Opinion

Learning lessons from Cuba

March 18, 2016

I recently traveled to Cuba with a group of Cornell University alumni. Our trip was a "people-to-people educational exchange" which is an exception to the travel ban for Americans to Cuba. We spent eight days there, interacting with Cubans in all segments of society, from University of Havana professors to vendors on the streets.

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The PLP's history of unsavory associations

March 17, 2016

There is the well-known and well-practiced Perry Christie shuffle, which exemplifies a certain history of the PLP.

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The future of Britain in the Caribbean

March 17, 2016

On June 23, voters in Britain will decide whether they wish to remain within the European Union (EU). If they vote to leave, as some polls suggest, they may inadvertently affect the special status that the UK's overseas territories in the Caribbean have with Europe.

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Revving up the Bahamian economy, pt. 2

March 16, 2016

Last week I started giving my thoughts about how we can rev up our economy, something all of us agree we need desperately. The first three ideas toward doing this I mentioned were providing wowing customer service across the board; the second was liberalizing our immigration policy to allow larger numbers of international persons with money to spend to take up residence in our nation; and the third was to have a more strategic approach to direct investment by both Bahamians and non-Bahamians.
This week we finish our non-exhaustive list of thoughts toward revving up our economy or making it robust in the shortest possible time.
However, just before I get to the remainder of the list let me stress here that the single most practical and important issue facing this country is to generate economic growth - rapid and sustained growth. We desperately need thousands of jobs, higher wages and more opportunities for business creation and profitability. When we consider some of the outrageous issues that face us in the political arena, the most recent being the affair involving billionaires, the only reason to explain why they have not caused outright pandemonium in this country is that too many Bahamians are pre-occupied with mere economic survival to pay sufficient attention to such issues.
Even crime is yielding to the desperate economic hustle taking up the attention of Bahamians. People want and need to pay their bills, and that is too difficult to do these days. So higher order issues take second, third and fourth place. So what else can we do to speed up this economy and bring prosperity to our citizens so that they might pay attention to other pressing issues? Let's continue the list.
Four, expand access to capital by liberalizing exchange control on the capital account. Access to capital for local businesses is horrendous. Rightly or wrongly, the traditional sources of funding, like commercial banks, are sour on lending to local businesses operating in this economy. That market now is brutal. They see us as too risky for their level of risk tolerance.
Non-traditional funding options are equally difficult with interest rates that are simply unaffordable in many instances. The answer to this capital access dilemma? Open the international capital access gate a little bit.
Give Bahamian businesses, especially those that are foreign currency earning, the ability to source capital from abroad. Let them do so through joint ventures, angel investors, venture capital or outright loans from lending institutions willing to advance the funds. Why? Because there is a greater abundance of money out there in the world, it's more affordable in many instances and its sources are more diversified and risk tolerant. If nothing else, it would introduce a level of competition to local funders that might make them more reasonable.
Five, reform our tax environment to make it more business friendly. Former U.S. President Ronald Regan once said, "The government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."
We should not be nickel and diming businesses for a few more dollars in fees and taxes. Business growth will lead to greater economic activity which will expand the base for government revenue. It is simply not business friendly when a small business person brings in $300 of supplies at an air or sea port only to be told that she has to get a customs broker to prepare an entry in order to complete her import. For the business, this means an additional $60.00 paid to the broker in addition to customs duty. And why has the government done this? So it can collect an additional $10 processing fee. It would be easier and better for the government to simply tax that business customs duty and the additional $10 as opposed to putting it through so much hassle, delay and cost.
In a robust economy, higher government taxes and fees discourage business. What do we think happens in a bad economy? Reducing the time, cost and headache of doing business in this nation can only bode well for encouraging the growth of our economy.
Six, go all out to rev up the entertainment feature of our economy. People across the globe, rich and poor want to entertain themselves. They and their families want to enjoy their wealth or get away for a time from their pain. They often seek to do this by travelling abroad and The Bahamas remains one of their dream destinations. However, truth be told, our entertainment value these days is sub-par. Oh, we have some bright spots like Atlantis and some of the Family Island spots that remain popular with some international visitors. But, we are not what we need to be for many more millions. We are high priced with limited offerings and low value customer service. Even we Bahamians are not excited about ourselves because we find our own home not a wow kind of place to enjoy. I tell you, if I were investing an additional $14 million a year in our culture, I would not do it in a one annual event carnival. I would do it in ongoing professionally produced shows that millions of tourists, and thousands of Bahamians, would be compelled to watch.
I would use it to populate our islands with great attractions like magnificent aquariums, gardens and artistically designed water and recreation spots. The point is that we should do things that make people who live here and visit here say that The Bahamas is the happiest little place on the planet.
Seven, we must speed up Crown land grant applications. Bahamians want to invest in their country. They want to generate new businesses. Some need land to do this but know that access to land through private means is unaffordable. They seek Crown land grants to bridge this gap. However, the Crown land grant application takes longer, in most instances, than making a diamond out of coal. And the process is too often tainted by political considerations.
We need to have proper assessments made of business proposals from people applying for Crown land and once deemed acceptable, let the approval loose. Give that striving Bahamian the land and set him loose to pursue his dreams. If they fail, then a lesson is learned; the land is still in the country. If they defraud, as some have done in getting the land for farming and doing something else with it, then let the law take its course. There is economic growth in the proper use of Crown grants in this country and we need to pay more attention to this.
This simple framework for growing our economy is not exhaustive. Others may have better suggestions. Don't get caught up arguing about what is wrong with mine. Give your suggestions. We need a robust economy and we need it now. We need to have a sharp focus on this. Thousands and thousands of frustrated and discouraged Bahamians desperately need it. We must do all in our power to get it, sooner rather than later. If we do not do so, the line at Club Luna will be a joke. What will not be a joke is the level of poverty and anger that follows.

o Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.

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Why the constitutional referendum should not fail

March 15, 2016

Prior to the close of 2014, the naysayers were already predicting doom and gloom in relation to the intended constitutional referendum on gender equality. Some opponents of a progressive move went as far as predicting that the referendum then scheduled for 2015 would fail and were encouraging Bahamians...

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Consent to disagree

March 14, 2016

"We shall make the basis of our state consent to disagree. Therein shall we ensure its deepest harmony." - Harold Laski

Everywhere we turn today, we observe an electorate that is indignant, disaffected, disappointed, disconnected and disengaged from the political process. Two weeks ago, in the Jamaican general elections, there was a record low turnout of voters (47.7 percent) who seemed to be disinterested in the process.
In that election, the Jamaica Labour Party won by a single seat over the previously ruling People's National Party (32 to 31 seats, respectively). The differential between the two major political parties was just 4,106 votes out of 868,812 votes cast between the two parties.
Recently in Ireland, we also observed a very close general election the official results of which, on election night, could best be described as inconclusive. In the United States, the race for the White House has descended to new depths in terms of the vitriolic venom that has been volleyed between the Republican and Democratic candidates.
Given the incessantly shifting sands surrounding the unpredictable global political topography, we would like to Consider this ... will the new normal for general election contests be characterized by compromise or confrontational brute force, otherwise referred to as dictatorship?

In defense of politics
In his book, "In Defense of Politics", Bernard Crick observed that, "Politics is a way of ruling divided societies without undue violence." By its very nature, politics engenders the art of the possible - an art which simultaneously recognizes the existence of divergent or disparate ideas, groups, interests and opinions. It represents an attempt to balance or compromise those divergent ideas, groups, interests and opinions.
The political model assumes compliance to generally accepted rules of engagement, normally enshrined in a national constitution or in established conventions, the objective of which is to achieve compromise in a manner that the majority of the citizens consider to be legitimate.
The advantage of politics is that this option encourages continuous dialogue, a sort of endless conversation in which we embrace disparate ideas from varying perspectives in an attempt to balance differing views against our own.
The downside is that politics can sometimes be a messy and confining activity, where issues are not fully settled. Often things become muddled, and participants have to recognize restraints where competing parties must settle for less than they want and participants are frequently disappointed.

Anti-politics: The authoritarian alternative
The antithesis of politics is authoritarian or tyrannical rule, anti-politics for short. The proponents of this approach attempt to govern by fiat or totalitarian dictates that result in thrashing everyone in the way.
Supporters of anti-politics discard the legitimacy of other interests or opinions, reject restraints, attempt to achieve total victories for themselves and their doctrines, suffer from a form of political narcissism and ultimately do not recognize the views of others.
Recently, we have witnessed the accelerated ascendency of anti-politics. Those who support anti-politics often desire to elect "outsiders" with little experience who delegitimize compromise and deal-making, invariably trampling the customs, conventions and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making. The proponents of anti-politics seek to achieve their attempts to gain power by any means necessary. They prefer power-grabbing rather than power-sharing.

Anti-politics and democracy
The anti-politics disposition contributes to a devastatingly downward spiraling effect, depreciating and disparaging democracy.
Supporters of anti-politics prefer to elect legislators with little or no political skills or experience which often leads to dysfunctional government, ultimately resulting in greater disdain or disgust with government which consequently leads to greater demand for outsiders.
Persons who support anti-politics reject the idea that politics is a limited activity, and often make unachievable promises and heighten unrealistic expectations. When those expectations are unfulfilled, voters become cynical, disgusted, disappointed and disconnected from politics, consequently embracing anti-politics even more adamantly.
Because the proponents of anti-politics refuse to compromise, legislative gridlock increases, resulting in political stagnation and an erosion of the public trust which further reduces the ability to compromise or build consensus.

Striking examples
Three striking examples that accentuate the ascendancy of anti-politics and the tyranny of the minority are:

1) The Tea Party
The rise of the Tea Party in the United States clearly demonstrates the debilitating the effects of anti-politics. The Tea Party is a political movement known for its ultraconservative positions which has become the mantra of the Republican Party.
The Tea Party focuses on a significant reduction in the size and scope of the government and advocates a national economy operating without government oversight. For example, its members have protested the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) stimulus programs, health care reform, including "Obamacare", and amnesty for illegal immigrants. They have also supported tighter border security legislation.
Because of these intransigent, ultraconservative positions of the Republicans, the United States Congress has experienced a degree of gridlock that has not been seen in recent history.

2) The United States Supreme Court nomination
Congressmen who have adopted an anti-politics attitude have maintained that they will not even consider the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia, in defiance of the American Constitution. Because of this intransigence, reasonable conversation has completely broken down.

3) Donald Trump
The spectacularly meteoric rise of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate is often described as that of an unconventional candidate who represents a break from politics as usual. However, he can more accurately be described as a Washington outsider who is the personification of anti-politics and whose approach to politics is characterized by vitriolic and venomous character assassination which prevents consensus-building, considered conversation of national issues.
A New York Times columnist recently observed that Trump is "the culmination of the trends we have been seeing in the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means. Trump's style is bashing and pummeling. Everyone who opposes or disagrees with him is an idiot, a moron, a loser."

Conclusion
In the current environment, politics is in retreat and anti-politics is on the ascendency. The solution to this rising phenomenon is to embrace our disparate and opposing viewpoints and seek workable, consensus-driven solutions to national issues.
It is time for us to reassess how we constructively interact with each other in the political arena. The concept of the nobility to consent to disagree is not new. The idea of political tolerance is encapsulated in the observation that is misattributed to the French political philosopher Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
If we are going to strengthen and sustain our democracy and find achievable, practical, desirable outcomes, we would be well-advised to remember the admonition of Harold Laski: "We shall make the basis of our state consent to disagreement. Therein shall we ensure its deepest harmony."
More importantly, if we are to discourage the disaffection, disengagement and disinterest amongst our Bahamian electorate that has manifested itself in Jamaican and Irish elections so far, we must foster the concept that the growth of our nation can be best shaped from the results that will emerge from this "consent to disagreement". Otherwise, we will be looking, at the very least, at a stagnant, stalemated state.
At the worst, we could find ourselves once again governed by the kind of authoritarian, tyrannical power-grabbing individuals from whom we thought we had freed ourselves almost a half-century ago.

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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Tourism and the question of value for money

March 11, 2016

With a March Easter this year, our geographical climatic advantage soon disappearing and the imminent approach of the softer and far more price sensitive eight-month summer, we have the added challenge this year of experiencing radical falls in the currency of two major source markets (Canada and Britain).
I would think that our tourism planners and policymakers are looking at creative ways of getting across that we are still able, as a destination, to offer value for money.
From all indications in various social media sites that our Canadian visitors and to a lesser extent British visitor are moderating their stays by either reducing the duration and/or skipping some of the 'luxuries' by perhaps not eating out in our restaurants so often, or eliminating customary car rental.
While it's a subject I have mentioned before, for most tourism businesses, it's a critical time to look at revenue control again, as just about every other successful trading entity does globally on a frequent basis.
In the case of restaurants, I remain convinced that by using more locally sourced products and offering a value-added menu for early diners it's quite feasible to maintain turnover and viability.
It's a known fact that more mature people prefer to dine earlier and if a price adjustment can tempt extra people to a particular restaurant, the owners and/or operators of that particular establishment stand a good chance of filling at least some tables two or three times during the same evening.
None of this is rocket science of course.
Many of our suppliers and distributors to the tourism industry also need to be woken from their apparent slumber of order taking and be far more proactive and innovative. For instance, by smart partnering with distributors to offer a wine of the month at a reduced price.
It is a realistic objective that added volume can make up for any overall loss of total revenue and along the way, can add the benefit of increasing brand awareness. Likewise with a particular food item or other commodity tendered on the same basis.
To monitor the take up response of my company's re-DISCOVER lunch and dinner initiative, we have included an annual competition that offers as a prize where two lucky people can win return flights to the island, seven nights' hotel accommodation, a rental car for one week and a submarine adventure.
The 2015 winners, a couple from Canada, arrive this week and we would like to place on record our sincere thanks to the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc, The Crane Residential Resort, Courtesy Rent-a-Car, Trimart Supermarkets and Atlantis Submarines for their incredible support in making this possible.
To qualify for entry in the competition, the user has to eat at one or more of the 60 plus participating restaurants.
From entries received so far it is encouraging that the average use is in fact three different restaurants, which, through our eyes, clearly demonstrate that our visitors are really looking for value-for-money.

o Adrian Loveridge spent 46 years in the tourism industry across 67 countries, as a travel agent, tour director, tour operator and for the last 24 years as a small hotel owner on Barbados. This column is published with permission from Caribbean News Now.

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The cashless society

March 11, 2016

If you read the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post or some of the world's other heavyweight newspapers, you may have seen in recent months, articles discussing the abolition of currency.

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Falling short: The journey of equal citizenship

March 09, 2016

Over the ensuing weeks Front Porch will sketch some of the narrative of the journey to equal citizenship and how we have fallen short. This is the first instalment.

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Revving up the Bahamian economy, pt.1

March 09, 2016

Hundreds lined up at Club Luna the other day seeking a job from a new island destination business. There is nothing surprising there.

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Pledge for parity: History has yet to be made

March 07, 2016

The celebration of International Women's Day (IWD) under the campaign theme #PledgeforParity takes on a new and more significant meaning this year as we find ourselves in the middle of a debate that has raged on for decades.

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Civility and compassion

March 06, 2016

Sometimes, when engaging in our favorite pastime of critiquing what's wrong with our society, our surroundings, our leaders and our world, we tend to get caught up in the use of rhetoric.

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DNA: Govt looking after foreigners over Bahamians

March 04, 2016

DEMOCRATIC National Alliance (DNA) Leader Branville McCartney yesterday slammed the Christie administration for the workforce deal it struck with The Pointe's Chinese developer, charging that the government "prefers" looking after the interests of foreigners than that of Bahamians.

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Bahamians need not apply

March 03, 2016

Foreign direct investment (FDI) projects have a wonderful way of excluding those they claim to want to help. These highly sought-after projects have become the sole and exclusive means of Bahamian development.

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Lessons from Jamaica's general election

March 02, 2016

The margin in Jamaica's recent general election was razor thin. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), led by Andrew Holness, has a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives over the People's National Party (PNP) led by outgoing Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller.

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THE BIG QUESTION: What would you do to solve the Cabbage Beach access problem

March 02, 2016

This week saw beach vendors angrily protesting over the closure of an access point to Cabbage Beach. What would YOU do to solve the problem of beach access on Paradise Island?

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If we want better we need to lead better

March 02, 2016

Imagine waking up each morning for the rest of the year and there is no crime. You heard me, no crime; no murder, rape, robberies, drug trafficking or the like.

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Hilda Francina Cooper: From Georgetown to glory

March 01, 2016

At 2:46 p.m. on February 23, 2016, an uninvited visitor graced the home of my parents and made its way to the room in which my maternal grandmother lay. Death came to take away the matriarch of our family while her children and grandchildren watched her in those final hours.

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A progressive liberal government, pt. 2

February 28, 2016

"The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself." - Daniel Patrick Moynihan

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Three signs that Haiti is being marginalized by mainstream media

February 26, 2016

Haiti is at a turning point right now. For the first time in Haiti's history, there are tools that we can use to reset the button on the one-sided narrative that mainstream media seems bent on using to shape Haiti's story - they are the Internet and social media.

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