Opinion

Challenge or opportunity State-owned Chinese investment in the Caribbean

March 25, 2015

Caribbean leaders and politicians, as they tend to do, ignore the long-term effects of unregulated Chinese investment projects. Their concerns hardly extend beyond their political terms and the short-term economic gain.
Chinese investment throughout the region is dominated by state-owned enterprises. Caribbean resources are increasingly owned by the Chinese state, and not, as they have historically been, simply by private investors.
For this reason, among others, our leaders' irresponsibility is detrimental to the long-term sustainability and independence of the region. Chinese state-owned enterprises own over $690 billion in investments abroad. Our region is but a small fraction of that staggering number.
Caribbean citizens, however, are increasingly curious about the real intention behind the sudden surge of investment by state-owned and private Chinese enterprises in their countries. A quiet, but necessary, rhetoric is slowly stirring among policymakers and Caribbean peoples that questions the vulnerability of our economies to economic and political control by our relatively new and dominant foreign investors.
Our politicians irresponsibly support and accept these investments with little to no care about their social and political effect on the citizens. The real threat posed by foreign investment is both in our politicians' irresponsibility to use investment from China accountability but also the international legal mechanisms that may exacerbate our citizen's vulnerability.
Despite these concerns, Caribbean leaders accept projects and investments, likely to gain political capital for their next elections, with little to no oversight or accountability to screen the environmental, industrial, social, cultural or political impact of these investments. Without such a procedure for appropriately screening these investments, industries throughout the region are, in many cases, suddenly almost entirely financially owned by foreign Chinese investors. The region is suddenly saddled with industries almost wholly controlled by Chinese enterprises.
In Canada, a screening procedure exists, whereby investments over a certain amount must be reviewed by the appropriate industry minister and must undergo a test to determine how beneficial they are to Canada.
Caribbean governments should consider such a useful tool. Without such a process our countries are exposed to significant foreign ownership of domestic economic industries. Even more worrisome are the international legal mechanisms that protect such foreign ownership and that can facilitate a type of control that limits domestic and regional sovereignty.
A deep-seated fear surrounding this issue stirs throughout the region. Newspapers, blogs, gossip, political discussions and parliaments in the region are right to express caution. The most concerning dimension of this issue, however, has yet to be addressed. The real threat posed by Chinese investment is not just our policymakers' unregulated acceptance of investments and projects or industrial vulnerabilities. The real threat to Caribbean state sovereignty is the legal mechanisms available to Chinese enterprises that directly and indirectly allow for political and economic control over our industries and over our governments.
This legal mechanism is popularly referred to as Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), an integral clause of bilateral investment treaties (BITs). These treaties are negotiated between countries that seek increased reciprocal investment. ISDS allows a corporation to sue a country's government directly in an international tribunal that is removed from that country's own domestic courts, for public policies that may affect the investor's economic interests. That tribunal's decision is final, without appeal and can be enforced in domestic courts around the world.
In many respects, this mechanism can guarantee rights to investors and encourage positive investment. However, if leaders irresponsibly accept those investments, then a country may be subject to a procedure that places their economy at a disadvantage.
For example, imagine that countries A and B negotiate a BIT and that an investor from country A invests in a hotel project in country B. Further imagine that a labour union in the hotel industry in country B initiates a strike and that country B legislates changes to the industry. This change accommodates the demands of the labour union but in some way causes harm to country A's investor's profits in the hotel project. The investor now has grounds to sue country B in an international tribunal court whose judgment can be confidential, expensive to country B and result in a judgment against the state that will be paid by country B's taxpayers.
ISDS can be dangerous to a country's sovereignty. ISDS can be particularly dangerous to developing countries with irresponsible leaders. It can be ever more particularly dangerous to developing countries whose leaders fail to regulate incoming foreign investments to benefit their economies and potential investors.
There are five BITs signed between China and major Caribbean countries: The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. This is no coincidence.
In The Bahamas alone, state-owned Chinese enterprises finance a multi-billion dollar hotel, own a major hotel, are in talks to purchase the country's national airline, propose to reconstruct its downtown core and propose to finance the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, the state's only electricity company. In other words, Chinese investment in The Bahamas targets the country's tourism industry, which accounts for over 60 percent of its GDP and for even more jobs. Bahamian leaders continue irresponsibly to accept Chinese investment projects with no proper screening procedure and no real evaluation of the societal effects of an industry's foreign ownership and on their citizens' jobs.
On these bare facts, this is particularly worrisome not just for Bahamian policymakers but also for employees in the hotel industry. The Bahamas is particularly vulnerable to Chinese investment due to ISDS provisions in its negotiated BIT with China. When The Bahamas' BIT with China, signed in 2010, enters into force, Chinese investors will be able to directly sue the country for any changes in the tourism industry that affect their investments.
In Namibia, for example, Chinese investors signed a BIT with the government before their investments into the country began. Chinese investment throughout the world targets developing countries and many of those countries' leaders are blindly accepting investments with little to no regard for their long-term effects.
Imagine this hypothetical, but possible, example: The Bahamas legislates a change to its tourism industry that affects profits in Chinese-sponsored projects. The Chinese enterprise initiates a claim against the Bahamian government for this change in an international arbitral tribunal that awards the enterprise damages for $50 million. Not only will The Bahamas pay a $50 million bill that will be footed by its taxpayers and pay for costly litigation, it will have little to no choice but to revise its legislation to appease the Chinese investors in an effort to retain its credibility as an investment destination. The Bahamas is here sued for the exercise of its sovereignty and must accordingly limit it.
It cannot legislate freely and Bahamian citizens will see their taxes redirected to pay both the litigation and damages, if enforced. The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is one of the only institutions in the region well acquainted with this issue. It has consistently acted prudently in addressing it.
This situation is not uncommon throughout the Caribbean region with countries facing a similar fate. A similar pattern is already occurring through developing regions. The only solution to this terrifying threat is for Caribbean leaders, both domestically and regionally, to implement necessary and measured regulations to screen investments and assure that they, and their citizens, do not become victims to political control through economic control by the Chinese state.
These hypothetical situations are yet to occur but are far from impossible. Criticisms of ISDS throughout North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia are increasing because of the reality of its threat and its continued likelihood. Our leaders should turn their eye beyond their political terms to address this issue now. We face a long-term problem that will be exacerbated only to satisfy short-term gains that boost our economies.
We must be cautious, we must be measured and we must be prudent. Our leaders have yet to exhibit these qualities as it relates to this issue.

o Marvin Coleby is a Bahamian law student at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. This article is published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Old soldiers never die

March 24, 2015

o First published Tuesday, October 28, 2014
The phrase "old soldiers never die, they just fade away" comes from an old army ballad which was popular with British soldiers during World War I. The lyrics, as recorded by Eric Partridge, read: "Old soldiers never die, Never die, never die. Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away. Old soldiers never die, Never die, never die. Old soldiers never die, young ones wish they would."
Earlier versions of this military song could be construed as complaints from soldiers on their living conditions in the barracks with intrinsic humor which poked fun at army life and career soldiers. However, the phrase gained much prominence and popularity after it was quoted by Douglas MacArthur - one of the most decorated and revered soldiers in American history - in a farewell address before a joint session of the U.S. Congress on April 19, 1951. This piece looks at this popular saying using the word "soldier" figuratively to represent the Bahamian patriots in the generations to which they belong within the Bahamian context and the socio-political landscape that is shaping up rapidly before our very eyes.

The anatomy of a soldier
The members of the armed forces of any nation are vital in the protection and preservation of the liberties of the people of that country. They are expected to be individuals of integrity and impeccable character, which are prerequisites in the upholding of the rule of law. These individuals are held to a high standard in their deportment and dealings with people in our society. Additionally, we expect them to exude physical discipline, perseverance and mental toughness in order to effectively discharge their duties.
The challenge faced by most old soldiers is that having been at the top of their game for so long and having built their lives around their craft, they have to confront the reality of departure and having to leave the scene to pave the way for the younger soldiers. While it is a known fact that even the best soldiers will eventually have to retire and confront their mortality, they struggle to come to terms with the inevitable decline in their fame, prominence and relevance with the passage of time. It is a difficult position that requires fortitude and great character but one which we must all ultimately reach in our lives; hence the importance of building a good legacy. The younger soldiers for their part are often anxious to take on the reins of power but spend little time training and preparing for the roles they long for. The song inherently highlights the impatience and enthusiasm of young soldiers as they wish that their older counterparts hurry off the scene. Alas, this script is played over with different casts from generation to generation in our country.

The Bahamian soldiers
It is common practice for civilian Bahamians to refer to one another as soldiers not because they are a part of the armed forces, but they do so in recognition of the fighting and determined spirit of the average Bahamian. We are built to survive, and the zeal to conquer every challenge we face is part of our makeup as a people. The Bahamian soldiers are diverse in terms of gender, backgrounds, fields, professions, political divides and race albeit we all share a common loftier goal.
The expectation of the Bahamian people is that the people that lead us in the government as well as the public and private sectors have and display the qualities of a true soldier. We expect them to have courage with empathy, self-pride with humility, be respectable but respectful and speak but have the wisdom to listen. The standards we hold them to do not seem to be unreasonable or unrealistic of people that have embraced the call to serve.

The young and old soldiers
The last line of the lyrics of the referenced army song could be interpreted in a number of ways. The story of combats and statistics on casualties of wars will often show that young men and women determined to serve their nations and die for a worthy cause have been massacred on the battlefield.
There is indeed great honor in this sacrifice, and the world will forever be indebted to them for risking their lives daily so that we may keep ours.
The role of the older servicemen and women in preparing and guiding the willing youth of this nation as they embark on their voyage of service is extremely important. Having been through the wars and being familiar with the perils of the battlefield, they have a duty to preserve the army for future battles as they journey to their twilight years.
While old soldiers never die but just fade away, what is the destiny of the young soldiers? Will the young soldiers be allowed to die figuratively speaking? In other words, while casualties in the battlefield of politics, public service, religion and commerce are inevitable, the old soldiers should not abandon their role to guide, mentor, teach and protect where necessary the young soldiers with minimal experience.
George McGovern said it best when he stated: "I'm fed up to the ears of old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in." For the sake of our country's future, young soldiers should not be deployed to wars that are senseless or designed to lead to their demise, thereby crushing their hopes and aspirations.

A national debate on the generations
There is a common commentary all across our archipelago of islands on the divide and disparity between the new generation and old generation. This discourse focuses on the knowledge, wisdom, ethics, discipline, commitment, loyalty and strength of both generations.
It is not unusual to hear words such as "they don't make them like that anymore" suggesting that the new generation lacks the fundamentals of their ancestors and predecessors. The discussion sometimes omits the reality that a person's age does not make him or her a part of a new generation; the individual's ideology does. An often ignored part of this discussion is also the difference in mind-set and information available to the generations.
Interestingly, the older generation of today were also at odds with their predecessors and had fundamental disagreements on how they felt things should be done. The ultimate goal should be the betterment and improvement of the status quo in the interest of our commonwealth. Change is a prerequisite if we are to experience continuous progress in our nation; hence, change is a perpetual process requiring real agents of change in every generation.
As Albert Einstein rightly stated, "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". While approaches and methodologies adopted to enable our nations' progress may differ in an information age which features technology and unparalleled innovation, personalities and egos must not supersede the national interest. We must keep our eyes on the prize for a common loftier goal.
The legacy of the old soldiers as they fade away will not be defined solely by their exploits or victories on the battlefield but also by the condition or state in which they left the army. Was the army better upon their departure when compared with their enrollment?

The swan song of the old soldiers
As MacArthur addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress, he sought to chronicle his service to the American people and to defend his position in disagreeing with President Truman. The records suggest that the speech was well received and was indeed a masterpiece as it was reported that he was interrupted by 50 ovations.
The five star general who stated in his memoir, Reminiscences, that he "learned to ride and shoot even before he could read or write--indeed, almost before he could walk and talk" ended his famous speech by saying:
"I am closing my 52 years of military service. When I joined the army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that 'old soldiers never die, they just fade away'. And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty."
As the old soldiers of The Bahamas pass the baton to their successors and the new generation of leaders, will they leave enough young soldiers on the battlefield to carry on with the fight? Will the old soldiers fade away with dignity and serve as statesmen and stateswomen while our country benefits from their insights and wisdom or will they leave a weak army with few wounded young soldiers and discredited veterans behind? As for the younger soldiers, have they learned from the old soldiers what to do and what not to do?

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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Education policy: The transformational potential

March 20, 2015

As a child, impetuous and rebellious, Winston Churchill suffered from a severe speech impediment and had a poor academic record in school. His life was apparently a trajectory of disparate events. However, those deficiencies and misfortunes were easily overcome by the strength of his character and the underpinnings of an enabling environment.
In a speech at Harvard University in 1943, the late British wartime prime minister and 1953 Literature Nobel Prize winner indulged his audience by promulgating the vision that empires of the future would be empires of the mind. By published account, our own Sir Arthur Lewis, a development economist, also identified human capital as the main determinant of economic performance; a key to economic development.
A flourishing civil society requires an enabling environment - laws and policies that allow, favor and mainstream a socially responsible private sector and education system. Such an environment stimulates local initiative and draws inward investment, both of which can have rapid and dramatic effects on employment and human resource development. Written in stone and plastered on permanent mental billboards, a holistic education (touched by character) is relished as a fundamental prerequisite for a civil society and for economic efficiency.
As most developed and emerging economies have proven, economic development depends to a large extent on the four Ts: talent, technology, tolerance and thinking (mentality). The fact that we have no mineral or natural resources to buoy our growth outlook in St. Lucia, the economic value that we strive to create can only be achieved by supercharging our talent machines and going against the unspoken assumptions of education policy.
With laudable regularity, our political and educational leaders take pride in emphasizing the importance of good schools and the significance of early childhood education. But is St. Lucia's system of education and training adequate in the new global environment? Are we shaping up by producing the right combination talent in preparation for what the future proclaims as a complete transformation of motive rather than a straightforward substitution of activity?
Everywhere you turn today, the new buzzword is "talent" intensive, rather than "labor" or "capital" intensive. Large parts of industries are becoming "knowledge-based" and "service oriented", rendering old economic characterizations such as "manufacturing and industrial centers" obsolete. Even the literature on traditional economic sectors such as primary, secondary and tertiary have been revised to include "quaternary" and "quinary" sectors. Activities associated with the quaternary sector include scientific research, information technology and culture. Quinary is about the highest levels of decision making in the society from universities to think tanks.
By just looking at the available Caribbean labor statistics, it is clear that those without the benefit of a good practical education have fewer chances on the region's capricious labor markets. The corollary is that opportunities for economic advancement and social equality depend on the nature and relevance of the technical, conceptual and human skills that one has acquired through professional training.
But how and what should we be teaching our kids in modern classrooms? Traditionally, education has relied heavily on texts and lectures with precious little emphasis on lateral and critical thinking. The right approach in the 21st century should be collateral learning and contextualized training that make extensive use of case studies, business games and management exercises.
Such role-plays invariably indulge the minds of our kids and help them think about old problems in new ways. It favors learning by doing rather than learning by lecture and reading. It indicates a preference for experiential and active learning rather than cognitive or reflective learning. Our children need to engage in complex interactions that require a high level of judgment, and rethink ideas that they had not questioned before. Employing such inductive methods might even help rake up a few geniuses from obscurity.
My experience as a lecturer tells me that the important thing in tailoring education to an individual's brain is to let the individual do the tailoring. Didn't someone say that the true adventure is in our heads, and if it's not there, then it can't be found anywhere else? Countries such as Finland and South Korea have demonstrated time and again that it's not necessarily technical knowledge that is the key to competitive advantage, but imagination and lateral thinking.
The bottom line is that we need to readjust our national educational priorities. If we are to develop an economy that actually designs, builds and sells stuff, we'll need to produce more scientists and engineers in the future. Moving forward, our primary emphasis should be on the STEM-related fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Out of necessity, let's rise to the challenge and encourage our students to take degrees in those fields.
The process of preparing and equipping our kids for the future starts at the elementary and primary school levels. The raw materials of innovation are technical skills, insights and the commitment of teams and individuals. From an early age, our school system should be imparting innovation-related soft skills such as team building and compensation strategies, and other essential project and work-related skills like time management, intercultural competence and conflict resolution.
If St. Lucia is to position itself educationally and economically to take advantage of the opportunities that this new world order presents, new approaches will have to be explored and more resources invested. This will include upgrading Sir Arthur Lewis Community College into a full- fledged university.
Another issue which we'll have to tackle head-on is that of foreign language instruction. In an increasingly globalized world, why aren't we exposing ours kids to other languages right from the kindergarten level? Why should we have to wait until secondary school to commence foreign language instruction? That makes no sense to me. We are depriving our kids of an opportunity to compete globally. Furthermore, research has shown that bilinguals tend to be more creative thinkers than those who speak one language. Exposing children to a second language from early may actually pique their intellectual curiosity in terms of foreign cultures and perspectives, and thus broaden their professional horizons.
Education can be improved by context and adapted to our national needs. It's perhaps an opportune time to commission more studies to shed some more light on the correlative or causal relationship between our own education system and economic performance. In an effort to solidify our understanding and address key issues in the debate on education policy, research would help us determine the rightful roles of national agencies and the private sector in educational development in St. Lucia.
Total quality management is definitely a concept we should be looking at in order to improve standards and deliver high-quality graduates at every level of the education system. This can be achieved by setting rigid curriculum standards, fostering a culture of educational governance and remodelling our assessment mechanisms. At the same time, it's imperative that the education ministry embarks on a quest to employ the best teachers and get the best out of them.
We are reminded time and again that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. Like successful economies already do, only the best trained teachers should staff infant and primary schools considering that this is a crucial developmental stage in forming and shaping our kids for the future. An unfortunate wrong start in the system can have disastrous effects on a child's development.
These bold changes that I am proposing can only be pursued and brought to fruition through educational leadership and commitment.
Education is an investment in human capital that pays off in terms of higher productivity, economic engagement and even civic participation and good health. A democracy needs an educated and informed people otherwise it will be starved of vibrancy. When citizens lack the educational background to understand the increasing complexity of many social and economic issues, the result is widespread corruption, governmental complacency and eroding social capital.
Democracy is not a delivery system and requires active citizen involvement. Perhaps more political education and community activism may be one way to stir the daydreamers and navel-gazers out of their civic lethargy.

o Clement Wulf-Soulage is a management economist, author and former university lecturer. He lived and lectured in Germany for 17 years and writes and delivers commentaries on globalization, economic development, social advancement and education policy. Send comments to clementwulf@hotmail.com. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Democracy and good governance in the Caribbean: A retrospective analysis

March 20, 2015

In the light of recent manifestations and practices, divergent expressions of democracy and governance in the Caribbean, I am propelled to revisit my consultant's report to the Organization of American States Unit for the Promotion of Democracy which was submitted in March 1999 as a working document on a program of support for democracy and good governance in the Caribbean.
In that report, an extensive review of reports, recommendations and pronouncements emanating from Caribbean heads of government and their respective ministries, the Organization of American States (OAS), the OAS Summit of the Americans, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the United Nations agencies, the CARICOM/OAS Secretariats, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), various regional and international agencies, as well as contributions from national, regional and international scholars was undertaken.
Emanating from the above, a program of support for democracy and good governance was elucidated, which included the following areas each with relevant background information, justification, concrete proposals, objectives and cost estimates covering a four-year implementation period under the following headings:
o Education for democracy (civic education)
o Improvement of the justice system
o Legislative drafting
o Decentralization, local government and citizen participation
o Youth leadership programs and democracy
o Strengthening electoral processes
o Caribbean studies on democracy and governance
o Caribbean/Latin American dialogue
o Caribbean/Latin American Parliaments.
This program was to be implemented through OAS inter-departmental programs, with support from external agencies, some of which had manifested support for specific areas outlined in the report. For example, the British government funded a program on legislative drafting that was conducted for some time at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.
The report states that it is recognized that the English-speaking Caribbean countries have for many years been well known for their deep-rooted practice of democratic governance and a parliamentary system of government. Nevertheless, it is noted that as a result of various influences and the inherent vulnerability of small states, the threats to the very fabric of Caribbean democracies were beginning to manifest themselves.
It further states that the adverse effects of the increasing arms and drug trafficking and money laundering; the increase burden being placed on the judicial system which is in need of considerable improvement and modernization; the challenges posed by the realities of trade liberalization and globalization, with the resultant loss of special trading arrangements and the limited job market, especially for the young; the weakening of Caribbean economies reflected in a decline in economic growth, living standards and real wages; are all, in different ways, creating a strain on democratic institutions and the maintenance of good governance, and could seriously affect the very security of small island states.
To the above may be added the increasing external forces leveraged by countries from outside the region seeking their geopolitical interests, and the absorption of various forms of social and economic assistance there from particularly at election time. Further, the lack of transparency and accountability as regards financial contributions to political parties from external and local sources are areas that require attention.
The above is a summation of various reports and pronouncements by eminent scholars prominent among which is Sir Shridiath Ramphal in The West Indian Commission report of 1992, which was mandated by the Caribbean heads of government, where he states good governance was under threat that, "In the West Indies today there is considerable disquiet that the threats to good governance are increasing fast", and he made reference to this situation as "...a warning signal that cannot be ignored".
It is nevertheless refreshing that the imperatives of democracy and good governance have been enshrined in The Charter of Civil Society for the Caribbean, which was approved by Caribbean governments in 1998, where various articles of the charter emphasize democracy and governance as being fundamental to Caribbean societies in both the private and public sectors. Unfortunately, this charter is little known in those sectors in the region and indeed in our schools and institutions.
In this paper, I focus on a selection of a few areas that, to my mind, require urgent attention, for they are fundamental to the free expression of the people of the Caribbean in exercising their democratic right in the selection of their government.
My report of 1999 placed great emphasis on strengthening the electoral procedure through the modernization and computerization of the process in order to ensure that all citizens who are eligible to vote can exercise that right in free and fair elections. It called for an improvement in the management and administrative system requiring a registration of eligible voters, the use of identification cards and a continuous registration process linked with a civil registry.
In this regard, the report recommended the establishment of an Association of Caribbean Electoral Organizations (ACEO) that would give ferment to a harmonization of the electoral process in the Caribbean and our hemisphere and the formulation of basic principles and procedures that would apply to our region as a whole with due regard to legal systems.
Having been head of OAS observation missions in two countries and a member of a team in one, it is evident that the fundamentals of the electoral process are not being observed in some countries in the Caribbean, to the extent that, in spite of repeated recommendations from observation missions, there continue to be obvious flaws in the practice and conduct of elections at the national as well as sub-regional levels.
In the absence of monitoring and follow up by the people, governments and observer institutions (regional and international) to recommendations made, it is likely that this situation will continue to recur at every election. Innovative and what may be described as conspicuous manifestations to achieve survival of party in power have become manifest in some countries.
I posit that there is need for a Caribbean institution that would be the barometer of democracy and governance practices, delegated inter alia to the study of Caribbean democracy and governance and the watchdog/rudder of best practices in this regard. Comparable institutions and think-tanks of international repute are mentioned in my report.
Perhaps the University of the West Indies through its relevant departments may wish to engage in this discipline, where faculty and students would be engaged in scholarly exercises directed at comparative studies, defining strengths and weaknesses in our systems of governance as they relate to our disparate constitutions, while contributing to a commonality of purpose in the peace, security and development of our Caribbean states.
It has become evident that there is a need for a further examination of the other eight subject areas dealt with in my working document, their role in strengthening our democracies and governance. It would be useful to revisit and evaluate progress made in the context of implementation of recommendations and their relevance today in the furtherance of the strengthening of the culture of democracy and good governance in the Caribbean.

o Dr. Joseph E. Edmunds is a former senator, government of St. Lucia; senior research fellow, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad; ambassador of St. Lucia to the U.N., OAS, and U.S.; member of the executive board of UNESCO; head of electoral missions of the OAS; consultant to the OAS on democracy and governance; and, senior adviser, The Edmunds Group International. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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DPM Davis should immediately resign or be dismissed

March 18, 2015

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works and Urban Development Philip Brave Davis should resign from the Cabinet or be immediately dismissed by the prime minister in regard to the former misleading the House of Assembly over the matter of a contractor's failure to possess insurance for building a dormitory at BAMSI gutted by fire...

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A letter to my children

March 17, 2015

The events of the last week in our nation and across the globe provided several options for a Bahamian writer. In the end, the topics were narrowed down to three and subsequently to the one which is the subject of this article.
The inspiration for this piece was born out of reflections on the accounts of our national treasures both living and dead, the tales of those who came before us, the experiences of this writer and the predicament that future generations of Bahamians, including my children, must face.
The generic nature of the title of this article is intentional to allow for application by Bahamian parents and residents across our archipelago of islands. The objective of this note will have been achieved if Bahamian parents will not only read it but also encourage their children to consider the content as they navigate their way through an evolving world with minimal tolerance for errors.

My Dear Child,
It is with much love, joy and a heavy heart that I write you this note. You might ask how can I be both happy and grieved at the same time. Well, my beloved, it is because while I am so excited about your future and potential, I am also mindful that the world in which you grow up is one that will be based on the survival of the fittest and one which devours the weak. Hence, you must be strong and must consider that which I have written in this love note seriously as you journey through life.
You need not be told or reminded of the beauty of the country of your birth, the land you inherited from your ancestors - for it is indeed available for your eyes to behold. Our forefathers and foremothers made sacrifices and planted the proverbial trees so that we can enjoy the shade they provide. Please do not take the liberties and opportunities available for granted as to do so will be to dishonor their legacy. In the words of a popular African proverb: Child, you must remember the child of whom you are and never forget from whence you came, no matter where life takes you.
My generation did not have to fight for political independence; we owe gratitude to our founding fathers and mothers who helped us achieve majority rule and independence. However, my generation and most likely yours, as well, have different battles on our hands.
We have to fight for inclusion and denounce marginalization. We must emphasize economic empowerment in the first instance, and we must bring about economic independence in the second for the majority of our people. Do not be fooled. While the government has a role to play through its policies, it is our duty as a people to chart our own course in this regard.
Make no mistake, my love, there are no short-cuts to success; we must educate ourselves, develop our skill sets and broaden our minds to achieve this goal.
You have heard it over and over again that knowledge is power. Never underestimate the value of a good education and the wisdom of applying yourself to the accumulation of knowledge. Be careful not to be discouraged by the recount of my struggles, the tales of marginalization and the often referenced dilemma of the untapped and underused talent of the Bahamian youth.
Keep striving and keep pushing until you achieve your objectives. As you develop yourself academically and professionally, please remember to acquire some common sense which is sometimes uncommon. I must also remind you that the saying 'How you dress is how you are addressed' will never become out of date. In addition to this, you must respect yourself and others, according them the courtesies that are due to them.
Studies have shown that we have been experiencing a brain drain as a nation for years. I appeal to you to do your best to stem this trend and not become a statistic in this vein. By all means take advantage of the opportunity to study and work abroad; make good friends and acquaintances with individuals of other cultures and nationalities, for indeed the world is a much bigger place than The Bahamas.
However, I implore you to consider coming back to give back to the country where your naval string is buried by using your international experience and exposure for the betterment of our commonwealth.
I must impress upon you that technology is a double-edged sword. There is no doubt that advancement in technology has been good for commerce and our world as we have achieved things that could only be imagined just decades ago. However, technology brings its own challenges, perils and pain when not used or deployed appropriately.
Please govern yourself accordingly and use the Internet responsibly, knowing that any information you place on the World Wide Web could impact your life forever. I beg you, my child, to be careful and guard your reputation as you use technology in daily life.
Do not let the convenience of information technology and electronic gadgets rob you of the beauty of a good conversation and deprive you of valuable communication skills as well as the ability to socialize with your fellow human beings. Be careful not to allow your written and spoken English to degenerate due to your familiarization with abbreviations used in social media and instant messaging.
It is imperative that you focus on spirituality rather than religion, for the latter has been known to divide rather than unite. Place your emphasis on faith which is able to keep you going in challenging times and keep you grounded in spite of your success.
Master the arts of self control, restraint and dispute resolution in your dealings as you make your voyage through life. Your strength does not reside in your fists, any words spoken in spite or anger and not in any weapons you may possess. Your strength lies in your character, attitude and composure in hostile circumstances. Let the following words of the scriptures guide you: "In silence and confidence shall lie your strength".
I know that the mudslinging and dirty nature of Bahamian politics and public life can be heartbreaking sometimes. I too, like many Bahamians, detest the character assassinations and cruelty that accompany one's involvement in public life. Please do not let this prevent you from serving your country and your people, for we all share a common loftier goal.
Get involved in building our nation and serving our Commonwealth, knowing that you may have to walk alone; you may be persecuted but serve nevertheless, knowing that you work not for personal glory but in the national interest. However, your mantra must be one that ensures that your priorities are right. It must be God, family, then country.
In the end, my child, there are and will never be substitutes for integrity, humility, honesty and hard work; do not let anyone tell you otherwise. There remains dignity in labor and the Bible attests to this by stating that by the sweat of man's brow shall he eat. There are no shortcuts to success.
Honor your mother and father mother always, for God will surely reward you. The family bond is everlasting. In the end, family is all you have. Guard this relation sacredly.
There is so much I would like to say to you, but I understand that your experiences will fill in the gaps I leave behind. I wish to end with the lyrics of the song "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" which was made popular by the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "The Sound of Music" and written by Oscar Hammerstein II:

Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
Till you find your dream.

Finally, do not consider my generation or those ahead of me a failure if there are things left undone, or if some quit along the way or if some squander opportunities. You ought to know that to everything there is a season and one plants while another waters.
In this sense, if you find your calling, there will always be work for you to do and you can build upon the work of those that have gone before you. One thing is certain, the Bahamian dream is achievable and within reach if you pursue it knowing that pursuit is the evidence of desire.

With love, Mommy

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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George Markantonis - the quintessential hotelier

March 15, 2015

"Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude." - Ralf Marston

Every so often, The Bahamas is blessed by the sojourn of a non-national whose skills and experience personify excellence and rise to the extraordinary. A naturally gregarious, engaging and perennially accessible hospitality executive, George Markantonis departed The Bahamas yesterday after nine and a half years as the president and managing director of Atlantis to become the president and chief operating officer of The Venetian, The Palazzo and The Sands Expo Centre, all part of the Las Vegas Sands Group.
As he assumes his new assignment, we would like to Consider This... What will George Markantonis' legacy represent following his tenure as the chief executive of Atlantis?

Quintessential hotelier
Born in Harare, Zimbabwe of Greek heritage, George Markantonis began his hospitality career in Johannesburg, South Africa, as a front desk agent at the Carlton Hotel, an international flagship of Westin Hotels and Resorts.
He transferred to the United States in 1985 to the Westin Galleria Hotel in Dallas, Texas, as convention sales manager. Over the next four years, he was assigned to Westin Hotels in El Paso, Texas; Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Toronto, Canada in various middle management capacities.
In 1989, Markantonis was appointed to the Westin Galleria and the Westin Oaks Hotels in Houston, and subsequently became the director of operations for both properties. He joined Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada in September 1995 and was appointed to senior vice president of hotel operations in February, 2000.
In March, 2004, Markantonis was appointed the chief executive officer of Kerzner International's Atlantis, The Palm, a 125 acre, 1,500 room mega water resort in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
One year later, he became president and managing director of Kerzner International Bahamas Limited. In that capacity, he had oversight of the seven hotels at Atlantis, which, at that time, comprised 4,000 rooms, a 180-acre Aquaventure water park, island real estate developments and all other businesses spread over Kerzner International's 550 acre world-class resort.
In January 2011, Markantonis was named "Hotelier of The Year" at the 14th Cacique Awards in Nassau, Bahamas and in January 2014 was awarded the "Caribbean Hotelier of the Year".
In a conversation with Markantonis last week, he described Atlantis as "an unbelievable, multi-dimensional property with multiple revenue streams".
When he arrived at Atlantis, there were almost 125 expatriates on staff. Today, there are 70 expatriates, with an employee complement of almost 8,000, making Atlantis the largest employer in The Bahamas, after the government.
Markantonis is proud of the Bahamians who have risen to top executive positions during his tenure, most recently Stuart Bowe, who will become a senior vice-president and general manager of hotel operations, overseeing the three phase 1 and 2 tower properties.
Gerard Moss, another Bahamian, is today the senior vice president of human resources at the company's property in Dubai. The Paradise Island property also has a Bahamian, Bernard Gay, who worked in the cruise industry and was recruited from abroad, as its chief information officer heading the Information Technology Department at Atlantis.
Markantonis believes that to succeed in the hospitality industry "it is very important for young Bahamians to try and obtain international hospitality experience and, although some Bahamians have an aversion to this, it is imperative for their future".

Major challenges
During his tenure at Atlantis, Markantonis recalls several critical challenges. One such challenge was coming to terms with the untimely death of Butch Kerzner, the son of Atlantis' visionary founder, Sir Sol Kerzner. Another was confronting the devastating challenges arising from the worldwide recession that started in 2008, and which resulted in the termination of 800 employees - "undoubtedly one of the most gut-wrenching encounters that I experienced during my tenure".
Another ongoing challenge that the resort faces is the quality of the entry level workforce, who often lack the basic skill sets required by the ever-increasing demands of a world class resort.
Markantonis remarked that "it is always challenging to navigate this 'aircraft carrier' through turbulent waters".

Major achievements
Markantonis is very pleased with the resort's growth in employment which coincided with the completion of Phase III of Atlantis, a project that he participated in, along with the attendant revenue streams that were added upon its completion.
He is very proud of the team success of several innovative initiatives, including special events that were introduced. These include renowned artists featured in star-studded concerts and sporting events, such as the Battle4Atlantis, which has become the largest and most successful basketball tournament in this hemisphere.
Markantonis remarked that "live concerts at Atlantis have greatly facilitated our objective of putting heads in beds. There are tremendous benefits in featuring concerts with prominent headliners, although the revenue gleaned from such concerts is not as lucrative as the high end gamblers who travel to The Bahamas and bring their children and grandchildren with them to attend those concerts. We are always looking to find creative, new ways of getting casino players here."

Important developments
Markantonis applauded the recently enacted gaming legislation that has helped to increase the company's global competitiveness.
He is also extremely pleased by the tremendous improvements at the Lynden Pindling International Airport, which, prior to its upgrade, was quite embarrassing for Bahamians and tourists visiting The Bahamas.
Markantonis also commented that "Atlantis has always enjoyed a tremendously positive and cooperative relationship with successive governments. We don't engage the government in the press and the government has always worked with Atlantis in resolving issues that exist."

Continuous improvement
Atlantis is always finding new ways to continuously improve its product. Markantonis noted that "we have Atlantis University classes always on-going to further train our employees. In addition, our properties are constantly undergoing physical upgrades, and we continuously review, revise and expand our culinary options."
Paul Burke will succeed Markantonis as president and managing director of Atlantis.

Conclusion
In short, Markantonis is very pleased that he has "played a positive role in making the Atlantis brand bigger and better, which has also been good for The Bahamas."
As he leaves The Bahamas, George Markantonis can depart with the full confidence that he has left The Bahamas a far better place that he encountered when he first arrived here.
Undoubtedly, the realization of Sir Sol's vision of creating the world-class destination that Atlantis has become is in great measure the result of the gallant efforts and attitude of excellence of George Markantonis - the quintessential hotelier.
Bon voyage and au revoir, George!

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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Trends, issues and challenges facing Caribbean small island developing states

March 13, 2015

On a daily basis we read many good articles about issues in the Caribbean. In this first article we make an inventory of the trends we think Caribbean people have to watch, follow and make policy on. Why? Because these trends might have a significant impact on your income, job, health and life if you live on a Caribbean island.
The order is random and we discuss them here one by one. Know that they can all work simultaneously in the Caribbean. And they don't necessarily start in the Caribbean either: in many cases these trends are a variation of a global trend. In later articles this month we will elaborate on these trends.

Climate change
For many years it has been known that the sea level is rising. For example, the World Heritage Site Willemstad in Curacao in a few years will confront the enviable consequences if no measures are taken. Other related issues are trends of hurricanes, the extreme periods of dryness, followed by extreme rainfall. The United Nations for many years has worked to create awareness on these issues. Despite this, only a few island governments and NGOs are addressing the issue of climate change.

Oil prices
From nature we extract precious minerals and fuel for our Caribbean economies. But guess what: the prices have dropped from above $100 dollars a year ago to around half that price for a barrel of oil. This decline affects the Caribbean directly, as most Caribbean islands consume oil. The incomes of the oil producing states will be affected directly; the resource curse continues.
Also some Caribbean islands are dependent on foreign direct investment (FDI) and tourist arrivals from Russia and Venezuela, which at a lower oil price have trouble balancing their budgets. On top of that, the future of the Venezuelan PetroCaribe program remains uncertain.
China is one of the main importers of oil. The Chinese political and economic involvement in the world and in the Caribbean is relatively new and unknown but a potential game changer. The Chinese government sponsors big projects in the Caribbean such as hospitals, hotels, bridges, channels and roads and FDI from China is an important factor on the balance of payments of the Caribbean.
But the way of doing business for China is different from the west and we do not know what the long-term effects will be. It is not only China getting more active in the Caribbean but also India and Russia.

Poverty
Despite increasing FDI and growing tourism sectors, poverty has been an issue on Caribbean islands. The global trend of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is also reflected on the islands. With poverty there are high levels of youth unemployment and some people unable to acquire the right skills to earn a living in the economies of the islands.

Crime, drugs
With high levels of unemployment and increasing poverty amongst some neighborhoods in Caribbean islands comes drug trafficking. This is a fertile soil for transnational crime and gangs.

Financial markets
Many islands have diversified their economy by getting involved in the financial markets. In recent years the rich countries, led by President Obama, were determined to reduce tax evasion. This will result in a loss of income and jobs in this sector. In some islands we see a decline in the international financial business sector and this downward trend has been difficult to reverse.

Cuba
Another factor affecting the Caribbean is Cuba. When Cuba was closed most Caribbean islands were able to cater to the US market. The normalization of the relationships with the United States can result in a drop in tourist arrivals to Caribbean islands from the US. Caribbean islands can try to diversify their economies and target new markets for tourism.

Digitalization
The Internet has had a disruptive impact on most sectors in the global economy. The islands are becoming more digitalized but are they becoming smarter? More and more islands are changing their educational system to meet the challenges of the digital era. Also Caribbean governments can open their data and share it with their businesses so they can become more competitive in global and regional markets.

Logistics
Despite digitalization, physical goods must still be moved. This will remain a challenge for Caribbean islands, given the geographical, political and cultural divide.

Terrorism
We see new terrorism movements using the internet to get global attention for their cause. The global trend of terrorism sooner or later may come to the Caribbean. We hope that will not be the case.

Good governance and education
To reduce corruption and other negative trends, good governance and value-based education must become more important. Some Caribbean islands have put corporate governance laws in place, while others still have to start.

Demographic changes
We live longer. This trend has made the system of pensions unsustainable and the health care system very expensive, as more people consume more health care, while the social and health care premiums have to be paid by a young population. This is why the high youth unemployment mentioned before can be so disruptive. Many young citizens traditionally leave the islands, making matters worse.

Healthcare
Beside that, the elderly need more care, while we are faced by the threat of contagious diseases all over the world. For example Chikungunya and Ebola. These threats can also have negative effects on the tourism sector in the Caribbean.
How will your government, corporations and organizations face these challenges? What can you do as a policy advisor, manager, or small business owner?
On March 17, 18 and 19, 2015 these issues will be addressed in a free online conference on "The Future of the Caribbean" do not miss this opportunity. Get your seat for this conference on www.calmera.nl/future-caribbean and we will keep you informed.

o Miguel Goede is a strategist and trend watcher in the Caribbean. He is based in Curacao and works for governments, corporations and NGOs in the region.
o Runy Calmera is an economist, consultant, trainer and coach on economic analysis and policy for the 52 small island developing states (SIDS).
This article was published with permission from Caribbean News Now.

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Freedom of information in the Caribbean

March 12, 2015

The Caribbean has caught up with the global trend that now counts more than 100 countries with freedom of information (FOI) laws. Over the past 20 years, the majority of the 20 member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have arrived at various stages of implementation of FOI laws and policies. Of these, eight have enacted laws (Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, St Vincent, Antigua, Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Guyana); five have drafted bills (The Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, St Kitts, St Lucia) and seven have no laws at all (Montserrat, Dominica, Suriname, Haiti, Turks and Caicos, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands).
Seven of the eight countries that have enacted FOI laws have operationalized them, establishing compliance mechanisms such as: an FOI Commissioner (Antigua, Cayman Islands, Guyana), a dual function Ombudsman (Belize, Trinidad and Tobago), and an Appeal Tribunal with no enforcement powers (Jamaica). In St Vincent, all appeals go directly to the High Court.
Only Jamaica has "whistleblower" legislation, passed only recently. Trinidad, St Vincent, Bahamas, and Barbados have enacted data protection laws, while St Kitts, St Lucia, and the Cayman Islands are in the process of drafting or enacting them. The Official Secrets Act in all of these countries, despite its incongruence with FOI, has yet to be repealed.

Weak laws
Under the 2013 Global Right to Information (RTI) Rating, administered by Access Info Europe and the Center for Law and Democracy, the laws of Jamaica, Trinidad, Belize, St Vincent, and Guyana all occupy the middle to lower end percentile (though there is a bright spot: Antigua's law is in the upper percentile).
Overall, there are issues with the scope of the laws, clarity/affordability of requesting procedures, narrowness of exemptions, accessibility of the appeals process, effectiveness of sanctions, and legally required promotional measures.
Since a FOI law lays the groundwork for an open democratic regime, the rating, except for Antigua's, is undoubtedly discouraging.

Implementation obstacles
It is well documented - and all too readily apparent to anyone who has worked with legislation - that a law may be a draftsman's dream and yet is not worth the paper on which it is written.
Antigua's law, one of the better ones, falls into that category. As recently as 2013, the information commissioner complained about the lack of resources for his office and too few information officers. Note that this law was enacted in 2004.
Yet despite a weak law, if the enforcement mechanism is effective, and the administration of the law is consistent, that law can still bring value to the public. The Cayman Islands' law, while similar to Jamaica's, provides for an information commissioner with strong powers, much like Antigua's. The similarities end there, however, as the Cayman commissioner's responsiveness to complaints and appeals has resulted in far greater public use since occupying the post in 2009.
The commissioner's 2013 Annual Report indicates that the number and complexity of appeals grew from 2009 to 2013, when public bodies received 2,901 applications (population: 58,435). Investigative journalism benefited tremendously, with granted requests forming the basis of many news stories. All of this, according to the report, is testament to the high level of awareness of the law, both within government and the wider population.
Except for a few success stories, implementation in the other six countries has been spotty and beset by the usual suspects: inadequate budgets, infrequent training, outdated websites, weak records and information management, a protracted legislative process - all pointing to administrative neglect or failure.

Now what?
Having talked FOI laws and regimes to death, I offer a few points for local, regional, and international NGOs to consider for adoption if we are to change the trajectory of Caribbean FOI:
o Link foreign aid access to performance under, for example, the Corruption Perception Index (administered by Transparency International) and the Global RTI Rating.
o Build public demand and use.
o Re-evaluate donor approach to transparency programs.
o For international NGOs, place more emphasis on a bottom-up approach in designing governance programs.
o Develop a regional FOI policy, implementation plan, and coordinating facility.
o Be consistent about FOI media training.

o Aylair Livingstone is a Jamaican attorney-at-law specializing in freedom of information, transparency and anti-corruption matters. This column is published with permission from Caribbean News Now.

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Christie's full-blown egomania amidst a deficit of leadership

March 12, 2015

"Egomania - obsessive egotism or self-centeredness... narcissism, arrogance, boastfulness, imperiousness, cockiness, affectation, airs, show, ostentation, vainglory, braggadocio... "

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A PLP in crisis may give Minnis a chance after all

March 12, 2015

The governing Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) is moving from crisis to crisis, disappointment to disappointment...

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The need for universal health insurance

March 11, 2015

"In 2010, there were 723 deaths in categories deemed avoidable in The Bahamas." This according to recent media reports sourced from the Sanigest Report - prepared by Sanigest Internacional, a Costa Rican health care consultancy firm contracted by the Bahamas government to conduct a feasibility study into the implementation of some form of universal health insurance. The report also assumed that "10 percent of the estimated deaths are preventable through NHI."
Preventable deaths and other modalities are a function of access, or wealth and diet (which affects the strength of the immune system and its ability to fight off diseases) responded Health Minister Dr. Perry Gomez, and not necessarily a reflection of the quality of health care delivered through the country's public health care system.
As far as health infrastructure is concerned, 647 more beds are needed to meet standards, said the report; since then a 100-bed critical care facility was constructed and added to the inventory of the Public Hospitals Authority.
Mini-hospitals in Abaco, Cat Island and Exuma are in various stages of completion and additional hospitals for Grand Bahama and Eleuthera are on the drawing board, so it is safe to conclude that the government is on the right path in addressing the country's health care needs.
In a series of headline stories gleaned from the leaked Sanigest Report, the local media have highlighted for public education, the growing inequities in our health care delivery system that continue to adversely impact the poor disproportionately. This revelation further underscores the need for greater equity through systemic reform as a fundamental component of the social contract between the government and the people it serves.
For its part, the government of The Bahamas, much like many governments around the world, has determined that the policy solution to address this inherent social inequity is National Health Insurance (NHI). The prime minister and the health minister are both on record as saying - and I paraphrase - that in The Bahamas if you are poor, black and you get sick, quite frankly you die and their government is determined to change this paradigm.
The prime minister further said that "it is not if (his government will implement NHI), but when" and has targeted January 2016 as the implementation date of the first phase, which is a proposed basic benefits package at a cost of about some $362 million.
This phased in approach can easily take 10 years to be fully implemented at a total cost of over $600 million based on associated logistics and government exigencies. It is important to note that the government currently spends some $100 million per annum to insure thousands of public servants and upwards of $10 million per annum on a drug prescription plan that benefits over 26,000 Bahamians.
This is in addition to expenditure in excess of $180 million per annum to deliver health care through the Public Hospitals Authority. This roughly $290 million comprises the existing public resources the Ministry of Health referred to in its press release earlier this week when it assured the general public that "the majority of the financing will come from existing resources in the health system."
The Ministry of Health has revealed that "currently, per capita healthcare spending in The Bahamas is over $2,300 per year, almost double other countries in the region," but despite this high spending, "life expectancy is lower (in The Bahamas) than many including Barbados, Belize and Grenada". There must be a shift in this paradigm.
"Universal Health Insurance" continued the Health Ministry, "will focus on improving health outcomes while also producing annual savings which will reach $160 million in ten years." This assertion is supported by empirical data and represents good news not only for the average Bahamian, but for employers as well, who are saddled with the burden of increased employee health care costs.
The public debate on this critical national public health issue should continue in order to shape public opinion and properly inform public policy. The data shared to date makes a compelling case for equity and social justice through the executing mechanism of National Health Insurance (NHI). The public awaits the considered feedback from relevant stakeholders coming out of the consultation stage with the government.

o Elcott Coleby serves as deputy director of Bahamas Information Services.

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Bahamian reflections on Selma

March 10, 2015

On Saturday, March 7, 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered what is no doubt a speech for the ages and an oration that will not be forgotten in a hurry by the world at large and Americans in particular. The speech was so powerful, relevant and timely that some compared it with the famous "I have a dream" speech by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The occasion was the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Selma's Bloody Sunday and the venue was no other place than Selma.
Selma is known by many as the title of the popular 2014 movie which recounts the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by American civil rights leaders. The important role that Selma plays in the fight for freedom, justice and equality cannot be overstated as it is forever entrenched in American history. While President Obama's speech is a must-read, this piece focuses on the parallels in the Bahamian context; in a Bahamas embarking on the second generation after independence.

Selma and Bloody Sunday
Selma was the venue of an important event that helped to shape the destiny of the United States of America at a crucial juncture in its history. It was reported that approximately 600 civil rights activists led by John Lewis, Reverend Hosea Williams and others, marched east out of Selma on U.S. Highway 80 on March 7, 1965 to demonstrate against injustice and discrimination against African Americans and minorities.
The records show the protests were peaceful and went as planned until the demonstrators crossed the symbolic Edmund Pettus Bridge. The marchers were met by state troopers, police and county posses who had been waiting for them on the other side. What followed was brutality as the use of sticks, tear gas and batons resulted in severe injuries to persons that participated in the march with about 17 of them hospitalized in the aftermath.

A movement for change
The enactment of the Voting Rights Act following Bloody Sunday and the various steps taken to date are testament to the fact that the sacrifices of individuals committed to humanity and nation building do not go in vain.
President Obama recognized this reality in his speech but was quick to note that the work of the civil rights movement remains unfinished amidst continuing racial tensions in the U.S. This comes on the heels of the U.S. Justice Department Report on Ferguson which suggests that African Americans were targeted and mistreated.
Selma will forever represent to the U.S. a historical site that shaped the destiny of a nation. Thousands of people marched across the Selma Bridge without waiting for the dignitaries that were supposed to lead them on Sunday, March 8, 2015.
The Bahamas has such historical sites all across our commonwealth from Grand Bahama in the north to Inagua in the south. We reminisce on events that took place on key dates in our history; we remember Black Tuesday, the National Strike and the work of the Suffragettes. As Americans draw inspiration from Selma for the road that lies ahead and work that needs to be done, so must we from the events and places that sometimes hold dark but important memories for our nation. We must honor our past and recognize where we currently are as a people if we are to experience a glorious future.

Change is but a beginning
The first black president of the U.S. postulated that the events that unfolded on Bloody Sunday represented "not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America".
Obama noted that "Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we're getting closer".
Selma was one of several beginnings of relays that require the passing of batons from one generation to another. This was eloquently summarized in the following words of the US President: "Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the 'race card' for their own purposes."
This holds true for The Bahamas of the 21st Century. While we have addressed some of the initial forms of racism within our archipelago, we have created new ways to discriminate against one another based on perceived social status, political affiliation, gender and creed. We have fostered a culture which seeks to divide rather than unite and exclude instead of include all Bahamians for selfish or self-serving reasons.
We seem to now practice reverse racism and in some cases racism against our own race thereby harming our own brothers and sisters in the process. This writer submits that the challenge is not the actual act of discrimination but the problem is the flawed philosophy that holds one group superior to another. The struggles of our forefathers and foremothers must not be in vain but must fuel the desire to march on to greater heights knowing that the change they fought for was only the trigger for the commencement of the journey to our destiny.

Can we imagine?
The reflection on Selma will be incomplete if we do not imagine what would have happened if the marchers had stayed home. What if the movement lacked courageous leaders that were willing to risk it all for the common good? Would America be all that it is without Selma and Bloody Sunday? What if the people had forgotten about the history and revolution that Selma represents?
In the same manner, what would the fate of The Bahamas have been if the Suffragettes chose to leave things the way they were? What if the movement for equality was never set in motion? Had we been content with being under British rule without political independence, where would we be in our development as a nation?
The difference between what is and what could have been was the power of the people's will; indeed great things are not wrought without the participation of the people. The willingness to confront the ideas of the past with innovation and calculated risk-taking is the only way to achieve a different outcome. In essence, we must confront and shake up the status quo for the next level of greatness of our Bahamaland to emerge.
We join our neighbors in the US and in the words of President Obama, "honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar. And we will not grow weary. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country's sacred promise".

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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Who's protecting the consumer - pt. 4

March 09, 2015

"We believe we are the consumers, but we are the consumed." - Bryant H. McGill

In the first three parts of this series, we noted that many modern societies have established laws and organizations that are designed to protect the rights of consumers, to ensure fair trade and competition in an orderly economic environment and to provide for the dissemination of accurate consumer information in the marketplace.
After our first article, we received several email comments which inspired us to expand this series on two topics. The first was the risk of airline hackers who offer their services to the public without the appropriate authorization, training and insurance to protect consumers. The second subsequent article that we were inspired to write addresses consumer protection that is needed by the public regarding how we power the vehicles upon which we have come to rely.
Therefore, this week, we would like to continue this series on the quality of automobile fuel that is sold to consumers and invite you to Consider This... Is anyone protecting consumers against tainted or substandard automobile fuel at our gas stations?

Automobile fuel suppliers
There are three major fuel suppliers in The Bahamas, namely Shell, Esso and Rubis. Shell is distributed by Sun Oil Limited, a Bahamian-owned company. Esso is owned by a Barbadian businessman, and Rubis, although until several years ago branded as Texaco, is another foreign company operating in The Bahamas. In addition to the major oil companies in The Bahamas, several independent fuel operators sell automobile fuel to the public.
The price of auto fuel is regulated in The Bahamas by the government. By regulation, wholesalers are permitted to add 33 cents per gallon to their landed fuel cost, and retailers are allowed to add 54 cents per gallon to their cost. The government adds a tax of approximately $1.10 per gallon. As of Thursday, March 5, 2015, the price of regular gas was $4.04 at Shell and $4.18 per gallon at both Esso and Rubis.

Consumer complaints
While the price of fuel is regulated, its quality is not. And therein lies the problem. An automobile executive recently observed that one of the problems that automobile owners encounter is the poor quality of fuel which is not always compatible with the newer generation engines that are found in the marketplace today. This problem is exacerbated by the absence of adequate standards for monitor fuel quality.
In newer cars, computerized engines are calibrated for high quality fuel. Consequently, when the consumer purchases a lower fuel quality, car engines have to work harder in order to optimize their performance. This arises because modern cars sense that they are burning a lower grade of fuel and cannot optimize automobile performance.
Drivers frequently experience inadequate engine power, acceleration hesitation, engine carbonizing and premature wearing of oxygen sensors as a result of low octane fuel.
As a result, when drivers complain that there is a problem with their vehicles, sometimes the real problem is actually the poor quality of fuel that consumers are purchasing from gas stations. Automobile dealers are deluged with complaints about their cars' performances, which has occasionally resulted in them refunding monies to the customer and, in some cases, dealers are even required to have the factory rewrite computer programs in order to enable vehicles they sell to adapt to the lower quality fuels that are sold here.
Some dealers have contacted the local fuel companies, most of whom deny that there is a problem with the fuel, although some companies do say that poor fuel product is due to the old gas tanks in the ground, which eventually erode or even collect sediment, contaminating the fuel. We contacted several fuel wholesalers and distributors to obtain an understanding of the challenges that they face. Without exception, the wholesalers confirmed that they heavily relied on the certificate of quality which is obtained from the fuel suppliers when the product is shipped.

Monitoring fuel equipment
There are several other important issues that must be addressed regarding fuel sales and the consumer. There is a valid concern because it is possible for gas stations to tamper with their fuel gauges. Consequently, consumers have no way of knowing whether fuel gauges are properly calibrated to ensure that the fuel pumps are dispensing the correct volume of fuel purchased.
Hence the important question is: Who independently checks gas pump gauges? Spot-checks on fuel gauges should be periodically performed by the relevant government regulator, but such checks are not systematically performed.
Another concern is whether gas stations regularly change the filters in gas pumps, which could minimize the chances of purchasing tainted fuel. A systematic monitoring of pump filters could minimize the impurities from the gas that is pumped into our cars.
How does the public know that gas stations are not switching the fuel from a higher grade to a lower grade product, while charging the customer at the higher rate? The gas pump from which fuel is purchased might reflect a particular octane of fuel. But how do consumers know that they are receiving the grade of fuel for which they are actually paying?
Another problem is that defective fuel could create fuel "gum" which clogs the engine's injector, resulting in the retardation of combustion, which also adversely affects the car's performance.
Fuel should be periodically analyzed by independent laboratories to verify its quality. The appropriate government agency should monitor the quality of fuel that is sold to the public. Fuel should be collected at random and regular intervals and sent to a laboratory in order to verify its quality and that it is actually the octane that it is advertised to be. This is an expensive and time-consuming exercise which is not frequently performed. Because this is not regularly done, the onus is placed on the service stations to monitor their own fuel quality.
Some fuel that is sold to Family Island consumers paints an even grimmer picture because independent service stations on many Family Islands usually source their fuel from suppliers who deliver their product on roll-on, roll-off tankers. This fuel is often not treated with the additives necessary to enhance the automobile's performance. Worse still is that family island gas is even more expensive than fuel that is available in New Providence and Grand Bahama.

Conclusion
No one can dispute that keeping our cars running - and running well - is one of the most significant expenses we have today. That is why the country urgently needs an effective Consumer Protection Agency that methodically monitors the quality of fuel sold to consumers and also checks the pump gauges to ensure that pump tampering is minimized. Hopefully, if and when a Standards Act is passed and policed, the issues with our vehicles that arise when using substandard fuel will diminish.
Until this is done, we will continue to risk purchasing fuel the quality of which will always be questionable and the result might be that we will continue to experience poor engine performance because of inadequate product oversight. Clearly, the consumer should demand of those in power that keeping Bahamians on the road - and on the road with less unnecessary expenditure - should become an immediate priority.

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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The ever expanding Bahamian story

March 05, 2015

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani recently ignited a firestorm with incendiary claims, sending sparks and charges flying as the jockeying for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination heats up: "I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me. He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."
Giuliani's sentiments are not new to the Republican Party. One recent poll among Republicans showed that only 11 percent of those polled believe that Barack Obama loves America.
The dirty big and obvious non-secret is that most of those who question Obama's love for his country really don't love the diversity that is America. They love their tunnel vision and selective narrative of what they believe America to be, often excluding Latinos, African-Americans, non-Christians and others from the firmament of the Star-Spangled Banner.
The stranglehold of white supremacy on the self-serving nationalism of many Republicans, conservatives and others will never permit a celebration of the broader, richer and powerful narrative of the American experience, of which Obama's story is a shining example.
Many will never accept this black man with his supposedly un-American name as president and as authentically American as those who made their passage to America on the Mayflower seeking political and religious freedom, or Irish and Italian economic refugees who fled to America.
For the racist nativists, that the name Obama will stand in the pantheon of presidents with European surnames is an apostasy at the heart of the American civic religion.
It is laughably ironic that someone with the name Giuliani would question the patriotism of someone surnamed Obama. One's love of country is not qualified by one's surname and one's qualifications to lead a nation should not be denied because of one's surname, whether Pinder, Pindling - or Pierre.

Demonization
So strong is the demonization and the contempt for difference and the other that some immigrants debase themselves in order to fit in their adopted land.
Over the course of several decades the Indian-American political commentator and author Dinesh D'Souza has adopted a brand of conservatism that is racist. He has gained notoriety with the Obama haters, among them a confederacy of xenophobes, white supremacists and many Republicans leaders.
This brown-skin naturalized citizen placates such nativist contempt for non-white and foreign-born people by demonstrating that he can be just as vilely racist as a white supremacist, as he did in a tweet this February.
Commenting on a selfie Obama took in the White House to promote the enrolment of young people in Obamacare, D'Souza tweeted: "You can take the boy out of the ghetto... Watch this vulgar man show his stuff, while America cowers in embarrassment."
With vicious racial language reminiscent of Jim Crow, D'Souza called the president of the United States of America a "boy", effectively labelling black as ghetto and vulgar.
D'Souza and his ilk are embarrassed that a black man is president. He seems to have no sense of the ugly irony that most of this ilk would be embarrassed to have an Indian-American as president much less to marry one of their children.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, also Indian-American, refused to condemn Giuliani's remarks, going so far to call him in a show of support. Jindal, whose first name is Piyush, goes by the nickname "Bobby", a telling decision.
Born to immigrant parents six months after their arrival in the U.S., Jindal, like D'Souza, has adopted much of the narrative of America espoused by the xenophobic nationalists and Obama haters, rather than the broader narrative exemplified and espoused by Obama.
A national story is woven together by multiple narrative threads. Such threads bear the names and personal narratives of peoples spanning the globe. Here at home the Caribbean Diaspora, including immigrants from Haiti, is at the heart of the Bahamian story, especially that of the modern Bahamas.
One of the most pivotal events in our history was the achievement of majority rule, our 'second emancipation', a watershed moment in our nationalist struggle and consciousness. The leaders of that revolution include many who were first-generation Bahamians or who enjoyed Caribbean parentage, including Sir Lynden Pindling.
The name Pindling has become thoroughly identified with The Bahamas even though it is not a common name in the country. Surnames more commonplace include, Deveaux, Moncur, Bonamy, Dillet and other names of Haitian derivation, as well as names from many other countries.

Meris
The Bahamian family and experience are constituted by an alphabet soup of nationalities and family names and now include surnames such as Paul, Georges and Joseph, as well as Duvalier and Meris.
When the famed dancer Maureen Duvalier, a close cousin of the Duvalier ruling family of Haiti, passed away some weeks ago she was celebrated as quintessentially Bahamian, her surname no barrier to her inclusion as a national and cultural icon.
Then there is the brilliant Jeffrey Meris, still in his early twenties, one of the country's most popular emerging artists who promises to be a leading artist of his generation, and perhaps one of the more notable artists of the modern Bahamas.
The 2012 recipient of the Harry Moore scholarship in the arts from the Lyford Cay Foundation and a student of artist John Cox, he is first-generation Bahamian.
Meris, of Haitian descent, celebrates his Haitian ancestry and Bahamian identity, a part of which is his ancestry. But he is foremost a Bahamian, like Maureen Duvalier and generations of those with Haitian ancestry, whose life journeys and stories make for a richer Bahamian national journey and tapestry.
His involvement with the One Family Junkanoo group and mentoring by the artists Stan and Jackson Burnside and John Beadle speak to the ever expanding idea and narrative of who and what constitutes the Bahamian imagination. Note the name: One Family.
His Junkanoo costume creations cum sculptures are brilliant and are a part of the evolution of one of our premier cultural expressions. Meris is enraptured with Junkanoo, both as an art form and as a form of national celebration, bringing together Bahamians and residents in a common shared experience.
It is these shared experiences which bind and assimilate new generations of Bahamians into a shared identity, be they Bahamian-born or naturalized, of Haitian ancestry or otherwise.
In addition to Bahamian cultural expressions and the arts, there are other institutions and practices of assimilation critical to the formation of a sense of national identity, such as the institutions and practices of politics, including the general election, which Bahamians love.
Bahamian general election political mass rallies are wonders of democratic involvement and enthusiasm. An academic at COB once wrote dismissively of the political rally deeming it as unserious and as entertainment.

Fellowship
She appears not to appreciate the rally as a form of cultural and democratic expression, a thrilling experience attended by the vast majority of Bahamians in an extraordinary exercise assimilating new generations into our democratic life. Rallies are celebratory peaceful events, occasions for fellowship.
It is entertainment of sorts. But it is decidedly much more. The mass rally is grand political theater bringing together tens of thousands in a celebration of freedom. It is a festival of democracy. There is live music, much of which is locally produced, campaign paraphernalia, food and drink.
Despite the theatrics and sometimes antics there is serious policy announced and national issues discussed. There is the call and response between speakers and the crowd. Neither in the U.S. or the U.K. would thousands attend for hours political rallies as they do in The Bahamas.
Rallies cut across every socio-economic group and include many Bahamians of Haitian ancestry. Scores of work permit holders and residents of Haitian descent share the infectious enthusiasm of Bahamian general elections, adopting the political consciousness of our democratic culture. The common shared experience of a general election has a powerful assimilative effect.
Similarly, education helps to assimilate, and bind citizens and residents together, which is why unhindered access to schooling in government-operated schools is essential. Such access speaks to our values as a democratic country committed to humanitarian values and social justice.
From these and other schools emerge the children of immigrants who contribute their gifts and personal narratives and to our national story. There is also an ethos of assimilation, where immigrants feel welcome.
Much of the discourse on immigration by certain senior government officials has been disheartening, especially given the prior rhetorical commitment of such individuals to human rights and to the needs and dignity of illegal migrants.
We cannot sustain unlimited immigration, and ongoing immigration reform is necessary. But an underlying goal must be to ensure access to the institutions and practices of assimilation in The Bahamas.
We should be eager to share our culture and heritage with immigrants and in turn learn from the positive attributes of their culture. It is curious that we are often more comfortable with the worst excesses of North American culture and less open to the better attributes of Caribbean neighbors including Haiti.
Attorney Fred Smith sees nothing wrong with citizens of Haitian ancestry launching their own political party. But launching a party based on national origin is a dangerous idea and will balkanize the country and potentially marginalize various groups.
To foster the ideal and necessity of One Bahamas requires common shared experiences in which all feel welcome, adding their family names and stories to the ever unfolding narrative of the broader Bahamian story, which has never been static, as some would have us believe.
If and when one day we have a prime minister whose last name is Pierre or Paul, will there be Bahamians who will react similarly as those in the U.S. who still cannot come to terms with Barack Hussein Obama? It will say more about such narrow nativists than it will about the occupant of such high office.

o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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