Opinion

The final push to end extreme poverty

May 01, 2015

This year is the most important year for global development in recent memory. In July, world leaders will gather in Addis Ababa to discuss how to finance development...

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Christie's indecisiveness and dysfunction wreaking havoc at BEC

April 29, 2015

For scores of residents of New Providence, the hellish reality of chronic electricity outages and blackouts continues, with no end in sight. Last weekend was a nightmare for many with the lights going off multiple times each day, and the week ahead a continuation of much of the same...

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Establishing an environmental monitoring program for public health and safety

April 29, 2015

A reactionary approach to pollution events leaves the public and natural resources vulnerable to adverse impacts. Furthermore, the delayed release of information regarding human health can lead to medical conditions that would have otherwise been avoidable. Timely public disclosure of environmental health data through monitoring programs is essential for a healthy Bahamas.
Monitoring programs are common in developed countries where data on air and water quality are displayed regularly, if not in real-time. Remarkably, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an interactive webpage for all indices related environmental health across the U.S., see www.epa.gov/epa/enviro/myenviro. U.S. residents can access data on air quality, water quality, energy, and health in their neighborhoods. On a smaller scale, The Bahamas should strive to achieve similarly accessible environmental data.
Monitoring programs and health indexes such the Air Quality Index (AQI) provide tangible meaning to the public. For example, in terms of air quality reporting the AQI is comprised of six "criteria pollutants" that when combined generate an overall account of air quality. These criteria pollutants are ozone (O3), particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and lead (Pb).
Why measure these criteria pollutants? Because these pollutants are key indicators for conditions that are hazardous to health. Some of these criteria pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide are emitted from point sources, such as power plants, cruise ships, fires, airplane exhaust, vehicle emissions; and others such as ozone are formed by secondary reactions.
The Black & Veatch International report on the Rubis Robinson Road fuel release should give Bahamians pause to consider what exactly is in the air, water, and soil around us. Too often action is taken only after contamination is suspected and human health is already impacted. We need an understanding of current air quality conditions and a system of notification when our well-being is in jeopardy.
Moreover, measuring these criteria pollutants generates baseline air quality data which allows for future comparison, critical for measuring the effectiveness of policy changes and the impacts of population growth.
But air quality measurements are not wholly absent in The Bahamas. According to the 2010 Environmental Management Audit of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation by KES, annual air quality monitoring reports by a U.S. consulting firm have indicated compliance with U.S. EPA National Ambient Air Quality Standards. However, fine print in the table appendices alludes to some interruption of testing in 2009 and repair being needed on the continuous emissions monitor. But if BEC has the equipment present, then there is knowledge of air quality on New Providence which can be incorporated into a public monitoring system.
Admittedly, in the absence of specific Environmental Health Services regulations residents impacted by pollution face undue hardship for compensation whether in the format of remediation or monetarily. Moreover, this same absence of regulations has slowed implementation by industry of best management practices for safety and environmental management.
The Bahamas now faces a crossroad where the pressure of human population and knowledge of environmental matters is in direct opposition to the continuation of subpar practices that are not easily (amenable) to national laws. Who bears responsibility and cost of remediation when the pollution may not have been intentional but the result of lagging regulations?
Even in countries with established monitoring programs, citizen scientists are taking advantage of lower cost technologies to understand local environmental conditions. Through the use of user-friendly devices any layman can obtain a basic idea of pollution at a particular site, say at a home or business located near a fire for outdoor particulate matter levels. There are even apps dedicated to air quality data for locations such as Beijing where air pollution has become a chronic issue.
The best course of action is to establish a network of professional grade monitoring stations across New Providence and areas of industry on the Family Islands. Environmental health education is important for Bahamians. Generating awareness about the potential pollutants that exist in our water, soil and air enables public participation in improving our environmental health.

o Melissa Alexiou is the director of Waypoint Consulting Ltd., a project management and environmental consulting firm based in Nassau.

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Black Tuesday: A luta continua

April 28, 2015

Fifty years ago, the status quo in Bahamian politics was challenged by a group of ordinary young men and women who worked together to achieve the extraordinary. They set out to bring about much-needed change in the way things were done by confronting the inequity in the manner in which political leaders of our nation were selected.
On April 27, 1965, our country had a date with destiny, because Bahamians did not wait to be given the pen in order to write a new chapter in our history. Indeed the day now referred to as Black Tuesday would have started like just any other day. However, it ended on a high note and ignited the fire that would alter the course of Bahamian history forever.
We reflect on this pivotal event five decades later and consider where we are today as a nation in our struggle for a fair, just and free society in which all are equal with equal opportunity to achieve the Bahamian dream.

The Tuesday of all Tuesdays
The story of Black Tuesday and what transpired on that fateful day is well documented. The events leading up to the throwing of the speaker's mace out of the House of Assembly by the late Sir Lynden O. Pindling, the then leader of the opposition, are chronicled not only in our history books but also in

the memoirs of some of

the courageous leaders of that era.
Those chapters also reference the flinging of the quarter-hour glass, which was used to time speakers, by the late Sir Milo Butler. These accounts reveal that these acts were not only premeditated; they were carried out to send a strong message to the political directorate that the real power belongs to the people and not the political class.
It is noteworthy to state that, while the then opposition failed in bringing about the desired changes to the United Bahamian Party's (UBP) boundaries report, it set in motion the beginning of the end of a system that was unfair. This came in the aftermath of the 1962 general election in which the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won the most votes, or the popular vote, but lost the election due to the fact that the UBP won the most seats, mainly due to gerrymandering. The UBP had won 20 seats while the PLP won eight seats in the general elections held in 1962 - the first election under universal suffrage in The Bahamas.

The start of a journey
The events that unfolded following the rejection of the amendments proposed to the boundaries report in 1965 show that what could be considered as a defeat was in reality a victory for a movement toward a better Bahamas. The achievement of majority rule and subsequently political independence can be traced to the resilience and courage demonstrated not only by the political leaders of the time but also the people of The Bahamas that supported them by their presence and commitment.
In referring to the mace, Sir Lynden was quoted as saying on that momentous day that "This is the symbol of authority... And authority on this island belongs to the people, and the people are outside!"
As he flung the mace through the window of the House of Assembly, he further noted that "the people are outside, and the mace belongs outside too". As we commemorate Black Tuesday 50 years later, those words are just as relevant; the honorable members of the House of Assembly must never forget that the power and authority in this land belong to the people.

A luta continua
Several seasons have come and gone since the heroic display of our forefathers and foremothers, many of whom now sleep awaiting their eternal reward. There are but a few that still remain in our midst to tell the tales and articulate the struggles of yesterday that gave birth to the freedoms we now enjoy. We pay homage to them all for their fearlessness and sacrifices which are unmatched for the most part within the current political landscape.
The Portuguese phrase "A luta continua" which means "the struggle continues" was the rallying cry of the FRELIMO movement during Mozambique's war for independence and is the title of a song made popular by the South African music legend and civil rights activist Miriam Makeba. There is no doubt that in the Bahamian context, the struggle is far from over. The movement for freedom in our commonwealth extends beyond political independence to the emancipation of our people from mental slavery. True liberty must be translated into the empowerment of our people to achieve economic independence and reduce their reliance on the government as well as political leaders for their livelihood.

Remembering and re-enacting
It has been announced that Black Tuesday will be commemorated today (Tuesday, April 28, 2015) in Rawson Square with ministers of the government and the prime minister in attendance to reflect the significance of this event in our political history. This is a welcome development and it is imperative that we continue telling stories of this nature for the benefit of this generation and others yet unborn.
We ought to continue this dialogue and educate our people to inspire a new cadre of leaders within The Bahamas to dare to defy the status quo. We owe to the emerging new breed of leaders to narrate the exploits of Sir Lynden Pindling, Sir Milo Butler, Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, A.D. Hanna, Sir Arthur Foulkes, Sir Randol Fawkes, Sir Orville Turnquest and their contemporaries.
We must do this to reassure them that it is okay to be different. They ought to be reminded that while the process for change may be uncomfortable, positive change must be pursued nevertheless. Black Tuesday must not only be remembered, but the spirit of that day must be reenacted daily and should linger on for the progress of our country.

The certainty of victory
And so this piece concludes by paying homage to the soldiers of old and the freedom fighters of yesteryear. In paying homage to the fallen and surviving heroes, we also recognize that our nation yearns for the manifestation of a new breed of courageous men and women to continue this unfinished fight. The Bahamas is in search of its sons and daughters that place the national interest above selfish ambitions and personal gains and goals.
The use of the phrase "A luta continua" by some African students when fighting for their rights or desired changes is often followed by another phrase: "Victoria ascerta", which means "Victory is certain".
When put together, it reads: "A luta continua, victoria ascerta" - "The struggle continues (but) victory is certain". As we reflect on the events of Black Tuesday and recommit ourselves to continuing the fight for a better Bahamas, our mind set must be grounded in the belief that victory is not only achievable, it is certain.
In the words of the late Nelson Mandela: "Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great; (we) can be that great generation". The generation that participated in Black Tuesday was great; when it's all said and done, what will be said of this generation?

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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Just say you made a mistake

April 23, 2015

There is much shock and some anger in the community over the government's decision to withhold for a year a report by consultants Black & Veatch on the Rubis gas leak at Robinson Road...

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Christie's and the PLP's 'Wonderland of make-believe and fantasy'

April 23, 2015

Even before the results of the May 7, 2012 general election, there were glaring signs that the election of the Perry Christie-led PLP would be another dark adventure down the proverbial rabbit hole popularized in Charles Lutwidge Dodgson's (writing under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll) "Alice in Wonderland".
We are living in a parallel universe of the famed novel, which might be called Christie and the PLP in Wonderland. It is an alternative reality which so often resembles the Mad Hatter's tea party and other outlandish happenings in the book, where little seems to makes sense and where the most ludicrous things are bound to happen, and where we are asked to suspend logic and instead to accept as reality all manner of make-believe and fantasy.
Alice in Wonderland falls under the literary nonsense genre, which is also a good way to look at the misadventures, twists and turns, and endless opportunities to satirize the Christie administration.
Christie, the King of Hearts, able to emote on cue before an audience, is the great spinner of fantasy, grand announcements and grandiose promises.
A Bahamian Jon Stewart would do wonders helping to puncture the baloney, the cant, the gobbledygook, the acute hypocrisy, the daily show of nonsense, the obfuscations, the gargantuan missteps, the mounting scandals, the extraordinary waste of public funds, the sanctimonious excuses for breathtaking incompetence, the allergies to transparency and accountability, and the unmitigated disaster that is the PLP government. And this is an abbreviated list!
Like Alice, many Bahamians voluntarily went down the rabbit hole at the last election, following Christie and the PLP down a garden path filled with all manner of impossible promises, all mirages which disappeared in the light of reality after the election fog, more of which further on.
And down the rabbit hole went many believing Christie's and the PLP's repolished promises of transparency and accountability and good governance, and their new mantra of putting Bahamians first.

Breathtaking
The reality could not be any further than the sad truth that is an irreparably dysfunctional PLP nearly three years in office. The scandals and breach of trust with the Bahamian people are breathtaking:
Twenty million dollars in untendered contracts and the scandal at BAMSI; the deputy prime minister misleading the House about insurance for the fire-gutted dorm at BAMSI and refusing to resign and not being fired; the improprieties and irregularities at Urban Renewal as outlined by the auditor general and the arrogant attacks on him by the program's co-chairs.
The list continues: The interference of Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources V. Alfred Gray in a criminal matter before a family island magistrate and his failure to resign, or be fired; the glaring conflict of interest of former Financial Services Minister Ryan Pinder in taking up a post with Deltec Bank; the equally glaring conflict of interest of the prime minister himself in admittedly having been a paid consultant for the oil industry; and the suppression for a year of a report of a major oil leak in Marathon.
There is more: The Renward Wells and letter of intent affair; secret negotiations about the future of BEC; the failure to get back a majority stake at BTC and the failure to table a new agreement on the corporation; and the failure in over a year to provide the National Intelligence Agency with a legal footing.
There is even more: The nolle prosequi matter involving Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald, who, while acting as attorney general for Allyson Maynard-Gibson provided the nolle for a former client of Gibson; the DPM calling into question the integrity of the Department of Statistics; and the lack of a full accounting of the Cuban abuse probe at the detention center.
There is more still: The non-payment by the proposed governor general of hundreds of thousands of dollars owed in real property taxes; the dereliction of the VAT coordinator in the non-payment of taxes despite lecturing Bahamians about paying their taxes; the strange case of a man under arrest at the Central Police station being allowed to marry at the station; and the conduct of Consul General Randy Rolle in Bimini.
There is much more: The bungled numbers referendum then failure to abide by the results of the referendum; the broken promise to account for the money given to the PLP by Peter Nygard, which was reported to be in the range of $5 million; and the failure of the prime minister to account, as he promised, for travels to a CHOGM meeting and corresponding travel to Rome and London.
More still: Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller's abusive words about domestic violence and beating an ex-girlfriend with no comment from the male or female leaders of the PLP; the failure, despite repeated promises, to hold a referendum on gender equality; and Miller, the executive chairman of BEC, being allowed to serve in that capacity despite owing a huge sum to the corporation, then when this became public, paying $100,000 in cash in an irregular manner in breach of the corporation's rules, with Christie again remaining mum.

Pattern
There is a woeful pattern to the scandals and improprieties of the Christie administration. Despite promised investigations and promises to report on results, typically nothing comes of these promises and investigations.
The Alice in Wonderland quality to all of this is that despite how much this government is loathed as seen in the recent Latin American Public Opinion Project, the PLP vainly tries to spin bad news, akin to the captain of the Titanic suggesting that things are better than the passengers think.
For his laughable part, PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts suggested that the survey results are good for Christie. In texting parlance the response of many to this is: LMAO.
As for Christie he is either the most delusional prime minister in Bahamian history or the most adept at turning a blind eye even as he is surrounded by all manner of disasters, or perhaps both.
He joyfully boasts of good things to come, that he is a "defining" prime minister, that the country is on the right track, and as reported in The Tribune, that "his government's performance will not be matched 'in the history of this country'."
It would be a useful exercise for the media and others to compile a list of the still unmet promises made by the PLP at the last election, some of which are well-known but have additional features rarely observed.
Then there are promises not likely to be kept and less remarked upon such as the promise to Grand Bahamians to: "Construct a new state-of-the-art hospital using Bahamian contractors and labor."
Recall the 10,000 new jobs in the first year. They have yet to materialize despite Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Philip Brave Davis' claim that they have.
Perhaps those jobs are in a constituency of Wonderland visited only by Davis who had the shameless audacity to invite Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner to look up the word "mislead" after she roasted him for misleading the House.
For helpful reference for the DPM, "mislead" may be defined as: "to lead or guide wrongly; lead astray"; "to lead into error of conduct, thought, or judgment"; "cause (someone) to have a wrong idea or impression".

Orwellian
In an Orwellian world some might twist the word "mislead" to mean whatever they want it to mean. In Lewis Carroll's companion book "Through the Looking Glass", there is this delightful dialogue Davis might enjoy: "'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'
"'The question is, said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
"'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all.'"
In the lead-up to the last election the PLP repeatedly misstated and refused to correct the number of jobs the party claimed it created in its last term despite being contradicted by the Department of Statistics and challenged by this journal, among others.
In its 2012 Charter for Governance the party boasted: "During its last five-year term in office, the PLP created and maintained an economic climate which led to 22,000 new jobs." Then this bold promise was made: "During the new five-year term the goal will be to surpass that number."
With unemployment having risen, and higher as of January of this year than when the FNM left office, and in its third year in office and not having created those 10,000 new jobs, the PLP's stated goal of creating more than 22,000 new jobs should be seen for exactly what it is.
We really are in Wonderland. But sadly in the real world, Bahamians are hurting even as this government continues to spin nonsense, offer false hope and deliver broken promises.
In a crime address as leader of the opposition, Christie promised another wildly fantastical invention of the magical world he inhabits: He promised to double the national investment in education.
Unable to meet this promise he denied that he made such a promise when challenged by a member of Parliament. Confronted with his own words, he said nothing. But as we are living in the world of Christie in Wonderland listen to what he recently said when speaking to students in the journalism program at COB, as reported in The Tribune: "Responding to a student who asked why COB's tuition was not free, he said: 'You are going to find that with respect to education, we are going to be able to meet your expectations.'"
Having already failed to meet their expectations, the King of Hearts was at it again. Note to COB students: "Don't hold your breath", especially as this is the government that previously cut the national education budget.
In the fantastical make-believe Alice in Wonderland world of the PLP, words and numbers are mere play things to manipulate at will. And in the words of Lewis Carroll, things will only get "curiouser and curiouser"!

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

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The Power of Persuasion
"The Power of Persuasion"

April 22, 2015

From the beginning I knew that it would be hard for fifty dollars to overcome nine million dollars, but I said let me give it a try anyway...

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The MVP from Barack Obama's Jamaica trip

April 17, 2015

The anticipation surrounding United States President Barack Obama's trip to Jamaica seemed like that of a World Cup football game where Jamaica made the play-off. The 24-hour ticket created a nostalgic vibe across all strata of fans. Some even took credit for his visit.
Some of what was highlighted suggested that the Jamaican government bought a new set of brooms and swept up several unappealing spots that had been overlooked for decades.
The facelift gave an impression of a well-kept yard but it was simply a temporary cosmetic. Many asked, when the mascara fades, after the last whistle has been blown, what next? Despite the joy, social media quietly erupted, and pundits, politicians, and bloggers seized the opportunity and aired what is called the dirty laundry.
Some debated the new asphalt and pavement, and asked what will happen after it again deteriorates. One suggested only criminals benefit, as people are scared to venture out on these new roads after dark.
Additionally, temporary relocation of mentally ill and homeless people disguised images of poverty. Given the president's compassion for the poor and youth in general, leaving these images intact could have resulted in more aid. Under his administration, the US budget to help affordable housing programs increased and the homeless rate has declined, according Housing and Urban Development statistics.
The irony is that some players have been part of the team for decades and refused to quit, retire, or accept the penalties for foul play. Many players who arrived at the airport and the town hall meetings wore hidden bandages, hurting in disguise.
The region's stagnated socio-economic problems have been a cancer for decades and this one-day match has not solved corruption, poverty, high unemployment, crime, and social stratification.
Only Obama can take full credit as to where he visits. Obama's trip was more than a popularity contest.

Paradigm shift
When women negotiate, even women in power, it seems like they continue to suffer a social cost: the unintentional bias still lingers. So before the MVP is selected, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller must be commended for a successful visit.
Despite the struggles and obstacles, Obama called Marley's house "one of the most fun meetings I've had since I've been president". The reggae legend Bob Marley lived there until his death in 1981. Jamaica's relaxed and warm attitude brushed off on Obama. He even signed the Jamaica House visitors' log one day in advance: April 10, 2015, and not April 9, 2015.
What was this trip or game about?
Despite the chatter, the Caribbean needs a new broom. Few local outlets believe that Jamaica's new economic power in the region plays a meaningful role. Local posturing and political ploy is always a factor.
According to Reuters, Obama wants to reassert U.S. leadership in the Caribbean, feeling the region has been overlooked by Washington of late.
Many analysts say a key reason Washington is suddenly paying attention to the Caribbean Basin is that it wants to wean the islands off Venezuelan oil and influence. Recently, the United States declared Venezuela a national security threat. When a country is so declared, it is the first step in starting sanctions.
However, CNN's Joe Johns in a recent interview with Jamaica's Police Commissioner Carl Williams discussed the potential of sleeper cells in the region. This issue appears moot, but he noted that Jamaica has formed a new intelligence unit to collect data in collaboration.
Stay with me here, the game is still being played. I will get to the MVP.
Concerning potential sleeper cells as reported, the region has not seen Al Qaeda, as in the Arabian Peninsula, capitalizing on the region's poverty, or locals traveling to join ISIS. However, these concerns should not be taken lightly. Even smart people can be confused and come to believe that only Islamic countries can create terrorists. One cannot discount the possibility that the phenomenon can strike anywhere.
With the lack resources to solve a wave of recent local crimes, one wonders. Several victims have lost trust in the government and are still searching for answers and justice.

The pick
Although it seems society is picking MVPs before the season ends, Commissioner Carl William is the MVP of this game. Jamaicans might not agree because crime and safety, as well as corruption, remain challenges.
Dealing with crime is certainly a challenge: all economic correlations, including changing criminogenic needs, mean the security team has to remain the tallest person in the room.
Commissioner Williams will always have difficult task ahead, especially to identify potential sleeper cells, track and measure criminal history and people engaged in crime, and prediction requires synergy.
Sadly, today it appears social media can get more evidence than a local investigator. Jamaica, Trinidad, Guatemala, Haiti and others cannot be successful with pockets of outlaws who continue to cause mayhem, and residents remain silent (no snitch). These communities must become vigilant and be protected.
Williams and others holding top cop positions cannot solve crime alone. If Obama's trip was built on security concerns, the nation needs to realize, despite their frustrations with local criminal elements, that solving crime requires critical data and analysis with methodological commitment from the team.

The road ahead
Since high-profile games are played in a nation's capital, often rural communities are overlooked when they need a new social and justice stadium. Recently, a lifeless body was left for hours after the victim died form a machete chop. (What happened to a trained forensic expert?) Speaking on condition of anonymity, an officer said you cannot solve a crime if you arrive several hours later, at times intoxicated. By then, he entire community has possession of the deceased, the crime scene is compromised and the officer fears for his/her own safety in investigating the incident.
There are many parents still searching for justice. Four-year-old Kayalicia Simpson's family now wonders how the system missed the warning signs, while other mothers are living in fear of their young child being kidnapped and raped on the way to and from school. The idea that some local communities now have turf wars like the Sunnis, Shiites, and ISIS is problematic. These conflicts cannot be allowed to manifest into more issues.
Eliminating potential threats and cutting recidivism requires community trust and resources. The politics that often surrounds community policing has to be balanced with accountability. It is less likely for a young man or woman to join a gang when he or she has opportunities, equal protection, and respect for the rule of law.
Dangerous ideologies are often formed by exclusion. What if Jamaican society had continued to isolate the Rastafarian movement? The question posed to President Obama on the legalization of marijuana would not have been possible. Inclusion only makes a society stronger, even when we disagree.
The crime rates have declined as reported. However, several issues are not resolved while victims search for follow-up and support. The sense of hopelessness cannot be measured. Strengthening local police departments with modern equipment and training is critical. "To serve and protect" is not simply the power of a badge received following graduation from an academy. The recent reported killing of a police officer by another officer who was trying commit a robbery at a bar only further deteriorates trust in the system.
The ending of police violence is equally important, and an independent review board is paramount.

Our hope
As Obama said, "Wah gwan, Jamaica?" Being critical of public safety standards only makes the system better. It is not a good feeling having to spend one's vacation in another part of town simply because of the fear being killed, and frustration in seeing others suffering from barbaric atrocities. For Prime Minister Simpson-Miller, despite the difficulties, she has tried and needs more collaboration. This is not an endorsement.
Winning this bid to host Obama comes with enormous responsibility. Obama leaves Jamaica, what next? The region has to get back its moral compass. Leadership can no longer ignore rural areas until an election season, while continuing to depend on its fruits and vegetables.
As an outsider, how do I choose this MVP? One simply watches the young people basking in hope and change through education. After the last whistle has blown, and the parade is over, the confetti is off the street, and new trees are planted to greet the next world leader, the commissioner will be the fence around which safety can grow.
If this MVP has already begun to stretch this physical and mental fence, great. If not, we cannot see how he can build confidence. I still believe the community is where his best supporting players are.
Finally, the criticism of the cost generated by the cosmetics for Obama's visit only confirms that if the region focuses its resources on solving systematic problems, the temporary beautification can have a lasting effect, and residents will have less ammunition during high profile visits to vent their frustrations.

o Derrick Miller is a trained U.S. Federal law enforcement officer that has been in the criminal justice field for more than 14 years. This article is published with permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Misconceptions about the role of government

April 14, 2015

Freedom of speech is one of the most important liberties that we enjoy here in The Bahamas as it allows the citizenry to voice their concerns and share their thoughts on myriad matters. The gift of communication verbally and in writing within our nation is a distinguishing feature of our civilization, which we must not take for granted.
Views and opinions expressed by the populace over the years in general and in recent times in particular have been quite revealing. They have not only given us insight as it relates to the mentality of some of our people but they have also shed light on some misconceptions on the role of the Bahamas' government and what some perceive to be the responsibility of our political leaders. This piece addresses some of the misunderstandings on what the government should be doing in 21st century Bahamas.

The duty of government
The ultimate role of a government is to secure the rights and liberties of its people. The arms of government ought to work together to ensure that this fundamental function is fulfilled through the enactment, interpretation and enforcement of appropriate law as well as policies. In doing so, emphasis should be placed on the protection of the lives and property of the citizenry. This responsibility also extends to the securing of the country's borders and guarding of its sovereignty. In relation to infrastructural developments, investments in road construction and other public goods are often spearheaded by the government albeit the new paradigm calls for more public/private partnerships to achieve these objectives.
The level of involvement of government in the economy and other aspects of what constitutes our society is often dictated by the philosophy of the political directorate. However, in a strict sense, this can be placed somewhere between two extremes of a communist or socialist system to a pure market system. The reality is that in most cases, the Bahamas government is always somewhere in the middle with a mixed system which promotes policies that embrace components of a free market and socialist framework.

The prosperity of businesses
There has been the tendency to attribute the failures of businesses in The Bahamas over the years to the government. While there have been cases where certain decisions by the government have had significant adverse effects on enterprises, not all business failures should be placed at the feet of the government. The reality is that while some businesses will thrive, others will survive and some will fail either due to the quality of management, operational efficiency or business model employed.
The role of the government is to create a conducive environment by passing the necessary legislation, providing incentives where appropriate, granting concessions which translate into real economic activity and implementing policies that enable entrepreneurs to access the requisite funds or capital to make their dreams come to life. An important part of the government's role in increasing the probability of business success is making it easy to do business in The Bahamas by employing technology in its agencies and cutting the inefficiencies created by red tape. Once this is done the government should be kept out of the running of private businesses.

Job creation and security
One of the ways we ought to measure our progress in empowering our people is the extent to which the government is responsible for the creation of jobs, when compared with jobs created by the private sector. We should keep under watch the percentage of the workforce employed by the government and consider the speed at which such a ratio is being reduced. This is important, as the key driver of economic activity should be the private sector and not the government.
The other important issue in this debate is the perceived notion that the government should guarantee job security for the citizenry. This has resulted in several pleas and requests to the government to intervene in the affairs of private companies and companies within the private sector over the years. This seems to be partly responsible for the ideology held by some civil servants that regardless of their performance, their jobs are secure and there are no consequences for non-performance or inappropriate behavior.

Expansion and value of commerce
The public discourse on further relaxation and elimination of exchange control is not expected to end anytime soon. While the concerns relating to the value of the Bahamian dollar which is pegged to the US dollar is well documented, the impact of the current regime and restriction on the ability of Bahamian businesses to own more of our economy and expand beyond our shores is worthy of note. That being said, the exportation of goods and services by Bahamian businesses has been limited in general terms.
It was interesting to listen to the debate regarding the payment of artists scheduled to perform at the Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival. The intriguing part of the discussion relates to the demand for higher performance fees for local artists based on the market prices of international artists that were under consideration.
What seemed unclear is whether some Bahamian artists wanted the government and not the market to determine their fees. If the expectation was not that the government should increase their market value overnight, then the point raised by Bahamian music legend Ronnie Butler is a valid one. How could we want to overcharge the government and by extension our own selves? It is encouraging to note that some of our local artists have made us proud internationally and continue to spread their wings beyond this nation.

Conclusion
There are significant consequences for a system in which the government and the private sector are unclear on their roles. The country will prosper where the two important pillars of the economy function effectively and collaborate appropriately without assuming the other's responsibility.
The populace must be very careful not to draw the government into situations that do not call for such. In this regard, the main focus should solely be on ensuring that the laws of our land are being adhered to and agreements are not being breached.
The government should further enhance the legal framework to protect the populace by passing pension legislation and incorporating adequate protection in employment legislation. The National Development Plan, which includes stakeholders within the public and private sectors, should be clear on the evolving role of the government over the next 40 years. More importantly, we must change our thinking on what we expect of our political leaders and understand that they are indeed boundaries.

o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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The Canadian banks' dilemma

April 13, 2015

"Bahamians should not be disrespected, disenfranchised or discriminated against based on who they are and what they do in their own country."
- Sebas Bastian, CEO, Island Luck

Last year, Parliament passed the Gaming Act ("the act"), which became effective in November, 2014. Among other things, the act legalized local web shop (gaming house) operations - previously referred to as "numbers houses" - which for decades were illegal, albeit largely accepted by most segments of the Bahamian society.
The act and related regulations provided that gaming houses that applied for licenses in the prescribed manner, subject to the payment of taxes (for the last six years and up to the date of responding to the Gaming Board's Request for Proposal in mid-February) along with the prescribed penalties as high as $750,000, would be allowed to continue in operation until the government decides which applicants would be licensed.
It is expected that this will occur in May or June of this year. Nine gaming houses have applied, and to date the government has collected approximately $30 million in taxes and penalties from the gaming houses.
All gaming houses that applied for licences will be treated as if they are licensed during "the probity or regularization period" - that is, the period during which the Gaming Board reviews applications from gaming house operators.
Notwithstanding the government's valiant endeavors to regularize this industry, some Canadian commercial banks have indicated that they will not accept deposits from these now legal enterprises, based on their Canadian parents' policies not to accept such deposits.
Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider this... What are the implications for this Bahamian-owned industry and the economy in general of those Canadian commercial banks' decision to refuse to accept deposits from gaming houses?

Canadian banks position on local gaming
Two Canadian commercial banks have publicly indicated that they will not conduct business with local gaming houses.
The managing director of CIBC First Caribbean, in a response to a newspaper reporter, recently stated: "As far as it stands right now, we, along with other major Canadian banks, have a decision that we will not be accepting those funds. It's actually a bank policy. Most Canadian banks have a policy in terms of online gaming, so it is just a prohibited policy from our parent companies."
A senior spokesman for RBC (Bahamas) Limited also stated that "regularization alone will not address the problem that stops the banks from being able to open accounts on behalf of web shops." RBC never qualified its extremely evasive and absolutely ambiguous statement to explain what the "problem" is.
While we understand, but disagree with the rationale proffered by the Canadian banks, Commonwealth Bank, wholly-owned by Bahamian shareholders, has adopted a similar policy regarding the gaming houses.
It is extremely difficult to understand why Commonwealth has adopted such a policy. Unlike its Canadian counterparts here, it cannot blame this position on directives from its foreign parents because it doesn't have any. So what is its issue? We believe that Commonwealth Bank owes an explanation to the Bahamian people regarding its stance on this issue. But more about that and the Association of Clearing Banks in a future article.

Disingenuous and discriminatory position of the Canadian banks
It is patently disingenuous that the Canadian banks are happy to accept deposits from the gaming industry in the guise of foreign-owned casino operators on Paradise Island, Nassau, Bimini and Freeport, while refusing to do so from domestic gaming houses. How can they justify or reconcile this discriminatory position?
The irony of this position is that if the Canadian banks are concerned about money laundering or terrorist financing from local gaming houses, there is a far greater risk of banks receiving "questionable" funds from the foreign patrons who gamble in our foreign-owned casinos than from the proceeds of local gaming houses.
In the first place, foreign-owned casinos are required by law to conduct their gaming transactions in United States dollars. Bahamian gaming houses, on the other hand, are legally required to conduct their transactions in Bahamian dollars. Most money laundering or terrorist financing experts will agree that such activities are more likely to be funded with U.S. dollars.
Furthermore, in this newly-regulated environment, it will be impossible for Bahamian gaming houses to accept large amounts of U.S. dollars and therefore the risk of domestic gaming houses engaging in money laundering is substantially eliminated. So where is the risk and what is the "problem" of which RBC speaks?

The hypocrisy of it all
We maintain that the position held by the Canadian banks smacks of discrimination. In their view, it is completely acceptable for the foreign casinos to deposit their funds in the Canadian banks, but Bahamian gaming entrepreneurs are not welcome.
We are reliably informed that one of the Canadian banks recently issued a bank draft in millions of dollars for a Bahamian gaming house to pay its taxes to the government. The draft from that same Canadian bank was imprinted with the name of the gaming house on the draft. It was one of the same banks that professed that it will not conduct business with Bahamian gaming houses. This is the height of hypocrisy.
Furthermore, how far are the Canadian banks prepared to go in order to perpetuate this prohibited "policy"? Does this policy mean that the Canadian banks that refuse to accept deposits from gaming houses will take the same position regarding persons and institutions that do business with the gaming houses?
Will that include refusing deposits from the contractors and workers who recently built the gaming houses on Village and Bernard Roads, for example? What about those established, "respectable" businesses that sell gaming houses food, toilet paper, bottled water and office supplies, etc. or the hundreds of landlords who rent their premises to gaming houses?
Will the Canadian banks refuse to deposit food store revenues or rental income paid to the landlords of the gaming houses, many of whom have active accounts and mortgages with some of the same Canadian banks?
Does this also mean that Canadian banks will not allow the employees and directors of gaming houses to deposit their salaries and directors' fees in their banks? And which banks will muster the intestinal fortitude to inform prominent board members of gaming houses that, if they bank with the Canadian banks, the directors' fees that are paid by the gaming houses for their services will not be accepted? Can we now appreciate the absolute absurdity of the Canadian banks' ill-conceived policies in this matter?

The law should trump corporate policy
In order to properly regulate the local gaming industry, the Gaming Act and regulations include specific provisions to ensure that gaming houses establish client acceptance protocols, know your customer rules, compliance procedures and policies and reporting requirements that mirror those that are imposed on commercial banking customers.
In addition, before the passage of the Gaming Act, the attorney general met with the Financial Action Task Force to inform that international body of the government's plans to regulate the domestic gaming industry. Based on the advice and counsel of international consultants and local gaming specialists, the government has enacted legislation that represents modern, best practices for the industry.
Therefore, the government and the Central Bank of The Bahamas should impress upon the Canadian banks that they are compelled to respect the laws of the country and that statute laws trump foreign corporate policies. The Canadian banks should be made to understand that they operate in The Bahamas and are governed by its constitution (including its anti-discriminatory provisions) and laws.
If the local commercial banks are not persuaded to cease and desist from these disingenuous and discriminatory practices, the local gaming industry should collectively consider contesting the banks' policies and practices in the Bahamian courts. We believe that it is critical for corporate citizens to appreciate that, if they intend to operate in this jurisdiction, they had better persuade their Canadian parents that their policies can never trump our laws.

Conclusion
Fortunately, Bank of The Bahamas has sensibly seized this opportunity to build its book of business by accepting deposits from local gaming houses, subject to that bank's compliance policies and procedures. The time has also come for more Bahamians to establish their own banks, free of the strictures and prohibitions that the Canadian banks regularly impose on our citizens, some of which they cannot get away with in Canada. This issue goes to the heart of our national sovereignty, which our leaders must not compromise.
Aptly observed by Island Luck CEO, Sebas Bastian: "[the] last time I checked, the country I live in is called the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, not the Commonwealth of Canada." The Canadian banks would do well to recognize this reality and act accordingly.

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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Do U.S. presidential elections matter to us

April 10, 2015

The United States (U.S.) presidential election of 2016 is just over 18 months away. Which means it is still a good ways off, but some hopefuls have already come forward and others have expressed keen interest in running for the biggest, most important job on the planet outside of being the Catholic Pope, the chairman of the People's Republic of China or the European Union Commissioner.
In the Caribbean, this apparently matters a great deal to some, even though others claim that it doesn't matter who the president of the U.S. is, American foreign policy doesn't change a great deal in favor of partnering nations unless there is some new and salient point for mutual assistance on certain matters. I lean more on the side of the latter!
Allow me to set the table for explaining the reason why I lean more towards a "bleh!" view of these things. People in the Caribbean claim that U.S. foreign policy has gotten worse over the last 15 years or so. Some of them may be too young to remember the Cold War period, or just flat out forgot what that meant. That period was a particularly tough time for smaller nation states that may have given the appearance of being Marxist or "left leaning" in their economic and political focus.
They also may be suffering from information an gap to a large extent. Even 10 years ago the amount of information from the media outlets and the information super-highway called the internet was not a part of the knowledge bundle. So, key dates, persons and issues were left in blind patches in history and one may have to research a little deeper and use what was found in the context of rational human behavioral patterns and expectations of today, in order to make sense of the times back then and the trials of those who were not Western European or North American during the Cold War.
Be that as it may, persons are now stepping forward to become the new president of the USA and ultimately the leader of the "free world". Seems like a misnomer to use the term free world when most of us are being spied on, travel habits and plans altered since the attacks of 9-11 and countries have clamped down on dissent in favor of more governmental intrusion. Yes, governmental intrusion: It isn't just your country!
The gauntlet has been thrown down very early in the campaign. Republican Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, has officially entered the race. He is the only elected member of the U.S. government to come forward formally to announce his direct intentions for the office, in addition to being the most prominent name to come forward thus far.
The other persons already out of the gate are inconsequential. In fact, they either border on radical outriders or are all-out radicals on the ultra extreme side of the political process and are loosely affiliated, if at all, with the two major parties in the U.S. - the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
For example, perennial candidate and conspiracy theorist, Jeff Boss entered into the race for the Democratic Party first. Boss is a "9-11 truther", meaning that he believes that the U.S. government was behind the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Yup!
But, to be fair, just as we have the "truthers" on the Democratic side of the fence, we have the "birthers" on the other, conservative and Republican side. The "birthers" are the ones that believed that U.S. President Obama was not a natural-born citizen of America and hence was ineligible to be president in the first place.
Also on the Republican side of the candidates already out of the gate and sprinting, a retired engineer and once Prohibition Party candidate - and also a perennial candidate - has put his name in the mix. Yes, the Prohibition Party represents a small group of individuals wanting the alcohol laws repealed all the way back to the 1920s Prohibition era. Good luck with that!
So, as it stands now, along with Senator Cruz, we have a few other characters that make the race interesting. All we need is the former 2010 New York gubernatorial and senatorial candidate from the Rent Is Too Damn High Party (yes, this is the official name of the political party), Jimmy McMillan to enter the race and we would have a full fledged early campaign special. But, with all due respect to McMillan, he received over 40,000 votes in the 2010 New York gubernatorial election, and he did not finish hot last either. Just thought you should know that!
Since coming out of the gate, however, Senator Cruz has faced major criticisms. The first mover (so to speak) out of the gate always gets the flak. The backlash he received is nothing we should be totally worried about. He is a sitting U.S. senator, so he is not a nitwit, he is not a dummy and he certainly has some political savvy about him.
What we never thought would happen to Senator Cruz was that he faced, and is still facing a lot of pressure from his own political party. Statements from sources like Fox News and online media blog the American Conservative have labelled Senator Cruz as "weak" on foreign policy, and "thin" on legislative achievements. In all fairness, that did not stop president Obama. But it is in keeping with the experience mandate of the conservative right.
Be that as it may, a strong but understanding foreign policy record is all we in the Caribbean and Latin America really "should" care about. I put the word should in quotations because we may be focusing on the wrong thing for the wrong set of reasons.
To put it very bluntly: people that have been around the block at least once don't mind or care to any large extent who is elected as the next U.S. president. Unless we have a particular fancy for someone's handling of certain matters (particularly internal economic matters) that we may be able to glean from and incorporate into our own economic policies, it really is "Welcome to the world, nice to meet you and when do we get the next installment of freebies from you?" Just about!
America's international trade policy may come into play to a certain degree, but only when certain crops may be affected, and even to that extent, when the U.S. moves in concert with the European Union, there is very little one can do in the face of that.
However, any move America makes with regard to international trade that may affect certain commodities can be equally offset by America's tremendous generosity towards affected countries. Say what you will of them, America is still, by far, the largest aid and resource donor in the world, taking into consideration the entire bloc of the European Union that accounts for 28 nation states.
In 2013, $32 billion in development and resource aid was doled out by America to the European Union's $87 billion in that same year, as reported by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These figures also do not account for the multitudinous private sector groups, NGOs, civic organizations and faith based groups that have been a hallmark of America's international good-will and generosity.
Back to the topic: from the perspective of this author in particular, I have seen just about enough of American foreign policy to know that it does not matter who the president of the U.S. is. The policy typically remains the same, or just about, with minor alterations for persons who the current administration favors to a significant extent.
Take for example former president George W. Bush's liking for our former prime minister, Hubert A. Ingraham. Former prime minister Ingraham was able to visit Washington to meet with President Bush on two formal occasions, and God knows how many other times he was allowed access to top officials or go-betweens in order to achieve whatever it was he was dealing with at the time.
However, any particular favorability with regard to national objectives in The Bahamas was not really seen. We did not see looser immigration regulations for students and persons wishing to travel to the United States. We did not see the banking laws in The Bahamas change with the tacit approval of the Bush administration, or a fresh wave of openings in our financial services industry.
We did not see a sharp rise in tourists under the Bush administration, and neither was the US Embassy here particularly softer in its tone with regard to crime and other seedy little items that may arise as a result of developing nation tomfoolery.
By the same token, all of the matters we were concerned with under the Bush administration can be said to remain the same, or just about, under the current Obama administration, albeit tourism arrivals have accelerated to a significant level as a result of employment growth in America.
I don't know what this represents in your neck of the Caribbean, Central American and South American parts of the bushes, but take it as it is.
To be very candid about this American foreign policy issue, there is not a lot one can do about it. It is what it is as long as they are the superpower. There is even less we can do about American domestic economic policy as well, when primarily this affects us just as much and to some extent more than American foreign policy directed towards our grouping.
So, with regard to the other potential candidates and hopefuls looking to take the reins of the world's toughest job, to me and many others it's just the same person with just a different tone of voice.
Whether it is the presumptive female candidate Hillary Clinton for the Democrats, or her internal Democratic Party rival, Senator Elizabeth Warren (apparently President Obama's top choice to succeed him), or on the Republican side the brother of the last Republican president, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, or another presumptive front runner, retired neurologist and African American Republican hopeful, Dr Ben Carson, for me it's all the same.
Our main focus should be watching now and continuing to watch in an effort to learn more about what America does internally with regard to its economy. That itself is something Caribbean nations can do with regard to buffering our respective economies from shocks as they will emanate from our big brother to the north.

o Youri Kemp is president and CEO of Kemp Global, a management consultancy firm based in The Bahamas.

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