Opinion

Tradition is a loaded gun, part 1

May 21, 2014

When a 13-year-old girl died in Egypt last year after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) - mainly the cutting off of a part or all of the clitoris and/or sewing or burning the vagina shut - her demise was regarded by her grandfather as "God's will".
Some of the local men including her uncle were asked if they thought it was right to do this to the girl, particularly when FGM is now a criminal offense in their country. The men (and some women elders) proudly agreed that it was the right thing to do to her, because without this procedure "girls are full of lust".
I wish the BBC reporter who covered this story was brave enough to ask why a similar practice is not done on boys, and if the village elders think boys are less lustful than girls. Should the boys also be relieved of parts of their anatomies which one day will likely enable them to desire sex or to make sex pleasurable for them? Or is sex meant to be felt and enjoyed only by men?
Such bold discrimination against girls and women, despite the fact that it violates human, child, and women's rights, is customary and accepted mostly in the developing world. Although this story may horrify us upon hearing it, in our developing country, we tend to lean on tradition (and religion) in much the same way as the Egyptian grandfather and uncle of the mutilated girl child, to excuse our depravity and to cloak the things we are not brave enough to admit, address or speak out against, or the traditional things we cannot explain.
But tradition is a loaded gun and ignorance pulls the trigger.
Background and realization
I grew up in one religion, various churches. I descend from a long maternal line of deeply Anglican Christians, and an equally long paternal line of deeply Catholic Christians. All Christians. All religious. The use of incense in the Anglican Church is a tradition which I am still fond of because of many sentimental recollections, but this tradition does not take charge of my existence.
With a few dormant years in between, I followed along the path of an Anglican, practicing wholesome Catholicism and keeping traditions until one day I chose to take a closer look at the incense and at the idea of religion. I wanted mostly to comprehend why we rely so heavily on what people tell us without understanding those things for ourselves, and why, amongst the many religions of our country, there is so much disdain and disapproval of other religions.
Using the "God-given" conscience and free will I possess, I looked beyond the surface, beyond the routine and rituals, beyond the traditions, and at the people practicing them.
My discovery is that we have a serious problem with traditional defaults in our country - accepting things because that's the way they have always been, regardless of the evidence to support their questionable origins, weaknesses, or failures. And the ultimate discovery is that the things that cost us dearly as a nation are all rooted in our closely-held traditions.
Our traditional diet - content and volume - makes many of us sickly and obese. Our easy going and extremely laid-back nature makes many of us susceptible to corruption and subject to poverty.
The way we practice religious traditions by following along without seeking to understand their beginnings or ourselves (and others), or what these traditions really represent, makes us closed-minded to any alternative belief systems and intolerant of others based simply on their faiths.
Societal degeneration
The Bahamas is predominantly Christian, yet many of its people are able to kill, steal, molest, and rape so easily, often with no remorse or concern about the repercussions for themselves or the persons whom they subject to these acts. The criminals' deeds of violence only become inhumane to them when they're on the receiving end of punishment by the justice system, however rarely it works. And then they, too, lean on Christianity as the crutch in their arguments for mercy.
Our legal system is also rooted in layers of tradition, right down to the English wigs, and the only thing that seems to be progressing therein is the frequency of criminal activity brought before it and occurring inside of it, as well as the length of time it takes to administer punishment to the lawbreakers both external and internal to the system.
How does such a Christian society breed so many criminals, so many criminal supporters, and so many woefully neglectful and antiquated and failing practices hinged on tradition?
But the church's challenges and the challenges of Christianity don't end with the people on the outside of the church.
Unfortunately, a surprising number of non-Christian qualities are also being exhibited by the least expected persons: the Christian men of the church and, worse, of the cloth.
From factual accounts of female confidants, I know more than I care to about indiscretions of pastors making late night sex calls, sexting the night before delivering their sermons while lying next to their wives, engaging in premarital sex, getting girls and women in their congregations pregnant, and aborting the children they make outside of marriage.
And these men of power and inequality leave the women and girls they have utilized to carry the burden of these experiences, while they continue on with their sanctified lives.
The abuses of women in the church are stories which never seem to end and are seldom brought to light.
It seems as though every other month a new church is built and opened. We have more churches now than we did decades ago, yet we have more spiritual and ethical problems now than we did then: more anger, more hatred, more violence, more deceit, and more intolerance. How is that possible? Shouldn't we be better off as people with the flood of religious leaders and guidance around us?
Building bridges or barriers?
How effective is the church? What has the collective church been doing all this time the society has been spiraling out of control? And I refer to all denominations, because they all give the impression at some time or another that they are better than the others, more correct than the others, more righteous than the others.
Are the churches not the entities we rely on to carry the responsibility of establishing and maintaining morality? There are certainly enough of them and enough of their representatives, so what has gone so wrong with the work that they do? Have they, too, become self-serving?
Does Christianity not work the way it should? Are the people promoting it ineffective? Are the messages they deliver defective?
Do people seek more from their religion than just tradition?
The reality is that, by its very nature, religion is divisive, in spite of what any religion's specific teachings seek to portray. The practice of religion as tradition separates people in much the same way that skin colors and ethnicities do, and it's the reason wars have been fought for centuries and millennia, even within Christianity and even until now.
Of course, because religion is itself divisive does not mean people who practice religion have to be divisive, but the expectation of practicing something other than what is preached is perhaps marginal.
And the concept of separating oneself from the worst of something while still practicing the best of something is more than a juggling act for the average person: it only works when people understand why they practice religion in the first instance, instead of blindly following in its traditions.
A person's understanding of self, love for self and respect of self will determine that person's substance and the way they treat others - just having a religion or observing a tradition does not. We have already seen this ring true of many Christians in Christianity and many Muslims in Islam.
A church can provide guidelines for human moral development, as can a psychologist or psychiatrist, as can a mother or father, but there is no religion that by its mere existence makes a person equal to another, whole, right, or worthy. And the belief that one such religion exists is where many in the church - Christian or otherwise - fail in their traditional philosophy.
Religion fails and will always fail when it is practiced merely because it is tradition.
o Nicole Burrows is an academically trained economist. She can be contacted at: nicole.burrows@outlook.com or www.Facebook.com/NoelleEtc.

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Repositioning Bahamian public corporations

May 20, 2014

o First published on Tuesday, August 27, 2013.
Public corporations have been the topic of much public discussion over the years in civil society. The Bahamas has not been excluded from this public discourse, and this is not surprising seeing that the government is the largest employer in our nation. The scope of the government's reach is so vast that it is almost a given that every Bahamian knows or is related to someone who is employed within the civil service.
In the aftermath of the Great Recession there has been renewed focus on the governance and operational efficiency of government and statutory agencies. Further, increased scrutiny has been added to the burden they place on the public purse, their management and more prominently, ongoing government control and support of these agencies. This conversation is no doubt overdue as we are engrossed in a changing world that continues to grow smaller through the settlement of trade agreements, multinational free market enterprise, regional integration, tourism and the movement of labor. In this sense, The Bahamas must reposition itself to compete both domestically and globally. The remodeling, realignment and possible restructuring of its agencies are important in this exercise.
Corporate governance
The global economic and financial crisis revealed the flaws in the governance structures and in some cases the absence of effective corporate governance practices in various government and financial institutions. It has been asserted and widely agreed that this deficiency contributed to the failures of these entities. Specifically, the lack of adequate knowledge and proper oversight by directors and management was highlighted as the norm in the years leading up to the crisis.
The lessons learned from the financial crisis are valuable and must be applied to the government to strengthen public corporations and statutory bodies. At the forefront of any new initiative must be the establishment and implementation of effective corporate governance frameworks which outline the roles and responsibilities of board members and executive management.
The roles of each party and any delegated authorities between the board and executive management must be clearly articulated to avoid confusion. In this regard, board members must be mindful not to engage in activities reserved for management, such as day-to-day operations of the institution. On the other hand, the role of the board which is to provide strategic direction and proper oversight of management should not be assumed by management. Management must be mindful of their boundaries so as not to make decisions and take actions that may have an adverse impact on the organization without the requisite consent or approval from the board.
More importantly, a code of conduct and appropriate policies addressing conflicts of interest among others must be established. Policies should be approved by the board and there should be procedures for each area of an institution to ensure consistency, uniformity and continuity. Public entities should not be held to a lower standard than their counterparts in the private sector for the simple reason that they are accountable to the Bahamian people and taxpayers in general.
If executed effectively, policies will provide proper oversight to the management and affairs of the institution, thereby building trust with the public and reducing the risk of corruption, scandals or any liabilities that the institution may be faced with. Effective corporate governance plays a major role in an institution's ability to be proactive in addressing the concerns or needs of its stakeholders and its responsiveness to market dynamics.
Strategic planning
There is a common saying that "those who fail to plan plan to fail". Too often, public corporations, unlike their private counterparts, fail to devise and/or implement a documented strategic plan that will guide them and provide the necessary direction for the organization. In this sense, some of these entities function without a clear path to achieve any established short or long term goals. the board and management should ascertain or revisit the vision (what it wants to be), mission statement (purpose of the organization) and core values (the belief that the organizations' stakeholders hold) of their entities if they have not done so. This will position the entities to set goals and objectives and devise the methodology that will be employed to achieve them; including the attainment and allocation of resources.
The government should require documented strategic plans of all of its agencies and statutory bodies and establish a system to measure their progress in achieving stated plans which must be in line with the government's priorities and policies. At a minimum, a synopsis of the strategic plans should be communicated to the public to obtain buy-in, promote public education and avoid surprises when initiatives are launched. The implementation of viable strategic plans within public corporations should provide much-needed focus to these entities and make them less susceptible to political influences and changes in government.
Management of resources
In this age of prudence, one of the most important mandates of public entities should be the prudent as well as efficient allocation and use of resources. The perceived culture of wastage and excess which is informed by a misconception that the government should assume any and all shortfalls needs to change. In what has been termed as the era of austerity, the government is constrained to reduce its expenditure and subsidies to various agencies. This fact is evident in the Ministry of Finance's much publicized mandate to entities that are reliant on subsidies or subventions from the government.
The adjustments here in The Bahamas have been mild when compared to measures taken in other jurisdictions as many civil servants across the globe have either been laid-off or witnessed a reduction in their benefits. For many central governments, this was a hard decision that cost them votes at the polls, but these actions were necessary. Leaders of public corporations must operate their organizations based on the prudent fundamentals adopted by successful private enterprises without recourse to the public purse to fund inefficiencies.
The efficient allocation of resources may call for the realignment of staff. However, this is one of the greatest challenges that leaders of public corporations are faced with and an area in which they perceive their hands as being tied. The inability to discipline or terminate inefficient and ineffective staff without political interference continues to impede the success of public entities. While in and of itself, it is not unreasonable for politicians to refer and recommend certain constituents, friends or family for various posts, the most qualified applicant should be employed and there is no justification for the retention of unproductive workers.
Resiliency and service excellence
Public corporations must institute plans to defend against disasters and internal and external disruptions. Leaders of public corporations must realize that continuity of service despite challenges plays a major role in good customer service. Moreover, an effective contingency plan contributes to the safeguarding of relevant records and documents necessary to manage the organization.
In the final analysis, amidst all of the above necessities of an organization, customer service tops off the list. Poor service delivery remains the number one complaint of customers of public institutions in The Bahamas. Public organizations must see the need to improve customer satisfaction at all levels and this must form a part of their strategic plans. Employees who are equipped with the necessary tools and resources to carry out their functions are prerequisites for organizational success. Good work ethics and excellent customer service must be the order of the day if public entities are to be repositioned for 21st century Bahamas.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed at commentary@komolafelaw.com.

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Embracing change

May 19, 2014

"The Bahamas has been too
insular for too long, and way
too protectionist in too many ways for too long."
- Sean McWeeney, Q.C.

On Tuesday past, Mr. Sean McWeeney, QC delivered an address to the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) Caribbean Conference. His address was entitled "What now? Survival and adaptation strategies for offshore financial centers like The Bahamas", in which he outlined eight strategies that The Bahamas should employ to ensure its competitiveness in the international financial services sector. It was a brilliant exposition of the sector from its infancy in the 1930s to present and was generally well-received by the audience. His observations and recommendations were cogent, instructive and insightful. In a few quarters, however, Mr. McWeeney's remarks have sparked some controversy because of his critical observations and recommendations regarding the legal profession.
Therefore, this week we would like to Consider This...was Mr. McWeeney correct in his observation that the Bahamas Bar Association has for too long been too myopic and can no longer continue to be the closed shop cartel it has been with respect to encouraging foreign specialist lawyers to work in The Bahamas?

What Mr. McWeeney said
It is interesting that, although he posited eight lessons that we can take from the changing economic environment with specific emphasis on the legal profession, only one of the eight attracted any sort of criticism from the legal community, and, even then, in a very limited way.
Regarding this specific matter, Mr. McWeeney observed, "While The Bahamas has one of the highest numbers of lawyers per capita, the number with the necessary expertise in trusts or funds securities business is ridiculously thin." He continued, "We also need to crack the door open on the legal profession and not only allow but encourage Bahamian law firms to partner or structurally associate with foreign law firms such that there can be a far freer movement of specialist lawyers from abroad into the financial services sector of The Bahamas. The Bahamas Bar can no longer continue to be the closed shop cartel it has always been. We simply don't have the lawyers to sustain, much less to grow, the industry."

Enter the president of the Bahamas Bar Association
No sooner had the ink dried on Mr. McWeeney's speech than came the rapid response from Mr. Elsworth Johnson, president of The Bahamas Bar Association. In his response, Johnson emphatically stated that he is "diametrically opposed to McWeeney's statements". Mr. Johnson asserted that The Bahamas does have the expertise needed, and "if the skills gaps exists, the training of Bahamian lawyers should be the first priority".

A more enlightened
approach
When the Bahamianization policy was first established more than forty years ago, the principal objective was to ensure that where Bahamians could fill various positions, they would be given a priority for employment opportunities over non-Bahamians. At the time, in order to ensure that employers who applied for work permits moved proactively to ensure that Bahamians who were not then qualified to hold the job of the work permit holder would advance in their expertise, the immigration department required manpower projections from employers to ensure that within a reasonable period of time, Bahamians would be qualified to hold the positions of the permit holder. That principle still obtains and should remain the policy for the development of our Bahamas. Moreover, it was required that a Bahamian be attached to the permit holder to allow the specialist knowledge to be transferred from the foreigner to the Bahamian, better preparing him to be able to replace the foreigner.
Anyone who listened to Mr. McWeeney's address will appreciate that what he is advocating will ultimately create a more competitive legal environment where all, himself included, will have to further hone their legal skills.

A comparative success story
One of the most successful stories that can be told about the wisdom of the government's Bahamianization policy comes from the accounting profession. In the early 1980s, when this author returned home from studies and work abroad, virtually all the big eight accounting firms that were present in The Bahamas had non-Bahamian partners in their firms. There was only a handful of qualified Bahamian accountants and fewer partners in those accounting firms. The government of the day took a definitive decision to Bahamianize the accounting profession, and within a decade virtually every major accounting firm replaced their foreign partners with highly qualified, well-trained Bahamians who could work anywhere in the world. But the Bahamian and foreign partners worked in the same firms to achieve this objective.
As a result of this proactive policy, qualified Bahamian accountants now work in every sector of the economy. The success of the Bahamianization policy regarding accountants resulted from a clearly defined approach, culminating in very positive results for the profession and our offshore financial services sector. This does not mean that, if there are specialist accounting skills that are required in The Bahamas today that are not available here, foreign accountants are prohibited from working here - an untenable situation that would leave us without those skills until they are developed by Bahamians.
Furthermore, accounting firms that have established strategic alliances with the internationally recognized Forum of Firms (the top 25 accounting networks worldwide) have enormously benefited from such strategic alliances. Specialist skills and training can be accessed from such member firms within their network that are not available in The Bahamas. This was an extremely effective, practical and workable model that has well-served the Bahamian accountancy profession and we submit that it is equally workable for the legal profession. This model provides a win-win-win formula. The legal profession wins, the financial services sector wins and the country wins. This kind of visionary, forward-thinking leadership by the Pindling administration supports and re-enforces Mr. McWeeney's thesis.

Conclusion
Mr. McWeeney is dead right and spot on in his observations. For too long, there has been such a parochial perspective taken by many in the legal profession that has stunted the growth of the services rendered by that profession. Simply because we live on an island does not mean that we have to be insular. Legal practitioners need only look to our competition in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere to observe how well the formula works for those jurisdictions.
Instead of criticizing Mr. McWeeney, his colleagues should commend him for his forthright, cogent suggestions, which if followed, provide a road-map for a more modern, progressive legal profession where expertise of all kinds will be available to the more demanding and desirable customer who has come to expect to find these skills available in the jurisdictions where they choose to do business. If this international businessperson does not find these services here, they will not wait for anyone to finish a training program. In today's highly competitive and ever-changing world, they will just go elsewhere to find the services they need and The Bahamas will be the big loser.
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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Our Caribbean: The politics of social harmony

May 17, 2014

A former prime minister of a Caribbean country, on the eve of its independence, stated that a nation had been born, but a society had not been formed.
He said that because, going into independence, his country was carrying with it inherited racial divisions causing social disharmony, splintered political groups, extremists making demands on the system, and unresponsive colonial institutions in need of reform and redirection.
All of those issues required immediate attention if the country was not to experience a downward spiral into divisiveness and disharmony among its population, leading to social tensions and instability with political implications.
The philosopher Plato stated, in reference to social peace or harmony that the political community consists of different classes with different values, the same as the prime minister mentioned above found on assuming office. Plato noted that social peace or harmony is to be obtained through the cooperation and friendship of all, and that the best form of government seeks to reconcile different interests. When competing interests are reconciled, social harmony results.
Politics therefore becomes the means by which the society is ordered, where each social group adds to the common good. Plato then argued that the quality of human life can be improved if people learn to be rational and understand that their real interests are in harmonious cooperation with each other, and not in partisan strife. To me, this is the essence of social harmony.
Generally, social harmony is seen as the peaceful interaction of members of society irrespective of different social groups, and this is based on trust, and respect, and is an antidote to social injustice and inequality. Plato also stated that justice is the foundation of a good political order, concerns the common good, and provides a sense of unity.
My view is that when justice and harmony are preserved through just acts, this is the basis for social peace. If justice is seen to be massaged, or staged, so that a particular result emerges, then fairness is sidestepped, and this results in ramped up political activity with un-needed after effects. Politics should promote social harmony, justice, and fairness. When this happens, the society becomes ordered and rational, and is guided by informed judgment.
An editorial in a Caribbean paper recently referred to the country concerned as having a bloated public sector. It further noted that politicians had created a bureaucracy to serve their interests, that people were hired to bolster political support, and that politicians rewarded their friends and associates after general elections, and gave them contracts to do government work whether they were capable or not. This was payback for political support.
These kinds of actions cause social unease, and breed social discontent. If a bureaucracy serves the interests of politicians, this causes social mistrust, and people lose confidence in what it does, since anything would be regarded as politically motivated, and serving partisan interests. These acts challenge social harmony, and where political friends are rewarded, it means politics contributes to a system of social bias, and not social harmony or peace.
In a non-English speaking Caribbean country, the maximum leader recently signed a bill into law to toughen measures against government functionaries and others involved in corruption, which includes illicit enrichment, money laundering, over-billing, influence peddling, bribes, and nepotism. These are activities that deprive the state of resources, and put them into tainted pockets. It means less revenue for the state, the curtailment of social programs, and an inability to implement policies on infrastructure projects in a broad way.
When the society finds out about this, it sees the government as unfair, as catering to a few at the expense of the many, and as showing preference for some over others. This causes disharmony in the way people feel about their institutions, and they could withdraw their support as a result, which translates into using their political power to change the status quo, and restore fairness and the values that bring about social harmony.
An opposition leader in another non-English speaking territory is suspected of money laundering and forgery. What kind of political soil produces this mental outlook and psychology? When the populace sees its leaders who should be among its best and brightest engaging in such activities, it brings a sense of political shame on the country and its people. They feel violated, and this translates into a temporary withdrawal from the political process, creating disharmony among citizens. Social harmony therefore can be restored through the elimination of those acts that brought about disharmony and disrupted social peace.
It is clear, then, that social harmony could be impacted on by political acts. When some politicians feel they are the law, this leads to illegal and anti-social behavior. This negatively affects the image of the country, and causes splits in the community, since there are some groups who give their support one way or the other. Ethical behavior in office on the other hand, brings about respect. For a rule-governed society, this means fairness, and a common acceptance of what is desirable becomes the way of life, as a result contributing to the social harmony of the community.
When life in a society is lived in harmony, economic growth increases, since people invest in a situation where confidence and decency prevail. A society that exists in harmony lives a positive social and cultural life. Its people are happier, because of shared values, civic affairs are conducted in a principled way, and mistrust as a practice is absent. The need to cheat, and to breach social norms, does not arise, since these are alien to the culture. Social affairs can therefore be conducted nobly, since the new role of politics is to create a just society, individual happiness and well-being, and an environment where division ends, and where harmony becomes a social value.

o Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus.
Printed with permission from Caribbean News Now

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What's happening in The Bahamas

May 16, 2014

It's been a generation since I have written a column, but when you have something to say, you just have something to say.
The Bahamas has reached the place where the late Sir Lynden Pindling predicted it would be. I recall a meeting with him in 1999, at which time he expressed concern for the future of our country. He was particularly focused on the connection between the Bahamas' success and the decimation of Bahamian young men through the violence they were perpetrating towards each other and the society-at-large.
Now that it is 15 years later and I have lived to see what he was fearful of, I am more determined as a Bahamian man to do what I can to make a difference in the lives of our Bahamian men. As the father of three sons, I have a clear appreciation for the need to be a positive influence in their lives.
Our country continues to limp along with the great talk of economic progress and opportunity available for all. The reality is that for thousands there is no light at the end of the tunnel and political rhetoric is like being offered a plate of food when you are hungry, only to attempt to eat it and what one thought was food is a mirage.
The Bahamas is in a sad state of affairs in terms of social decay and we are plagued with financial failure as we edge closer to the precipice of permanent despair. There is a real struggle within our culture to keep sanity and order, because the view that the interest of the people is not served by the results that they are getting is a fact that is not going away.
What has happened to the Freedom of Information Act? Will we ever have anti-corruption legislation that encompasses the specific behaviors that ought to be exhibited by all in the public service inclusive of politicians, public servants and the directors of statutory government authorities and corporations?
The Bribery Act (1976) is not enough and does not protect the rights of our citizens from unscrupulous characters who would fleece our nation of its wealth if given the chance at political power.
The Bahamas has been touted as the best little country in the world. With our high murder rate per capita and our elevated levels of crime, this is really just lip service to a reality that suggests we are not the best little country in the world. While our natural beauty is unquestionably the best in the world, our reality and way of life is certainly not.
Many thousands of you who live in New Providence are afraid to go out at night. Many of you are prisoners in your houses, with burglar bars like prison bars keeping you locked in as much as trying to keep others locked out.
Is this what politicians and the leaders of our country believe makes us the best little country in the world? It is shameful that we cannot enjoy the beauty of our country in tranquillity and peace. There are so many illegal immigrants, so many dangerous people on the streets, so many regular folk who just want an opportunity to earn a decent living and simply cannot.
These are serious times and the Bahamian people cannot afford to be hijacked with empty promises, fast talking "gangstas" and self-centered triflers, if we are going to be the best little country in the world.
Many of us have travelled extensively and seen enough of the world to know that we are not where we ought to be and we are far from where we could be.
The faith that so many had in themselves is now challenged by the reality that time is passing them by and while the desperation of many for jobs, jobs, jobs facilitates Maslow's hierarchy of needs for human beings to have the basic necessities, this is not acceptable.
The diversification of the economy, economic ownership and national development are all nice words, but until governments can produce policies that bring these words to life, there will forever remain the grumbling and muttering under the breath of the masses, that here we go again, a life full of promises with no follow-through in terms of action.
The Bahamas that my father talks to me about today is not the one that he grew up in. Notwithstanding the shady past of racism, it was a more peaceful time than our politically correct, human rights era.
The essence of this dichotomy of concepts is that in all of the times of our national development there is good and bad. The lesson for our leaders to learn is to take the good from the various times and build upon that to make our country a better place.
The people know and understand good leadership and more importantly their lives feel the presence of good leadership when it exists.
Having been away for quite a while, I see a different Bahamas in less than a generation. I see a Bahamas that is crying out for direction in a way which surpasses the ordinary. We have a great task ahead to right the wrongs, fix the problems and create meaningful opportunities for Bahamians to have an awesome quality of life.
And while it's ok to compare ourselves with other countries in the region, we should compare ourselves to where we should be, and that is maximizing our potential.
If we are serious about moving this country forward, just maybe there will be a movement that is about more than just politics, one that is about nation building.
For those who would wish to have a legacy, how about looking at that as a start?
What's happening in our Bahamas? A lot, some would say. Not enough, others would say, maybe nothing. You decide, as it is all in the control of you, the people.
o John Carey served as a member of Parliament from 2002 to 2007.

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Dr. Nottage: It's about the rule of law, not about you

May 14, 2014

Following questions raised by Free National Movement (FNM) Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner on the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage personalized the issue, angrily suggesting that the queries constitute an attack on his character. Butler-Turner did not personalize her concerns, never mentioning Nottage by name in her rally remarks.
Nottage got it wrong. The issue is not about his character per se, it is about the rule of law. It is also about his poor exercise of authority and that of the government which shares a collective failure and responsibility for not providing a legal basis for the NIA.
The FNM deputy leader raised consequential legal, policy and privacy questions, little of which Nottage addressed. This columnist has regard for the minister and wished that he would have answered the substantive issues raised.
Perhaps he was defensive, embarrassed, because he realized his blunder. Whether he appreciates the magnitude of the blunder is another question. His reaction is part of a troubling pattern with the administration.
The Cabinet room has become a bunker, its rarefied environment intoxicating a seeming majority of ministers with a certain paranoia, delusion and hubris. There is also a dangerous groupthink.
The bunker mentality has exploded with all manner of arrogance, defensiveness, hypocrisy and considerable anger, all added to the government's record of incompetence, a cavalier disregard for abiding by certain norms, and a mentality that the PLP may do just about whatever it wishes with little consequence.
Having neglected a charter of promises with umpteen delays in self-imposed deadlines, many in the PLP react angrily when asked why the government has not honored its commitments on many issues.
Dismissive
The Christie administration is often non-transparent and unaccountable, dismissive of just about any criticism. There is a collective irresponsibility on a variety of matters with a galloping pattern of abuse of power. There is a staggering arrogance and the emergence of, at minimum, a soft despotism that is worsening.
There is no accountability about $10 million budgeted for a mortgage relief program that was not spent as approved by Parliament, a contemptuous disregard for Parliament and for the rule of law.
The promised accounting of reportedly millions in campaign funds given to the PLP by Peter Nygard, who claims to have helped draft stem cell legislation, is never made.
A man in lawful police custody is allowed to be married in a police station, nuptials reportedly blessed by a political figure, contradicting a command by the police commissioner. There is still no full accounting as to what happened in terms of the alleged abuse of Cuban detainees last year.
The minister of tourism makes an announcement about possible plans to regulate web shops, of which the prime minister claims or feigns ignorance. Brimming with pique the tourism minister threatens to cut off the press when quizzed on another deadline the government may fail to meet.
The minister of labour attacks the press. He smugly refuses to table an approximately $20 million contract. The prime minister has a glaring conflict of interest, having served as a consultant to an oil exploration company.
Meanwhile, the generally out-of-touch Christie lives in a parallel universe of police outriders, bombast and speechifying, daydreaming of an official residence possibly emblazoned with a prime ministerial coat of arms, all the while unable to control a gaggle of ministers who generally do as they wish and who pay little heed to the seemingly titular prime minister.
And the minister of national security has blundered badly by failing to introduce legislation promised some time ago on the NIA. What makes matters worse is that Butler-Turner raised the issue in last year's budget debate, but it was ignored by an out-of-control government.
Arrogant
A year later and not only is there no legislation. The government appears to be operating an intelligence agency with no legal standing, perhaps illegally. It is a dangerous precedent by an arrogant government.
This is one of the more serious failures of the PLP. It is highly unlikely that something of this nature would have happened in the U.K. If unimaginably it had, the government of the day may not have survived such a colossal error and the responsible minister would have had to resign under pressure from the press and the opposition.
Defensively, Nottage noted in this journal: "There's nothing unusual about it. Intelligence organizations exist in many countries."
But there is something highly unusual and irregular. In most democracies such an agency has a legal underpinning with clear oversight mechanisms.
If a U.S. administration set up an intelligence agency with no legal standing there would be a congressional firestorm, with the administration facing all manner of legal entanglements, especially if such an agency had conducted operations without enjoying legal standing. It might be an impeachable offense because it may be criminal for an agency to operate without a legal basis.
The debate about the NIA is not about Nottage's character. It is about the character and nature of our democracy. A critical element in securing democracy is the rule of law. Leaders come and go. The law provides a check on leaders and governments.
John Adams' adage that a country should be a government or nation of laws, not of men, speaks to the need for laws regulating and restraining the conduct and work of government.
There is a corresponding adage by James Madison which speaks to constraining the exercise of power by us mortals: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." We are not angels and even good people may abuse power and cut corners.
It is not about taking Nottage at his word that he is doing the right thing, especially since the right thing to have done was to establish the NIA in law.
By failing to do so, Nottage exercised poor leadership and judgment. This is a stunning lapse by someone who should have known better than to have such an agency without legislation in place.
The government introduced legislation to create the National Training Agency. Yet on a matter of great magnitude such as the NIA, set up almost two years ago, purportedly dealing with the most sensitive national security matters, and possibly infringing on the rights of citizens, the government -- either through incompetence or by deliberation -- failed to establish its legal basis providing it with statutory power and clear oversight mechanisms.
Instead of attacking Butler-Turner, Nottage should accept responsibility and apologize for his and the government's blunder. Tellingly, none of his colleagues appear to have come to his defense.
Alarmed
There are legitimate concerns about privacy and there is often a mistrust of government. In failing to provide a legal foundation for the NIA, the government has alarmed many Bahamians, leaving it open to charges of spying.
Intelligence is a very sensitive matter. Nottage and the government have exacerbated fears by operating for near two years and counting an intelligence agency that it has failed to establish in law.
In the U.S., President Barack Obama and his administration often note that they can be trusted to do the right thing in the intelligence field. No democracy should solely trust the supposed ethical restraint of leaders. The rule of law is a guardian of liberty and fundamental rights.
There are often rogue elements in the intelligence field. Not every administration may be as inclined to ethical restraint, which is why we are a nation of laws.
The U.K. Guardian recently reported: "Edward Snowden's disclosures of the scale of mass surveillance are 'an embarrassing indictment' of the weak nature of the oversight and legal accountability of Britain's security and intelligence agencies, MPs have concluded.
"A highly critical report by the Commons home affairs select committee published on Friday calls for a radical reform of the current system of oversight of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, arguing that the current system is so ineffective it is undermining the credibility of the intelligence agencies and Parliament itself."
And those are agencies with legal standing. In failing to bring legislation to Parliament on the NIA, the government has undermined the role of Parliament and kept the citizenry in the dark. = This is an abuse of power and a momentous blunder.
Instead of deflecting responsibility and groaning about his character, Nottage needs to fix this quickly. = If not, history will judge him poorly in this area especially in light of his stated values on democracy during his public career, including as leader of the Coalition for Democratic Reform, the name and goals of which should be a telling reminder to him.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Making sure police officers are equipped
Making sure police officers are equipped

May 14, 2014

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) pledged on the campaign trail in 2012 to make saturation patrols part of the crime fight if elected. The suggestion was a bit ambitious, as in recent years we have not even had consistent marked patrols in New Providence. We would need to get there before saturation patrols could be aspired to...

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WTO: Harmful or helpful Part 2

May 14, 2014

If we're not just tying up the loose ends of a former government - obligated to finalize the agreement simply because we started the process more than a decade ago - what's the real reason for us pushing so hard to confirm our membership in the WTO? And what does our country with its unusual balance of services and goods see as the real benefits to joining?
Are we pursuing membership in the WTO to trade tourism and banking services? That doesn't sound right. Those who want to trade in tourism and banking services come to our shores to do it, or they do it from abroad as they always have.
Are we joining the WTO to trade our goods? Well, what exactly are we exporting that necessitates the WTO membership we seek? Our exports aren't many and the goods we do produce are already being traded.
Furthermore, once we open our doors to the WTO our domestic production costs will increase with fewer people buying local products and so our exports will become relatively more expensive, at least for a while. That doesn't sound like a reasonable hope to export more in the near future.
Or, is our engagement with the WTO less about securing markets in which to sell the things we make and more about securing markets from which to buy all the imports we want at the lowest possible prices?
And if we want so much to be a part of a major world trading bloc, does what we discover about free trade in the process of subjecting ourselves to world scrutiny not emphasize the need to place our production efforts on goods and not only or predominantly on services?
But since we are again riding the cart-driven horse, and we're already knocking on the WTO door, we owe it to ourselves to contemplate and answer all of our concerns and doubts about it.
And one concern that has not been tabled but which may be the biggest concern about the WTO is the process of accession which is not transparent to anyone other than a couple of our politicians and a group of other politicians from countries whose eyes glaze over at our appetite for cheap imports.
All the details of our accession to the WTO are negotiated behind closed doors. Yes, we elect government officials and entrust them with the recurring duty of representing our collective needs and wishes, but the lack of transparency at that level of compromise is risky, especially given the historic lack of due diligence on the part of our representatives to properly investigate the real value of our resources and negotiate the best deals for us.
Whereas it is understandable that a private contract is typically negotiated confidentially between the individual parties involved, it's unsettling that others, some without any vested interest in our true welfare, are secretly negotiating the future of all Bahamian citizens - business persons and others. And we are not allowed to know any of the details of their discussions until they've reached a final, binding agreement, one which I and all my countrywomen and countrymen can only hope will be in our combined best interests.
The track record of negotiating anything on the world stage in favor of the Bahamian people, by current and former governments, is not very impressive. We should be able to flex more muscle for the benefit of our people, but our muscles atrophy in the wake of important issues and in the presence of world powers. Perhaps this is due to insufficient, regular exercise at managing issues that really matter. But whatever the reason, we need all the information - and muscle - we can get to see our way clearly through WTO negotiations.
As it stands, our political leaders can negotiate terms for us in the WTO that Bahamians would never support in a transparent regime or democratic vote and without knowing what those things are long before negotiations are complete.
And this presents a classic example of what some trade economists refer to as policy laundering.
For The Bahamas and its accession to the WTO, this is how that policy laundering scenario plays out:
The government is deeply in debt and the debt is rapidly growing. It needs more revenue. It has had the prospect of WTO membership lingering for over a decade. It tells the citizens that we need to be party to the WTO because it's long overdue, but a fundamental requirement of this association is to remove or greatly reduce the main source of government revenue (taxes/ tariffs on imported goods at the border) and replace it with another tax to compensate for the loss.
The Bahamian government knows the Bahamian people don't want to hear anything about paying taxes, since they hardly pay the ones that exist, so to sell its plan the government makes the WTO the reason for the new taxes. And because it makes a massive trade agreement the reason for the new source of tax revenue it requires, the only tax that makes sense is the value-added tax (VAT).
It's a backdoor method of bringing into law or existence something which is unwelcome or widely unpopular. Rather than implement the desired policy from within the country it is done at the international level and imposed upon the people as the most acceptable policy in the international arena; because it is, it cannot be denied or challenged.
In effect, the acts of creating an alliance, signing a binding agreement, making national policy changes or seeking the passage of new law become, as one author puts it, an 'erosion of civil liberties', where the people's democratic rights are compromised, along with the country's sovereign rights, because it is all left to be decided at a level even 'higher' than the people and executives of a country.
Before we become fully committed to the WTO, we should know:
Firstly, is this a reversible decision, if we no longer want to be a part of the WTO?
The 1994 Uruguay Round Agreements Act of the United States Congress provides that every five years the president reports on WTO participation and the congress votes on whether to remain in the WTO.
What if The Bahamas said, ahead of or after accession, "Yes, we've been watching you for 13 years but we're no longer interested"? Is this conceivable? How would this be received? Will we be blacklisted, or sanctioned, as a result of a change in direction we perceive to be better for us?
Secondly, has any country ever been dismissed from the WTO or left the organization of their own volition? If so, under what circumstances and by what methods? And what was the end result of its departure?
Thirdly, will this accession to the WTO eventually force us to remove our currency peg to the U.S. dollar, when, as a result of an unprecedented increase in U.S. imports and decrease in Bahamian exports, our U.S. currency demand becomes far greater than our demand for our own currency?
Could we, one day soon, become a U.S. dollar-only economy?
o Nicole Burrows is an academically trained economist. She can be contacted at: nicole.burrows@outlook.com or www.Facebook.com/NicoleEtc.

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The value of motherhood

May 12, 2014

The recent celebration of Mother's Day on May 11, 2014 had the characteristic fanfare involving the exchange of gifts, cards, well wishes and the display of love and appreciation that has become the norm in The Bahamas and other countries across the globe.
While mothers should be celebrated every day and all year round, a special day earmarked to salute mothers is in order in as much as it causes nations to pause and pay tribute to the custodians of our future and the conscience of nations.
Sharing the pain of the Chibok mothers
As we celebrated Mother's Day two days ago, it was literally impossible to block out the agony and pain of the mothers of the schoolgirls who had been abducted in Chibok - a local government area of Borno State in northern Nigeria. Chibok has received a lot of attention, albeit not for the most flattering reason. It was in this town that more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram.
It is noteworthy that Boko Haram, when translated from the Hausa language, means "western education is forbidden". This sect, which has committed several atrocities over the past few years, has threatened to sell the innocent schoolgirls in the slave markets of neighboring countries.
It is appropriate that this heinous act has attracted worldwide attention and become a rallying call for a woman's right to education. Bahamians and mothers in our country should join the movement #BringBackOurGirls to support the safe return of the kidnapped girls and continue our advocacy against the infringement of the rights of women and girls the world over. Our prayers are with our girls' families in general and the mothers in particular during this difficult period.
Virtuous women of our country
The Bahamas is blessed with political stability and a high level of success achieved over the years. In spite of our challenges, it would be disingenuous of us not to acknowledge that we live in a relatively peaceful country with tremendous potential. By the same token, our most significant resources are not the sun, sand and sea or any mineral resources within our shores. Rather, our greatest resource remains our people.
It is incumbent upon us to recognize this reality as we move forward, upward and onward together, a generation after political independence. Throughout our history, the great women of this nation have played major roles and have succeeded in advancing our political, social and economic goals. Standing with the men of The Bahamas, the mothers of our country have fought against social injustice, inequity, discrimination and marginalization within our archipelago. The Bahamian woman has exemplified the qualities of the virtuous woman described in the Bible.
A renewed mandate
It is arguable that in this new dispensation, the greatest challenge for mothers in The Bahamas is the raising of the next generation, into whose hands the future of our nation will pass. The level of crime, disregard for law and reverence for God in The Bahamas calls for an introspective look at ourselves as we raise our children.
This is important considering the historic magnitude of respect and deep love children have for their mothers. The special place that mothers hold in the hearts of their offspring, especially their sons, gives us unique access to those sons and the ability to influence their behavior. While this should not be abused, it should be used to keep our children grounded and focused on being good ambassadors of The Bahamas.
In the aftermath of the Mother's Day festivities and accompanying gifts, we, the mothers of this country, must rededicate our lives to the awesome task of building nation builders, molding the characters of future leaders and standing up for what is right and in the best interest of our Bahamaland.
This renewed mandate is not restricted to the minor children, but extends to adult children that may have lost their way - for a mother's love should be eternal. On the crime front, there are no greater crime stoppers than mothers and true (tough) love demands that we do not condone inappropriate behavior.
A fitting tribute to a mother
The National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs are now in full gear and NBA fans are always grateful for this period in the post-season to display their support for their teams. Indeed there are bound to be moments of joy and heartbreak, as winners and losers journey on the road to the championship round. However, in the midst of the competitive series and basketball games, a remarkable tribute to a mother stole the headlines.
Following the scandal involving the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, the announcement that Kevin Durant was named the NBA's most valuable player (MVP) dominated the headlines. However, the main headline was to be made at Durant's MVP acceptance speech, which can only be fully appreciated on screen. Durant stated: "We weren't supposed to be here. You made us believe, kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn't eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You're the real MVP."
Invaluable motherhood
Durant's mother was in tears as she watched an appreciative, respectful, sincere and humble son recognize and laud her before the whole world. At that moment, one can only imagine that if she had not believed that her sacrifices were worth it, her son's speech (and actions to date) confirmed that, and the gain was worth the pain she bore.
Bahamian mothers have similar stories of pain, long suffering and sacrifices for their children. While we will not all have children that become the NBA's MVP, we can raise children that become MVPs in their fields of specialization and more importantly good citizens of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
In the words of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much." The aforementioned story of Durant is a testament to the importance of our role as mothers in the successes of our children and betterment of our nation. Let us recommit ourselves to this important role, to invaluable motherhood. Our commitment in this regard will secure our place as the real MVPs. Happy belated Mother's Day!
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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National Worship Congress "ASAPH" Returns May 15-18th 2014 and will Honor Founder the Late Dr. Mark Bethel

May 12, 2014

Bahamas Faith Ministries International Fine Arts Department will host ASAPH 2014, May 15th-18th at The Diplomat Center, Carmichael Road. This highly anticipated praise and worship experience will be held under the theme “Rediscovering & Restoring Kingdom Worship in the 21st Century” and is expected to attract Praise & Worship Leaders, Praise Teams...

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The ideal governor general: Part IV, the Caribbean experience

May 11, 2014

In part I of this series, we reviewed some of the qualities that we should expect to find in the holder of the high office of our governor general. During the last two weeks, in parts II and III, we examined some of the special considerations that were made in the selection of our nine governors general, namely Sir John Paul, Sir Milo Butler, Sir Gerald Cash, Sir Henry Taylor and Sir Clifford Darling, Sir Orville Turnquest, Dame Ivy Dumont, the Hon. Arthur Hanna and Sir Arthur Foulkes.
This week in the final part, we would like to Consider this ... what have been the tenures of governors general in other major English-speaking Caribbean countries and what can we learn from their experience? We will examine the experience of Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Jamaica
Jamaica obtained its independence on August 6, 1962 and from that time to now has had five Jamaican governors general, excluding Sir Kenneth Blackburne, who served at independence for the period August 6, 1962 to November 30, 1962, or only three months, in a similar manner as Sir John Paul in The Bahamas.
All of Jamaica's governors general were male and only one, Sir Kenneth Hall, resigned from office after serving for only three years. The average length of the other four governors general was eight years, with individual tenures lasting from five to 10 years.
Barbados
Barbados obtained its independence on November 30, 1966 and from that time to now has had seven Barbadian governors general, excluding Sir John Montague Stow, who was the last governor of Barbados and served from October 8, 1959 until November 29, 1966. After Barbados gained independence on November 30, 1966, he was appointed governor general and served until May 18, 1967 in a similar manner as Sir John Paul in The Bahamas and Sir Kenneth Blackburne in Jamaica.
All but one of Barbados' governors general were male, the exception being Dame Nita Barrow, who served as governor general from June 6, 1990 to December 19, 1995 when she died in office. It is interesting that, in addition to Dame Nita, two other governors general died in office, namely Sir Arleigh Winston Scott who served for nine years; and Sir Deighton Lisle Ward who served for a little over seven years.
The longest serving governor general was Sir Clifford Husbands who served for 14 years. The average length of service of the Barbadian governors general was also eight years. The shortest individual tenure -- although it has not yet come to an end -- is the current governor general, Sir Elliott Belgrave, who was appointed on June 1, 2012.
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago obtained its independence from the United Kingdom on August 31, 1962 and opted to keep the office of governor general until 1976, when it decided to become a republic within the British Commonwealth and appoint a president as its head of state, replacing the governor general.
The governor of Trinidad and Tobago at the time of its independence, Sir Solomon Hochoy, served as its first governor general from August 31, 1962 to September 15, 1972. He was succeeded by Sir Ellis Clarke as governor general from September 15, 1976 until Trinidad and Tobago became a republic on August 1, 1976. Sir Ellis then continued in the office of president for the next 11 years, thus serving as the head of state for a total of 15 years.
Since becoming a republic, Trinidad and Tobago has had five presidents and all have been male, serving for between six and 11 years, with an average term in office of 10 years, excluding the incumbent, President Anthony Carmona who was appointed on March 13, 2013.
Lessons to learn
Several instructive lessons can be garnered from the experiences of the Caribbean countries reviewed. First, each of their heads of state was generally acceptable to the citizens of their countries. Secondly, each head of state was a nationalist in his or her own right, having made a definite contribution to the development of their societies.
Personal popularity was not a sufficient credential for their appointment. Each contributed to the national development with their own skills and individual endeavors, not only by association with others who did.
Third, in general, the heads of state were a unifying agent. They were not politically divisive. Fourth, the terms of the heads of state were not driven by changes in the government. In fact, the average term of the head of state for Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago was eight and 10 years, respectively. This compares with an average tenure for our governors general of five years, significantly lower than our Caribbean counterparts.
Finally, each time a governor general demits office, a pension is paid to the retiring head of state for the remaining years of his/her life. The public should be aware that there is a not insignificant cost associated with on-going annual pensions paid to former governors general, which is yet another compelling reason not to appoint governors general at the whim and fancy of chief executives, simply because the latter have been successful at the polls.
The way forward
As he considers who should hold the position of governor general, we would invite the prime minister to establish an exciting -- and all too infrequently used -- paradigm to decide who should hold this most important office: evaluate who actually does the job better rather than choosing who might be more politically palatable, regardless of qualifications or performance.
Perhaps if we did more assessments based on how well a job is actually done rather than on personality, Bahamian institutions might find themselves excelling instead of just getting by. And, make no mistake about it: while it is a great honor to be the governor general, it is also a demanding and high profile job, one which deserves and dictates that it be filled by the most qualified and competent individual, someone acceptable to Bahamians from all walks of life.
The governor general should symbolize all that is good about The Bahamas: our courage in adversity, our capability to withstand and overcome hardship, our dignity in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges and our innate kindness and graciousness towards our fellow human beings, no matter their race, religion, economic status or political persuasion.
The person who serves as governor general must be an individual who is the embodiment of a tried, trusted and true warrior who has proven not only in word, but also by his or her deeds that he or she cares about and believes in The Bahamas.
This person should be one who has worked and will continue to work tirelessly, whether as a resident of Mount Fitzwilliam or not, to ensure a bright and glorious future for our country, a future that will benefit everyone, from all corners of our nation, regardless of who they are or what beliefs they espouse. In short, the person who resides on Mount Fitzwilliam must be a Bahamian's Bahamian. Period.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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Could our cultural mindset be hurting tourism

May 08, 2014

We have reclaimed our throne. We are once more the proud descendants of the kings and queens of Africa, and this means no more "yes Massa" or "no Massa". This means I am no longer in servitude to you. I am free and I am going to let you know that I am free.
My job may mean that I may have to provide you with service, but when I provide this service to you, you will know that I am the one in charge, not you. You will know that there are no longer shackles on my feet. I will take my time when rendering service to you. I will respect you if I so choose to, and not because I think that as another human being that you deserve it. I will make a point of letting you know, that you are not "my Massa".
And for you, my fellow colored folk, who choose to patronize my place of employ, I will let you know that you are no better than me. I will not wear a smile. I will work, yes I will, but I will do the minimum, just enough not to get fired. I will take my time in rendering service to you because I am no house slave.
How many times have you gone out to eat and the wait staff is dressed highly inappropriately? How many times have you gone out to eat and the front end staff are being loud and boisterous? How many times have you gone out to eat and had bubble gum popped in your face, been given attitude, had to listen to the day's drama or gossip about another member on the staff?
How many times have you had the front end staff pull out his or her cell phone and carry on a lengthy conversation while you stand waiting to be seated? How many times have you had a wait staff pull out his or her cell phone mid service and respond to a text? How many times have you heard a staff member suck his or her teeth, roll his or her eyes or even tap his or her feet impatiently while taking your order?
A common problem and what I consider the Achilles Heel of the Caribbean tourism or service industry is poor or sub-standard customer service. Every time I see an advertisement or hear talk of some grand new tourism initiative that is bound to bring the 'dollars' our way, I simply shake my head.
It is one thing to advertise and bring tourists to our shores, but if when they arrive here, they meet sub-standard customer service, what's the use? Do you think that they will return to our shores? Do you think that they will provide a glowing recommendation to family and friends, or do you think that they will advise them to take their tourist dollars elsewhere?
The one thing that irritates me most is horrible customer service, not only because I deserve superb service because I am spending my money, or because when I held several waitressing jobs to help pay for school I did each with the utmost pride and professionalism, but because I view it as the quickest and surest way to kill someone's business, and cripple our tourism industry.
I am often flabbergasted, when I dine out and I see the staff "skylarking" or not taking their job seriously. I can't help but wonder if they have any idea that they are not just "the staff" but rather representatives of their place of employ and by extension ambassadors for the country. Do they know that their role is essential, even vital to the economy? They are the gatekeepers.
Things are "tight" all over as we like to say, and the downturn in the world's economy is blamed for the decline in tourist dollars, but it is much more than this. Sub-standard customer service is a key factor that keeps the tourist away from our shores. This has to be addressed.
A change in the cultural mindset is necessary because those service providers who interact directly with our guests or visitors are in fact our tourism product. Their friendliness, their hospitality, their professionalism, their knowledge of history and our culture: this is our tourism product.
They need to know this; they need to know that they are not just some replaceable cogs in the wheel but rather the pulse of what we hope will be a thriving tourism economy. This must be impressed upon them.
And for the life of me, at times I often wonder why some establishments continue to employ people who refuse to provide excellent customer service to their patrons. I also often wonder why businesses don't spend extra in hiring individuals who are bound to provide exceptional customer service. I think that this is a no brainer.
Huge investments go into the business plan, marketing, and other operating factors of the tourism-related business, but the actual people who are going to be the face of the business, the contact, are just hired because they are looking for work and can't find anything else to do. They are provided with limited if any training and sent to the floor. The only contact that they have with the owner or manager is when they clock in for work or collect their paychecks, and the best way to keep them in line is the threat of losing their livelihood. Does this make any sense?
Business 101 would tell you that your front end staff are your cash cows so you need to pay keen attention when hiring, training, and retaining them. You cannot invest enough in customer service. This is where the real investment needs to take place. You need people who are courteous, friendly, and reliable.
The staff need to know that when one goes out to eat or is the guest at a hotel, he or she doesn't want to be accosted with, "Don't I know you. You used to be dere with so and so... no that's not where I know you from...oh..oh..now I know."
One doesn't want to be served by someone whose tattoos are exposed (I have nothing against tattoos. I have two). One doesn't want to be served by someone who has several pairs of earrings in her ears or a nose ring. One doesn't want to be served by someone wearing exceptionally long or outlandish nails or multi-colored hair. One doesn't want to be served by someone whose hairdo speaks, "I'm going clubbing".
One does not want his or her wait staff digging his or her nose, licking his or her fingers or even adjusting his or her clothes in plain view. One doesn't want his or her wait staff answering calls, responding to a text, or engaging in loose conversation while providing service. One doesn't want attitude if a customer is not pleased with an order or the service. One wants superior and impeccable service.
A friend recently mentioned that this sub-standard service comes from the fact that people are just plain rude and down-right disrespectful. I concurred but I also thought that it was much more than that. I think that it has more to do with the way in which we view the tourism industry and tourism related jobs. We view these jobs as being at the bottom tier of the social ladder, and because they are "service" related, we view these jobs as a rebirth of slavery.
The mentality is that in colonial times we considered ourselves to be physically enchained, but now with emphasis being placed on tourism our view is that we are going into an era where we are now mentally chained, forced to depend on the "white man" or "rich man" for our bread and butter.
We rebel by not providing premiere service because this would mean that we are sell-outs. It would mean that we are compliant and that we enjoy "playing" the house slave, and if there is another worker who seems to be taking pride in his or her job, who is liked by management, tourists or guests, he or she is heckled and accused of "playing white" or as I heard a lady refer to a colleague: "dem white people glad-happy monkey, always a grin a grin".
We don't realize that in essence we are creating a situation where we are cutting our nose, and it will eventually spoil our face. The aforementioned attitude and our failure to provide premiere customer service are in fact the very factors that are killing our tourist industry.
All of this only dawned on me when I was having a conversation with another friend who was disgusted at the government, saying that the government "was always talking about providing tourism-related jobs, and that these jobs don't pay," and would not do anything for the economy. I smiled, and told her to ask any exceptional bartender, hostess or waitress that she knew - and I reiterate, exceptional - how much they made in tips in a night, or how many tourists sent tickets for them to visit London, Canada or America, or better yet how many tourists came back year after year with family and friends bearing gifts and asking specifically for them, then come back and tell me that tourism doesn't pay or that it doesn't have its perks. Because as someone who worked as a waitress, I can tell you that it does pay.
We have heard the complaints over the years of the various hotels bringing in their own people or sourcing staff from nearby islands, and we argue and say that the hotels and the immigrants are taking bread out of our mouths. We argue and demand that the government take action as it is not fair, but in all seriousness, the businesses, although they may have a social obligation to the countries that they are in, are not the welfare.
They are not there to grant anyone any favors. They are in business to make a profit, and if the local staff isn't providing the service that they expect, of course they will source staff from neighboring islands. They will hire people who will take pride in their jobs, provide impeccable service and give them a return on their investment.
In a debate with my friend who mentioned that some tourism jobs lead nowhere, I told her once again that she ought to ask any exceptional person who has worked in the tourism industry how fast he or she has been promoted or rewarded based on his or her impeccable service or record. This is one of those industries where mobility is in fact possible but this all depends on the attitude, productivity and performance of the worker.
I can also tell you from experience that this industry is one that lends itself to success in any other chosen field as it provides you with a plethora of skills. Where else can you develop such great interpersonal skills? You learn to deal with what may appear to be difficult people, and you develop problem solving skills, so it can be viewed as a start.
I met a lady a few years ago who noted that her son had studied hospitality management and could not find a job as a manager in a hotel in his own country. My response was, "Well how much experience does he really have in the tourism industry? Has he worked as a waiter, bell hop, bus boy, gardener or any other service related job? Did intern at any of the hotels on his break from school? Was he interested in trying his hand at bartending or taking an entry level position in a hotel or restaurant until his dream position came along?"
She replied in the negative. She turned up her face, saying that he did not go to college for that, he wanted an air-conditioned office work.
I was bewildered because I am certain if you ask any executive or manager of a hotel they will tell you that they started working in the kitchen as a dishwasher or bus boy. They will tell you that they mopped floors and moved their way through several departments or fields within the industry. This was in addition to getting formal training at some point in their career.
This is an industry where every person has a vital role to play - and I mean vital. This is not one of those industries where you start at the top, because it requires the executive or management to roll up his or her sleeves and get to work when the going gets tough.
Parents, if your children have an interest in the field, make sure they get summer or weekend jobs or internships at a restaurant, hotel, golf course or at a business entity that is service oriented. This is where it starts. You may be a dishwasher today, manager or executive tomorrow.
We need to brush the cobwebs from our minds. We need to remove those mental shackles, and as citizens of our lands take charge of the many opportunities that comes to our shores. You are providing a service. You are providing a product. You are an ambassador. This is a respectable and an honest way to earn a living.
You are nobody's slave or minion. Prove yourself empowered. Provide impeccable service. Be that person who puts your country on the map with the broadest smile and the most professional and courteous disposition. Do not let the remnants of slavery cripple your tourism industry.
o Mutryce A. Williams, a native St. Kitts and Nevis, holds a master of politics degree and is pursuing a doctoral degree in public policy administration. She can be contacted at: mutrycewilliams@gmail.com.

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WTO: Harmful or helpful Part 1

May 07, 2014

More than 70 percent of World Trade Organization (WTO) members are developing countries.
There are 159 WTO members of 196 countries in the world.
The Bahamas applied for WTO membership in 2001 and has held 'observer' status for 13 years.
The primary assumption of WTO membership is that global trade is a positive thing. If you don't agree with this, you won't agree with the WTO.
The WTO and membership in it is supposed to discourage trade conflict and retaliatory trade lockout, as occurred during the Great Depression of 1929 and the years that followed, after which the predecessor of the WTO, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), was formed in 1947, existing fairly loosely until the advent of a reformed WTO in 1995.
The WTO is like the social network of trade. You want to join because you can meet or contact people who could benefit your business, but you have to be open to everyone else being able to use the network the same way. However, in a simple social network, there is no built-in regulatory framework, as there is in the WTO, to resolve disagreements between members whenever they occur or when they get in the way of productivity.
The WTO provides Most Favored Nation (MFN) status for all its members, such that there is meant to be no preferential treatment given to one member country which is not given to all member countries.
The WTO is supposed to promote the easy flow of goods between countries, thereby increasing sales and jobs, resulting in faster economic growth.
WTO proponents claim that the security of membership and its accompanying regulations are safer for trade and (global) stability than individual countries protecting their industries on their own, and the resulting decrease in domestic subsidies and tariffs as a requirement for WTO membership leads to more comfortable trade options for the WTO member.
With the comfort of trade security, import prices are believed to be less volatile, more reliable and lower than they would be without free trade. But the reverse of this is that the cost of domestic goods and exports increases without the previous government subsidies.
With WTO-type trade liberalization, along with an increase in the cost of local goods, comes a glut of imports in the local market, where consumers now have many more options for consumption, but where (it is hoped) there will be more business development due to greater competition amongst local producers who are, as a result of all this competition, expected to produce better quality products.
Developing versus developed countries
But who ensures that the WTO's developing countries get all the lower tariffs they can benefit from in the developed markets, as well as higher quality imported products to choose from, and not the first world's rejects in the developing country's newly-saturated import market?
All of the stated benefits of WTO membership are possibilities, not guarantees. None of them are certain to benefit a member within any specific timeframe, and developed countries are more often the ones who benefit more in less time.
Moreover, in the absence of quotas (which the WTO also does not favor), developed countries are able to send more - even limitless quantities - of their goods to developing countries' markets, in a practice referred to as dumping. So how does a developing country get a developed country to refrain from this dumping practice when they are just learning how best to enforce their existing laws as a small and growing nation?
In considering WTO membership in The Bahamas, a few important questions should be asked and answered by producers and consumers.
Who will control the final quality of imports (and exports) under the WTO agreement and who will be responsible for the standards imposed? How will we bear under what other Caribbean countries who are already members in the WTO have called the "overwhelming competitive pressures" on local producers, manufacturers, farmers and other small businesses? Is the WTO really what we need when basic industries haven't even had a chance to form yet, or is this our opportunity to form them?
The reality is that free and open trade will never be the same as equal trade. It would serve our small country well to recognize that it may be possible for us to achieve fairer trade in some instances, but general benefits may or may not be realized and those that are may not be for many years to come.
Concerns and considerations
The most obvious concern about WTO membership is the near mandate for anti-protectionism. Free trade agreements inherently despise protectionist policies (tariffs and subsidies, for example) in any industry, because protection raises barriers and barriers limit trade.
WTO accession requires a reduction over time or a complete removal of border tariffs and government subsidies. But, given our small size, we are likely to need these in a few industries (especially agriculture), as well as some quotas and regulations typically not favored in free trade, not only as a method of deriving income until other sources prove effective, but also to nurture these infant industries.
In fact, even the United States, the giant country with all kinds of muscle to flex, still maintains protectionist policies, which, oddly enough, is why WTO talks for some developed countries like the United States have been stalled lately.
If America is still insistent about protecting its domestic and small farmers, why can't a little country like ours do the same? Given our need to protect our industries, how do we suppose we are going to join the WTO without great discomfort, particularly if what occurs alongside it is value-added tax (VAT)?
Of all the reasons why we should want to be a member of the WTO, the only one which I can conclude has real merit is the availability of a safety net of structured and expedient arbitration, should any trade disputes between us and our trading partners ever arise. But how have we resolved similar disputes to date?
Have these disagreements ever arisen? If not, or if not to any great extent, why do we now foresee it happening or being of such great importance, if we are not members of the WTO? Do we expect that we will be trading enormous quantities of goods (and services), which would require the safety net of arbitration as a WTO member and which would therefore provide us with a reason to join?
That leads me to our second real concern about the WTO: Other than tourism and banking services, as far as our overall production goes, what are we exporting? What goods are we producing to take full advantage of the WTO and trade with the many countries that apparently want to trade with us?
Yes, the potential for us to produce the goods is there, but it's been ignored for so long and relegated to the back burner that now when it's time to really trade, we have little to trade with. Our goods for trade haven't grown very far beyond their embryonic stages of development.
According to recent economic indicators, cited in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook, 2013, only 9.2 percent of our total productivity comes from agriculture (2.1 percent) and manufacturing (7.1 percent), with "very little growth" occurring or expected if all remains as is in the domestic sector.
So who does the WTO trade agreement benefit more in the short run and the long run? What is the real impetus for this movement to finalize WTO membership at this time? Is it merely a loose end to tie up?
o Nicole Burrows is an academically trained economist. She can be reached at: nicole.burrows@outlook.com or www.Facebook.com/NicoleEtc.

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PLP governance: Two years in

May 05, 2014

In a couple of hours from now, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) will commemorate two years since the general elections that ushered the party into power. The PLP won the 2012 general election in a landslide victory over the incumbent Free National Movement (FNM) government, after what was generally considered to be a remarkable election campaign.
The PLP came into power in the aftermath of the Great Recession and was confronted with challenges of great proportions. There was no doubt that the expectations of the electorate in relation to the new government were high and there was an urgent need for relief, which the PLP promised during its campaign for office. As a result of the state of the economy and the myriad issues the new government was expected to address, the PLP government did not have the luxury of a honeymoon.
Simply put, the Bahamian people wanted solutions and demanded an immediate change in circumstances. Two years later we seek to objectively assess how the government has performed, provide a prognosis on the rest of the administration's term and offer some recommendations on the way forward.
The Charter for Governance
The PLP deviated from the orthodox format of manifestos which outline the agenda of a political party during its term in office. Upon the release of the Charter for Governance (Charter), the PLP noted that the document, termed Vision 2030, was designed to be a road map to go beyond the guaranteed five-year tenure in our political system.
While some might consider this to be presumptuous, the PLP articulated its belief that the nation's development could not be planned five years at a time. The reality remains that the proposals and initiatives documented in the charter are so numerous and significant that it is unreasonable to expect them to be actualized in full within five years in the democracy that we practice without radical and/or autocratic decisions.
It is appropriate for the populace who are the employers to review and assess the government - the employees - based on the representations made in their plan as contained in the charter, although it is unclear how specific goals will be selected for examination. Subsequently, it is up to the Bahamian public to grade the government during and at the end of its current term in office to ascertain whether the mandate should be renewed.
A consensus building government
Prime Minister Perry G. Christie has been consistent in his approach to governance. Christie could very well be regarded as the great consensus builder based on his inclination to practice inclusive politics. He is known for seeking to involve the citizenry in the decision-making process of governance. There are commentators that oppose this approach with criticisms on its impact on the speed of decision making and surmising such as a sign of indecisiveness or weakness.
The late Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who was not deemed to be a proponent of consensus building, had the following to say on this topic; she noted that consensus is "The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner 'I stand for consensus'?" This mind-set was perhaps one of the greatest criticisms of her leadership and is believed to have contributed to her political demise.
Nevertheless, leaders have differing philosophies and styles; hence, no one approach could be regarded as being superior to the other. The government must continue to collaborate with the people and relevant stakeholders in order to ensure continuous engagement and involvement in matters of national interest. However, where such consensus building will contradict the beliefs, principles, values and policies of the government, our leaders must be prepared to proceed with their agenda in spite of opposition as long as the decisions are in the national interest.
The highs of the first two years
In order to fairly assess the first two years of the current administration, one must refer to the content of the PLP's charter, which should govern the government's policies and agenda during its term in office. It is fair to state that the government has had some high moments during its first two years, including in no particular order: Budget 2013/2014, which was praised by international observers and rating agencies; the establishment of the National Training Agency; the establishment of the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute; making deliberate efforts to reduce the cost of electricity; engaging in active negotiations to remedy the BTC/Lime deal; the development of a fiscal consolidation plan and commencement of the tax reform process that included the release of a white paper, the implementation of the Central Revenue Agency and a Real Property Tax Amnesty program that nets much millions into the government's coffers.
The Bimini economy has benefited significantly from foreign direct investment and the opening of the Resorts World Bimini project, while Grand Bahama has also seen a boost in its economy as a result of Memories Grand Bahama Beach and Casino Resort. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) is also set to gain from the procurement of the necessary vessels and equipment to increase its efficiency in securing our borders and stemming the scourge of illegal immigration and poaching.
Past and present challenges
As promised in its charter and the manifestos of other political organizations, the government held a non-binding referendum on the establishment and regulation of a national lottery and web shop gaming. While it remains to be seen how the government will bring closure to this matter, this administration will be remembered for having the courage to address an issue ignored for decades by successive administrations.
Gender equality remains an important national matter that ought to have been addressed a long time ago. The government commissioned a Constitutional Review Committee which provided its report on proposed changes to our constitution. However, the first of the proposed changes, which seeks to provide Bahamian women with the same rights as their male counterparts, is yet to take effect due to the delay in the requisite constitutional referendum.
The pandemic of crime continues to be a major challenge for the government by its own admission and as evidenced by the level of lawlessness in our society. The other issues relating to the detention center and the level of union activism over this period has indeed presented challenges to the government. When combined with the sluggish global and local economic growth, as well as the declining yet still high rate of unemployment in The Bahamas, it would not be an understatement to state that this PLP administration has its plate full.
Going forward
Artists often highlight the beauty of a plain canvas that many may not view in the same light. A plain canvas presents a unique opportunity to start something unique and create a special piece. In other words, whether the plain canvas is new or wiped clean the opportunity remains available to do something great and exceptional.
The government need not dwell on any of its accomplishments or get side-tracked by distractions and challenges of the last two years. Rather, it must embrace the gift of a new day to accomplish its goals and objectives. The government should wipe its slate clean - if it must - and focus on its agenda as documented in the charter.
While it may be argued that time is of the essence (and it sure is) and is running out, there remains ample time for the government to make the necessary changes to put The Bahamas in better standing for greater success. In the words of the "Oracle of Omaha" - Warren Buffett: "Someone sits in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago." The government must be resolute in ensuring that the necessary trees are planted and the requisite foundations are laid today to protect, shield and preserve the future of generations yet unborn.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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The ideal governor general - part 3

May 05, 2014

In part one of this series, we reviewed some of the qualities that we should expect to find in the holder of the high office of our governor-general. Last week, we looked at some of the special considerations that were made in the selection of our first five governors, namely Sir John Paul, Sir Milo Butler, Sir Gerald Cash, Sir Henry Taylor and Sir Clifford Darling.
This week, we would like to Consider This...what special considerations were made in the selection and what were the unique characteristics of the remaining governors general who served between 1995 and the present day?
Sir Orville Turnquest
Sir Orville Turnquest, one of the early members of the Free National Movement (FNM) and a former member of Parliament, attorney general, minister of foreign affairs and deputy prime minister, served as the nation's fifth governor general from January 3, 1995 to November 13, 2001. He was the first governor general to be appointed by an FNM government and Bahamians from both sides of the political divide will agree that he served with distinction and was, at the time of his appointment, perhaps uniquely qualified to reside at Mount Fitzwilliam.
Sir Orville introduced outstanding works by Bahamian artists to Government House and significantly upgraded what had become a somewhat dated home for the head of state. He traveled extensively throughout The Bahamas and abroad and spent many hours visiting school children in their schools and entertaining them at Government House. Perhaps more than any of his predecessors, he "opened" Government House, and all who were invited there were impressed by the style and elegance he exuded in hosting his guests.
Notwithstanding his long political career, mostly in opposition, Sir Orville transcended political partisanship in office and exemplified a nationally unifying force, notably by his involvement with One Bahamas activities.
Sir Orville fulfilled his duties with elegance and aplomb that elevated the office to new heights; while in office he exuded a degree of savoir faire that made us proud to be Bahamian.
Dame Ivy Dumont
Dame Ivy Dumont, the sixth governor general, served from January 1, 2001 to November 30, 2005. A celebrated educator and financial services professional, after the FNM won the historic election in 1992, she served simultaneously as leader of government business in the Senate and as minister of health and environment. She subsequently served as minister of education and youth.
Dame Ivy exuded an unquestionably matronly persona, and her humility and soft-spoken but confident demeanor equipped her to mark an historical moment by being the first woman in The Bahamas to hold the office of governor general.
A devout Christian, Dame Ivy's beliefs strongly influenced her interaction with people from all walks of life; during her term as governor general, she confirmed former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham's description of her as "a true representative of Bahamian womanhood at its best".
Arthur D. Hanna
Arthur D. Hanna, a former PLP member of Parliament and minister of education, home affairs and finance, served as the seventh governor general from January 31, 2006 to April 14, 2010. He, too, was extremely qualified to hold that office because Hanna is regarded as among the greatest Bahamians to have straddled both the 20th and 21st centuries.
In 1967, when the Progressive Liberal Party first won Majority Rule, Hanna became the deputy premier and later deputy prime minister, a position he held until he resigned from the Cabinet in 1984. Early in its administration, the new PLP government focused its attention on education, fully embracing and implementing it as a tool for national development.
During his tenure as the minister of home affairs, Hanna led the development of the government's landmark Bahamianization policy - perhaps his most prominent legacy - which laid the foundation for taking Bahamians out of the back rooms of banks, insurance companies and the other businesses and propelling them to the highest positions in the executive suites, the board rooms and ultimately greater participation and ownership in our economy. That an individual of Hanna's nationalistic fervor so vehemently, vociferously and visibly opposed to British colonial rule would have eventually consented to ascend to the pinnacle of political power in our country as the very representative of the Sovereign who personified colonialism remains an enigma to some. But he always maintained that, while he opposed colonialism, he and his colleagues, on both sides of the political divide, always fully accepted the monarchy, as was embodied in our own constitution, which he co-authored. Hanna never accepted a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II, and today remains the only soul to have not done so before ascending to become governor general, an office which he executed with pride and proficiency.
Sir Arthur Foulkes
The current occupant of Government House, Sir Arthur Foulkes, serves as our eighth Bahamian governor general, assuming office on April 14, 2010. Like few others before him, most notably Sir Milo, Sir Cliff, and Hanna, Sir Arthur is one of those individuals who has attained the status of "father of the nation" or "hero of the revolution". He served as minister of communications and minister of tourism in the first Pindling administration, before departing the PLP as a member of the Dissident Eight to assist in the formation of the FNM. Sir Arthur has wide international and diplomatic experience, having served as Bahamian ambassador to the Court of St. James, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and the European Union; he was the first Bahamian ambassador to China as well as the non-resident ambassador to Cuba.
Although he has only served four years to date, right-thinking Bahamians will agree that Sir Arthur has been among the best governors general to have served The Bahamas since independence. He has fulfilled his duties with a distinctive kind of Bahamian flair, grace and style. He has demonstrated an ability to unite Bahamians from all walks of life, to transcend political partisanship and to represent the interests of all Bahamians without fear for or favor of political preference.
In fact, Sir Arthur has excelled so magnificently in office that Bahamians should encourage the prime minister to persuade Sir Arthur to remain on for a few more years, given his robust health and acute acumen for executing the office. Although Sir Arthur has advised the prime minister that he is prepared to demit office this year if the former wishes him to do so, this would be a good time for Bahamians, in a demonstration of support and approval for his stellar performance, to urge the prime minister to ask Sir Arthur to remain in office for a little longer.
Taking such an historically decisive action, the prime minister would negate the fallacy that governors general should be changed when governments change and would introduce into our body politic a maturity that has been sorely lacking and urgently needed. Christie can rectify the unpardonable precedent set by his former arch-rival, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, who politicized the office of governor general beginning with his shameful treatment of Sir Clifford in the matter of the Speech from the Throne.
Conclusion
As The Bahamas continues to mature, it is vitally important that we recognize the early contributions to nation building that have been made by those men and women whose unwavering commitment has advanced The Bahamas. It is equally essential that our next governor general be an individual who does not strongly represent or identify with any single constituency or interest group.
In the final installment of this series, we will examine the tenures of governors general in other major English-speaking Caribbean countries with a view to learning from their experience how to once again de-politicize this office.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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Economic development and deepening reform in China

May 01, 2014

In 2013, although faced with a complicated domestic and international situation, the CPC (Communist Party of China) Central Committee and the State Council led the people of all nationalities of China in thoroughly implementing the spirit of the 18th Party Congress, upheld the general ethos of "moving forward while maintaining stability", and adhered to the guideline that "the macro policy should be stable, micro policy flexible and social policy should support the bottom line", while maintaining steady growth, adjusting economic structures and forging ahead with reform, all while actively making innovations to the means of macro control. As a result, national economic and social development saw stabilized and accelerated growth and achieved a good start.
Economic performance fulfilled its target in 2013
The economy as a whole was stable and experienced comparatively fast growth in 2013. GDP for the year reached 56.88 trillion yuan (1 USD = 6.1 yuan), an increase of 7.7 percent over the previous year and in full accord with the targeted figure. China's government revenue increased by 10.1 percent to 12.91 trillion yuan and the deficit was 1.2 trillion yuan. Profits from industrial enterprises totaled 6.28 trillion yuan. It is gratifying that domestic demand continued to be the main driving force of growth. Retail sales of consumer goods totaled 23.78 trillion yuan, an increase of 13.1 percent. A number of new forms and areas of consumption were very vigorous, and the value of e-commerce transactions exceeded 10 trillion yuan, an increase of 19.3 percent. The contribution of domestic demand to economic growth reached 104.4 percent.
Meanwhile, overall price levels were basically stable. Consumer prices for the year rose 2.6 percent, within the targeted range. The work of purchasing, storing and releasing important commodities and of adjusting their imports and exports proceeded in good order.
Progress was made in structural adjustment and economic transformation
China has experienced three decades of super-fast growth at the expense of cheap costs. Now, we face more restrictions from limited natural resources and an ageing society. Domestic consumption should be the new growth engine. In 2013, the Chinese government comprehensively advanced economic structural reform and created sound systems and mechanisms for maintaining stable growth and carrying out structural adjustments.
China's economic adjustments have shown marked progress. Industrial structural adjustment proceeded steadily. Significant achievements were made in technological innovations and fostering emerging industries. The integration of urban and rural development proceeded in an orderly fashion. Development in multiple regions became better balanced. Efforts were accelerated to conserve energy, reduce emissions and protect the environment. According to statistics, the proportion of the manufacturing industry to GDP dropped for the first time. The growth rate in the less developed central and western parts of the country was much higher than in the richer eastern region in 2013, signaling more balanced development across the board.
An array of measures have successfully helped to transform the economy, such as using value-added tax to replace turnover tax and setting up the pilot Shanghai Free Trade Zone. China's fast development has proved the doomsayers wrong.
Meanwhile, China is putting forth efforts to use innovation to support and lead economic structural improvements and upgrades. Innovation is the motive force for adjusting and upgrading the economic structure. The government aims to make innovation the core of China's development endeavors, promote the full integration of science and technology with economic and social development, and elevate China's industries to a high level in the global value chain.
Deepening reform is the top priority for the Chinese government
The Chinese government has determined that the process of comprehensively deepening reform will be completed in seven years, and 2014 marks the first year. Reform is the primary theme of the government's agenda this year, with economic reform in particular being the paramount task. The direction of many reforms has been made clear and the measures have been readied for implementation. They can be divided into three categories. Those pertaining to the economy include streamlining administration and delegating power to lower levels, tax reform, financial reform and accelerating economic transformation. Those relating to social development and management include advancing urbanization, improving people's well-being and reforming the household registration system. Finally, reform in ecological progress comprises measures to advance the transformation of energy production and consumption.
China's reform used to be led by the government, but future reform will be a revolution imposed by the government on itself. This will be a painful process, which will call for not only great determination, but also great political wisdom. This year's reform measures are aimed at ensuring stable economic growth and avoiding unnecessary risks. Therefore, they must facilitate economic growth.
China's measures of comprehensive reform are also good news for the world economy. Because the fortunes of the Chinese economy are so incredibly linked with those of the global economy, sound economic and social development in China will bring opportunities to the wider world.
o Yuan Guisen is the ambassador of the People's Republic of China to The Bahamas.

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The integrity of the Office of the Governor General

April 30, 2014

We enjoy a fine democracy. It is imperfect, flawed, often rowdy and rambunctious. It is also in need of improvement, such as the need for modern party and campaign finance legislation and regulations to help stem the outsized influence of money in politics.
Still, our democratic foundations are strong, with successive generations having assimilated the democratic spirit, anchoring and securing it in institutions, laws, traditions and various practices.
The integrity of our democratic institutions somewhat rests on the character of those who lead and run such institutions. Character concerns not only the ethical conduct of public servants, it concerns also the qualities and characteristics an individual brings to office such as experience, intelligence, empathy, temperament and good judgment.
The integrity of an individual helps to determine the long-term integrity of an office, how one's conduct in office leaves that office in good stead, high repute and respect.
Integrity is also defined as "the state of being whole and undivided", with synonyms such as unity, togetherness and solidarity.
The integrity of the Office of the Governor General involves the characteristics and character of the individual holding that office; the ability of that individual to hold and leave the office in high repute, and the ability of that individual to foster a sense of national identity and unity, togetherness and solidarity.
Though our eight Bahamian governors general had different political affiliations, they all generally enjoyed widespread support and performed in a nonpartisan manner.
The "Two Arthurs" - former Governor General Arthur D. Hanna and current Governor General Sir Arthur A. Foulkes - were former partisans of different political affiliations.
Testament
It is a testament of their sense of the Office of the Governor General, of its central role in unifying the country, that they exercised that high office in a nonpartisan manner.
Both men enjoy great affection across the political spectrum. Bahamians generally were proud of them in that office, an office both widely deserved because of their contributions to national life, their sense of Bahamian nationhood, and their ability to articulate a message of unity.
To recommend the appointment of someone as governor general who has been known for excessive partisanship, for a lifetime of seeking to destroy political opponents, and for the creation of division and discord, would do great damage to the office and to the nation - and to the political party that would make such an unwise choice.
The maintenance of the integrity of the office is paramount. The incident in which Sir Clifford Darling had to travel overseas to allow an FNM to read the speech from the throne in 1992 was a mistake of excessive partisanship.
Sir Clifford, widely loved and regarded, was not a PLP governor general. He was our head of state and should have been allowed to carry out his duty. It would have been a moment of political grace.
Thankfully, no governing party has made that mistake again.
The mistake we should not now make is the appointment of any individual who has demonstrated a visceral and often mean-spirited partisanship that is still fresh in the minds of many Bahamians of various political persuasions.
The Office of the Governor General should be one of political grace, a dignity maintained by both those charged with the appointment and those who hold that high office.
This columnist sometimes has a different political viewpoint from a fellow columnist in this journal, but shares the views of the latter in terms of the qualities needed in a governor general as recently described by him in a series of columns.
This is the type of bipartisanship needed to ensure that the highest office of state is considered in a nonpartisan manner.
Prudent
While the prime minister and his government may recommend whom they deem best as governor general, it may be prudent to broadly consider the sense of the people.
The government would be unwise and perhaps reckless to recommend for that high office someone a majority or a considerably high number of Bahamians would deem unsuitable and inappropriate.
The integrity and nature of the Office of the Governor General is such that it is considered in poor taste and bad form in other jurisdictions for someone to excessively lobby for the position. Such unfettered lobbying has been considered a disqualification in various countries.
If an individual engages in continuous politics to land the post of governor general, imagine the politics he or she may engage in if appointed to such a post. This would prove disastrous for the country, doing great damage to the integrity of the office.
Power reveals character, the good and the ill. When an individual assumes an office, a lifetime of patterns come to the fore, made even more manifest and potentially outsized once in office.
With no easy mechanisms to restrain a governor general, a government must be extremely careful who is recommended and rely on the good judgment and restraint of the occupant once in office.
Those who have shown little prudence and restraint prior to coming to office, will likely not do so after being appointed. Their actions in office may be even worse.
One of the reasons that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is so beloved and well-regarded is because she has not been seen as partisan. She is a figure and symbol of unity, having demonstrated prudence and exercised profoundly good judgment over six decades.
She was said to be pained when one of her advisers allegedly leaked a story to the press expressing deep concerns about Dame Margaret Thatcher when she was prime minister.
Imperious
While the head of state has a duty to advise, encourage or warn the prime minister in certain circumstances, the governor general must not interfere in the workings of government or act in ways that are imperious and haughty, calling the government to task in a highhanded manner.
The governor general, like the monarch, must not only be nonpartisan; the Queen's representative must also be seen to be nonpartisan. This is critical to the functioning of our democracy.
If a governor general is perceived as highly partisan it may create a political crisis, if not potentially a constitutional one, with the head of state potentially losing the confidence of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition as well as the general support of the Bahamian people.
This is not a position in which any Bahamian government would want to find itself. Nor would the governor general want to be embroiled in controversy as was the case famously in Australia some decades ago.
No government would wish to have the office brought into disrepute, alarming both the opposition and Buckingham Palace. There should be no risky choices in the recommendation of a governor general.
Recall that the head of state is privy to official secrets and Cabinet conclusions. The maintenance of confidentiality and restraint is critical to the office.
An appointment as governor general is a privilege. It is not due to any individual. It is more than a ceremonial post, hosting dinners, tea parties and receptions.
It is a constitutional post requiring an occupant who possesses the acumen, the good judgment and restraint, and the spirit of national solidarity and non-partisanship that would help to promote national unity.
Without these qualities the integrity of the Office of the Governor General may be seriously compromised.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Has anyone seen the prime minister
Has anyone seen the prime minister

April 30, 2014

Michael Halkitis is a likeable politician. He's a smart man. He had the good sense yesterday to confirm to The Nassau Guardian that value-added tax (VAT) will not be introduced in The Bahamas on July 1 - the government's previously proposed implementation date...

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