Opinion

Embracing diversity in The Bahamas

March 12, 2014

For the rest of our lives, my generation will no doubt remember the evening of November 5, 2008, for we were privileged to stand on this side of history.
On that night the world stood still as a tall, thin, charismatic man took the stage to claim victory as the 44th president of the United States of America. As we all know, there was something quite unique about this president - there was something not found in the DNA of his 43 predecessors. He, with his black Kenyan-born father and white American born mother, was in fact a true African-American. That brief moment in 2008 shattered 234 years of history through the election of the first black president of the U.S.A. Now, what inspired me about Barack Obama's victory was not the fact that generations of black slaves could have never perceived it, but rather the fact that this victory was a shared victory by the most diverse nation in the world.
Now let me put this article in its proper context. I write having no agenda. I write, though, as a man who share the desire to protect The Bahamas for Bahamians and I also write as a man who has matured to the point of accepting all people for the value they add to making this world a better place for all.
One of the goals of any country is to be able to compete in a rapidly changing global arena. This is indeed a primary objective of our beautiful Bahamas, and certainly this goal should be paramount to a people who have enjoyed so many luxuries in the past because of booming tourism and lucrative financial services industries. If The Bahamas is going to have an elevated influence on the world's stage we must begin to use our diversity as our greatest asset. We must find some balance between our dreams and our fears. And one of the biggest economic and social challenges facing The Bahamas as a whole relates to unlocking the barriers to the acceptance of diversity in our economy and our wider society.
Diversity
Diversity can be defined in many different ways. Diversity is a commitment to recognizing and appreciating the variety of characteristics that make individuals unique in an atmosphere that promotes and celebrates individual and collective achievement. Diversity refers to human qualities that are different from our own and those of groups to which we belong.
Throughout the global community there is a common belief, a belief born of experience, that diversity in all spheres of our society is important for them fulfilling their primary mission: providing a quality of life in which the simple truth is that diversity enriches the standard of life for all citizens.
We learn from those whose experiences, beliefs, and perspectives are different from our own. Yet, there are still so many who unfortunately do not choose to see that this diversity spills over into our living communities.
For the most part, The Bahamas, like many smaller countries, is a pioneer when it comes to women in leadership; thus, we see gender diversity in government, churches, businesses and non-government organizations.
As a nation, we can proudly boast of being very accepting of persons with diverse appearances, unlike other countries that may be biased based on weight, age, gender and so forth. However, it is generally viewed that Bahamians seem to be quite afraid of living in a multiracial and multiethnic society for fear of misplacing our cultural roots, or even worse, having our children grow up in a country and finding no place in the nation that our ancestors built.
Let me make this point clear: I understand the concerns of my people for I am a man much too indebted to my country to risk pawning its identify. But, I believe that if The Bahamas is to weather those varied storms in the short term and further strengthen our global standing in the long term, we must stop seeing diversity as a problem and start accepting diversity as an advantage.
There are some amongst us who believe that The Bahamas is in crisis and they are afraid for our safety, our culture, our jobs, our comfort, our future. This fear has caused them to believe that there is no alternative to the loss of our job security, to our diminishing salaries and prolonged working lives; no alternative other than to protect our borders from the apparent threat - the threat of different.
You know, I hear their argument. They say that in the past when a small number of Haitians migrated to a small section of Florida they created "Little Haiti". That when a small number of Cubans descended upon another area in Florida they created "Little Havana".

I say that argument does little to solidify our fears but only proves the point that culture is not easily lost.

Culture
Love of culture and country is not influenced by our environment. Love of culture and country is born in the hearts of men and women and it is that love which creates our environment. Remember this: If we have a firm grasp on who we are as Bahamians, no group of controlled legal or illegal migrant can cause us to lose that grip. In actuality, diversity should not be viewed as a hindrance to progress, but rather as the catalyst that may motivate our progression.
The prevailing unwarranted fear of diversity could cripple us to the point where we are weary of foreign investors. We all hear the noise filling the marketplace with accusations of selling our future. Now it is indeed true that we are to have some concern about an economy being saturated by foreign businesses and ownership. However, it is also true that no nation as small as ours can have the resources to generate the needed opportunities for a growing population. For the foreseeable future, let's ally the fear that in The Bahamas the percentage of foreign investors will outweigh national investors. Let me make it clear: This will never happen because our government's investment policy restricts foreign investment in a number of sectors from wholesale and retail operations to media and advertising.
So it was inevitable for the present level of diversity to exist in The Bahamas because of our geographical location having such close proximity to the United States, Cuba and Haiti. Our goal now, when we talk about diversity is to move beyond just talking about possible implications but to start to use our diversity as a resource. Let's move beyond that point when it was a challenge in getting our grandparents generation to embrace diversity. You know, part of that challenge stemmed from ignorance, part from prejudice. Point though: One of the possible reasons our forefathers resented diversity is because they did not collectively have the necessary skill set or educational background to compete with foreigners coming to our shores and, at that time, our forefathers concerns were justified.
However, with our brilliant minds and progressive thinking we will not have this barrier. For the most part, we here are enlightened and practical thinkers who are changing the connotation of the word different. I further implore us to continue to grow in our thinking. Let us encourage our loved ones to begin to appreciate the contribution of all peoples to the growth and development of a modern Bahamas.
National populations are growing and the world is indeed getting smaller. Now more than ever before, we must live the valuable lesson that America learnt on November 5, 2008 - that if a man or woman shares like values, like goals and like vision, that person regardless of whether he looks like you or whether he acts like you is still deserving of your utmost respect.
History will one day show that the diversification in leadership that America is now experiencing has not eluded The Bahamas. In fact, at a time when our affluent neighbors to the north were still living in segregation, we swore in to office a black prime minister, Sir Lynden Pindling, such a profound step for a small nation comprising farmers and fishermen. In many aspects The Bahamas has been the leader in diversity and in other aspects we have yet to follow the trend, participate in a global reality.
I know that the future of The Bahamas is bright and promising. This future will, however, require us all to embrace different. And, I honestly believe that together, hand in hand, we can do it. Yes, let's show the world that in The Bahamas, we are increasingly embracing diversity. You know, one of the Bahamas Ministry of Education's grounding principles sums it up very well: We need to foster, "An appreciation of the significance and value of the rich diversity of The Bahamas and its people, and of the responsibility of the educational process to reflect and respond to that diversity; with tolerance and understanding..."
o Anthony C. Musgrove is a former Bahamian senator.

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A progressive era and the SHE Imperative

March 11, 2014

Member states of the United Nations have assembled at the U.N. Headquarters in New York for the next two weeks to assess advancements across the globe on gender equality recognizing existing challenges with a view to developing standards and policies for the advancement of women worldwide. A strong delegation of Bahamians is currently in New York attending the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) - a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The session commences following International Women's Day which was on March 8, 2014 but commemorated by the United Nations, several countries and agencies including The Bahamas on March 7, 2014.
In light of the foregoing, we briefly deviate from the fiscal reform series this week to consider the work of the CSW, the mandate and agenda for the ongoing discussion with a view to measuring the progress made to date, the work that needs to be done and the way forward within our commonwealth on matters relating to gender equality as well as the advancement of women across our archipelago of islands.
Equality for women is progress for all
In a press statement issued on March 6, 2014, U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka noted that the theme for this year's International Women's Day is "Equality for women is progress for all". This theme is in line with the sentiments expressed by many, including this writer, that greater involvement of women in national and international affairs can only benefit the human race. In this regard, the achievement of true equality for women is long overdue and must be a main feature of a new progressive era in The Bahamas.
The profound words of respected business mogul and investor Warren Buffett on the level of success that the U.S. could potentially achieve by tapping into the other half of its resources in women is also testament to the significant contributions often forfeited by the level of participation of women in public and private leadership. While we continue our voyage toward the actualization of equality for women in our society, it behoves us to acknowledge the fact that significant progress has been made.
Women and the Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs)
The eight MDGs were established following the Millennium Summit of the U.N. in 2000 in the aftermath of the adoption of the U.N. Millennium Declaration. The MDGs include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, the achievement of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality and women empowerment, reduction of child mortality, improvement of maternal health, combating of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, environmental sustainability and the development of a global partnership for development. All U.N. member states and certain international organizations committed to assist in the achievement of the MDGs by 2015.
In comments attributed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon within The MDGs Report 2013, it was indicated that MDGs have been the most successful global anti-poverty push in history. It has been widely suggested that results to date have been uneven especially for women and girls even as the target date fast approaches. The CSW this year rightly focuses on the MDG of gender equality and women's rights. The session should therefore produce recommendations for these vital goals after the 2015 deadline to address violence against women and girls, access to resources and opportunities by women and increased inclusion in decision making at all levels.
It is expected that a post-2015 framework will feature a distinct goal on gender equality and the economic empowerment of women to sustain the momentum attained in this regard and improve on the progress made hitherto. There is much more work to be done and several proverbial rivers to cross. It comes as no surprise therefore that the priority theme for the 2014 session of the CSW is "Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the MDGs for women and girls" as U.N. member states seek to engage in the post-2015 debate to determine the development agenda after the referenced deadline.
The SHE Imperative
Outlining the important role of women in the advancement of nations and progress of humanity, Mlambo-Ngcuka, in a recent press statement, made a global call for what she termed the SHE Imperative. The SHE Imperative calls for the following in relation to women:
o Security and safety from gender-based violence
o Human rights that are respected, including reproductive rights
o Economic empowerment, equal opportunity, education and leadership and full participation.
An important part of this discussion must never be omitted or forgotten and that is the fact that women and girls seek this equality and opportunities with a view to working with men and boys as agents of development in the building of a better world. In the local context, the struggle would be pointless if it is not based on the objective of nation building and contributions in the national interest. In other words, the SHE Imperative must complement the HE Essential which must include the preservation of the human rights of our male counterparts and their economic empowerment and education.
The Bahamian context
The various scorecards issued on the achievement or lack thereof of the MDGs are similar insofar as they conclude that whereas notable progress has been made, there are variations from country to country. In The Bahamas, we have seen a minimal increase in the level of involvement of women in public and private leadership between 2000 and 2014, albeit this is not worthy of a major celebration. On the political front, the level of participation remains low and comparable to the findings in The MDGs Report 2013, which noted that as of January 31, 2013, the average share of women members in parliaments worldwide was just over 20 percent. That being said, it was encouraging to see past and present parliamentarians across political divides unite for a picture in front of the symbolic statue of a Bahamian woman and child described as the "Bahamian black Madonna and Child" in commemoration of International Women's Day.
On the issue of access to education, Bahamian females appear to have outpaced their male counterparts over the same period especially at the tertiary education level. This again is consistent with the U.N. report which indicated that more women than men are enrolled in tertiary education in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Caucasus and Central Asia, Eastern Asia, Northern Africa and South-Eastern Asia. This is no doubt a disturbing trend that should be investigated and addressed in the national interest. The government through ministries responsible for education, youth, social services and urban development should devise a comprehensive plan to encourage our young men to pursue higher education.
The menace of violence against women and girls continues to plague The Bahamas like other nations. It is important that our government, civic organizations, the religious community and the entire populace join hands to stem this ill within our country. Our leaders must take the lead in this fight and ensure that the requisite level of attention and seriousness is given to a matter so critical to the social and moral fabric of our society.
Finally, it is rather unfortunate that in a 21st century Bahamas, we still have engendered in our constitution discriminatory provisions which imply that the Bahamian woman is inferior to her male counterpart. While it is our expectation that this anomaly will be rectified prior to the MDGs target date of 2015, the point must be made that we have failed to address this issue for 14 years. This may very well be the greatest and most pronounced failure on our scorecard as far as the achievement of the MDGs is concerned.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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Our shifting offshore sector

March 10, 2014

We look at The Bahamas no longer as a banking center... but as a service center.
- Beat Paoletto, managing director and CEO of UBS Bahamas
This week, the ground underpinning The Bahamas' financial services sector shook with the announcement that UBS Bahamas Limited will close its private banking unit here over the next 10 months, resulting in the displacement of 70 staff members. In June last year, in a three-part series of articles in this column entitled "The Looming Financial Earthquake", we predicted how the rapidly changing demands of the American and European governments will adversely affect our financial services sector, ultimately resulting in the downsizing and loss of business to other jurisdictions that are more business-friendly and less prone to the over-regulation of its primary stakeholders - the offshore banks and trust companies and mutual fund administrators.
Therefore, this week we would like to Consider This... what does the UBS decision portend for The Bahamas and what can we do to stand firm and survive in the face of these and other tectonic financial shifts that are likely to affect our offshore financial services sector?
The UBS decision
UBS Bahamas Limited has been operating in The Bahamas since 1968 and, although bank officials have stated that they remain committed to this jurisdiction, we should view its decision to wind up its banking business as neither insignificant nor inconsequential.
The UBS decision has to be viewed through the lens of both international and domestic developments.
There is no doubt that recent developments have resulted from adverse actions that have affected UBS. Its genesis can be traced to the efforts of industrialized countries, aided in part by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), to successfully penetrate Swiss bank secrecy
First under the guise of thwarting terrorist financing and then to minimize money laundering, since the turn of the century, there has been a calculated, deliberate and systematic assault by the developed nations to penetrate offshore bank accounts, beginning with Switzerland.
Because the industrialized nations have done such a deplorable job of managing their own economies, resulting in record high fiscal deficits and exponentially unsustainable and increasing national debt, those countries have targeted the offshore centers where they believe their citizens have spirited away billions, far from the watchful eyes of insatiable tax collectors.
In recent years, pressure has mounted on Switzerland to end its long tradition of bank secrecy.
In the past five years, the United States and certain countries in the European Union have accelerated their efforts to collect revenue from undeclared assets of their respective citizens.
In 2009, UBS AG was caught red-handed by the United States government encouraging U.S. taxpayers to hide their assets in secret Swiss bank accounts, resulting in UBS paying a $780 million fine to the United States. In addition, the Swiss and United States governments negotiated an agreement, which required UBS to transmit to the U.S. authorities information concerning 4,450 American UBS clients suspected of tax evasion.
Other Swiss banks like Wegelin & Co., Switzerland's oldest private bank, Julius Baer and Pictet have confirmed that they were also under investigation by the U.S. authorities.
By June 2012, UBS employed 63,520 persons worldwide, including 22,500 in Switzerland. In October of that year, UBS announced that it would lay off 10,000 of its employees globally, including at least 10 workers in The Bahamas.
UBS has cited the economic viability of its Bahamian private banking unit for its decision to downsize its banking operations here. In explaining the reasons for its decision, a bank executive suggested that there were three questions that it sought to address: "Value proposition, economics and operational complexity."
He said that UBS "was not able to find the correct value proposition to attract assets to be booked in The Bahamas out of the different Latin American countries".
He continued that "the market is pushing us to consider, when it comes to offshore business, Latin America, they continue to think about Switzerland, the U.S. and eventually Panama, but to a lesser degree The Bahamas".
He also confirmed that although the company's board of directors had some questions about the future of UBS Bahamas, it will continue to grow and expand its trust and fund administration businesses here.
Our post-independent colonial regulatory culture
Political independence in 1973 did not witness a commensurate shift from pre-colonial behavior by some of our regulators, who in recent years have not kept pace with the rapidly changing needs of our financial sector.
Tremendous damage was done to the sector by the immediate past chief regulator of the Securities Commission.
Even the Central Bank supervision has become such behemoth-like regulators, who, along with too many compliance officers at both commercial and offshore banks, have done so much harm to the sector that it is questionable if we will be able to recover in time to reverse the exodus of offshore banks from the jurisdiction.
Thankfully, Hillary Deveaux has replaced his predecessor as the executive director at the Securities Commission. He now has the mammoth task of abating and reversing some of the injudicious decisions and the archaic and inane regulatory actions that were instituted by his predecessor.
Legal and accounting professionals, banks, trust companies, fund managers and the entire financial sector have breathed a collective sigh of relief by the decision to replace the former Securities Commission executive director, a decision that took the government nearly one year to make in order to arrest the damage to that sector.
Fortunately, other personnel changes have also been made to halt the Jurassic regulators who have seriously impaired this sector. We can only pray that it is not too late.
Urgent action is required
There is an urgent need for the political directorate to fully understand the changing realities of the international offshore financial services sector, to provide decisive leadership and to implement proactive, balanced and pragmatic measures in order to arrest the exodus of offshore business from the jurisdiction.
Above all, we must eradicate the overwhelmingly archaic bureaucracy that impairs the progress of the sector.
Conclusion
In the wake of the UBS decision last week, and in anticipation of similar decisions that will ultimately follow by other offshore banks, as well as an awareness of the shifting landscape that continues to shake the world with respect to bank secrecy, the criminalization of tax evasion, and the automatic exchange of information of citizens between governments, we can clearly see that we stand at the vital crossroads of a new financial world order that will wait for no one and from which none will escape.
As we observed in an article in July last year, "If we are to successfully emerge from this shifting financial landscape, endure the inevitable aftershocks, and embrace the new normal that is being imposed on us from the external forces, we urgently require innovative and visionary political and regulatory leadership that will see more than others see, see farther than others see, and see changes on the financial horizon before others see them".
In the final analysis, if we are to transform and grow our financial sector, we must now take immediate action to rid ourselves of unnecessary and harmful over-regulation.
It is imperative that we do this in order to extricate us from the quagmire of inertia and save this sector that must remain an important part of our economic landscape.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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The consequences of ignoring the will of the people

March 10, 2014

The government is moving ahead with permitting web shops and allowing Bahamians to legally gamble in some form, it seems...

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Saving CARICOM, pt. 5

March 10, 2014

This commentary is taken from a lecture given by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell on February 6 at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago. Mitchell's address was on "Saving CARICOM". This is the final part of the lecture.
This brings me to my pet peeve, the nature and culture of our decision making around the region. It is manifested in the suggestions which The Bahamas advances each year on the length, for example, of opening ceremonies of CARICOM gatherings. Try as we might, those ceremonies continue to take far too long and interfere in my respectful view in the timely dispatch of the work of the body. That is just symptomatic of what I call the deliberative nature of our culture.
In other words, we like to talk.
Mr. Anthony in the chamber address again says: "The simple truth is that decision making, especially in the all critical area of trade when time is of essence, has become cumbersome, layered, and bureaucratic. For instance, it takes months to get a decision from COTED and by the time the decision arrives the reason for the request ceases to be relevant, or the situation which necessitated the request has so deteriorated that the initial solution is no longer the answer to the problem."
Those who are familiar with the negotiations on the Carib/Can agreement will know of which the prime minister speaks.
In our meetings and visits, we are fond of invoking the Singapore model for development. However, we must realize as Sam Huntington, the Harvard professor, makes clear in his seminal work "Political Order in Changing Societies" that there is a trade-off between rapid development and growth on the one hand and democracy on the other. That trade-off seems to be that if you want rapid growth and development at the same time, then you have to move toward a more authoritarian model of governance. That may work in Asia but I dare say is inimical to the way we do business in the region. However, something must be done to reduce the amount of words expended and to increase the level of action and dispatch.
So now can I pull all of this together in some coherent way.
It is clear that The Bahamas, and I think that the CARICOM project, has much to recommend itself.
I have said in another context that if CARICOM did not exist, it would have to be invented. There is no more efficient way to conduct ourselves as small countries but in some sort of multinational supra-body that will deal with the old traditional world powers.
CARICOM for good or ill is that body. There has been too much concentration on the issues of market and economy and not enough on how we actually function and how our people actually succeed and work together.
Clearly in terms of institutional arrangements The Bahamas has some way to go in convincing its public that this is a good religion to adopt but I think we are mainly there. We have put our money where our mouth is.
As we say in our country: "Talk is cheap; money buy land."
I want to borrow from the convergence model and suggest a couple of items that ought to be carried out with dispatch.
In this summary, I mention first of all the strengthening of the powers and human resources of the secretariat and more reliable and dedicated funding mechanisms.
Secondly, the closer coordination of the foreign policy of CARICOM to leverage the number of votes we have in international bodies for the benefit of the region.
I recall the recent visit to the region of a Canadian minister of state in the Ministry of External Affairs who came to remind The Bahamas and other CARICOM countries that they should not support a mooted push by Qatar to move the headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) from Montreal to Doha because of our traditional friendship. It was a very interesting statement given the difficulty our nations often have when seeking to get results in Ottawa, even a simple meeting with public officials or resolving the tortuous issues of visas for our students.
Leveraging in this context should become a fine art for CARICOM.
I also believe that we ought to have a more structured approach in our relations with the United States. One idea is for greater access of our young people into the tertiary level institutions of that country with a right to live and work there in pursuit of training opportunities.
Thirdly, I call for a specific focus on the development of young people including a commitment to double the investment in education over the next five years.
Fourthly, that our ministers of culture, trade and finance continue to build on ways to improve the ability of youngsters to use their raw talents to build wealth for this region.
I recall a 17 year old from Britain who was hailed as a genius because he made millions from an app, which he invented. I pointed out that we have that same genius in the Caribbean but perhaps we do not recognize it.
Did not Usain Bolt, a young man from Jamaica, come from poor and humble circumstances and using his talent, this genius, transform his life into one that is worth a fortune? And, in the process, he lifted the collective spirit of Jamaica out of despair. I worry about him and others who emulate him; that they are not taken advantage of by the commercial hucksters of this life. Encouraging the Bolts of this world, nurturing them, supporting them, educating them, protecting them; that is a role that governments can do by their policies.
Not only is this true in sports but in all cultural spheres including music, drama and the arts.
This is a mission which former Prime Minister Patterson speaks to with some urgency.
Fifthly, I believe that we ought to declare a state of emergency in relation to the development of boys and men. We cannot continue along the path of the dysfunctions which now obtain across our societies where so many men and boys are not participating in the society but instead embrace a life of violence and crime or a lack of "stickability". I say this with the greatest of respect and honor to the millions of men and boys who do get it and who do succeed but we must reach back and help to lift our fallen brothers. Our women too should recognize the urgency of this problem even as they take their rightful place in society. They have an interest in resolving this issue as well.
I am asking that CARICOM embrace this as a priority in fixing our problems. We will not regret it.
Finally, we must all commit to telling the CARICOM story. This means people-to-people engagement, improved and increased travel and transportation links. The leaders themselves should travel and interact in the jurisdictions of the other. It is to build that chemistry about which Kenny Anthony spoke.
When I was opposition spokesman on foreign affairs during the period 2007 to 2012, I continued to travel to the region and pay official calls on governments and opposition leaders. There was a look of consternation often on the faces of many when I visited. There was apoplexy back in the capital by my political opponents at home. However, I wanted to lead by example. CARICOM must be a continuing project and enterprise in or out of government. The project is both formal and informal. What may be posited about that project is that its success is ensured by turning specialized functions into localized actions the region over.
Lastly, I mention again the need to revisit the charter and to reflect the broader embrace of the issues and begin the conversation on public policy and sexual orientation as one of the characteristics for which there can be no discrimination.
There are a number of other important public policy issues which require focus. Clearly these would include climate change and our continued dependence on fossil fuels, transportation and migration, which must be solved. The commonalities of dependence and vulnerability within the context of energy and climate change make these policy developments imperative.
However, I believe if we fix the problems of structure and decision making and human rights issues, our ability to resolve the others will follow. In any event, I have spoken too long and it is time to stop. In our country we say: "You must talk some and keep some." The process of saving CARICOM is ongoing. Each generation is called to take the project further. I would not urge despair.
Kamau Brathwaite, the Barbadian writer, reminds us in Negus:
It is not enough to be free
of the whips, principalities and powers.
where is your kingdom of the word...
It is not enough to be free
of malaria fevers of the hurricane,
fear of invasions, crops' drought, fire's
blister upon the cane...
It is not enough to be able to fly to Miami,
structure skyscrapers, excavate the moon-
scaped seashore sands
to build hotels, casinos, sepulchres...

It is not enough
to be pause, to be hole
to be void, to be silent
to be semicolon, to be semicolony...
To which I add a loud hallelujah and amen!
Once again, I am deeply grateful for this invitation to speak here this evening.
Thank you and good evening.

o Fred Mitchell is the member of Parliament for Fox Hill and minister of foreign affairs and immigration.

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Saving CARICOM pt.4

March 08, 2014

o This commentary is taken from a lecture given by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell on February 6 at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago. Mitchell's address was on "Saving CARICOM".
This is said against the backdrop of the much-publicized speech of the American Secretary of State John Kerry to the Organization of American States (OAS) on November 18, 2013: "... In the early days of our republic, the United States made a choice about its relationship with Latin America. President James Munroe, who was also a former secretary of state, declared that the United States would unilaterally, and as a matter of fact, act as the protector of the region. The doctrine that bears his name asserted our authority to step in and oppose the influence of European powers in Latin America. And throughout our nation's history, successive presidents have reinforced that doctrine and made a similar choice.
"Today, however, we have made a different choice. The era of the Munroe Doctrine is over. The relationship - that's worth applauding. That's not a bad thing. The relationship we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states. It's about all of our countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues, and adhering not to doctrine, but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests we share."
The proof of this declaration by Mr. Kerry will of course be in the pudding. The recent developments with CELAC where the sub-hemisphere has determined to meet without the United States and Canada is a most interesting development. It parallels the Organization of American States but is much more Latin focused. The United States remains in a state of antipathy with Cuba. Cuba, although now welcomed back to the OAS has said it will not take the seat at the OAS table. CELAC includes Cuba.
Mr. Kerry's statements come against the bitter experience of CARICOM in its work with the democratic forces in Haiti during the presidency of Jean Bertrand Aristide. CARICOM was asked to help and then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson of Jamaica was in the chair. CARICOM was with U.S. and other developed country assistance helping with the dispute between Mr. Aristide and his opponents which was turning increasingly violent. Mr. Aristide had conceded all that the forces arrayed against him, including the developed countries, had asked. We went to the United Nations to ask for the protection of U.N. troops to save the elected government of Haiti. The U.N. equivocated and said no troops were available. Yet on February 29, 2006, Colin Powell called me at my home to say that Mr. Aristide had taken refuge behind a U.S. Security mission and had resigned and was on his way to a destination unknown. Following his departure from Haiti, troops were suddenly available to restore order. It has left a bitter pill in the mouths of many of our CARICOM leaders and the experience is less than 10 years old.
In The Bahamas we say: "You only know me when you need me."
The other and more interesting public policy issue to watch in our relations with the United States is our policy both in the CELAC context and in the CARICOM context to marijuana. In the Mexican/CARICOM dialogue in Barbados last year, the then President of Mexico Filipe Calderon spoke to a new approach to anti-drug policy, one which takes a market approach rather than a law enforcement approach. It seeks the decriminalization or legalization of the use of marijuana with the appropriate regulation and taxes as opposed to the resources used to lock up young males and criminalizing them in the process without any hindrance to the use of drugs. The U.S. domestic market is also changing on this. CARICOM has the issue of medical marijuana on its next agenda for heads of government in St. Vincent. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. federal policy will change and what that will mean for the CARICOM region. I say this because the U.S. relationship and interest in this region seems almost entirely based on national security and in particular anti-drug interdiction.
The Latins are very much interested in the support of the Caribbean countries for their position on the islands they call the Malvinas, also known as the Falklands, against the backdrop of our being former British colonies in the main and the supposed automatic support for the British position. This new CELAC relationship will be very important going forward.
I would suggest also that it will be helpful to this region and hemisphere if Mr. Kerry is able to translate his declaration into a more normal relationship with Cuba, particularly given the moves toward market reforms which are now evidenced in that latter country.
It would seem to make sense given that the United States has no such diplomatic issues with China. At a recent meeting in Trinidad 2013, the American vice president made it clear that the United States had no objection to our relationships with China, and I believe the U.S. view is very important. China has been clear about its objectives in the region. For the Caribbean, a region which is starved for capital, and with the traditional friends the U.S., Canada and Europe either unable or unwilling to provide the capital locked into a cycle of low growth and high debt, China has been a savior.
The Chinese position was given in a paper policy paper on Latin America and the Caribbean. They are interested in acquisition of raw materials and in political cooperation to support the one China policy. In exchange, they will support Latin America and the Caribbean in their national development goals and have set aside significant capital for access by the hemisphere to support that development.
Paragraph IV (5) of the paper reads as follows: "The Chinese government will continue to strengthen coordination and cooperation on international issues with Latin American and Caribbean countries, and maintain regular consultation with them on major international and regional issues. The two sides will continue to support each other on such important issues as sovereignty and territorial integrity. China stands ready to work with Latin American and Caribbean countries to strengthen the role of the United Nations, make the international political and economic order more fair and equitable, promote democracy in international relations and uphold the legitimate rights and interests of developing countries, China supports a greater role of Latin American Countries in international affairs."
Throughout the conduct of international relations there is this constant refrain which looks to this region with what is often called a bloc of votes. One after the next country comes calling. They crowd our Council for Community and Foreign Relations Agenda (COFCOR) with requests for support for that candidacy or the next. The question is always as far as The Bahamas is concerned whether or not we use the numbers that we have to our sufficient advantage. It is not a rhetorical question.
I think the answer is obvious that we do not.
It makes the case for reform more urgent lest the parade passes us by.
The distinguished foreign minister of Trinidad and Tobago has made an urgent case for the expansion of CARICOM to include all the countries and territories in a paper in which he describes a Caribbean Sea Convergence. This convergence would encompass some 40 million people and ultimately will include in the short term the Dominican Republic, the French Territories including French Guyana and the Dutch ones, and in the longer term the American possessions and ultimately Cuba.
The idea is that unity is strength or as the Haitians would say: L'Union Fait La Force.
These matters are not simple or cheap. P.J. Patterson led the way in bringing Haiti into CARICOM. Suriname is also a member. These nations do not speak English as a first language and CARICOM has not been able thus far to ensure that documentation and conversations are available in the native languages of those countries. Imagine then including a Spanish-speaking country.
Further, there continue to be tensions in relationships because Haiti is a source country for illegal migration. The Bahamas does not confer citizenship on people born in The Bahamas whose parents are not Bahamian. One consequence is that there are thousands of Haitians in The Bahamas who are undocumented and who have to be regularized in some way or fashion. Immigration enforcement in The Bahamas is becoming stricter. Our country is committed to working on a solution to this.
All of this makes the enterprise of fixing our internal arrangements at CARICOM a priority.
Here is what Winston Dookeran, the foreign minister of Trinidad and Tobago, said in his paper "A New Frontier For Caribbean Convergence": "As noted earlier, CARICOM integration was narrowly defined in terms of trade and markets, which is not a very accurate measure. The new perception of convergence needs to be understood as 'a new economic space' where there is partnership not just across the Caribbean Sea space, but also between the public and private sectors. It is forging of 'a right partnership toward productive efficiency. Convergence therefore implies a partnership (inclusiveness and cooperation) among public and private actors in the economies of the Caribbean sea emphasizing equality and equity as integral components."
Minister Dookeran went on to list a number of arrangements and decisions which have to be taken, ought to be taken. I have mentioned already the inclusion of the new members. However, I want to parse some of his ideas and lead us into what I think is the inevitable conclusion.
He says in the chapter Policy Execution and Outcomes Institutional Drivers Caribbean Sea Convergence: "CARICOM Secretariat - is the principle administrative organ of CARICOM... recommend a fast-track decision to facilitate the entry..."
Anyone who knows CARICOM and its decision making will know that the expression "fast track " and CARICOM in no way comport. Yet mandates are piled upon the secretariat which is the closest thing we have to an executive arm but which is resource starved and under-manned.
Prime Minister Kenny Anthony speaking at the Chamber of Commerce in Barbados in October 2012 said this: "We know that we have too often asked our secretariat to perform miracles without even the requisite loaves and fishes. Unable to deliver miracles, decisive action has been replaced by documentation - mountains of it - which most of us have neither the time nor the appetite to digest."
So whatever reforms are contemplated for CARICOM and I agree the need for reform, amongst the issues: human resources and money.
Given the economic issues that face us, all treasuries and ministers of finance will be reluctant to agree to increases in subventions to CARICOM. Indeed many nations struggle to pay the existing duties. However, one suggestion is that there ought to be in each country a specific set aside, a revenue stream which goes straight to CARICOM and its agencies as a means of ensuring the funding at the appropriate levels. Further that the human resources issues can be helped by the foreign ministries and foreign trade ministries indeed the public service generally seconding officers to CARICOM as part of the public service careers for officers, which service would be part of the permanent and pensionable establishment in their countries as a means to ensure that the best talent ends up working there. Indeed, The Bahamas has led the way by already offering that possibility to at least two public servants per year on secondment to the secretariat.
In terms of the decision making, clearly nations will have to bite the bullet to give stronger powers to the secretariat to ensure that decisions are executed. Those who argue on sovereignty will do well to remember the saying of Dame Biller Miller of Barbados, that you cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time.
With regard to the convergence paper by Mr. Dookeran, I am also proud to say that we in The Bahamas recognize this need for convergence. Within our own country, the prime minister has embraced the three PPPs. In Bimini, the island in The Bahamas closest to the U.S. mainland there is an investment which will require a significant upgrade to the international airport. The private investor is doing the upgrade to the government's specifications but the cost will be recaptured by credits given for taxes collected on the investment. It is this kind of creative financing that will invigorate economies around the region and is to be recommended for its efficiency and simplicity and speed, with minimum impact on the public purse but exponential benefits to the public good.
o Fred Mitchell is the member of Parliament for Fox Hill and minister of foreign affairs and immigration.

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Saving CARICOM, pt. 3

March 07, 2014

o This commentary is taken from a lecture given by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell on February 6 at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago. Mitchell's address was on "Saving CARICOM".
There were times when the project appeared to be imperiled. It seems to me that most people will say that this was the case during the seven years when the heads of government did not meet. It is interesting reading the 1982 speeches, the first of the conference meetings after a break of seven years. By that time, Eric Williams had passed away and while some of the founders of the project were there, there was a new world order.
By the time the conference took place in 1982 in Ocho Rios, Edward Seaga had become prime minister of Jamaica, with Ronald Reagan in the White House in Washington. Mr. Seaga was embraced by the new U.S. administration as a sign that a more conservative era had returned to the Caribbean after the work in democratic socialism under Michael Manley.
It is not clear why the conference had not met during those seven years. I sought to find the reasons.

The best I could discover was that a row broke out amongst the leaders over some issue and they simply refused to attend.
It was left to the ministers in council to carry on the work and in 1982 the leaders met in Ocho Rios in Jamaica and conferences have met ever since then.
The Bahamas joined CARICOM on July 4, 1983. We had become independent on July 10, 1973. I am not certain why it took us 10 years to join, since we had been participating in the work of many of the institutions of the project from the 1950s. The main one being the University of the West Indies and then the Council of Legal Education and the Medical Council.
Several generations of Bahamians have been trained at the university, in the law school and in the medical school. Our first student was Dr. Cecil Bethel who enrolled in the medical school in 1952.
In 1983, I was then working as a special assistant out of the Bahamas Information Services in the prime minister's office. I recall two things about CARICOM at that time. The death of Maurice Bishop, the prime minister of Grenada took place on October 20, 1983. The question was whether or not The Bahamas and other CARICOM leaders would support the decision of the United States to invade Grenada to restore constitutional order. According to a recollection by former Guyana Foreign Minister Rashleigh Jackson on guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com "... The Bahamas, Guyana, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago were against any military action, whereas Barbados and Jamaica were clearly in favor of the OECS countries issuing an invitation to the United States of America to join with them in an invasion of Grenada... "
I am happy to have included that story because I have travelling with me two researchers and aides from the ministry in Nassau: Joy Newbold and Jamahl Strachan. Ms. Newbold was born in the year the coup took place in Grenada in 1979. Mr. Strachan was born in 1988 well after both the coup and the invasion had taken place. The idea that there had been a coup in a CARICOM country had been news to them and with this inclusion they were enlightened about the story. It led to a full discussion with the secretary general again on the need for a definitive narrative on how we have come to where we are.
That disagreement over Grenada did not break up CARICOM. In fact at the heads of government meeting in The Bahamas from July 4 to July 7, 1984, Nicholas Brathwaite, chairman of the Interim Advisory Council, Grenada was accepted into the conference as the legitimate representative of the Grenadian people and the representative of Jamaica Edward Seaga was also there at the CARICOM table.
The conference continues to meet, often in a most passionate form.
The second thing that I remember from that time with Sir Lynden was that a decision was made on the question of putting the Tourism School for the University of the West Indies in Nassau. He said that he had made it plain to his colleagues that since The Bahamas was then the leader of tourism in the region that was the best place to put the school and they agreed.
That was my introduction to CARICOM.
In 1979, as the director of news and public affairs for our Broadcasting Corporation, I got to meet for the first time one Percival James Patterson, otherwise known as P.J. He was then foreign minister for Jamaica in and around the time of the coup against Maurice Bishop in 1979. As fate would have it, I became minister of foreign affairs of The Bahamas in 2002 and ended up working closely with Mr. Patterson on perhaps the most contentious issue of our era: that of Haiti and the overthrow of Jean Bertrand Aristide as president of Haiti about which I shall have more to say later.
I turn now to a document that was adopted by the heads of government in 1997 which loomed very large when I became minister in 2002 but seems now to have lapsed into obscurity; but you will see why I am arguing now that it should become more central to what CARICOM is and should be revisited and updated. It is called the Charter Of Civil Society. It was adopted in 1997 and while it is not justiciable, or so it appears, in that it is not community law in so far as I am aware, the document says the following at XXVI: "The states declare their resolve to pay due regard to the provisions of this charter."
As lawyers often say, at the very least then this charter is binding in honor. It forms the basis of a descriptive and normative set of values to which we all adhere and aspire and if any country does not agree with those values, then ipso facto they cannot be a member of CARICOM. Thus those who argue in favor of Cuba becoming a CARICOM member without changes in the conduct of the internal arrangements at governance in Cuba may have an uphill battle.
Certainly for The Bahamas, it was the pretext for us to implement consultations in our country through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with civil society. That practice fell into disuse when the PLP lost office in 2007 and we have been seeking to revive it. Article XXV calls for reports to be sent to the secretary general periodically. There are supposed to be national committees reviewing the implementation of the charter.
I believe that it is time to put the words of this charter into action. I believe that while the CARICOM Single Market And Economy (CSME) is a valuable and valued project and aspiration, you will find that the emphasis on that aspect of our relations and the difficulties of harmonizing economies and market space have caused some of the negativity which we now see toward CARICOM. When you look at the successes of this region and the functional cooperation that has been engendered, the work of the specialized agencies, you will see that CARICOM has been a roaring success. It is time, therefore, to look to human rights issues.
Nothing is more contentious than this issue in our politics that I now raise, given the religious aversion and visceral reactions to discussion of LGBT issues in our region. Some people see it as striking at the very heart and fabric of our cultural identity. The Bahamas is not an exception to that aversion with many people seeing the discussion as a moral and religious one and not a human rights one. My own political career suffers because of my insistence that in this regard like all other aspects of human life, there must be tolerance at a minimum and we must uphold the principle that the general rights for which we fought as being rights for all people, particularly as a formerly enslaved and indentured people, cannot be derogated from because of someone's sexual orientation. In other words, when the charter in article III says: "States shall, in the discharge of their legislative, executive administrative and judicial functions ensure respect for and protection of the human dignity of every person." That in my view means literally every person and not just confined to what article V says: "No person shall be favored or discriminated against by reason of age, color, creed, disability, ethnicity, gender, language, place of birth or origin, political opinion, race, religion or social class."
The charter is a 1997 document so orientation was not included and perhaps even in today's atmosphere cannot be included, but the conversation has begun and the pressure from other societies with whom we deal is upon us to consider what our stand is on the rights of all people. Do we as a society for example condone violence against people simply because of their sexual orientation? The answer to that must be no. And if the answer is not no to that then the charter is not worth the paper it is written on.
The prime minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, and Dr. Denzil Douglas, [prime minister] of St. Christopher and Nevis, have begun public discussions of these issues in their societies. The prime minister of Barbados even challenged the Anglican Church on the subject at their provincial synod. That was right and just. The Bahamas has decriminalized behavior associated with sexual orientation.
We have available in aid and comfort to any change to amplify the discrimination provision in the charter the constitution of South Africa which admits to orientation as one of the named classes for which there can be no discrimination. There are profound changes throughout the United States and Europe, our main trading and cultural partners on this issue. It would be unwise to ignore it.
I often find that in drafting solutions to contentious problems that one solution is a generic one. One solution is that the charter can become justiciable with enforceable rights across the community. Less coercively, it can be open to the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final arbiter of community law to adjudicate upon the charter and declare the rights of individuals for any aggrieved individual seeking an opinion from the court declaring his rights and the wording of the provision at article V can be reworded to read: "No person shall be favored or discriminated against by reason of including but not limited to the following: age, color, creed, disability, ethnicity, gender, language, place of birth, origin, political opinion, race, religion, social class or some other characteristic which in the opinion of the court deserves special protection."
Of course the short way to deal with this is simply to add orientation as one of the listed characteristics. I have no remit to pronounce on that, however, and I do not do so.
What is important is that our leaders have already begun the conversation and that conversation should continue. That conversation should be underpinned with the principles of tolerance and the protection of the law for another disadvantaged group.
Less contentiously I suspect will be the question of the extent to which the principle of non-interference in the affairs of another CARICOM state still applies given what happened in Grenada in 1979 and again in 1983. When a state disintegrates and is under threat because of natural disasters that is an easy question to answer, but not so easy when one faces the question of civil disorder over political and civic issues.
The experience of Grenada and the restoration of democracy there has perhaps set the precedent that a governor general or president, acting in his own deliberate judgment, can call for outside assistance, even military or policing assistance.
Perhaps the charter ought to be amended to make clear what the position of member states will be when the human rights of individuals in a member state are so violated that it begs the question of outside interference. This is dangerous ground I admit, one on which we tread carefully.
o Fred Mitchell is the member of Parliament for Fox Hill and minister of foreign affairs and immigration.

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Playing with God

March 06, 2014

We all know them, the people who are the biggest Christians in church on Sunday, and the biggest hypocrites around town Monday through Saturday ...

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As Christians, we perform good deeds because that is what God expects from us

March 06, 2014

"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven...

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Anglicans head into Lenten Mission

March 06, 2014

Developing the right mindset for ministry, developing a Lay-driven church and life in God's service will be the topics on the agenda during the Anglican Diocese of The Bahamas and The Turks and Caicos Islands' Lenten Mission 2014...

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Gospel recording psalmist Jonathan Nelson and Prophet Luther C. McKinstry III to minister at Calvary Deliverance Church

March 06, 2014

Gospel recording psalmist Jonathan Nelson and Prophet Luther C. McKinstry III, associate minister at the Worship Center...

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Called back to basics

March 06, 2014

As Christians marked the start of the Lenten season with ashes being placed on their foreheads yesterday, they were reminded that the period is so important that the church devotes a 40-day season to the business of introspection...

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Abortion: Freedom or misery

March 06, 2014

Whenever the subject of abortion comes up there is a heated debate. Is abortion wrong? Is abortion right? Is a woman free to abort her unborn child at anytime during the pregnancy?...

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Dr. Myles Munroe's uncharitable arrogance and bigotry

March 06, 2014

In response to comments made by Pope Francis last August concerning judgmentalism towards gays and lesbians, and recent remarks by Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell in Trinidad and Tobago on LGBT rights, Bahamas Faith Ministries (BFM) Pastor Dr. Myles Munroe has appeared bigoted, ignorant and prejudiced. And, arrogant.
In contrast to Pope Francis, Anglican Bishop Laish Boyd and other Christian leaders, Munroe appears uncharitable, not disposed to mercy, unwilling to support efforts to stem discrimination and violence against gays and lesbians.
While many church leaders do not support state-recognized same-sex marriages, they are challenging the dehumanization and demonization of gays and lesbians. Munroe's remarks may give comfort to the demonizers.
For the sake of Christian love and charity Munroe must state whether he sides with those who would do violence towards his gay brothers and sisters in the name of God or whether he stands with the likes of former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, U.S. President Barack Obama, Pope Francis, Mitchell and countless others who are seeking to confront violence against those of God's children who happen to be gay.
In his various remarks, Munroe has also displayed a curious ignorance, in two senses: He seems uninformed of certain facts and information, and lacking in a basic understanding of whatever information he may have reviewed.
Either he is intellectually unable to grasp certain matters or he is being purposefully misleading, or some combination of these, none of which suggests acuity and credibility on these issues.
In criticizing Pope Francis, Munroe demonstrated stunning ignorance of and a poor ability to grasp basic elements of theology and ecclesiology in the Roman Catholic tradition.
He was factually wrong in the assertion that the pope was expressing his own opinion. He was also factually wrong in his assertion that the pope was contradicting his predecessor and the position of the Catholic Church.
Doctorate
Roman Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder, who has an earned doctorate in theology from the prestigious Catholic University of America, but who chooses not to be referred to as Dr. Pinder, noted in a Guardian story that those who asserted that Pope Francis was breaking with Roman Catholic teachings in his remarks about gays and lesbians were incorrect in their assertion.
Munroe's criticism of Mitchell's Trinidad and Tobago remarks was curious and baffling, as the minister's remarks in question were limited and generally measured. Mitchell broke no new substantive ground in terms of the policies of successive Bahamian governments.
Essentially, the foreign minister was calling for protection of gays and lesbians from discrimination. Sadly, in the minds of some, efforts to stem discrimination and violence against gays and lesbians, providing them with the security of basic human rights, are unacceptable and egregious. The name for this is bigotry.
Munroe stands in a succession of religious leaders who, over the millennia, seem more seized by the strictures of the Hebrew Scriptures than they are by the example, ministry and teachings of Jesus Christ as exemplified in the Gospels.
There are no warrants for racism, sexism or homophobia in the New Testament. But bigots have for centuries engaged in all manner of proof-texting of the Hebrew Scriptures to bolster and promote their ancient prejudices and hatreds.
White racist pastors used the Hebrew texts for centuries as a basis for slavery, colonialism and the degradation of black people. Gracefully, abolitionists religious leaders found in the ministry of Jesus the moral power to confront slavery and the slave trade.
For millennia and still, many found in the Hebrew Scriptures a warrant for their misogyny and bigotry towards women. The respect for the dignity of women by Jesus in the Gospels was in various ways a radical break from the culture into which he was born. His was a liberating message of equality.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks of mercy, of not judging others, of eschewing revenge, of giving to the needy. He also speaks of adultery. Sadly, for contemporary bigots, there is no mention of homosexuality.
According to a recent Nassau Guardian story Munroe noted: "'He [Mitchell] seems to have an agenda that may disqualify him from serving in the position as minister of foreign affairs, because there is a great possibility that he may be more inclined to present his own views than those of the people of The Bahamas.
"'Therefore, I am recommending that the prime minister reconsider him from being minister of foreign affairs because his personal opinions may interfere with his objectivity in the carrying out of his duties.'"
There is an agenda and a lack of objectivity. But it is by Munroe.
Resolution
Mitchell's remarks on non-discrimination against gays and lesbians were in keeping with the views of successive governments, including the Ingraham administration which supported "a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution promoting equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation".
Is Munroe wilfully ignorant or being purposefully misleading? Prejudice and bigotry tend to induce jaundiced thinking.
The Guardian story quoted Munroe as saying: "'I have nothing personal against Minister Mitchell.
"'I think he is an excellent politician and man, like I am. It is nothing personal. It is more of a deep concern of his representation of our country in his position as minister...'"
The story continued: "Let me state for the record publically, [sic] Mr. Foreign Minister, I have no interest in your private life," said Munroe in the sermon.
"Personally, I really don't care about your private life. But when you step in our house that we are paying you to represent us in, you keep your private life in your closet and you deal with our public business in our interest."
There is a well-known rhetorical device and political trick of suggesting no interest in a certain matter. But by raising the matter whether obliquely or not one is clearly seeking to make a point.
By employing the language he did, Munroe used his position to hurl an innuendo against another. It was unbecoming of him as a Christian and as a fellow-citizen. It was mean-spirited and uncharitable. It is a low moment in his ministry. If he has policy disagreements with the minister, fine. But to reference another's personal life is contemptuous.
Munroe's views on gambling are well-known. Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe has spoken at home and abroad of making The Bahamas a gambling mecca. Wilchcombe continues to press the idea of regulating the numbers houses, something Munroe opposes.
Unacceptable
But in opposing Wilchcombe's policy views Munroe would not stoop so low as to raise his private life. Indeed, he would not likely to do so of any minister. What Munroe said in reference to Mitchell is unacceptable and unworthy of anyone who purports to have moral authority.
Recall that Munroe labelled Pope Francis as "reckless" pertaining to his comments on being judgmental toward gays and lesbians. Francis was reckless with love. Munroe was reckless in the manner in which he contemptuously referenced Mitchell, while feigning respect.
Munroe also impugned Pope Francis' motives as a bid to revive Roman Catholicism. The suggestion was that the pope was engaging in marketing and public relations, rather than motivated by love. One imagines that Munroe knows quite a bit about marketing and public relations.
The Guardian story noted Munroe as stating that, "He [Fred Mitchell] began to intellectually try to [discombobulate us]' ..." As suggested previously, Munroe seems easily intellectually discombobulated, as Mitchell's comments were clear and easily understandable.
The story further noted that, "Munroe said he has travelled to 138 countries, something he said Mitchell has not done.
"'So I've been to more countries representing this country than anyone else in this government,' he said."
What was his point in making such as statement, which came across to many as arrogant and self-aggrandizing?
No matter how many countries Munroe has travelled to he is not the moral ambassador of The Bahamas. Indeed in his bigotry toward gays and lesbians he does not represent many Bahamians or the future, nor does he seem to be able to represent clearly our laws regarding non-discrimination.
We have a foreign minister. Though he will rightly be criticized for various policies, he has represented clearly, articulately and intelligently, the policies of successive administrations in terms of non-discrimination toward gays and lesbians. It is more than can be said for Munroe.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Saving CARICOM, pt. 2

March 06, 2014

o This commentary is taken from a lecture given by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell on February 6 at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago. Mitchell's address was on "Saving CARICOM".
Stay with me for a minute here.
We in the Progressive Liberal Party returned to power in The Bahamas in 2002. We had lost to the Free National Movement 10 years earlier in 1992 which ushered in a more conservative and laissez faire attitude toward governance.
The leader of our party Lynden Pindling, who had founded the modern Bahamian state, was thrown out of office unceremoniously in 1992 after 25 years, and within eight years was dead of prostate cancer. When we came back in 2002, the CARICOM leadership of Manley, Burnham, Williams, Barrow had all passed on and we met a new order.
The new order was Kenny Anthony, P.J. Patterson, Jean Bertrand Aristide, Ralph Gonsalves, Patrick Manning, Owen Arthur, all a new generation of CARICOM leaders, all forged in the crucible of the region's premier institution, the University of the West Indies, with the exception of Mr. Aristide.
Jamaica's Prime Minister P.J. Patterson explained that Haiti had no other natural allies than we in CARICOM in the sub-region and he believed that it was necessary that they not stand alone and he persuaded them to join us.
Amongst these new leaders was a commitment to the CARICOM project. Even when there were strong disagreements around the table you got the feeling that no one would leave. There were some strong disagreements as in the meeting in St. Lucia in 2005 when P.J. Patterson sought to bring the leaders of the opposition together with the prime ministers in order to forge a consensus on the Caribbean Court of Justice. The meeting got off to a rocky start when one of the leaders of the opposition said he would not sit next to that prime minister because that prime minister was trying to put him in jail.
We stayed in office until 2007 when we lost to Hubert Ingraham, the leader of the opposition and once prime minister again. It surprised everyone in the region including us.
However, we might have seen it coming, for a trend against incumbents had started to develop: St. Lucia had elections in December 2006 and Kenny Anthony lost, then we lost in Nassau in May 2007. Then there was a loss by Portia Simpson Miller in Jamaica in September 2007, and then by Owen Arthur in Barbados in January 2008. Said Musa lost on February 7, 2008 in Belize and then a loss by Keith Mitchell in Grenada on July 8, 2008.
Patrick Manning, the then prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, speaking at a political rally in Port of Spain reminded his party how up to that time he had bucked the trend. Here is how the press reported the statement by the then prime minister on Sunday, July 13, 2008: "Prime Minister Patrick Manning said yesterday that his controversial actions in the selection of candidates in the last general election were vindicated by the results of the elections across the Caribbean.
"Addressing the PNM's 42nd Annual Convention, Manning noted that many people questioned the strategy he employed in the selection of candidates, which saw many senior MPs and Cabinet members rejected.
"Let me ask you this question, where is the last government of Belize?" Manning enquired. 'Gone!' the crowd replied. 'The last government of The Bahamas?' he asked. 'Gone!' was the refrain. 'The last government of Jamaica?' he enquired. 'Gone!' shouted the crowd. 'The last government of Barbados?' he asked. The response was the same. 'The last government of St. Lucia?' 'Gone!' they shouted. 'Where is the last government of Grenada, my dear friends?' 'Gone!' the crowd chorused. 'Where is the last government of Trinidad and Tobago?' Thunderous applause drowned out the words, 'Here, here.'"
Of course, history now shows that in 2010, a trend had indeed developed and that trend continued in Trinidad and Tobago. My larger point here is that we can detect the shifts in our societies by looking at one another.
Another example is how Jamaica started to develop a crime problem in the 1970s; and many of them as they fled Jamaica and came to Nassau would warn us that we too would face the problem of bars on our windows and crime out of control. We are seeing these same pathologies today in The Bahamas.
My point is that on this anecdotal level, trends seem to develop in our region and it tends to start south and move north.
The trend reversed itself somewhat within five years when beginning with Kenny Anthony some of the men who had lost power five years before were back in power again. Kenny Anthony described it on July 4, 2012 in St. Lucia as returning to power following a period of political metanoia. This inspired us in The Bahamas. In addition to Perry Christie, Portia Simpson Miller has returned and so has Keith Mitchell of Grenada. Of the original group that were Perry Christie's peers in 2002, only Ralph Gonsalves and Denzil Douglas are still there uninterrupted by the vagaries of democracy. Everyone else had lost elections.
What we do then in The Bahamas is we look at the CARICOM region and what is happening here because it has been a fairly reliable predictor of what may transpire in our own society.
In fact, the talent to run our election campaigns has often come from Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados.
You may also know that the Progressive Liberal Party was founded following a visit in 1953 to Jamaica by the founders of the party and talks with the then leadership of the People's National Party.
My thesis then is that the development of the CARICOM project is a natural projection of what has been done on an informal basis by people over the years as they migrated from one territory to the next.
Who can forget how the lives of the region and of Trinidad and Tobago were influenced and transformed by the man now known as the Mighty Sparrow who hailed from Grenada.
I have styled this lecture rather grandly " Saving CARICOM". That has elicited many responses from many people but most people have said "how are you going to do that?" I argue that it does not need a savior, contrary to the harsh judgment issued by the Trinidadian writer V.S. Naipaul in his essay "The Killings In Trinidad". CARICOM is a project that grows itself. The project is organic and when one looks at the history of the events, it shows that the Caribbean ethos causes it to survive, compels it to survive.
In this effort I adopt the history as outlined by the distinguished Secretary General of CARICOM Irwin La Rocque.
In an address delivered right here in Trinidad on October 3, 2013, the secretary general gave the summary narrative of the founding of the modern CARICOM project. I think that one decision that should be made is to adopt a common narrative about the founding of the organization and spread the story. It is important for the history to be reduced to a bite size. It makes for part of the wider understanding amongst the younger people of how we came to be where we are. The secretary general wrote: "Ladies and gentlemen, in real terms our integration process can be regarded as beginning 81 years ago, given that it was in 1932 that the first concrete proposals for Caribbean unity were put forward at a meeting of Caribbean labor issues leaders in Roseau, Dominica.
"It was the labor movement which championed and pioneered integration as a means of self-governance for the West Indian territories. At congress in the late 1920s and 1930s, Caribbean labor leaders went from discussion of the idea to actually drafting a constitution for the unified terror territories, aided in large measure by a young economist from Saint Lucia, Arthur Lewis, who later distinguished himself and the region as our first Nobel laureate.
"Progress stalled with the intervention of the Second World War but shortly after its end in 1945, momentum was regained towards independence as a unit. This was the main theme of a landmark meeting which took place in 1947 at Montego Bay, Jamaica. Out of that meeting, the process began towards the West Indies Federation. This federation would eventually involve the British colonies, with the exception of then British Guiana and British Honduras, and came into being in 1958. Its goal was independence and some services were established to support the West Indian nation, including a Supreme Court and a shipping line. In preparing for independence, a plan for a Customs Unit was drawn up but during the four years for the federations (sic) existence free trade was not introduced among the islands.
"The end of the federation in 1962 brought a close to this phase and to this approach to integration. In many ways, however, the end of the federation led to the beginning of another chapter in the integration process which would evolve into the Caribbean Community. The need to maintain and possibly expand the Common Services that existed during the federation was the catalyst for that (1963) Common Services Conference which I mentioned earlier. The UWI and the Regional Shipping Service along with the Caribbean Meteorological Service, which began one year later, kept the embers of integration glowing along with the so-called Little 8, comprising the Windward and Leeward Islands and Barbados which stayed together after the dissolution of the federation.
The Little 8 folded in 1965 and later that year, the premiers of Barbados and British Guiana and the chief minister of Antigua and Barbuda Messrs Barrow, Burnham and Bird respectively, agreed to establish the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA). It was the first attempt to integrate through trade. The other territories joined the initiative and CARIFTA was launched in 1968 along with the Commonwealth Caribbean Regional Secretariat, which became the CARICOM Secretariat.
"During that period, 'regional nationalism' was alive and well. It was a nationalism born out of a common desire and recognition of the imperative to forge our individual nationalism within a regional context. There was a political chemistry among our leaders.
"Eight years later, recognizing that CARIFTA could only carry us thus far, our leader felt confident enough to move on to a Common Market and Community and deepened integration arrangements on the basis of three pillars: economic integration; foreign policy co-ordination and functional co-operation. The Treaty of Chaguaramas formalizing this new agreement was signed in 1973. That treaty which reflected the aspirations of the time could only carry us so far. It included a Common External Tariff (CET) which incidentally requires member states to give up some sovereignty. However, decisions were largely unenforceable and dispute settlement arrangements were weak. Trade barriers among members were also rampant and many of the provisions of the treaty were best endeavor clauses.
"Sixteen years later, the watershed meeting of Heads of Government at Grand Anse, Grenada in 1989 set the region on course towards the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). Grand Anse was a bold response to the circumstances of the day. The community was faced with a changing global economic environment while the performance of the regional economy was sluggish. The traditional market for our commodities was threatened with the advent of the European Single Market, and discussions continued on the global trading arrangements. Both of these developments would result in preference erosion for the commodities the region had come to rely on so heavily. Grant assistance was also declining. Our leaders recognized that we needed to become more self-reliant for our development. A deeper form of integration was the logical answer to those challenges.
"To accommodate this even deeper form of integration, the treaty was revised significantly and was signed in 2001. That revision of the treaty set out the objectives for the community, including the Single Market and Economy. These include improved standards of living and work; full employment of labor and other factors of production accelerated, coordinated and sustained economic development and convergence; enhanced co-ordination of member states' foreign policies; and enhanced functional co-operation. That last objective recognized the need for more efficient operation of common services and intensified activities in areas such as health, education, transportation and telecommunications.
"In 2006, five years after the signing of the revised treaty, the single market was ushered in. Twelve of our 15 member states form the single market, while Haiti and Montserrat are working towards putting it into place.
"In the midst of these various transitions in the wider region, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), whose members are either member states or associate members of CARICOM, have also been strengthening their integration arrangements which were first codified with the Treaty of Basseterre in 1981. In many ways the OECS has moved beyond CARICOM with the Revised Treaty of Basseterre Establishing the OECS Economic Union, signed in 2010, which among other things has granted free movement of persons within the member states. This is an integration group that has had its own single currency and institutions, such as its Central Bank, Supreme Court and Stock Exchange. There is much to be learnt from the progress being made at the level of the OECS which could assist the wider integration effort."
I would only argue also that along with the common narrative on the founding of the CARICOM project, there was the parallel story of the emergence of the Pan African Movement across the Caribbean and the struggle for national independence, the negritude movement, the civil rights movement in the United States and the common cause found in the struggle of the Indians who had come to this part of the world as indentured workers. All of those blended together to produce what we now call today CARICOM.

o Fred Mitchell is the member of Parliament for Fox Hill and minister of foreign affairs and immigration.

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Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten Season

March 05, 2014

Various religious sects will observe the beginning of the Lenten Season which commences today known as "Ash Wednesday."

"Lent is a solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar of many Christian denominations that begins on Ash Wednesday and covers a period of approximately six weeks before Easter Day.

During this season, many of the "faithful commit to giving up certain luxuries" as a sign of penitence.

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Saving CARICOM, pt. 1

March 05, 2014

o This commentary is taken from a lecture given by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell on February 6 at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago. Mitchell's address was on "Saving CARICOM".
Kamau Brathwaite, the Barbadian poet writes in his work "Negus":
It is not enough to be free
of the red white and blue
of the drag of the dragon...
In the days just before Christmas the great man Nelson Mandela died. The Bahamian prime minister had made arrangements to get to South Africa on a commercial airline. We received a call from the secretary general's office at CARICOM to say that the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, had offered a Caribbean Airlines flight to all CARICOM countries without cost and would we take advantage of the offer. Our prime minister agreed right away. He was joined by the president of Haiti, deputy prime ministers of Grenada and St. Lucia, the foreign minister of Barbados and ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda. That single gesture of Caribbean outreach made an impression on Africa and ourselves which went beyond what money could buy.
The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who is ethnically Indian, wore on the occasion an African dress and headwear. She was resplendent. She joined the heads of Jamaica, Guyana and Suriname, who had already made their way there. We appeared in South Africa as a team. That is CARICOM at its best. This was no group of groveling mendicants, as Errol Barrow had once lamented about Caribbean leaders. In South Africa, the leaders got along well and the chemistry was there. It is that chemistry about which Prime Minister Kenny Anthony spoke last year when he hosted the heads of government conference as being the key to CARICOM's survival.
Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar's decision reinforced the great comfort which The Bahamas got when in September last year CARICOM issued a statement in support of The Bahamas in the face of withering criticism by Cuban-American protestors in Miami. We knew we were not alone. Someone had our back.
Tonight's discussion is about CARICOM's survival.
I am pleased to be here. This is a special honor for me and for The Bahamas. Being up at the northern end of the chain people tend to think of us as a world away and a world apart but I have come to tell you this evening that we see ourselves as an integrated part of this region. Our founding father the late Sir Lynden Pindling on July 4, 1983 committed our country to this CARICOM project. He reaffirmed that by signing the Grand Anse Declaration in 1989 committing The Bahamas to the Single Market and Economy although we have some ways to go.
All governments of The Bahamas, admittedly with varying degrees of enthusiasm, have embraced the notion that we have a common future together.
I come, therefore, tonight representing that generation of Bahamians to whom the task of governance for today has been entrusted, to renew our commitment to the CARICOM enterprise.
CARICOM is not just an economic project. It is the very soul of our people from Bermuda to Suriname. It is that narrative that I have come to tell.
In doing so I begin by saying thank you to my hosts for their gracious invitation to listen to what I have to say. I recall Pastor David Johnson who has now sadly passed away. He was being honored with the naming of the village Christmas tree in my Fox Hill constituency. He was then 77-years-old. He said he could not believe it. He could still on that cool winter evening in Nassau remember when he was running around in short pants and talking about the elders of the Fox Hill village. Now, he said they are calling me one of the elders.
That is the stark reality of time. It reminds us that our time on the stage is short; but I committed myself a long time ago to the notion that if I ever got a chance to be on the public stage I would not squander the opportunity. I would do what I was called upon to do.
So this then is dedicated to all of those teachers and their patience from the time I was a little boy; my parents, particularly my mother, who forced me to wake up early each morning and get ahead of the day; dedicated to Dawson Conliffe and Bonaventure Dean, my old headmasters. All now gone on but they live on the heart and mind of their student.
I thank Dr. Monica Davis, the honorary consul for The Bahamas to Trinidad and Tobago, who graduated with me from high school in The Bahamas way back in June of 1970 at the Catholic High School in Nassau, St. Augustine's College.
James Baldwin reminds us in "The Amen Corner" how strange life is, the twists and turns it takes. I call these Dickensian moments after the pattern in those Dickens novels where someone disappears at the start of the book and then magically pops up at the end of the book with a smart and pleasant surprise.
I would like to thank the Secretary General Irwin La Rocque for his kindly providing me with access to the secretariat's headquarters building where this work was largely written and to his supportive staff. The speech was written in Georgetown, Guyana which V.S. Naipaul, the Trinidadian-born writer, described in turns as "the most beautiful city in the West Indies" and then "the most exquisite city in the British Caribbean".
I also thank the current prime minister of The Bahamas, Perry Christie, for permitting my participation in this, even as he complained that I was going to be away from home too long. However, I have always enjoyed a good relationship with all my bosses and with this boss the relationship is no different. I thank my constituents and Cabinet and parliamentary colleagues for their understanding and support.
I would however be remiss if I did not also dedicate this evening's presentation to a man I greatly admired and respected. The name: Rex Nettleford. I first met him when I travelled with the late Winston Saunders, a Bahamian scholar and cultural icon in his own right, to Kingston for CARIFESTA in 1976. To quote one of the English ladies of quality who admired him, this man Rex Nettleford simply said "the most wonderful things". He had a way of expressing life that could not be copied. He was an intellectual leader in Jamaica and widely admired and respected throughout the region as a dancer, choreographer, lecturer, trade unionist, writer, thinker, vice chancellor of the University of The West Indies and finally as the chairman of the Public Service Commission in Jamaica. He died at the age of 76 on February 2, 2010, four years ago.
CARICOM is an idea born from the genetics of the people themselves. I, for example, am the grandson of a Barbadian Sonny Forde who came to The Bahamas with his father at the turn of the last century as a baby. His father was a tailor for the Bahamian police force. My great grand grandmother was named Angelina Barrow. I never knew any of them.
The founder of our country Sir Lynden Pindling was the son of a Jamaican policeman who emigrated to The Bahamas. Many in the Cabinet that ended the white minority rule government in 1967 had one parent from the southern Caribbean. Indeed, today the governor general of The Bahamas, Sir Arthur Foulkes, is the son of a Haitian woman. Our first black member of Parliament in The Bahamas was Haitian, a man by the name Stephen Dillette elected in 1834.
Lynden Pindling was a classmate in law school in London of the late Dame Lois Browne Evans of Bermuda. She founded the PLP (Progressive Labour Party) in Bermuda with the advice and counsel of Sir Lynden of the PLP (Progressive Liberal Party) of The Bahamas. The rallying cry of both parties to this day is " All the way!". It was Ewart Brown, a successor of Dame Lois and a former Bermuda premier, who mooted the idea at a CARICOM Heads of Government meeting of a CARICOM airline that could provide transport for people from Bermuda to Suriname within a single day without having to traverse Miami.
I dedicate this to Rex Nettleford because he always talked about "the Caribbean ethos". That is what this evening's address is really about: the Caribbean ethos. The CARICOM project came about and continues and will continue because of the Caribbean ethos - what St. Vincent's Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves amongst others has called " the Caribbean civilization".
So I am deeply indebted to Rex for imbuing in me a sense of hope and confidence that we as a people will one day get to the promised land.
Shortly after he died, there was a symposium in Kingston which was dedicated to his work and life. Some of Jamaica's intellectuals and scholars were there. I was invited to lunch with some of them. For the first time in the history of my relationship with Jamaicans I detected despair. This was in the middle of the Dudus affair.
They lamented what had happened to their country. They did not see a way forward. They did not think that even with all their intellectual capacity that they could see a way out. They lamented the rise of criminal behavior in every enterprise, going so far as to say that they were shocked that some of the most respected business people in the country were infected by criminal enterprises.
This left me quite disturbed. I had come up at a time when Jamaica was bold and strong and relentless, no despair. Even in the worst of the economic issues of the Manley years, that remained true. Michael Manley himself told me that he was unreconstructed, unapologetic and unrepentant. That was the Jamaica I knew.
o Fred Mitchell is the member of Parliament for Fox Hill and minister of foreign affairs and immigration.

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Former church of Randy Fraser more than 1m in arrears and facing lawsuit

March 04, 2014

PILGRIM Baptist Temple, former church of convicted sex offender Randy Fraser, is facing a major financial crisis amid rising debt which threatens to have the edifice seized, The Tribune can reveal...

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The fiscal reform series:The government's plan

March 04, 2014

The main financial problem we are faced with as a nation and which we must address without delay can be easily explained, albeit the road to correcting the issues will not be an easy or smooth one. At the root of this dilemma is the harmful pattern of spending more than we earn which has been sustained for years. In speaking to this matter in last week's column, it was noted that the habit of living beyond our means has been a problem at the national and individual levels.
Against this backdrop, we know that for the most part the government via successive administrations has run fiscal deficits from year to year. In essence, the government's expenditure has generally exceeded its revenue. It would be logical and simplistic to state that there are three main ways to correct the fiscal imbalance created by the referenced behavior. The options are to reduce expenditure below the level of revenue brought in or to the same level, increase revenue intake to exceed or equal expenditure, or implement a hybrid; that is, reduce expenditure and increase revenue to achieve the same objective. In this article we take a look at the government's strategy to get The Bahamas out of this perilous financial situation.
The roadmap for fixing public finances
The minister of state for finance had articulated actions the government intends to take over the coming years to address the existing fiscal challenges and return our public finances to a better condition. In summary, the action plan involves restraint on the expenditure or government spending side, enhancement of revenue administration within the country, creation and addition of new sources of revenue for the government and creating an environment for stronger economic growth.
It has been stated and echoed for some time now that it is important that The Bahamas puts its fiscal house in order before we are forced to do so. Indeed we must not forget that we lose control in relation to the severity and timing of reforms if we are coerced into such an exercise by international agencies and other external factors. It is noteworthy to state that in an earlier article titled "Self-Imposed Austerity Measures Advisable for Next Government" published in The Nassau Guardian on January 12, 2012, the need for fiscal reform and recommendations in this regard was explored. This piece ended with questions on whether the incoming government will have the will, fortitude and courage to do what is necessary to address the country's fiscal dilemma.
The expenditure side of the plan
The plan communicated by the government requires the exercise of prudence and control over public spending and financial management. The effectiveness and efficiency of operations of public sector corporations comes under scrutiny in the plan with the objective of enhancing the oversight of these entities and encouraging restructuring where appropriate in the interest of the populace and public purse. In this regard, subventions to these corporations which have placed a financial burden on the government will be subject to continuous review so as to systematically reduce allocations. In simple terms, the goal is to reduce or eliminate wastage and deliver more efficient operations.
In curbing government expenditure in The Bahamas, the proverbial elephant in the room, besides the streamlining of operations in the public sector, is the reform of the public sector pension system. It has been proposed that the long-run liability position of this pension system be assessed to secure its financial viability. There is no doubt that the government will have to address this issue with the knowledge that this bold step will evoke some emotion and may meet some resistance. However, we must face the reality that the public sector pension system is simply too costly for the government and is not sustainable in the long run.
Improving revenue administration
The establishment of the Central Revenue Agency (CRA) is a vital part of the plan to consolidate the administration and collection of taxes by the government. According to the Ministry of Finance, there are currently over 30 departments and agencies collecting different taxes and fees on behalf of the government. This could very well explain the reason for the tax compliance rate and high revenue leakage that we currently face.
It is expected that the CRA will ensure compliance with relevant tax laws and will be empowered to carry out enforcement actions against violators of tax legislation. There is no doubt that if the CRA is to achieve its objectives and improve the status quo, the agency must be properly staffed with qualified professionals that possess the requisite integrity, skill set and expertise. Additionally, the CRA must be properly equipped with state-of-the-art information technology and its operations standardized and efficient.
Other aspects of the plan focus on the modernization of the real property tax regime and transformation of the Customs Department. The government anticipates a doubling of property tax revenues and improved efficiency of the Customs Department resulting in a significant increase in overall government revenue over the next five years. The increase in government revenues may not be unrelated to the expected efficiency gains that will result from over 90 percent of all taxes, fees and service charges being collected by the Customs Department and CRA.
New revenue and economic growth
The cornerstone of the government's initiative to add new sources of revenue is the proposed value-added tax (VAT) system, which will be discussed in more detail next week. While VAT is expected to replace revenue loss from reduced tariffs in anticipation of our accession to the World Trade Organization, the revenue from VAT levied on services is expected to increase total government revenue.
The correlation between high economic growth, success of businesses, expansion of the private sector and the creation of entrepreneurship or job opportunities is apparent. It is therefore not surprising that the government's plan includes the attraction of foreign direct investments and fostering strong economic growth in the country. The importance of empowering Bahamians and local entrepreneurs in this process should also be an objective for the government in this exercise.
Commentaries on the plan
The government's plan has attracted different reactions from various stakeholders and interest groups. It seems fair to state that the general consensus is that the plan is generally a good one with proposals and features that could be expected in a country facing the realities that we do. However, there have also been questions raised regarding the aggressive nature of the reforms with other commentators arguing that it is not only ambitious but also drastic in certain aspects with some proposed spending cuts described as draconian.
The government has maintained that the plan is a responsible one which is not only realistic but also achievable. When considered with the statements and warnings issued by international agencies, it is apparent that desperate times call for desperate measures. The urgency of now does not provide for changes that will have little or no effect on returning our public finances to a more healthy and sustainable condition.
Conclusion
It is often said that he who fails to plan, plans to fail. Our dire financial circumstances require an approach that is effective but balanced; hence, we must have a plan to get out of this predicament. The measures taken by the government must address expenditure patterns and revenue levels without disrupting the economy. We must remain mindful that we did not get to this point overnight and we will not emerge from the same instantaneously.
In the final analysis, the government has articulated a plan which seems comprehensive, viable and impressive. However, as is often stated, a plan is only as good as its implementation or execution. It is not good enough to devise a good plan; it is important that this plan is properly implemented and the necessary resources allocated to ensure that all aspects of the strategy are carried out on time and on budget.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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Forgiveness, justice and dysfunctional culture

March 04, 2014

Rage is a simple emotion. We are wronged. We get angry. We seek retribution...

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