Opinion

Honoring those among us

May 30, 2014

Oftentimes, we have a habit of not recognizing the contributions of our citizens because of their political loyalties. This is an unfortunate reality that continues to exist in 2014.
However, it is something that should be reviewed by the government. Notwithstanding the various mechanisms that are in place, it would be nice for the public to be fully aware of how we can make recommendations for the most prestigious honors recognized in the Commonwealth.
Persons such as Janet Bostwick, who should have been knighted by now; A. Loftus Roker, Dr. Elwood Donaldson, Franklyn Wilson, Charles Carter, Richard Demeritte and Frank Watson are all individuals who should be considered for such high honors.
And while we may all have our views on who should or should not be honored, the facts are, the individuals mentioned above have all contributed at least 40 years of exemplary service to this independent country called The Bahamas.
For those who would want to know more about each of these persons, start talking to your friends and family and I am sure they will be able to tell you about those persons and their contributions.
None of us will live forever, but for those who are younger, barring some tragic calamity, time is on your side and that fact is not going to disappear.
In this vein, as our citizens who have made great sacrifices and contributions grow older, we ought to ensure that we afford them the proper honor and respect that they are due by elevating them with the highest recognition that can be bestowed while they are alive.
Most of those who have died would probably tell you if they could come back for a minute, that you should give them their flowers while they are alive and not when they are dead and gone. This means that we should work as a nation to ensure that we do not allow our political divide to restrain us from recognizing our Bahamian people.
Regardless of our political allegiances and views, we are all Bahamians and while it is said that there exists a nasty spirit of jealousy and destruction among some, this does not epitomize the spirit of a proud and nationalistic Bahamian.
Maybe there is a quota on the knighthoods that can be granted and if there is such, we need to commence proceedings to ensure that we fill our quota in a timely manner for those deserving Bahamians. These types of honors ought not to be for dispensation in a light and trifling fashion.
Honoring our people is not just a rite of passage that we facilitate at an appointed time. It is something that we should be doing with jubilance and excitement because in addition to ensuring that we are showing appreciation to those who have given unselfishly of themselves over the years, it also shows the next generation something that they can aspire for in the future.
In a time when the murder count is above 50 and this is just the month of June, we need something to hope for, that can give us some encouragement.
Honoring those Bahamians whose life work has been to uplift and move the country forward is a notable and worthy goal.
There should be no apology for Bahamians making recommendations for those that they deem to be deserving of these high honors. We have to put politics aside when it comes to this particular aspect of our national development and ensure that all Bahamians who should be recognized get acknowledgement and their contribution publicized.
Victimization and discrimination have no place in our country if we are to achieve the most we can. When there is so much bad that is going on in the Bahamas, wouldn't it be nice if we are able to start modeling behavior that shows to the next generation that we can strive for excellence and move forward?
Political differences are part and parcel of the democratic reality of any open society, however, the tribalism and destructive behaviors which seek to destroy Bahamians because they hold another view are neither right nor beneficial.
Young people observe the behavior of the leaders of the country and come to conclusions which impact their own behavior.
Sometimes these behaviors are deleterious and other times they are uplifting. If we continue to practice governance which simply hinges on politics, the best and brightest will not contribute and the country will regress to a state worse than has never been seen.
Giving honor where honor is due is not just a moral obligation - any responsible government will ensure that its people understand and recognize the valuable contributions that citizens have made.
And while the list of those who should receive the highest honors the Commonwealth has to bestow is not exhaustive, if you have persons that fit the description of an individual deserving to be honored, let your members of parliament know. Let those who have the authority to make it happen be aware.
Partisanship has no place when it comes to bestowing the highest honors available for our citizens who have demonstrated that regardless of their political standing, their contribution has risen to a level higher than its beginning. Many of you have views on who you believe should receive this type of recognition. There is no point just grumbling around the Sunday dinner table or having lively and provocative discourse during the week on the subject if you do not ensure that your voice is heard.
As a citizen of the Bahamas you have an obligation to ensure that those of us alive today and generations in the future will know who among us made their mark in a positive way. Why not speak up and let others know your thoughts? After all, isn't that what democracy is all about?

o John Carey served as a member of Parliament from 2002 to 2007.

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Country needs new direction and leadership from FNM

May 29, 2014

It is the task of the official opposition to prepare for and win the next general election in order to rescue the country from the terrible misrule, gross incompetence and abuses of power by the Christie administration.
The prior task is to mount the leadership necessary to more effectively challenge and confront an out-of-control government. Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis is nowhere up to the task.
The current administration is responsible for one of the worst abuses of power since internal self-government, namely, the creation of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) with no legal foundation and clear oversight mechanisms.
No matter how much certain government ministers try to deflect from this monumental failure, the Cabinet bears collective responsibility for a matter the fuller ramifications of which are still unfolding.
The NIA matter was raised during last year's budget debate by FNM Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner. She raised it again at a recent rally. The following morning this journal led with Butler-Turner's remarks.
It was only after Butler-Turner again sounded the alarm and received wide coverage in the media that Minnis, who is the shadow minister of national security, in yet another round of catch-up, spoke to the issue.
There is an adage in politics that a government needs to fear the opposition as a check on governmental overreach. The PLP not only does not fear Minnis, it considers him to be of little threat. But the PLP fears Butler-Turner, most recently seen in her challenge on the NIA.
Distraction
A key reason that the PLP does not fear Minnis is that the public is largely underwhelmed by his leadership and mostly views him as ineffective. With all the burning issues that need to be kept before the public by the opposition, Minnis this week introduced a distraction by raising the dead issue of term limits for prime ministers.
His perennial gaffes exasperate the party faithful and much of the general public. A few verbal gaffes are one thing, but a never-ending string of mistakes demonstrate a pattern of poor thinking and reasoning.
Speaking in reference to the seizure of computers from the home of FNM Chairman Darron Cash, Minnis noted that he didn't fear the police seizing his computer because the information on it was "cryptic".
Cryptic means secret. Presumably the information most of us have on our computers is secret or confidential. What Minnis seems to have meant is that his data is encrypted.
But the encryption of his data is not the issue. The larger issue is the fears the Bahamian people have about possible illegal government spying or the potential seizure of their computers without good cause.
On the heels of his involvement in the debacle over the matter of proposed salary and allowance increase for parliamentarians, Minnis botched the details of the revocation of the senatorial appointment of John Bostwick, just another in an unending trail of amateurish mistakes by Minnis.
As noted in this week's National Review in this journal: "The botching of Minnis' determination to make vacant the Senate seat that was occupied by Bostwick speaks to wider issues with the opposition leader's ability to properly handle such matters... Far from nit-picking, this matter reflects a troubling pattern of incompetence on Minnis' part on the most basic things.
"If he cannot get simple things right in opposition, we have to wonder how he could competently lead an entire nation as prime minister. These small things speak to ability, and Minnis has thus far been unconvincing in this regard."
The conclusion of the article was chilling, perhaps summarizing a view held by many inside and outside the FNM: "He is not what the FNM needs if it intends to again do serious battle with the Progressive Liberal Party."
Disappointingly, Minnis, who promised to lead the government from the opposition, has proven spectacularly incapable of leading the opposition.
But it isn't only Minnis' lackluster performance that is troubling. More troubling is that he does not seem to grasp or fully appreciate the underlying philosophy or traditions of the FNM.
Potential
He seems incapable of crafting a strategy that marshals the fuller potential and extraordinary heritage of the FNM. He has not developed and delivered a message to FNMs and the public on the central differences between the PLP and the FNM.
Minnis' gaffes and inability to hone a clearer message has been a godsend to DNA Leader Branville McCartney and his politics of triangulation. McCartney's great claim is that he is not the PLP or the FNM. What exactly he stands for is often a moving target. Correspondingly, he is a prime promoter of a false equivalence between the major parties.
It is easy to see through his nakedly self-serving acrobatics. As a former FNM, when he received a nomination from the party and after he was appointed to a junior Cabinet post he seemed clear on the differences between the major parties.
If Hubert Ingraham had made him a substantive minister, how likely is it that he would have bolted the FNM? And if the FNM invited him to be its leader tomorrow, one can imagine how quickly he would be able to recite central differences between the PLP and FNM.
Politics is largely about contrast. Minnis has not effectively contrasted the FNM with the PLP. Worse, he has aided and abetted the "pox on both houses" mindset making a false equivalence between the two parties on a host of matters including that of victimization, which the PLP perfected in its initial 25-year reign.
There are extraordinary and clarifying differences between the FNM and the PLP, which the purveyors of the false equivalence often ignore because of intellectual sloth, personal agendas and/or other reasons.
An underlying difference is the mindset of the two parties when in office. With a quarter-century reign from 1967 to 1992 the PLP developed an entitlement mentality now deeply entrenched in the party's culture and genes.
Having spent nearly 25 years in opposition, the FNM found elected office a privilege, not an entitlement. Viewing government as an entitlement or a privilege makes an enormous difference in just about every aspect of governance.
That difference is seen today in the return of many of the excesses of the Pindling era. There never was a new PLP as advertised by the party in the run-up to the 2002 general election. It was a marketing strategy to distance the PLP from the victimization and scandal-soaked years of the Pindling era.
Reverted
Today the party no longer boasts of the new PLP. Beginning in 2002, and now with a vengeance after re-election in 2012, the party reverted to old form. We have returned to some of the darkest days of the Pindling era.
Clearly, Perry Christie, the man who bragged that he would swim through vomit to return to a deeply corrupt PLP, was never the man to launch a new era. Instead he presides over a party which seems to believe that the election of an FNM government is inherently illegitimate.
He seems to more than preside. He appears to encourage a certain mindset. Recall Christie's rude insult to Sir Durward Knowles when the latter told him that he was a dedicated FNM. Christie told the revered Bahamian patriot and philanthropist that he was a brave man for making such an admission.
The mindset is clear: The PLP is not only entitled to govern. The party is also the rightful owner of The Bahamas, the greater patriot, while FNMs should tread lightly and be grateful for the scraps from the Bahamian patrimony.
Another clarifying difference between the two major parties is the quality of democracy within the organizations. In approximately 50 years the PLP has had two maximum leaders, with Christie having stacked the party with stalwart councillors, reminiscent of an autocratic regime.
The early PLP helped to achieve majority rule, then quickly became a threat to democracy and good governance. It was the FNM that saved democracy in The Bahamas from the misrule of Sir Lynden Pindling.
It is the FNM which will now have to rescue the country from the misrule of Christie and today's PLP characterized by rank cronyism; at minimum, a soft despotism; various abuses of power and unfettered arrogance.
Minnis does not grasp the moment as seen in his complicity in the parliamentary salaries debacle, his failure to raise the NIA issue, his making a false equivalence between the FNM and the PLP on various issues.
It is time for the FNM to hold a convention and to elect a new leader. What is at stake is restoring the only political organization in the country that can challenge and defeat a regressive PLP which is taking the country back to some of the darkest days of the Pindling era.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Tradition is a loaded gun - part 2

May 28, 2014

Of all its failings, I suggest that the biggest failure of the Christian church (in The Bahamas) is its lack of a firm posture with respect to the equality of women, including the very women in its congregations, who support it in every possible capacity and on every important occasion.
At first glance, this failure is not apparent. But the inequalities experienced by women are deeply implanted in the customs of our people and these customs are deeply implanted in the Christian church, such that these inequalities are rooted in the very same church.
Women are regarded as "equal" in the church and in wider society until they oppose or divert from the norms and as long as they fit into the gender role of women as established by society, religion, and tradition.
The very core of the Christian church provides a hurdle to women's equality with the philosophy that women were made for men and must be acquired by them in marriage. Within Christianity, there is an underlying doctrine of possession of a woman by a husband (and of a man by a wife).
In a Christian society like ours, marriage is the highest level of human coexistence and the highest measure of social accomplishment, which many women and men seek to attain. And not only are men groomed to think that they own 'their' women, but women have also bought completely into the idea of possessing the men they marry.
But people cannot be owned and believing that they can be will always lead to conflict.
Every person is born a free individual with their individual rights and a separate identity. Even in a marriage, a woman and a man both have their own identities and, because of that, their own needs and desires.
Marrying someone does not erase the fact that they are their own person, and people who struggle in marriage will often tell you that whatever problem exists occurs most usually because one person in the marriage has an individual need that the other cannot or will not supply. And their need never changes because who they are, fundamentally - a separate and unique individual - does not change by the act of marriage. No matter how much you 'own' them, they still are who they are.
Our societal and cultural concept of relationships as methods of bestowing ownership interest on either person in a relationship and marriage being defined as giving up individual identity to become one entity, particularly when the parts that make up that unit are not whole in themselves, is structurally problematic.
If we could acknowledge this, and take a different approach to marriage as the joining of two separate people who keep their identities and sovereignties, we would be that much closer to admitting that a large part of the problem of domestic abuse and violence is the commonly upheld practice of trying or desiring to own a person.
The traditional outcome
Our country suffers a significant challenge in terms of gender inequality because gender inequality is directly linked to the way we perceive gender roles, which is something that is cultivated by our Christian and western philosophies, the latter being based in Christianity. In Eastern philosophy, Islam is responsible for the gender divide and the inequality of men and women. Elsewhere in the world, it is some other culture or tradition which is also centered on a religion that creates the inequality.
Unbeknownst to many, including myself, until I took the time out to examine it, Christianity and Islam share a very similar story of creation which declares that man was made first and woman was made from man and given to man to be his help and to save him from loneliness and war.
It sounds good in theory; today's women take delight in being called a gift, and so they perpetuate the concept of ownership and possession by choosing to be "given" to men through marriage. Women love to be owned; many men do, too. There is such pride in being possessed. And why? Because not only is it a hope to validate identity, it is what tradition tells us all should happen.
Tradition teaches a woman that she is not a whole person if she is not a married person. It's the same education given to a man, but with a clear advantage on his part because he's taught that he must lead and direct a woman and take charge of the household and everything in it, including the woman. This inevitably gets taken to the extreme and the end result is anything from some version of a small but hostile disagreement because of jealousy and possessiveness, to massive conflict which quickly and steadily disintegrates into something more disturbing and life-threatening.
Tradition and religion tell a woman to 'submit' because she was made for man. But she can't submit in just one way; she has to submit emotionally, spiritually, physically/sexually and financially. She must become a dependent. Her happiness must be defined by her husband's. Her achievements must rise or fall based on the movement of his. Her body must do what he wants it to do. And her financial well-being should rely on his. She must rely on the man's protection, provision and preaching to guide her and her children's lives, and anything else is an anomaly or an abomination against "God's plan" for men and women.
That is not equality.
And, because of this indoctrination, some in the church will argue that men and women were never made to be equal.
Therein lies the problem.
Obviously, the equality of women is far more legitimate than the teachings of the church will allow. Women's rights and equality go to battle against thousands of years of religious tradition upon which entire nations are built, and which, curiously, have been governed by men for thousands of years. A casual glance around our society emphasizes that religion and law are still intertwined and ruled by men. Is it any wonder, then, that as women we find ourselves fighting today in our Bahamas for the basic constitutional right of citizenship for our children?
But, can we stop for a moment to consider that it is entirely possible, if we can bend our heads around this concept, for all people to maintain their religious faiths and still recognize that women exist for more than the needs of men?
Equality through enriched thinking
What all women must learn early on, as girls, is that there is no requirement to attach yourself to someone in order to be someone. Clearly this is more difficult to accept and achieve in some countries than others, but that is the very reason why in those same countries women end up raped, battered, burned with acid, stoned and mutilated.
Stretching the mind a little further, think of all the things you can accomplish in marriage. Can they not also be accomplished outside of marriage? The only real impediment to accomplishing them outside of marriage is that you live in a society built on a Christian tradition which tells you that as a woman/man, you need to have a husband/wife in order to get anything or to be anything, and the entire society is structured around this principle.
All of these are disempowering philosophies for girls and for women, which lower them to positions of subservience and subject them to all types of abuse. This does not make for a progressive nation.
When you have a male talk show host on a station owned and managed by women asking "How much more rights do women want?", because some are pushing for a constitutional referendum and a subsequent constitutional amendment, you have to ask yourself, "How progressive are we, really, in our thinking about the equality of women and men?"
And in our country, how can we advocate for equal opportunity and equal pay for women, when we can't mandate equal citizenship rights for their children?
That one right is fundamental to every other right, but those with the responsibility to put it to the people and have it dealt with once and for all prefer, instead, to discuss their salaries, subsidies and stipends.
Sadly, pushing aside the serious and more difficult questions in favor of the less significant and easier questions, while continuing to ignore the obvious problem, is also a tradition.
Now, are we going to leave the situation as is because it is just easier to keep doing what we've been doing all along, in other words, abiding by our tradition?
o Nicole Burrows in an academically trained economist. She can be contacted at: nicole.burrows@outlook.com.

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Maximizing the potential of our Bahamaland

May 27, 2014

The last week has been quite eventful for The Bahamas as we hosted for the first time the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Conference (CWP) and the inaugural International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Relays. The organizers of both events ought to be commended for a job well done and the Bahamian people congratulated for our exceptional hospitality as our nation was in the spotlight throughout the region and the entire globe.
Our world-class athletes no doubt made us proud with their poise, dedication and hard work, for which we are grateful.
A focus on representation in governance
It is noteworthy that the CWP conference was a regional conference of the Caribbean, Atlantic and the Americas region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Women's Association (CPWA), which is the female branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). The theme of the aforesaid conference, "Women: The Voice, The Vote, The Victory", provides some insight into the minimal role played by women in the direct governance of commonwealth nations.
The main objective of the CPWA is to promote better representation for women in legislatures within commonwealth countries. This objective is in line with the overall objectives of the CPA as documented in its Strategic Plan (2008 - 2012). Objective 6 of that plan is, "To promote gender equality and equity in the work of the CPA and across the association and encourage women to stand for election to representative bodies by advocating the removal of barriers to their participation and to facilitate their professional contribution as members."
The Bahamian reality
The contribution of Bahamian women to the building of our nation and the deepening of our democracy is well documented. Bahamian women continue to flourish in all spheres of Bahamian society and have assumed leadership roles in the professional, social, religious and civic fields. However, when it comes to female representation at the highest levels of governing, The Bahamas continues to lag behind other nations. This is in spite of the high level of participation by women in the political process and the fact that more women than men were registered to vote in the lead-up to the last general election.
It is difficult to ignore the possibility that the underrepresentation of women around the national decision-making table may be connected to the ideology created by the gender inequality provisions of our constitution.
Nevertheless, despite the level of support provided by Bahamian women to political, religious and corporate organizations, Bahamian women have not been adequately represented in our parliament for 40 years since independence.
The self-doubt syndrome
The deliberations at the CWP were useful and informative in that they provided an avenue for the sharing of ideas and ultimate development of a strategic plan to achieve the purpose of the CPWA.
However, the question remains as to whether the postulation of Warren Buffett that women doubt themselves is a contributing factor to the current composition of our parliament by gender. This question represents the first hurdle which must be crossed and is a query that can only be properly answered by us - the women of The Bahamas.
The other side of this inquiry focuses on the level of confidence we have not only in our abilities but also in that of our fellow women. This is important as it translates into the extent to which we support one another.
The suggestion is not that we solely support women or that women should be given a free pass because of their gender, but rather that duly qualified and competent female candidates for high office should be given a fair and equal chance in comparison to their male counterparts.
In this regard, can qualified aspiring female parliamentarians depend on the vote of the largest voting bloc in The Bahamas? Additionally, how many past and present political leaders have enough confidence in Bahamian women to provide mentorship and guidance to aspiring public servants?
Partnership to achieve our potential
The movement for gender equality and female empowerment must not be viewed from a myopic perspective. There is indeed a higher calling and bigger picture for our beloved country in the promotion of equal opportunity and equivalent basic human rights for the Bahamian woman. It is important that we realize that our country cannot reach its full potential in an environment that holds one gender inferior or superior to another.
Hence, the movement should not be seen to concede the inferiority of women or pursue their superiority. Rather, the clamor should be aimed at the creation of a level playing-field in which all Bahamians can fulfill their God-given purpose and contribute to the building of The Bahamas.
The Bahamian women of this era seek to build upon the work of the women of the Suffrage Movement in the fight for justice and the creation of a better Bahamas. We do not seek to replace or diminish the important role of Bahamian men in the governance of our country; our objective is to work with our male counterparts toward a common loftier goal. For this nation will not be all that it can be without increased participation of women in governance.
Nurturing and the conscience of a nation
The natural role of women in the development of communities and nurturing can be inferred from the classic speech of the late Dame Doris Johnson on January 19, 1959.
Dame Johnson commenced her speech by stating: "Mr. Speaker and members of the honorable House of Assembly, today invincible womanhood, mother of men..."
This reference to the indomitable and fighting spirit of the Bahamian woman recognizes the fortitude of our women and was followed by a clear declaration that the men that marginalized the women of that era were carried and delivered by women.
There is so much that can be said about the fact that male leaders are groomed and prepared for their destinies by mothers; by women who in some cases are not deemed to be qualified enough for a place in Parliament or around the Cabinet table. It must never be forgotten that women and mothers in particular are the conscience of nations and bear the brunt of ills within our societies; yet remain unbroken.
The following words of Baroness Thatcher are instructive in this vein: "Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country".
Imagining the possibilities
It would be remiss not to state that we have made some progress in relation to the involvement of women in Bahamian politics and governance since the famous speech of Dame Doris Johnson 55 years ago. However, the progress made has not been significant enough based on the historical and current ratio of men to women in The Bahamas' parliament.
As a nation, we must envision the promise the future holds in a country that promotes the best among us to higher office to serve the Bahamian people regardless of their gender but rather based on their character, abilities and potential.
Indeed, the extent of the success we can achieve in a country led by men and women working together side by side need not only be imagined but should be pursued by us all. All we need is the will, and there will be a way to get it done.
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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Open letter to The Bahamas Police Commissioner

May 26, 2014

Two decades and no moneys received yet...German investor calls for public commission of inquiry...

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Looking after themselves

May 26, 2014

Recently, a select committee submitted its report to Parliament regarding its review of parliamentary salaries and the possible construction of a new Parliament. This week, we would like to Consider this...is it now timely for Parliament to consider either the increase in MPs' salaries or the construction of a new parliamentary complex?
Background
The parliamentary select committee was appointed to inquire and make recommendations to the House on matters pertaining to the powers, privileges, immunities of Parliament, the allowances and benefits of parliamentarians and the feasibility of a new parliamentary complex. The committee, comprised of four Progressive Liberal Party and three Free National Movement MPs, unanimously recommended that MPs' salaries should be increased. The committee also suggested that the compensation gap between the speaker's salary of $80,000 and that of the deputy speaker of $32,000 was too wide and the latter should be upwardly revised. Some of the other suggestions included recommendations for:
o An increase in MPs'
monthly constituency office allowances, from $1,500 to $2,500;
o Parliamentary insurance coverage to include spouses, and that such insurance should continue after MPs leave office;
o Duty allowances to be paid to all MPs;
o Travel allowances for family island MPs who represent multiple islands;
o Increased benefits for the leader of the opposition;
o Enhancements for the clerk and deputy clerk of the House of Assembly;
o Benefits awarded to former prime ministers to be enshrined in law;
o A grant to be made to political parties represented in Parliament;
o The speaker of the House of Assembly to be made a corporation sole and to have greater administrative and budgetary controls over the operations of the House.
Public reaction to the recommendations
The public reaction to the committee's recommendations was immediate and inimical. Several trade unionists voiced their disappointment at the report. John Pinder, president of the Bahamas Public Services Union said: "I thought they were very presumptuous to want that at this time when they are saying the country has no money. We are faced with the government trying to introduce value-added tax on Bahamians who can't afford that. The country is strapped for cash. I have a number of members who work in buildings that have been condemned for a number of years - they work in poor environments."
Belinda Wilson, president of the Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT), observed: "As hundreds of teachers wait for millions of dollars to be paid to them for correct salaries, back pay, confirmations and more, the BUT is very concerned...this should not take priority over the small man, teachers and workers of this country who are suffering."
Former parliamentarians also weighed in. Branville McCartney, leader of the Democratic National Alliance, blasted the committee members, noting that he was "amazed and disheartened" that they would unanimously approve an increase in their wages and benefits while regular Bahamians are struggling financially.
In a similar vein, former Cabinet minister George Smith observed with respect to salary increases that "it should be revisited when the economy is much stronger and there is a surplus of money in the treasury". On the construction of a new parliamentary complex, he maintained that "the government first of all needs to ensure that all of its employees are in proper accommodations before they can even talk about building any new House of Assembly".
Out of touch
We are surprised and concerned how out of touch the members of the select committee are with the Bahamian people and that they could even bring themselves to table such a report in Parliament. Surprised because it is patently clear that in perhaps the shortest period of time of any government in recent times, the current administration has been disappointing at best and disastrous at worst in several areas.
In two short years, the electorate is suffering from "buyers' remorse" and the only thing that will save this government is the even more abysmally dismal performance of the official opposition.
Speaking of the official opposition, while we believe that the role of the opposition is not to oppose for the sake of so doing, this is a classic example in which the public could have taken comfort that the opposition is doing its job. This is a case where the opposition could have voiced good and valid reasons for foregoing an increase in their salaries; however, they unanimously agreed with the governing party members on the committee. How thoroughly disappointing!
We are also concerned that any parliamentary committee could table such a report because it reflects an insensitivity on its part for the plight of Bahamians who continue to suffer from the devastating effects of the Great Recession, from which we are only now gradually emerging. While we believe that, in the fullness of time, parliamentary salaries should be reviewed, now is not the time for so many reasons.
First, the funds simply are not there. The government met a deplorably dismal fiscal situation when it took office two years ago, and neither the economy, the national deficit nor the national debt have improved sufficiently to warrant an increase in parliamentary salaries.
Secondly, there are so many other public servants who are in greater need of increased remuneration. All parliamentarians, except Cabinet ministers, have or could have full-time jobs for which they are paid, some very handsomely.
That members should now suggest a salary increase is vulgar and obscene, akin to the double-dipping of public servants who simultaneously receive full compensation as well as National Insurance benefits while they are on sick leave.
As for Cabinet ministers, a case can be made to increase Cabinet ministers' salaries, because their salaries are comparatively low for persons who devote their entire time to the administration of the country. However, we would only support this for a much smaller Cabinet of no more than 15 persons. The current Cabinet, in our opinion, is too bloated and the Bahamian people are not now receiving value for money from some Cabinet ministers.
Third, any consideration of a parliamentary salary increase is a revealing indication of the thinking of parliamentarians who believe that the government will likely receive additional taxes from value-added or alternative taxes; hence there will be additional revenue to defray increased parliamentary wages. Instead of projecting a mind-set of austerity, cost-savings and expenditure containment, MPs seem to be salivating at the prospect of finding new ways to spend projected new tax revenue. This should be of great concern to the Bahamian people.
Fourth, while we agree that more resources should be applied to defray the cost of constituency offices and MPs visiting constituents who live on various islands in their constituencies, we strongly object to the erection of a new parliamentary complex at this time, as we do to duty allowances for MPs. What possible rationale can they advance in support of the latter suggestion?
Conclusion
There is a well-known poem that we learned early in our youth: "Of all my mother's children, I love myself the best, but when I get my belly full, I don't care 'bout all the rest". This poem seems to concisely characterize the attitude of some parliamentarians who seem eager to improve their lot in a time of great austerity, at the expense of Bahamians who are in considerably greater need. Is it any wonder why our citizens are feeling such a level of distrust and disappointment in politicians?
Our politicians would be well-advised to be more sensitive about the recommendations that they make, especially when they are the beneficiaries of such recommendations. They also would be well-advised to remember whose money it is they are proposing to spend and for whose welfare they are elected to work.
At this trying time in our nation when people are really hurting, the politician that never forgets the people, understands their needs and keeps their well-being first and foremost in his performance in Parliament will be the politician who will be returned to the House by his constituents. He will also be the one who shows his fellow politicians the simple and timeless formula for being a good public servant: serve the public before getting your own belly full.
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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Boko Haram or the return to the law of the jungle

May 23, 2014

It will soon be one month since a group of radical Muslim militants abducted a group of 300 young Nigerian girls (53 of them have succeeded to escape) demanding the government of Nigeria release some of their members. Failure to do so and the girls will be sold as slaves. In a very rare show of unity, African leaders have come together to build an international crusade that will crush Boko Haram and its grip on Nigeria and other countries on the African continent.
I remember in 2001, when a millennium-old shrine dedicated to the Buddhas of Bamiyan built around 595 AD was destroyed in Afghanistan by the Taliban government with strong attachment to Al-Qaida. The destruction of this World Heritage site was done without sanction by the world's community. Al-Qaida had converged like cannons to strike the World Trade Center on 9/11, causing some 3,000 deaths in downtown Manhattan.
The world has changed since then; it has lost its innocence. The cost of security for the average traveler by air is almost equal to the cost of the travel. Billions have been spent in Iraq and in Afghanistan to contain Al-Qaida, almost to no avail.
Boko Haram the new gangrene
It is expected to cause harmful and irreparable damage to the world when it metastasizes on a continent ripe with corruption, misery and ill governance. On May 22, 2014, the U.N. Security Council's Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee approved the addition of Boko Haram to its list of individuals and entities subject to financial sanctions and arms embargo as a terrorist organization.
The president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, has so far demonstrated poor leadership in dealing with the terrorist organization. His plan of war against a group that declared jihad against its established government is at best hollow and shallow.
Created in 2002 by Mohamed Yusuf, Boko Haram demands the strict application of Sharia law. It strikes not only Muslims but also Christians with the same viciousness. Western education, in particular the education of women, is seen as a mortal sin that must be confronted with the most lethal weapons.
Yusuf was killed in an attack by the Nigerian army in 2002. His successor Abubakar Shekan has demonstrated a complete disdain for human life. His ranting on live TV: "I enjoy killing those God asks me to kill like chickens", demonstrated a mind filled with psychotic dementia.
Extreme religious intolerance in the past
It has been with the world since the beginning of times. Suffice it to start around 34 AD with the record of Saul converted into Paul. He was on his way to Damascus to spread Jewish religious intolerance against the new Christians, when he was stricken by God with the question, "Why do you want to insist in persecuting my followers?"
The Roman emperors, with Nero the cruelest one, refined their persecution of Christians, killing them with a sinister refinement that included crucifying Peter, the rock upon whom Christendom was built, upside down, to differentiate from the way Christ was crucified.
The Emperor Constantine, with the edict of Milan in 313, stopped the persecution of Christians and facilitated the spread and the hegemony of the Christian faith throughout the world. On the back of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church became arrogant and despotic.
Religious intolerance led to the 30-years war in Europe from 1618 to 1648 that caused the killing of half the male population in Germany. It was again religious intolerance that led the pilgrims to leave the British Isles to land in Massachusetts. The pilgrims' legacy was imprinted on the United States, where the American Constitution is a shrine to "the free exercise of religion", with America the best model of diversity and the protection of religious rights.
There were some dark moments of religious intolerance throughout the United States, such as the prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses during the Second World War for their refusal to support the war and salute the flag. There was also the internment of Japanese Americans, with religious intolerance against Buddhism and Shinto practice.
Yet America represents today one of the best examples of a nation where religious tolerance is enshrined in the mind and the spirit of the people.
To conclude
Boko Haram, the new despotic organization of religious intolerance on the block, has a better chance of being crushed by a coalition of the willing, led by Muslim countries like Singapore, Turkey and Malaysia, that succeeded in creating a nation with a mission of being hospitable to all. The viciousness of the Boko Haram militants is fueled by the state of failed states that are the hallmark of not only Nigeria but the daily situation in most of the African countries.
Making Africa hospitable to its own people, through the support of reasonable leaders bent on making their nation good for their own people will wither away the uncivilized Boko Haram from the face of this earth. It will demand that the Western nations, in particular the United States, cease an international policy of hands off in the matter of nation building. It will demand also that the African countries in general, Nigeria in particular, cease its practice of a fake nation where the resources of the country are mobilized by the leaders and their cronies to the detriment of the needs of the general population.
o Jean H. Charles LLB, MSW, JD is a syndicated columnist with Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol.com and followed at caribbeannewsnow/haiti. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Counterfeit pastors

May 23, 2014

Many believe that those who have the awesome responsibility of leading people in a spiritual manner, are untouchable and beyond reproach.
Well, I am not one of those persons and the last time I checked the individuals leading churches are human beings who are governed by human and spiritual laws. As such, they have an obligation just like the rest of us to follow the laws. Moreover, because they claim to be spiritual leaders, they have an even higher requirement based on their moral obligation to uplift and be an example to society in modeling right behavior.
I am sick and disgusted that there are so many impostors who are like wolves devouring sheep in our little Bahamas today.
They have a slick talking message and with the Bible in one hand, and a wicked spirit, they pillage and plunder. What is even more despicable is that the real pastors seem silent and indifferent about what is going on.
In most professions there is some standard that is required. Usually that standard includes an ethics component that is a mandatory part of the professional conduct.
In our country, not only do so many of these fake pastors who run around with scripture in their mouth and some shady stuff everywhere else profess to be the vessels through which God speaks, the real pastors sit idly by and allow the misrepresentation of their profession to continue thus causing many of us to be confused.
Will the real pastors stand up and tell us who to watch out for? Or shall they leave it to God and let a nation of innocent people be bamboozled by miscreants and unfit people all in the name of Jesus?
It is unacceptable that we as a people continue to accept and allow an unregulated group of persons to abuse, misuse, assault, insult, take advantage of and all the other stuff you can think of that they do to people without consequences for them.
There is no standard that is espoused by the Bahamas Christian Council that regulates their behavior and is enforceable, yet they lambast the government and all and sundry on any matter they deem to be morally reprehensible. This double standard and bullying of our nation has got to stop.
Those who are true spiritual leaders must stand up, speak up and be relentless in their efforts to weed out these individuals who are impostors and perpetrators of evil and who simply make monkey capers of the Bahamian people.
Who do you go to when these fake preachers take advantage of the congregants and abuse, rob, and steal their dignity, humanity and finances? Some of you may want to report them to the police. Some of you may want to report them to the Chamber of Commerce. But if the action is not a criminal matter, it is unlikely that the police can assist and I am unaware of the church being registered as a business so it is also unlikely they are a part of the Chamber of Commerce.
Many of the acts that are committed against church members by these religious thugs fall into the category of civil law and as such the recourse that individuals may have is through civil proceedings in our courts.
We have seen what has happened to some of these leaders who have fallen afoul of the criminal law. They faced prosecution and upon conviction received prison sentences. However, that does not inhibit them from assuming responsibility in a church setting upon their release.
While the Christian Council may be afraid to agitate for legislative action to govern the behavior of its members, I put it to them that in the absence of good moral decency on the part of some of their membership or persons who profess to be religious leaders, they should develop a code of conduct that should be circulated to all religious leaders and used as a minimum standard.
It makes no difference to me whether the religion is an established one or one that popped up overnight. There are standards that must be maintained if people want to lead others in a civilized culture.
How can a convicted sex offender be allowed to lead a church where children and minors attend? At the very least, our laws need to be advanced to have a sex offenders registry and it ought to be an offense for a convicted sex offender to be in the company of minors.
If the church is not prepared to ensure that the rights of its members are protected then certainly it is for the legislators to ensure that the citizens are protected.
To what extent should freedom of religion go? There must be minimum standards to protect the innocent.
Balancing human rights with moral decency is indeed a challenge. Law and morality intersect, but it is not always the case that one should be concerned only with what is lawful or unlawful; there are many things that occur in church which are not unlawful, but are unethical.
The European Convention of Human Rights, Article 9, states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion . . . no restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder of crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."
The essence of this particular article in the convention is that this is a qualified right and not an absolute right. Those who would seek to manipulate the Bahamian people under the guise of religion, be warned - you do not have the absolute right to use religion to fulfill your whims and fancy.
There are some things that legislators can do that would not be in breach of human rights, but would protect us all in support of the right to freedom of religion in a civilized society.
o John Carey served as a member of Parliament from 2002 to 2007.

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The Hubert Minnis disaster: It's time for a new FNM leader

May 22, 2014

Nearly two years into his tenure as Leader of the Opposition Dr. Hubert Minnis has proved an unimaginable failure. Disturbingly, he is the most inarticulate and incoherent opposition leader since the post was created.
The country has overwhelmingly turned against the PLP with Bahamians hungry for new and vibrant leadership. Correspondingly, the FNM has an extraordinary record in office and individuals capable of leading the party in order to mount a more effective opposition and to form the next government.
The single major obstacle in the way of the party improving its vitality in the country and blunting the naked opportunism of DNA Leader Branville McCartney is Minnis who has largely failed to rally the party's base and to attract non-aligned voters.
The PLP's dramatic fall in support and favorability has not translated into increased support for the FNM largely because of widespread public disapproval of Minnis' lackluster and disastrous leadership. He remains the PLP's best hope.
While some improve as leaders over time he has gotten not progressively, but exponentially, worse, stumbling from one blunder to the next.
Minnis has been like a C-minus student falling to a D-plus then to an F grade, all the while sinking to lower grade levels yet to be invented in order to characterize the depth of his ever disastrous performance. Any illusion that he might improve with time has been conclusively shattered.
Like clockwork, every few weeks or so there is another unfathomable and incomprehensible act of sheer idiocy by Minnis. Even as one desperately hopes that he cannot possibly perform an even greater folly than the last he does or says something that outstrips his previous follies.
Some weeks ago in criticizing the PLP he referenced the tragedy of the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, then failed to apologize for his distasteful reference. It is mindboggling that he would make such a statement that a primary school student would appreciate as mindless.
Foolish
His blunder was somewhat sidelined by Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell's overreach in sending diplomatic notes on Minnis' comparison, making the government look even more foolish than the opposition leader.
Now some weeks later another one of the blunders of Minnis' two-year tenure has exploded. It is one of the worse blunders made by an opposition leader in recent memory. His attempt to backtrack is comically transparent.
The gargantuan error, which must be laid solely at the feet of Minnis, was the decision of the opposition to sign off on a House of Assembly select committee report recommending a salary and allowance increase for parliamentarians, an introduction of grants for parties in the House, the building of a new Parliament and other recommendations.
In an amateurish attempt to mitigate the damage, Minnis now says that the opposition was merely signing off on the report so that it could be forwarded to an independent committee to review the matter. Really?
It appears that Minnis is employing procedural gobbledygook to obscure the reality that he has failed his party miserably; has been snookered, hoodwinked and bamboozled by the PLP; and foolishly played into the hands of DNA Leader Branville McCartney's obvious strategy of a pox on both houses.
The government used the select committee as political cover for what it knew would be controversial proposals. Minnis gave the government that cover.
Did he collude with the prime minister on the items in the report? Reportedly, some members of his parliamentary caucus did not know that the FNM members of the committee would sign off on the report.
The opposition could have written a minority opinion firmly stating that it did not agree with the report's conclusions. Even after the Government Leader in the House Dr. Bernard Nottage referenced the report in the House it took Minnis several days to concoct his feigned outrage about the recommendations.
Here is Minnis' futile flip-flopping backstroke as reported by this journal: "You cannot, at this particular time, when there is so much pain and suffering, you cannot be perceived to show any preferential treatment for any particular group, be it politician or otherwise. We cannot today afford a new Parliament. We cannot today afford a new home for the prime minister..."
What an exemplary position. Here's the problem: Why didn't Minnis instruct his MPs to say this when the report was written? It was only after outrage from the FNM's base and the public that he "found religion".
Flip-flop
Indeed, as recently as a few weeks ago he giddily agreed with Prime Minister Perry Christie on the building of a residence for the prime minister. The speed of his conversion, another term for which is flip-flop, is comic.
What amazes is that Minnis seems to believe that the public will fall for this obvious political somersault which has left him flat on his face. Case in point as reported in this journal in reference to the proposed salary increases: "A politician's position, that's a service position. You have been elected to service and just as we had pain and suffering during the road reconstruction where the entire (population of New Providence) suffered at that time, the politicians must likewise feel the pain and suffering that the rest of The Bahamas is going through," Minnis stated.
Minnis is desperately inarticulate. He is not a thinker. He has proven to be stunningly incoherent and intellectually incurious. He is not plain spoken; he is typically wrong-spoken, with grammatical and language choices reminiscent of someone for whom English is a second language.
His analogies, like comparing the government to the missing MH 370, demonstrate a weakness of thought and judgment.
Time and again he has thrown his own party under the bus. He often fails to defend the extraordinary accomplishments of Hubert Ingraham and the FNM, has fallen prey to the propaganda of others in criticizing the FNM, sometimes offering a false equivalence between the two major parties as he did on the question of victimization.
He seems oblivious to the politics of the day and to political history. While in opposition, from June to August 1992, FNM MPs refused to accept their salaries.
When the Public Treasury was prevented from accepting the returning salaries, an account was opened into which the FNM MPs deposited their salaries, money then used to fund a scholarship program for students to attend COB.
When the FNM came to office it enacted the Parliamentary Salaries Act in 1992. That was the first time that provision for MPs' salaries was established by discrete statute. Prior to that, MPs' salaries and increases were placed in the national budget.
In establishing the law, the FNM took the salaries back to the 1988 level removing the last increase given by the Pindling government. That level was maintained for five years. In 1997 the salaries were returned to the level approved by the PLP in 1988.
The reduction in salary between 1992 and 1997 is the money that was then used as part payment for the construction of the first Early Childhood Education Centre built on East Street South. The FNM again reduced salaries and benefits in 2008 at the time of the Great Recession.
Minnis' blundering leadership has been one of incompetence and incoherence in terms of basic leadership, policy, vision, communications and mounting an effective opposition.
Mired
The country is in perhaps its worst state since the drug-plagued 1980s. The Christie administration is mired in incompetence, brimming with hubris, demonstrating, at minimum, a soft despotism. Its failure to have provided the NIA with a legal basis is an abuse of power and a dangerous precedent. Worryingly, there is still three years to go of this government.
The opposition's great task is not simply to prepare for the next election and for government. Its immediate obligation is to confront and to check an out-of-control government that is more than happy to have Minnis as a lackluster leader of the opposition.
For its own sake, but more importantly for the sake of the country, the FNM needs to replace Minnis and to elect a new leader who can help to highlight and stem the abuses of power and to check the failed leadership of Perry Christie and his reckless government.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Tradition is a loaded gun, part 1

May 21, 2014

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

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Repositioning Bahamian public corporations

May 20, 2014

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

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Embracing change

May 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion
Mr. McWeeney is dead right and spot on in his observations. For too long, there has been such a parochial perspective taken by many in the legal profession that has stunted the growth of the services rendered by that profession. Simply because we live on an island does not mean that we have to be insular. Legal practitioners need only look to our competition in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere to observe how well the formula works for those jurisdictions.
Instead of criticizing Mr. McWeeney, his colleagues should commend him for his forthright, cogent suggestions, which if followed, provide a road-map for a more modern, progressive legal profession where expertise of all kinds will be available to the more demanding and desirable customer who has come to expect to find these skills available in the jurisdictions where they choose to do business. If this international businessperson does not find these services here, they will not wait for anyone to finish a training program. In today's highly competitive and ever-changing world, they will just go elsewhere to find the services they need and The Bahamas will be the big loser.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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Our Caribbean: The politics of social harmony

May 17, 2014

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

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

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What's happening in The Bahamas

May 16, 2014

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

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

May 14, 2014

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

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

May 14, 2014

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

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WTO: Harmful or helpful Part 2

May 14, 2014

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

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The value of motherhood

May 12, 2014

The recent celebration of Mother's Day on May 11, 2014 had the characteristic fanfare involving the exchange of gifts, cards, well wishes and the display of love and appreciation that has become the norm in The Bahamas and other countries across the globe.
While mothers should be celebrated every day and all year round, a special day earmarked to salute mothers is in order in as much as it causes nations to pause and pay tribute to the custodians of our future and the conscience of nations.
Sharing the pain of the Chibok mothers
As we celebrated Mother's Day two days ago, it was literally impossible to block out the agony and pain of the mothers of the schoolgirls who had been abducted in Chibok - a local government area of Borno State in northern Nigeria. Chibok has received a lot of attention, albeit not for the most flattering reason. It was in this town that more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram.
It is noteworthy that Boko Haram, when translated from the Hausa language, means "western education is forbidden". This sect, which has committed several atrocities over the past few years, has threatened to sell the innocent schoolgirls in the slave markets of neighboring countries.
It is appropriate that this heinous act has attracted worldwide attention and become a rallying call for a woman's right to education. Bahamians and mothers in our country should join the movement #BringBackOurGirls to support the safe return of the kidnapped girls and continue our advocacy against the infringement of the rights of women and girls the world over. Our prayers are with our girls' families in general and the mothers in particular during this difficult period.
Virtuous women of our country
The Bahamas is blessed with political stability and a high level of success achieved over the years. In spite of our challenges, it would be disingenuous of us not to acknowledge that we live in a relatively peaceful country with tremendous potential. By the same token, our most significant resources are not the sun, sand and sea or any mineral resources within our shores. Rather, our greatest resource remains our people.
It is incumbent upon us to recognize this reality as we move forward, upward and onward together, a generation after political independence. Throughout our history, the great women of this nation have played major roles and have succeeded in advancing our political, social and economic goals. Standing with the men of The Bahamas, the mothers of our country have fought against social injustice, inequity, discrimination and marginalization within our archipelago. The Bahamian woman has exemplified the qualities of the virtuous woman described in the Bible.
A renewed mandate
It is arguable that in this new dispensation, the greatest challenge for mothers in The Bahamas is the raising of the next generation, into whose hands the future of our nation will pass. The level of crime, disregard for law and reverence for God in The Bahamas calls for an introspective look at ourselves as we raise our children.
This is important considering the historic magnitude of respect and deep love children have for their mothers. The special place that mothers hold in the hearts of their offspring, especially their sons, gives us unique access to those sons and the ability to influence their behavior. While this should not be abused, it should be used to keep our children grounded and focused on being good ambassadors of The Bahamas.
In the aftermath of the Mother's Day festivities and accompanying gifts, we, the mothers of this country, must rededicate our lives to the awesome task of building nation builders, molding the characters of future leaders and standing up for what is right and in the best interest of our Bahamaland.
This renewed mandate is not restricted to the minor children, but extends to adult children that may have lost their way - for a mother's love should be eternal. On the crime front, there are no greater crime stoppers than mothers and true (tough) love demands that we do not condone inappropriate behavior.
A fitting tribute to a mother
The National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs are now in full gear and NBA fans are always grateful for this period in the post-season to display their support for their teams. Indeed there are bound to be moments of joy and heartbreak, as winners and losers journey on the road to the championship round. However, in the midst of the competitive series and basketball games, a remarkable tribute to a mother stole the headlines.
Following the scandal involving the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, the announcement that Kevin Durant was named the NBA's most valuable player (MVP) dominated the headlines. However, the main headline was to be made at Durant's MVP acceptance speech, which can only be fully appreciated on screen. Durant stated: "We weren't supposed to be here. You made us believe, kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn't eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You're the real MVP."
Invaluable motherhood
Durant's mother was in tears as she watched an appreciative, respectful, sincere and humble son recognize and laud her before the whole world. At that moment, one can only imagine that if she had not believed that her sacrifices were worth it, her son's speech (and actions to date) confirmed that, and the gain was worth the pain she bore.
Bahamian mothers have similar stories of pain, long suffering and sacrifices for their children. While we will not all have children that become the NBA's MVP, we can raise children that become MVPs in their fields of specialization and more importantly good citizens of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
In the words of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much." The aforementioned story of Durant is a testament to the importance of our role as mothers in the successes of our children and betterment of our nation. Let us recommit ourselves to this important role, to invaluable motherhood. Our commitment in this regard will secure our place as the real MVPs. Happy belated Mother's Day!
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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National Worship Congress "ASAPH" Returns May 15-18th 2014 and will Honor Founder the Late Dr. Mark Bethel

May 12, 2014

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

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