commonwealth into question. That being said, we all have differing views which make us a stronger country; our diversity should strengthen and unite us in building a better nation, rather than divide us to the detriment of our Bahamaland. Politicians on all sides of the political divide ought to work together for the good of the nation. They must evolve into statesmen and stateswomen looking at the next generation instead of the next election. This writer submits that we are where we are in our country today because we do not have enough statesmen and stateswomen.
Seasonal champions of change
It is often said that our true self is manifested in solitude away from the prying eyes of the public and, in the case of politicians, when the cameras are not rolling or the microphone is not in front of them. Who are our leaders when no one is watching? The Bible states that 'by their fruits you shall know them'; the question is what (if any) seeds have our leaders planted? Are they planting seeds which will produce trees and by extension provide shade for the next generation of Bahamians or are they eating both the fruits and seeds today to the detriment of our future?
Another common occurrence which has become prevalent in recent times is the newfound voices of many on a myriad issues that have plagued our nation for years and, in some cases, decades. Just to be clear, it is good that we finally have people rising up to the plate and seeking changes. This is important for the maturity and deepening of our democracy. The only concern here is that we seem to have settled for years until we found ourselves between the proverbial rock and hard place. It is hoped that the new and emerging champions of change are not only genuine and not driven by selfish ambitions, but also will not quit on the Bahamian people in years to come. We need reliable and consistent change agents, not seasonal champions of change in our nation.
The changes that we seek
We continue to have discussions on a number of issues ranging from gender equality, fiscal reform, gambling, the proposed Junkanoo Carnival, crime and immigration, just to mention a few. It is obvious that different stakeholders and individuals have emerged in support and opposition to the positions taken by the government on these matters. This again bodes well for the development of our country.
The only question here is, if the ultimate objective of these initiatives is to ensure national development, upholding the fundamental human rights of all Bahamians, growth of our economy and enhancing the lives of all Bahamians, why are the true change agents among us only interested in the issues that impact them or their pockets? The Bahamas does not require selective confronters of the status quo.
Liberty and prosperity for all Bahamians should be supported by all of us. While we may disagree on the method being adopted in changing the status quo, we should not take our eyes off the prize in the interest of our people. Real change agents should not limit their pursuit of a better day to the private sector or the confines of their homes but must infiltrate the public sector and their communities if our country is to thrive rather than just survive. That being said, the popular saying that charity begins at home is ever so true. Strong families will always produce a strong and better community and, by extension, a better country.
The change process
"Glass ceiling" is the term often used metaphorically to describe the limitations placed on individuals by a system, ideology, policies, other people or a culture. The objective of our change agents to remove barriers that stand between the Bahamian people and the "Bahamian dream" is generally defined by the shattering of the glass ceiling paving the way for no limits to that which we can achieve.
In confronting the limitations under the status quo, we tend to have the expectation that the change should be instantaneous, effected in full and implemented in the manner that we want. Hence, it is not surprising that change agents are not easily satisfied and will sometimes fail to celebrate the cracks in the glass ceiling.
It is important however, to appreciate the little successes and progress in the quest to eliminate the status quo. The wisdom of going through the right process and the virtue of patience must be combined with perseverance until the desired change is fully actualized. Rome was not built in a day and there is always a process for progress.
It is often said that change is the one constant in life and The Bahamas cannot avoid the winds of change as we journey as a nation. While change is a constant, not all changes are positive and/or in the interest of our commonwealth. It is therefore incumbent upon our leaders and persons in authority to ensure that in seeking to bring about change, they ensure that the changes they propose and support are for the ultimate good of the citizenry.
The judges of the changes that we promote individually and within our stakeholder groups today will not only be the present generation but also generations yet unborn.
Posturing and political expediency grounded in self-preservation or the desire to remain relevant is not only unpatriotic, it is an injustice to the people of this great country. In the final analysis, the Bahamian people will be watching the persons that claim to be agents of change in our country to see whether they will continue to seek positive changes in our country but more importantly whether they will become the change that they seek.
We will also seek to determine whether they are merely old wine in new wineskins or vice versa; do they have the same mentality of the status quo in a rebranded vessel?
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to email@example.com.
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September 15, 2014
"You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists."
- Abbie Hoffman
This week, we witnessed the commencement of the debate on gambling legislation in Parliament which sought, among other things, to regularize the operation of web shops in The Bahamas. Much of the intense antagonism to the legislation resulted from the outcome of the January 28, 2013 gambling referendum during which the vote in opposition to the proposition of regulating and taxing the web shops prevailed.
Prior to the referendum, the prime minister proclaimed that he would abide by the referendum results. Subsequently, however, he changed his mind, and, notwithstanding the referendum results, introduced legislation that would regulate and tax web shops. Accordingly this week, we would like to Consider this...Are some of the religious pastors who fought and won the referendum poll correct in their accusation that the prime minister's positional reversal and subsequent actions have signaled the death of democracy in The Bahamas?
The state of play
For decades, Bahamians were not allowed to gamble in the country's casinos, although foreigners were not only permitted, but encouraged to do so. Casino gambling in The Bahamas has grown impressively, and tourist gaming has become ensconced in our tourism industry. However, since the enactment of the relevant legislation, Bahamians were prohibited from participating.
During this same period, and for many decades before, Bahamians have actively engaged in the domestic numbers business, paying small amounts of money to bet that the numbers that they chose would "fall" on any given day, resulting in profits far in excess of the cost of the purchase of such numbers. At one point, depending on the gaming house in which one played, a $2 bet could result in winnings of as much as $900, and in some cases slightly more if the number fell in the precise sequence of the daily drawings.
Such games of chance were never legally sanctioned, but for decades the vast majority of Bahamians turned a blind eye to such betting arrangements by local residents. The society as a whole acquiesced to such practices; law enforcement, and civil society, including the church, generally accepted that playing numbers was as much a part of the Bahamian culture as is Junkanoo.
In 2010, when the Ingraham administration decided to regulate the web shops, government representatives met with web shop owners and determined that the annual revenue from this sector was estimated to be in the range of $400 to $600 million. At the time, the Free National Movement (FNM) government realized that it could not allow the industry to continue to operate in an unregulated environment and drafted regulations for it. The FNM did not proceed with its plans to regulate this sector, in part because, at that time, it could not obtain the support of the church.
The 2013 referendum
Shortly after the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won the general elections on May 7, 2012, Prime Minister Christie aggressively initiated plans to regularize the web shops. Pursuant to that objective, Prime Minister Christie announced that his government would hold a referendum on January 28, 2013 to determine the will of the people on the matter. The two questions on the referendum ballot sought the people's views on regulating and taxing the web shops and the establishment of a national lottery. The referendum results follow:
o The total number of votes cast against regulating and taxing web shops was 51,146, 62 percent of the total;
o The total number of votes cast in favor of regularization was 31,657, 38 percent of the total.
Many people believe that, although a majority of Bahamians who voted in last year's referendum were against the web shops, the outcome is neither persuasive nor conclusive and that the referendum results do not represent the true national sentiment on this issue.
Particularly in light of the low voter turnout of less than 50 percent of eligible voters, it would be erroneous to conclude that a majority of Bahamians are opposed to regulating and taxing web shops or establishing a national lottery.
The regulation imperative
The government recently reported that web shops cumulatively generate gross annual revenue of $600 million. Given this enormously significant cash flow, it is imperative that they be regulated for two important reasons: consumer protection and national security imperatives.
In the absence of completely shutting down the web shops, perhaps an impossibly achievable objective, the government must have also considered the vastly deleterious effects that either shutting them down or allowing them to continue to operate in an unregulated environment would have on our economy. But doing nothing is a wholly untenable proposition.
If we examine the operations of web shops, we will observe that their owners operate two distinctively different businesses. First, they provide online gaming for their customers. From a consumer protection perspective, it is important for persons who participate in web shop activities to be confident that they are protected from undesirable business practices ranging from online machine manipulation to not being able to collect their winnings if they are successful players. Today, in the absence of regulation, the smooth, fair and equitable operation of web shops is wholly based on trust. Regulation will address those and other operational issues.
The second business in which web shops engage comes as close to banking as anything will, without the requirement or benefit of a banking license. There are possibly more automatic teller machines strewn across the length and breadth of this country that are operated by the web shops owners than those of all the commercial banks combined.
Furthermore, the owners of web shops engage in lending money to many Bahamians for similar purposes as our commercial banks. However, in the case of web shops, this is an unregulated activity.
Additionally, we cannot ignore the short and long-term devastating effects on this economy of the nearly 4,000 persons who are employed by the web shops and what their closure would mean to the nation's employment figures.
Finally, it was absolutely necessary to bring this industry into the formal economy, enabling it to be recognized as a legitimate and significant pillar of the Bahamian economy.
Having regard to all of the above, the government is cognizant that regulation of the industry is imperative in order to protect the country from once again being blacklisted by the international agencies of the large industrialized countries, because of the potential threat that an unregulated sector poses for money laundering and terrorist financing, all of which will be minimized through the regulation of the sector.
Accordingly, there cannot be any doubt whatsoever that regulation and taxation of this sector is in the best interests of the country.
The gaming legislation
The gaming legislation that was recently tabled in Parliament, among other things, contains three major provisions that have resulted in varying degrees of intense debate in the public square. Those elements of the bill provide:
That all web shops would be regulated and taxed;
That a national lottery could be established for at some future date to be determined by the government;
That Bahamians would be allowed to gamble in casinos at some future date to be determined by the government.
The government should be commended for its leadership in this matter. Christie has debunked his detractors' derogatory suggestions that he is indecisive and ineffective. He and his Cabinet have taken the bold decision to do the right thing for the economy and the country in the face of excessive opposition and criticism for taking a decision that is incongruent with the expressed will of the people who voiced their views during the last referendum.
Next week we will address those who criticize the government for taking this bold decision in the face of those results, including the official opposition and some church pastors, with a view to determining whether, in light of the prime minister's courageous leadership in this matter, we are witnessing the death of democracy in our country.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic and Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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