Civility and compassion

June 30, 2014

Author's note: This article was first published on July 14, 2010.
Sometimes, when engaging in our favorite pastime of critiquing what's wrong with our society, our surroundings, our leaders and our world, we tend to get caught up in the use of rhetoric. We sometimes get lost in the sounds of our own pontificating. If you doubt this, just spend a day listening to the talk shows that often disseminate their unique brands of truth and fiction, sometimes shaping public opinion, occasionally in a stunted and twisted way.
We marvel at those among us who use the most intricate words - those dictionary divas who seem to believe that it takes the largest words to define and delineate our dilemmas. But I would like us to consider today how two small, well-worn and commonplace words not only perfectly capture the essence of what is wrong with our Bahamian society today but also suggest what we can do to make it better.
The first word is "civility", which is defined as courteous behavior, politeness and a courteous act or utterance. Many of us can relate to this word. This was what we were all urged to be, maybe called by another name, as we were being raised. It encompassed important words like 'Yes, sir' and 'Yes, ma'am', 'please', 'thank you' and 'excuse me' that were drummed into our heads at home, at school and at church. It was the way we were guided to interact with those of our own age and was what we were told was sadly missing when some of those interactions ended badly in some form of altercation or another.
In our young adulthood, it was the watchword that made it possible to find and hold that good job, to be attractive to that special someone and to finally realize the dream of most people: to have a good marriage and become a good parent. Civility, as we were taught, enables us to realize our goals, to transform our fondest wishes into reality and to make those dreams finally come true.
Imagine for a moment that important interview with a loan officer who has the power to decide whether or not you can have a mortgage so you can finally purchase that home. How do you think that interview would go without civility? I know we have all wished we could just walk in and say "I am a good risk. I have a job. I want that house" and walk out with the money. However, whether we want to believe it or not, there is a good measure of civility that goes into any important transaction that can actually decide the outcome, sometimes even turning a 'no' situation into a 'yes'.
In our daily lives, just notice the civility demonstrated by the more successful people around you. Now, I am not talking about those whom society would classify as "successful" - that is, rich and affluent with those fancy cars and fancier houses. I am talking about truly successful people who raise healthy, well-adjusted children in spite of all the negative influences that swirl around us. I am talking about people who are successful at their jobs, no matter what their professions, and who are contented with what they have accomplished in their lives and the lives of their families and friends, all by simply practicing civility with all. I am talking about our teachers who shaped our lives by practicing civility, about our pastors who guide our lives with their civility and about those other role models each of us have whose civility has enriched us in one way or another.
Then look around you again at all those moments we live through each day where civility is absent and ask yourself how a moment's politeness and courtesy could change the course of events in a positive way. Think about how much those sharp, rude words hurt and how quickly they change what could be a positive outcome into a negative failure. Think about how far a little civility can go to diffusing a situation, how much value there is in what is called 'common courtesy' that is, unfortunately, not all that common in our 21st century Bahamas.
To see how civility can transform the world, try this for the next week. Each time someone, be it a stranger, a family member or a co-worker, demonstrates a lack of civility to you, answer them with courteous behavior and polite words and watch how you can change the mood instantly. Perhaps they won't show it to you, but demonstrating civility to that person will not only change the moment; it just may show them how much more powerful civility is when compared to rudeness.
The other word I would like us to consider today is "compassion", which means "deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it". Many of us have childhood memories of adults within the community who assisted others, whether it was by feeding those who were hungry or mentoring children who needed care or simply being there for those who needed an encouraging word.
'Back in the day', Bahamians prided themselves on taking care of one another and in being their brother's keeper. In a small community, this was the way we remained strong as a people by being concerned about the wellbeing of all. Many neighbors, having been through the same events and challenges, knew the pain firsthand and were quick to alleviate others'. Instead of simply paying lip service to the suffering of others, they took action to relieve it. And it was often in small ways, a kind word here, a meal there, a piece of advice there, but it was always helpful and more often than we will probably ever know, a person's life was changed by that compassion.
Today, with our doors closed, we fail to hear the cries for help that reverberate through our nation. Many of us have closed our hearts to the feeling of compassion because to feel it makes demands of our better nature - demands we have become reluctant to fulfill.
But compassion has some surprising results. The Dalai Lama maintains that, "The rewards of practicing compassion go first to the practitioner. I believe it is very important to understand this; otherwise, we will believe that compassion benefits the other and has nothing for us. If one always thinks of oneself, one's thinking becomes very narrow; even a small problem appears very significant and unbearable. When we think of others, our minds widen, and within that large space, even big personal problems may appear insignificant."
So, besides being good for others and for our society, compassion is personally beneficial for each of us. For the next week, try this exercise in compassion - when you meet someone on the street, whether or not you know that person, offer a friendly smile. Sometimes there will be no response; sometimes there will suspicion. But you will receive the benefit of smiling.
We used to do this. Smiling and 'hailing' is as Bahamian as it gets. But, for some reason we have strayed away from it in recent years, especially here in the big city. For the next few days, give yourself the benefit of smiling and, who knows, that small gesture might make a difference for someone who is having a bad day or who is feeling the pressure of our very troublesome economy. It might not change the world, but showing momentary compassion for another soul could just change that life for an instant - and all change begins somewhere.
Civility and compassion - two small words that are too often absent not only from our vocabulary but from our daily lives. Their absence has a profound impact on what is happening to us as a people and as a society. By making a conscious effort to practice these two concepts, we can change not only our own lives for the better, but the lives of those around us and then, like a ripple in a lake, the effects of civility and compassion can course throughout our nation and transform it forever.
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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President Obama's best option in Iraq is nation-building

June 28, 2014

President Barack Obama can start de novo in Iraq but this time it should be done with soft strike or nation building methods instead of, or in addition to, hard strike tactics.
I predicted years ago that the American intervention in Iraq would end as a failure because there was no funding for nation-building in the war budget. By nation-building I do not mean mortar and bricks, but rather infusing a sense of a shared patrimony that must be strengthened and enriched by each Iraqi citizen.
Like a prophet who is heard but not followed, my pushing for Ernest Renan as the model for policy direction has found no followers in American foreign policy initiatives. Paul Bremer, the first American proconsul in Iraq after the intervention, with his cowboy boots and his cowboy hat, was given a free hand to disband the Iraqi army. It has been a debacle since then until the last American soldier left on December 15, 2011, leaving a price tag of $4 trillion for the American taxpayer and the American locomotive that led the world economy.
The 300 new soldiers sent by President Barack Obama will not produce results that will reverse the situation unless they are there to protect the soft strike team that must be sent to transform the Iraqi ethos into a leaven for nation-state building where Shiite and Sunnis will no longer engage in a continuous dog and cat fight.
Iraq, the old Mesopotamia, is considered the cradle of civilization and the birthplace of the skill of writing that we are benefiting from today; it is also to there that the ark of Noah can be traced. The Iraq nation, in full decomposition today, was refined and civilized before Greece, Rome and Egypt.
The epic story of Gilgamesh (2,500 BC) is still a staple of serious literature for the young classicists of today. It is the birthplace of Abraham, the linear founding father of the three greatest world religions - Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The Garden of Eden, where Eve induced Adam to taste the forbidden fruit, has been traced to Iraq. Making Iraq become whole is in the interest of the collective human patrimony.
American policymakers might have to go back as far as King Hammurabi, who ruled Iraq from 1,792 to 1,750 BC, to instill in Iraqi citizens some love for a majestic leader who inspired his people to act under the principles that God would dictate to Abraham many years later. Making the Sunnis, the Kurds and the Shiites believe that the home built by Hammurabi is theirs to love, cherish, protect and consolidate is the first step in creating the nation-state of Iraq, free of sectarian conflicts.
The Americans would do well in Iraq if they could inspire the Iraqis to look after another founding father, Nebuchadnezzar II (602-564 BC), who brought Iraq, AKA Mesopotamia, to its former glory after centuries of invasion and war. Nebuchadnezzar II was the environmentalist ruler who first developed the hanging gardens, albeit to honor his wife.
Iraq was later controlled by the Ottoman Empire, and when the disintegration of that Muslim power center took place in 1921, the British Empire was there to pick up the pieces. In 1932, Iraq became an independent country.
Saddam Hussein was one of a group of insurgents trying to topple the Abdul Karim Kassem government in 1959. His group, led by the Ba'ath Party, was successful in 1963.
The Sunni Muslims who came to power expelled some 40,000 Shiite Muslims. The seeds of sectarian conflict were planted, and Shiite and Sunni have been fighting each other, tearing apart the Iraqi soul, ever since.
The Americans can do well this time if they use the soft strike of advisers schooled in social work to force the present rulers to see each Iraqi citizen - whether Shiite, Kurd or Sunni - as a jewel to be polished for his or her own self-realization and for the glory of the state.
The Hammurabi Code, part of the Iraqi patrimony, is an excellent precursor of the Renan Doctrine. It called for the legal protection of those in the lower class as well as for minorities. Social justice should be the glue that links one sector of society to another.
In the 1970s, when the black citizens of the United States were moving from Alabama and Georgia to New York City, the mayor, John Lindsay, stood at a crossroads to treat them as aliens seeking the benefits of New York citizens. He was forced through the advocacy of George Bragger and Frances Piven of Columbia University School of Social Work to act otherwise and treat the newcomers with the sentiment of belongers. Lindsay was receptive to the concept; and New York City has prospered and remains the most hospitable city of the United States, if not the world.
Renan, after the disintegration of the Prussian and the Ottoman Empires, proposed that the founding fathers of the new nations take steps to ensure that no citizen shall become a nomad in his own country. Excellent institutions and adequate infrastructure should be available to all wherever they are in the country and whatever their ethnic background might be.
He proposed also that a consensus should be built around the entire population, which states that those who are left behind should be shouldered by everybody and helped to catch up with the rest. Those simple principles are akin to God's demand to man: honor thy God and love thy neighbor - the totality of what is needed to build a prosperous and peaceful country.
Iraq today, Afghanistan tomorrow, will remain failed and fragile nations subject to sectarian struggles unless the American intervention changes course and looks into the history of these nations to find the structural fibers that can offer citizens the brotherhood and collegiality they need to realize they are brethren who together can enhance the house bequeathed by the founding fathers.
o Jean H. Charles, LLB MSW, JD, is a syndicated columnist with Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at: jeancharles@aol.com and followed at Caribbeannewsnow/Haiti. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Dame Marguerite, Leslie Miller and the PLP's culture of entitlement

June 26, 2014

The very essence of the PLP's deep-seated and arrogant sense of entitlement may be seen in Dame Marguerite Pindling's dismissive and contemptible attitude toward paying property taxes.
She has received large sums of money from the state in the form of a lump sum payment of close to half a million dollars as a part of her husband's pension. She now receives a generous yearly pension. She has received more than a million dollars in pension since her husband's death.
Were she to become governor general, she would have both the pension and the salary of governor general and after demitting office she would have two lucrative pensions.
As governor general she would enjoy the comforts of Government House, first-class travel and live mostly at the expense of the state and taxpayers.
And yet, despite a sizeable pension and desiring the comforts associated with being head of state, she somehow found it acceptable to have owed the state approximately $300,000 in property taxes.
The message to taxpayers: Afford me an extraordinary level of comfort though I'm not prepared to pay my fair share of taxes.
It is former Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling and his imperial court which created the PLP's sense and culture of entitlement. So pernicious is this sense that some deem that it should not be questioned.
This was exemplified by the astoundingly ridiculous comments of PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts after Dame Marguerite Pindling's tax bill became public. Had this bill been applicable to an FNM in a similar position one may be assured that Roberts himself would have helped to lead an attack on that individual and given his penchant it may have been vicious.
As a potential head of state Lady Pindling is open to scrutiny. In many other countries she would have been disqualified from serving as head of state because of her attitude toward paying her tax bill.
Prime Minister Perry Christie should not proceed with recommending her appointment. Thus far in his administration he has presided over a decline in public standards.
In the interest of decency and the good name of the state, a possible candidate in another country would have withdrawn from consideration as head of state. But in the culture of entitlement that is the PLP, the country's good name is of considerably less significance than the self-interest of the party and its demigods.
As it stands, and unlike any appointee thus far, Dame Marguerite Pindling's possible ascent to Mt. Fitzwilliam is already mired in controversy because of the outstanding bill which was near miraculously paid in haste.
A reasonable question that would arise in other countries is that of how the bill was paid. Moreover, if it could be paid this quickly, why wasn't it paid before?
The head of state should be beyond reproach in such matters. The years of non-payment and now rushed payment does not make us look good in the international arena.
The sense of entitlement by the Pindling court is often manifested in the attitude of "look at how much we did for this country", as if public service entitles one to getting away with all manner of conduct, much of which was detailed in a commission inquiry, the details of which will certainly resurface if Dame Marguerite Pindling becomes governor general, all of which will be a further embarrassment to the country.
The Pindlings did give service. But they were rewarded quite handsomely and for a quarter of a century, despite all manner of excesses by the Pindling court. Today, Sir Lynden is on the one dollar note. Our main international airport is named after him. Dame Marguerite Pindling has been knighted in her own right.
The country remembers also the victimization and unfettered corruption of the Pindling era, especially during the scourge of the drug years when the country sank to new lows from which we have yet to recover. Yet there has never really been an apology for this era, a period of truth and reconciliation for the great harm did to the country.
Illegal enterprises
With all of the excess, many Bahamians find cloying this attitude of what the country owes to the Pindlings.
The recent revelation that the Pindling Foundation accepted a prize of a BMW from a numbers house suggests a comfort level with accepting donations from illegal enterprises. It is yet another example of how our standards continue to decline.
The troubling excuse for having accepted the donation is that a precedent had been set by another group that accepted such a donation. It is a curious ethical position. What about following the precedent of those who have not accepted such donations?
That others may have done what is wrong does not make it right or excusable for one to engage in the same conduct. There are all manner of precedents for illegality, which does not mean that one should follow suit.
Just because many people don't pay their property taxes or are willing to accept donations from various enterprises does not make any of this conduct acceptable.
It is an adolescent morality which says 'excuse me for the wrong I do because other people are doing the same thing'. This is the adolescent mindset often advanced by Labour Minister Shane Gibson: Don't mind what we do in the PLP, because others do the same thing.
Despite what is often a false equivalence by Gibson and a question of degree, no matter which side engages in certain conduct, if it is against the law it is not excusable.
Around the same time as the revelation emerged about Dame Marguerite Pindling's non-payment of property taxes over the course of more than a decade, BEC Executive Chairman Leslie Miller's quarter of a million dollar electricity bill came to light.
Again the culture of entitlement and double standards arose. It is a pattern in the PLP from the VAT Coordinator Ishmael Lightbourne to Miller. The very individual charged with seeking to maintain certain standards is found to have ignored those standards in his own conduct even while telling the rest of us to pay our taxes and our electricity bills.
And, of course, in the PLP's culture of slackness they were able to keep their jobs. In the end the fault is with Christie, who is the latest emperor reigning over the PLP's sense of entitlement and double standards.
Sad excuse
To deflect from his non-payment and that of Dame Marguerite Pindling, Miller claimed that the media is attacking black people. It is a laughable and sad excuse. Were they also attacking him for being black when he claimed to have violently battered a woman?
A part of Miller's bill was quickly paid off in an unusual manner. He claimed to have paid by cashier's check, though this journal reported that may not have been the case. If the payment was made in cash he has misled the public and the prime minister, which would be yet another reason for his dismissal.
But Christie is unlikely to fire Miller for the same reason he refused to comment on Miller's statement on abusing a former girlfriend. Christie is simply afraid of Miller.
In the end, Christie is the problem. He has allowed standards to decline, precipitously. In a break with past budgets he presented a budget missing in critical details. He allowed the operation of the National Intelligence Agency though it has no legal footing.
He appointed and maintained a VAT coordinator delinquent in paying a huge tax bill. He remained silent as Miller joked about domestic abuse. He is likely to appoint someone as governor general whom many, including many in his party, do not believe for good reason should be head of state.
Revenue collection by the state is undermined when those in authority do not pay their fair share. We now have a situation in which the VAT coordinator, the chairman of BEC, possibly various Cabinet ministers and the potential head of state exhibited a cavalier attitude toward paying various bills.
All of this is the essence of the PLP's culture of entitlement, in which the rest of us are expected to pay our bills, while some at the very top continue to be rewarded with high salaries and high-level appointments paid for by those who pay their taxes and electricity bills.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.
All of which is the essence of the PLP's culture of entitlement, in which the rest of us are expected to pay our bills, while some at the very top continue to be rewarded with high salaries and high-level appointments paid for by those who pay their taxes and electricity bills.

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Is good public policy good politics Absolutely!

June 25, 2014

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas has reached a pivotal and significant crossroad in our national development. Bahamians through their increased level of frustration and disenchantment with government have placed the impact and relevance of political leadership in the spotlight.
While there is always a natural tendency to focus on particular personalities, Bahamians are asking a much broader question of whether or not our politics is serving us well. They feel that governments have not, in some cases, functioned at their optimum; and this observation is in vivid contrast to the many political campaigns that are constantly ambitious, aggressive, accomplished to a degree, deliberate and simply get things done.
Their discontent and dissatisfaction is anchored by a fundamental and ever-present irony. We live in a time when answers to our prevailing questions, and possible solutions to our most challenging problems, are literally at our finger tips by way of our smartphones or the click of a mouse. Yet, there seems, and "seems" being the operative word here, to be a limited capacity on behalf of our governments at times to efficiently grapple with many of our country's short- and long-term problems.
If I may, however, offer an alternate perspective. The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a dynamic country with some of the best minds in the world. We are a country with a small population but produce people with extraordinary gifts, talents and supreme intelligence that light up the world stage at a higher rate than many countries with 10 times the number of people. That's why it is my absolute belief and contention that the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is the greatest nation on Earth.
We have the answers to our problems. In my humble view, progress on particular issues is slow because in many cases governments have retreated to the corner of what they believe to be safe politics rather than standing firm on bold transformative policies. They are obsessed with the question, "Is good public policy, good politics?" I say absolutely!
Why is it necessary to discuss, deliberate and dissect this? Well, it's obvious to the Bahamian people if you listen to them as I do that solutions rarely make it to their destination because of the political gauntlet and the perpetual campaigning that goes on. Bahamians see continuous politicking and not enough governing. Now don't get me wrong we love ourselves some politics in The Bahamas. However, dipped in to our enthusiasm for the rhetoric and political jostling lies an entrenched and burning hope and real expectation that governing will start and things will get better in the country we love.
Politics and policy
There is a dance that is always happening between politics and policy - a waltz if you will. Politics is the mechanism and way in which we the Bahamian people choose our elected officials; the way in which politicians vie for acceptance from the Bahamian people. Policy, on the other hand, is the medium through which the elected officials should be advancing real change and transformation for the empowerment of the Bahamian people and the development of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. Policy is where real, legitimate, courageous, life-changing, inspiring leadership stakes its claim. It is where history will herald contributions and determine legacies. Put another way: You have won an election? Now truly lead, govern and make things better in The Bahamas for future generations.
Political parties morph into governing parties once elected and seem to take the posture sometimes that the voter's initial discomfort or anxiety with a particular policy proposal is sufficient to stop it in its tracks. This position, although I believe unintentional, discredits and insults the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the Bahamian people who are more than capable of sifting and navigating through proposed policy and project debates that are supposedly created to benefit them and the country.
Herein, in my estimation, lies an unescapable truth. While I have attempted to make a distinction between politics and policy in their purpose, there is an unavoidable seam at which they do meet; hence my argument. In most cases where the policy may be good, it isn't the policy that the Bahamian public reject. It is the lackluster collection of weak explanations, half-truths, poor communication and failure to adequately engage the Bahamian people as a legislative partner. They fail to competently make the Bahamian people aware of how a proposed policy benefits them. After all, aren't we supposed to know and feel like it will be good for us? Isn't that the purpose of public policy?
Good policy
Amazingly when good policy has far-reaching and long-term impact, members of the electorate are prepared to subject themselves to some temporary discomfort and uneasiness. It's similar and analogous to going to the doctor for a vaccination. The short-term experience of getting a needle is not necessarily desirable to many, but the long-term benefits of being immunized are well known. Yes, I do get and can concede that it's natural for Bahamians to be less skeptical about what their doctors say compared to politician. But, the principle is the still the same. Adequately explain and convince the Bahamian people how they and the country will reap the rewards of the policy and they will embrace it despite the imperfections. When good policy doesn't resonate, it's either bad policy or there is a lack of persuasion.
Let me add to those who are just totally pessimistic about politics. What I'm highlighting is persuasion based on what is authentic and true about the specific policy, its merits and shortfalls. Conveying half-truths, lies and using smoke and mirrors about the policy do not amount to persuasion; that's deception and manipulation and Bahamians will make you pay a political price for such a deed.
It is truly fascinating to me and many Bahamians that a sentiment and conviction exist on behalf of some on the political frontline, both politician and political technocrats, that suggesting certain policy proposals may lead to a political death trap. Here's the irony in such thinking. Politicos pride themselves on being political geniuses - strategists of the highest order. They use the terms "leader" and "leadership" loosely when they should be used sparingly because a major part of political prowess, political leadership, if you will, and political competency is the ability to sincerely connect with and to articulate to the people what you are proposing in order to convince them that the measure is good for all and the country. There is nothing admirable about shrinking from tough decisions masquerading as political savvy and shrewd strategy. A weak, timid or fair-weather stance will not lead to real progress in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas; nor will it translate into meaningful change in the lives of Bahamians.
The greatest leaders across this God-given Earth have been persons, more often than not, who have lives that encompass vision, decisiveness, resolve, character, strength, selflessness and inspiration. The country we love - the Commonwealth of The Bahamas - will not flourish on easy decision making. Greater expectations demand greater responsibility from us as citizens; but also, especially our leaders. We need good public policies that will strengthen our economy and upgrade our fiscal standing so that Bahamians can enjoy real economic empowerment. We need good policies that will start to alleviate the debilitating scourge of crime and its elements. We need good policies that will ensure that our children have the best education in the world so that they can determine a better future for themselves. We need good policies that will make us a healthier nation regardless of socio-economic statuses. We need good policies that will better equip us to create even more world-class athletes and sporting programs. Most of all, we need good public policies to secure our Bahamian cultural identity and export it to the world.
Bahamians everywhere are demanding real change. They want to be inspired by a vision of a country that is only limited by what we can imagine. Bahamians want a Bahamas where the Bahamian is king. Bahamians have always been prepared to give, to sacrifice for the good of their country.
We are a giving people. It's incumbent upon our leaders to advocate for and fight on behalf of the Bahamian people by presenting and communicating good public policy for their consideration that is sound, substantive, impactful, forward thinking and that cradles the hope and the aspirations of all Bahamians. There is no doubt in my mind that good public policy can transform, enrich and uplift the lives of Bahamians everywhere. And when the time is appropriate they will register their trust and approval at the ballot box. Is good public policy good politics? Absolutely!
o Shanendon E. Cartwright is a marketing and hospitality professional and the founder and facilitator of Vision 21 - an educational, motivational and interactive lecture series on leadership.

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Why consumers should care about trade and the WTO

June 25, 2014

Everyone is a consumer at some point, even businesses, even government. So everyone should be concerned about the impact of wide-open trade on consumers, particularly in a small nation.
Any discussion on the pros and cons of open trade should be about more than just the option of having many more foreign products to choose from in your local market. Open trade discussions should be about more than having a bigger external market for products you don't or can't yet produce. Open trade discussions should be about more than the quality of products that enter the local market or the quality standards of the products that are exported.
All of these things are important, but consumers are affected by trade and the absolute free trade of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in much more profound and long-lasting ways than these, because of the inescapable general effects of trade on an economy.
One formula that explains the components of gross domestic product (GDP), which is the benchmark statistic for productivity in any nation, is referred to as the expenditure model. Though not perfect and under considerable review as the yardstick measurement of choice, especially for small countries, GDP prevails as the chosen statistic for evaluating the productivity of an economy.
The expenditure model, in particular, assumes that whatever a country makes is more or less equivalent to what that country spends, or rather what each constituent part of the equation spends. The rationale for this is that whatever is produced has to be bought by someone somewhere in the national economy, however long that process takes.
The economics behind productivity
The expenditure model for GDP in macroeconomics is defined as Y = C + I + G + (X-M), where 'Y' is GDP, or everything produced by a country.
'C' represents consumption by individuals in an economy, and the GDP equation accounts for all the salaries those individuals earn as being equivalent to the money they spend. The spending by average consumers in the economy accounts for roughly two-thirds of all economic activity. That is how important everyday people are in the success or failure of their economy.
"I" refers to spending by businesses, as opposed to individuals, and it includes (new) capital expenditures to start or grow a business.
"G" represents government spending, which includes spending on defense and other new or additional infrastructure or investment spending by the government. G does not include transfer payments, which is spending on social welfare, as such payments are simply a redirection of money already in the economy or already accounted for in another component of the GDP equation.
"X-M", or "NX", refers to net exports, if a country is engaged in trade. A negative number is a trade deficit, and a positive number is a trade surplus.
Now, anything done to the right side of this GDP equation, which assumes a state of equilibrium, ceteris paribus, increases or decreases the left side of the equation, overall GDP, i.e., the national measure of productivity.
To keep it very simple, with respect to trade and net exports (the balance of trade), if X = 700 and M = 400, then our trade surplus is 300, and overall trade, Y, GDP, is higher than if the export/import numbers were reversed, all other things being equal.
If X = 200, and M = 600, then our trade deficit is 400. And overall trade and overall GDP, are lower than if the export/import numbers were reversed, all other things being equal.
If X falls from 200, by 100, and M remains at 600, then our trade deficit grows by 100 to a total of 500, and overall GDP falls more, all other things being equal.
If X and M stay the same, and all other things are equal, there is no change in overall GDP, and productivity is relatively unchanged, which is not a likely occurrence.
If M increases to 800, while X is still just 200, and all other things are equal, then our trade deficit grows even more.
Now this example is oversimplified to emphasize the effect of trade, and there are other things to be considered in trade, for example the fact that trade also occurs in services. But to study the impact of each part of the GDP equation, we have to isolate them one at a time and assume that in the moment nothing else changes. Depending on how much time has passed or how extreme other conditions become, other factors in the equation can either offset the negative impact of a trade deficit, or they can worsen it. But, for the sake of emphasis, we keep our equation, our factors and our example very simple.
The point of this explanation is that without a productive domestic sector, which provides goods (not only or primarily services) for trade, our ability to trade freely with many countries is almost irrelevant.
The necessity of domestic goods
If we produce little to export, in comparison to larger countries, what is our bargaining power really going to be based upon in any trade agreement? And in trading wide-open on the level that larger member countries enjoy in the WTO, how are we really benefiting if we can't provide goods to trade?
We have little in the way of goods to export, because we have not sought investment in local industry to the extent that could fully maximize our output.
One of the things we can expect by acceding to the WTO is that imports (M in our equation) will increase to a much higher rate, in quantity and frequency, than exists at present.
Our exports value, X, will remain the same or fall, because competition with foreign imports, at least in the beginning, will be too fierce for local producers/exporters to manage adequate or competitive production.
The hope for wide-open trade is that, eventually, the cost of manufacturing will decrease and our exports can rebound, but systems must be in place (product standards, consumer protection regulations, etc.) in order to facilitate this. Moreover, considerable investments in property and equipment, which together produce goods for export, will need to take place, but with current limitations on business capital expansion, there is a very narrow window of time in which to do this.
And how do you grow exports in the middle of fierce competition, especially without a proper framework, plan or government subsidies, which are, in fact, counter to the purpose and expected benefits of free trade as provided for in the WTO?
This is why many believe that WTO-type trade agreements really only give larger countries a place to dump their inferior goods while still making money off of them. And it is why many believe the possibility of domestic production of almost anything that would be imported for little or nothing under such a free trade arrangement will disappear or even cause domestic production to implode. Essentially, wide-open trade is combative against a small domestic market that is chronically undeveloped or underdeveloped.
But there is even greater cause for concern painted by the bigger picture of our GDP equation.
If the value of M increases and the value of X can't increase, that translates into a falloff in I, where there is less investment in local business, less in available salaries to be paid and less people being hired, such that consumers lose jobs and job opportunities, or their salaries are reduced in order for businesses to remain open, which ultimately reduces the buying power and consumption of individuals.
If C, consumers, are responsible for two-thirds of the active economy, the problem is an even bigger one, because consumers can't spend what they don't have. With less spending, the economy then becomes (more) stagnant, or depressed, and it stays the same with respect to growth or it begins to regress into a recession, which, with the implementation of a value-added tax (VAT), will further slow the economy.
Government salvation
In this horrible situation, the only other part of the productivity/GDP equation that can be manipulated in an effort to resurrect the economy is government spending. The more depressed the economy becomes, the more dependent the people will be on the government to restore it, especially in a country where the people rely on the government as a savior and sponsor for all things. But this is a prospect that does not bode well for a country already neck-deep in debt.
Present economic conditions and anticipated economic conditions post-VAT, require the government to inject money into the economy, either through increasing the money supply by printing more money to keep the economy going, or by lowering the prime interest rate charged to banks to allow consumers to be able to afford bank loans and, more importantly, for businesses to be able to afford bank loans for the capital they require to run or grow their businesses which keep people employed and earning income.
Because printing more money, a path the government already seems to be traveling, is inflationary, the preferred method of recovery is to lower the prime interest rate. Too much money, like too much of anything else in the economy, creates a glut; too much money in circulation lowers its value over time.
And with a fixed exchange rate regime, the question of devaluation, forced or otherwise, is raised. The Bahamian dollar value continues to be pegged to the U.S. dollar value in order to facilitate trade, with reliably-valued currencies.
But the very trade agreement we seek to be a part of, in the long run, can become a reason we have to devalue our currency, as trade partners and foreign investors can spot a weakened dollar value inherent in all of our problems in banking, government spending and domestic production.
And all of the deficiencies outlined herein - revenue, taxation, spending and trade - point back to the failure of successive governments to plan an economy that could survive, with strength, into the future.
These deficiencies are both a result of and a cause for the weak condition of our economy which, without extreme overhaul on the most basic level, will only degenerate further.
Where the answer lies
For all the reasons given, the only real answer to all of our most challenging economic concerns is to allow the foreign direct investment our governments are so hell-bent on to occur within and only within partnerships between foreign enterprise and local enterprise in industries that are fundamental to building and sustaining the economy and therefore the country.
This unique and very specific type of foreign direct investment through joint local partnerships only in vital, productive industries will help to increase domestic investment (I), which encourages consumer spending (C) increases, and increases exports (X) by the domestic production sector, which in turn reduces the need for government interjection and intervention (G) in what should be a free market.
The joint foreign-domestic partnership model in key industries also helps support the pegged exchange rate/value of the Bahamian dollar with respect to the U.S. dollar and prevents the likelihood of devaluation because you now have real trade of real exports produced by a real domestic sector, which engages in real productivity. And all of this is better in every way for all consumers.
o Nicole Burrows in an academically trained economist. She can be contacted at: nicole.burrows@outlook.com.

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The role of the media in today's Bahamas

June 23, 2014

"The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses." - Malcolm X
Recently there has been considerable commentary from many quarters of our society about the media and its role in today's Bahamas. Politicians in particular - and from both sides of the aisle - have taken to critical commentary about media coverage depending on the story and what the reporters say about them.
Therefore this week we would like Consider This... What is the role of the media in today's Bahamas, and are there deliberate attempts to quiet the fourth estate?
The fourth estate
The term "the fourth estate" is derived from the medieval "estates of the realm", of which three were formally recognized: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. Each "estate" had a distinct social role and a certain level of power and influence.
By the middle of the 19th century, people began referring to the press as a fourth estate, referencing the fact that most parliaments and other houses of government had an area set aside specifically for use by the press, which highlighted that the press is a distinct group within the larger framework of the realm. Several historians credit the coinage of the term "fourth estate" to Edmund Burke, who is said to have used it when discussing the French Revolution, although the 19th century author, Thomas Carlyle, popularized the term.
In modern societies, the media is often called the fourth branch of government (or "fourth estate") in addition to the executive, legislative and judicial branches. It is generally accepted that the most important role of the fourth estate is to monitor the political process in order to ensure that those in the other three branches do not abuse the democratic process. Today, the fourth estate includes the public press, collectively encompassing journalists, photographers, television broadcasters and radio announcers, among others.
The role of the media
Few will argue against the idea that access to information is essential to a healthy democracy and that the press is important for at least three reasons. First, it reports the news without bias, as facts are presented as they are. Secondly, it ensures that citizens are able to make responsible, informed choices on matters of national importance rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. Third, the media serves a "checking function" by disclosing whether elected representatives have upheld their oaths of office, fulfilled their campaign promises and carried out the wishes of those who elected them.
Some persons become very sensitive about media coverage because it plays such an important role in the fortunes of political candidates, elected officials, dignitaries and national issues. This is where the role of the media can become controversial. News reporting is supposed to be objective and balanced, but journalists are people with feelings, opinions and preconceived ideas. It is sometimes felt that journalists either allow their biases to creep into the reporting of the news or report only news that is negative to the side they are biased against, ignoring news that may be equally negative about the side they support.
In addition to its responsibility of "reporting the news", the print media also produces an "op-ed" section, where opinions and editorial commentary are expressed by the editor, columnists or the general public, the latter often in the form of letters to the editor.
Protecting freedom of the press
The media has immense political and social power, because it can be used to shape societies while imparting news of note and commentary of interest. Because of its importance, many countries have embedded press freedom provisions in their national constitutions. Other nations have enacted laws to protect the rights of the press, ensuring that citizens have access to reports on matters of interest.
Because of the importance of the fourth estate in society, most members of the media abide by certain professional and personal codes of ethics. Many journalists attempt to cultivate an air of neutrality, focusing on reporting the issues as they are, so that people can judge the facts for themselves, while others focus on offering commentary and analysis from the perspective of a particular position. Journalists are careful, as a whole, to protect the integrity of the press, protecting sources, verifying information before publication and using a variety of other techniques to convey a trustworthy appearance to the public, encouraging people to put their faith in the media.
The fourth estate in The Bahamas
For many decades, there has historically been a tug of war between the media and politicians in The Bahamas. In the early days of party politics, dating back to the early 1950s, the two established daily newspapers were seen as biased in favor of the white oligarchy, which sought to continue the established conservative social and political order, often denigrating the fledgling Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). This prompted some in the PLP to form the Bahamian Times newspaper, in order to ensure that the PLP's position was clearly delineated to the people of The Bahamas.
It is fair to say that while the editorial slant of The Tribune has not radically changed, the same observation cannot be made of The Nassau Guardian. More recently, the editorial slant of The Nassau Guardian has been more balanced, equally criticizing the PLP, the Free National Movement and the Democratic National Alliance - taking each to task as the need arises. It is wrong for persons in public life to conclude that the newspapers are deliberately "out to get them" because the media reports factual information about the conduct of persons in public office. Facts and sometimes foolish statements emanating from politicians are stubborn things; they are what they are, and no amount of complaining about their reporting will change the facts or the foolish statements.
For politicians to believe that they are immune from public scrutiny for their actions and statements is a mistake. The media has a sacred responsibility and duty to inform the public about the conduct of all persons who hold public office, regardless of their party affiliation.
Imagine what would have happened if Woodward and Bernstein did not investigate and report on the Watergate break-in, which resulted in the resignations and convictions of numerous high level, powerful politicians, who abused their offices and broke the law, as well as the resignation of a corrupt U.S. President. Woodward and Bernstein did not deliberately set out on a course to destroy the lives of those who broke the laws. Their primary objective was to critically investigate, analyze, and report the facts, wherever they led. The same can be said for Daniel Ellsberg's revelations relative to the Pentagon Papers, Julian Assange regarding WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden concerning the excessive NSA abuses and invasion of privacy of countless innocent citizens in many countries.
All of our politicians have to come to terms with the vitally important role of the fourth estate in the development of our country and should recognize that the media's role is to expose incompetence, corruption, malfeasance and breach of the rule of law that governs us. Members of the fourth estate should conduct themselves without fear or favor, oblivious to who the persons are that they are investigating. Politicians should not be surprised when the media calls attention to their abuses of office or power, their arrogance and excessive sense of entitlement. Politicians are servants of the people and should conduct themselves accordingly; otherwise they should expect that the fourth estate will expose them.
Instead of vilifying the press, progressive politicians, distinguished persons and private citizens alike should willingly engage the media in order to present their account of events or their side of the story. It benefits no one to attack the media unless it engages in defamatory reporting, in which case the aggrieved parties can and should seek legal redress before the courts.
As we mature as a nation, we will find that it is far better to engage the press in meaningful dialogue, to have frank and open discussions with them and to explain one's actions and decisions on their merits. Not only will it demonstrate the constructive power of communication, this kind of honest and straightforward interaction will also go a long way in building the strong democracy envisioned by our forefathers, a democracy that will be the backbone of the robust and advanced society we all wish to see.

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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Haiti's oasis city

June 21, 2014

It is easy to fall prey to bad news coming from Haiti. Its citizens at home and abroad practice the perverse exercise of magnifying for the rest of the world the latest incident coming from that island nation.
Haiti is not the only country in this hemisphere caught in the spiral of random violence and chaos. It seems there is a shooting every week in the United States, either in a high school or at one of the universities.
President Barack Obama finds himself a frustrated and impotent leader facing the strength of the NRA, which sees not the gun, but the man behind the gun as the culprit. The news from The Bahamas, Jamaica and Guyana is filled with crime, gross in its explosion, numerous in its multiplication.
Yet Haiti is filled with good stories. There is the story of the mothers holding bags filled with their toddlers' books, going to and coming back from school. Who knows, the Haitian mother might the best black mother in the world.
There is the story of the young children fetching water while singing and dancing, even while potable water, or at least close access to water, should be a staple provision of the government.
There is the story of the large number of young girls attending school these days. The hiccup will be how, 20 years from now, Haiti will find enough men to match these women. Maybe the government will have to visit China and import some men from the province of Hunan, where women are found wanting because of the policy of female infanticide. Because of the preference for a male child, the ratio between men and women has been skewed there.
There is the story of the famous patty cord, the ubiquitous breakfast made of fried pasta filled with cheese, one boiled egg, cod fish and cut cabbage. The patty, sold for 16 cents, is a full and sufficient meal until evening. Enterprising women all over the city capital are engaged in this business. I have been suggesting, with no result so far, that some women repeat the operation in the evening, but this time filling the patty with jam or marmalade, a beignet for a light supper, again for the same 16 cents.
And then, there is Lascahobas, a true oasis in the region called Centre, an area where the bedrock is strong, solid and not vulnerable to earthquakes.
The keen observer will note the difference in the vegetation as soon as you turn the corner from Mirebalais to enter the road toward Lascahobas. Everything is green and lush. Mature trees filled with mangoes, avocados, coconuts, baby banana and vast fields of pistachio all the way until you enter the city.
Strangely enough, the characterization of an oasis strikes you in earnest as you travel from Lascahobas toward the frontier town of Belladere. The deserted fields that were your companion on your way to Mirebalais, the town before, come back as you leave Lascahobas.
Lascahobas is located two hours from the capital city of Port au Prince on a mountain road built with the support of the European Union (EU). The city proper has a population of 41,716 people, while the catchment area with its rural villages of Petit Fond, Juampas and La Hove represent a population of 61,000 people.
The atmosphere in Haiti today is filled with the spirit of election. Amid the throng of men vying to fill the post of mayor of the city there is a mother (maire, which is 'mayor' in French, sounds like mere, meaning mother).
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a bias in favor of a woman as mayor. It seems the city is in better hands when it is in the hands of a woman as mayor. The City of Petionville, under the leadership of Mayor Ivanka Brutus, is going through a renaissance in spite of the demographic explosion of the city.
Lascahobas is graced with a pastor from the Catholic Church, Father Desras, who takes to his role of builder of the community with a bulldog sense of achievement. With the support of President Bill Clinton, who was caught by his budding energy, he has built a magnificent secondary school, preventing the children of the town from being nomads in the capital to continue their education. Two years ago, I attended the city fiesta of its patron Saint Gabriel, celebrated on March 25, the day of the Annunciation.
Father Desras asked the Lascahobas diaspora to help him finish the youth center building. The diaspora failed to come with the funds one year later. At this year's celebration, in his sermon he labeled them "Diaspo/rien" (rien in French means null and void of significance).
Father Desras is a pioneer in rural development. I am advocating with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to follow the model of the Brittany clergy that built the small towns in terms of education and civilization in Haiti.
It should have been the mission of the Creole clergy to reach the rural world to continue the nation building in the hinterland. I was in Lascahobas last Sunday to help the nuns from the Daughters of Marie celebrate their 40th anniversary in the town and the 100th anniversary in Haiti. One of the nuns, Sister Hugette Victor, who came as a young teacher then, is now the principal of the school. She has provided generations of young men and young women with the bread of education, formation and sophistication.
Lascahobas has its own radio and TV station due to the leadership of Father Desras. It was the Sunday of Pentecost, the feast of the celebration of St Spirit at the Episcopal Church last week. The Catholic TV station was there to broadcast the ceremony live. In fact, the pastor of the Episcopal Church, Father Desravines Jean Jacques, is joining hands with Father Desras of the Catholic Church to build the community of Lascahobas and its rural surroundings.
Lascahobas is also graced with its own community bank. My visit with the founder of the bank, Nourissant Fleurilus, struck me like a "eureka" for this essay.
Haiti has 142 small towns, some of them with a population of at least 75,000 people. Very few of them benefit from a banking facility. The reason given by the bankers is the same: there is not enough commercial activity to justify the opening of a branch. Lascahobas took the bull by the horns with its own hands. It has built its own successful bank with the participation of its citizens.
Lascahobas is close to Lake Peligre, the giant manmade lake built on the Artibonite River to produce electricity for the country. It is conducive for the raising of tilapia for local consumption and for export. I will be visiting the city this weekend with the president of a government-sponsored bank to seek to incubate the association of women entrepreneurs who produce coco oil, jam, liquor and all types of local products. They need access to foreign markets to distribute their products.
An international road is being built from the frontier town of Las Pinas, in the Dominican Republic, to the capital city of Port au Prince. Lascahobas, located at half one hour from the Dominican border, represents a true oasis to stop, rest, and become immersed in the hospitality and the culture of the city. The Haitian government is engaging in a comprehensive renovation of the infrastructure of the city, such as paving streets, potable water, electricity and a public market.
Lascahobas has several hotels. Its future should be targeted toward becoming a setting for international retired citizens. It is close to the largest hospital in the Caribbean, built and run by the internationally known Dr. Paul Farmer.
In conclusion, I was pleased to discover Lascahobas. Making that city a weekend getaway has brought to me rejuvenation, encouragement and a belief that a better Haiti is possible!
o Jean H. Charles, LLB MSW, JD, is a syndicated columnist with Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at: jeancharles@aol.com and followed at Caribbeannewsnow/Haiti.=
Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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The government must govern

June 20, 2014

Having watched the budget debate over the past few weeks, I was encouraged by the fact that there was some discussion which created dialogue not only amongst the parliamentarians, but also the citizenry. It was interesting to see issues such as the proposed web shop gaming regulation, value-added tax, concerns about transparency in the budget presentation, freedom of information, crime, etc., thoroughly ventilated by government and opposition parliamentarians.
Contrary to what some may think, it is healthy for parliamentarians to constructively comment on matters that may appear contentious even if the view put forward is divergent from the political party they support. What were even more interesting were the political innuendos that were generated from the rousing discourse.
I am extremely pleased as a Bahamian to see that our democracy is alive and well. We are evolving as a young, independent country to a point where the next generation is being vocal in all aspects of society. For the generations born post-independence, it should be recognized that protesting, arguments and divergent views did not just come into existence in the past few years. It was because of a generation of young people in the 1950s that was the catalyst for independence in 1973. The key issue here is that when we understand our history, the adage, "the more things change, the more they remain the same", is so true in our little Bahamas.
Like any other developing country, The Bahamas has its fair share of challenges. It also has an electorate that expects instant solutions to all the problems. Quite frankly that forms the basis of a potentially disappointed electorate that wants things to happen, and to happen right now. Surely, that is a recipe for disaster as there has to be a methodical and deliberate approach to governance that affects solutions that will be meaningful and truly beneficial.
This is not just a theoretical view, but one grounded in reality. Regardless of what each of us thinks should be done with respect to every government decision that is made, it is our collective efforts that elected the government to do the job that they are doing and it is our responsibility to make our views known to them in a respectable and articulate manner.
We cannot justly criticize the government for decisions that are being made which will ultimately result in a better way forward for us, simply because we lack the intellectual capacity to suggest alternatives that are better than the decisions they are making.
The level of ignorance that some have with regard to good governance and informed decision making reaches a point that is higher than the all the dung the wild donkeys of Inagua can produce. The electorate has an obligation to make rational and reasonable recommendations to its members of Parliament.
It cannot be right that we elect our members of Parliament to make decisions on our behalf, criticize them, yet offer no logical set of solutions for consideration that is equal to or better than the positions they are taking.
Shared responsibility is what can occur when the citizens and the elected officials work to address the challenges and problems of a society.
While we may argue about the manner and form in which policies are implemented, the substance of the matter is equally important. Isn't it ironic that the electorate, which enjoys the nice roads of New Providence today, is the same electorate that criticized the former administration and resoundingly voted them out of office in the 2012 elections?
Likewise the same electorate voted overwhelmingly in support of the current administration, yet many are quick to condemn the government for decisions it has made.
The one thing that is clear to me is that a government has five years to govern if the prime minister does not call early elections. If it is the case that the government has five years to govern, the electorate in all fairness must give the government a chance to govern so as to lawfully fulfill the promises as set out in their commitment on election day.
To take a critical approach before the government is able to achieve its objectives is not only illogical, but suggests that the electorate does not expect the government to fulfill its promises or it believes the government is disingenuous. Either way, it is not helpful for good governance. It should be clear that I am not advocating that we not have critical reviews and/or thoughts over decisions made or contemplated by the government. I am suggesting that we ought to be forward thinking and frank in our expectations and support of a government to govern.
In The Bahamas it is neither rational nor necessary to complain about the government when citizens do not advocate and speak to their members of Parliament. What part are you going to play in the struggles of our country? How are you going to assist the government to make a difference? If it is that you are of the view that just being opposite to every policy decision or administrative action will make for a better democracy, then that may be a role citizens may wish to take on. However, if you want to make a lasting impact by affecting policy today, ensure you communicate with members of Parliament. Citizen action is an essential component of a robust democracy.
The government was elected by the people with a clear and focused agenda. The budget debate always gives citizens and residents an opportunity to critically analyze the direction that the government intends for the country. Are there always areas of focus which can be better aligned to the needs of the country? Will the decisions taken be in our best interest? The answers to these questions are arguably subjective. Objectively, this is a little past the second year of the current administration and in spite of the various views, they must govern.
o John Carey served as a member of Parliament from 2002 to 2007.

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Catholics To Honour Fathers With A Gala Banquet
Catholics To Honour Fathers With A Gala Banquet

June 18, 2014

The Archdiocesan Catholic Menís Association (ACCMA) will hold a celebratory gala banquet to honour 24 Catholic fathers on Friday June 20th at the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort & Spa on Cable Beach...

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The abuse of the Bahamian consumer

June 18, 2014

As a Bahamian consumer (in The Bahamas), you get abused by businesses on a daily basis.
Sometimes you don't even realize when it happens. But when you do, you row, argue, fire off some cuss words so everyone can hear you, maybe call for the manager, kick up a fuss in the moment, but are you creating an environment for enduring change?
Do you make such a lasting impression in the few minutes you're disgruntled that a business has no choice but to develop a real customer service policy that is attentive to you, the consumer, and is not just for appearances or to meet a corporate requirement?
Do you make a difference for others by first standing up for your own rights once you know what they are?
The typical attitude of Bahamians is to sit back and accept whatever happens. We have a suffering culture. We get brainwashed into sacrificing our contentment and individual rights because if something happens to us it must be meant to be. We feel as though there is little or nothing we can do to change the way we're treated in so many ways in our own country, so we seldom, if ever, agitate for real change.
But as a consumer you have more power than you realize.
A business is in business to serve you. And that includes any business. Any organization that takes money from you and gives you a product or service in return for your hard-earned money is operating as a business and is doing it to serve you with the hopes that you will be satisfied enough to spend money with them again.
Yes, they bring you many of the things you need and maybe most of the things you want. But their reason for being is you.
Many businesses will say they are in business to make money. And good business sense does require a profit at the end of the day.
But if no one buys what businesses sell, then what are they in business for?
The reality is that they rely on you, the consumer, to buy what they sell.
So, they must determine with a great deal of accuracy if they can supply your needs or desires, and then set about trying to do that. But you determine whether they succeed or fail in this. And it all hinges on the quality of product(s) and service(s) they offer you.
And we're not talking about just flashing you a friendly smile as they ring up your selected items at the point of sale or traipsing around the store behind you while engaging in a psychological battle and small talk to coerce you into buying what they sell.
We're talking about real customer service. And real customer service goes beyond the smile and small talk; it's about making and keeping good relationships with consumers. And good relationships require good treatment, in both directions, in those relationships.
Evaluating your relationship
Would you get involved in any relationship where you knew or could already see that the other person only wants to boss you around or take advantage of you?
A business can't just sell you what it wants, however it wants, treat you how it wants, and be done with it. There is more to be considered in a business transaction before and after the exchange of money. And consumers are wiser when they know this.
Are you being sold a product or service that is of good quality?
Are you getting that product or service you paid for in a manner that suggests a business values your patronage and wants to keep you as a customer?
Are your needs being met every time you come into contact in the business-consumer relationship?
Do you and the business you patronize want to achieve the same end goals in your relationship?
Now there is always some element of persuasion involved in marketing a business, given its profit-earning focus, and companies will try hard to convince you why you should buy what they're selling.
But they should never aim to deceive you, boldly lie or misrepresent and not expect that you will give negative feedback at best or create substantial havoc at worst. No good or productive relationship would involve any of these things. And a productive relationship usually brings reward to both parties.
As a satisfied consumer, you want to reward a business, whether it's complimenting the chef, giving a good survey rating or leaving a generous tip. And you will not do any of these things unless you're pleased with the product and/or service you receive.
We know that tipping (gratuity) is something many Bahamians are familiar with. In fact, some Bahamians rely on these forced tips to feed their families, so they are quite important. The problem is that the people who rely on these tips often, like many other things people in our society seem to believe they're entitled to think that you have to give it regardless of the treatment they give you. And this is counterintuitive to the act of tipping, which is essentially a reward based on good service and good products you receive.
A business or its employees must know that if you were perfectly open to the prospect of giving a tip but are instead forced into paying a gratuity, you are probably going to give less or be less likely to give at all because of the fact that they've made you do it. Being pressured to tip also makes you more critical of the product or service you receive and changes your frame of mind for giving.
The biggest offenders
The worst possible offense by a company that charges gratuity, which not only changes your frame of mind for giving, but also for patronizing their establishment, is engaging in deceptive practices like concealing the percentage rate of gratuity charged by not disclosing it clearly on the list of services and products or on your receipt or labeling it vaguely as a general 'service charge'.
When it does this, a business is making it very unclear to you what it is you're paying for or if it's something you should or are required to pay at all.
A business that does this ultimately meets its demise in a free market economy, because the dynamics of a free market system will push them out of competitiveness. The only way a business can sustain this conduct is if it maintains a monopoly on the product or service it provides and consumers remain ignorant of their rights and complacent in their actions.
But with more competition, a message you as a consumer have heard countless times, the market share of a monopolistic business is sure to be eroded when consumers are provided viable alternatives for products and services in that real free market economy, as well as better information about the industries that exist in that economy.
Consumers must show a stronger desire for information that helps them make the best purchasing decisions; they must become better educated about their rights and the options available to them to hold businesses accountable for their conduct, and they should demand more with respect to the enforcement of consumer rights, regardless of the type of business involved - even if it's a government service.
In fact, a significant red flag for you, the consumer, is a business that does not have an accessible method of allowing you to express your level of satisfaction and offer your feedback about a product or service they sell, or one that does not publicly disclose this information to you.
Because not only does your constructive criticism in the ratings you give help to improve and further develop that business, those ratings also help other consumers to make important buying decisions for themselves and for their families.
If you have no option for providing those constructive criticisms, then you, as a consumer, should be less inclined to do business with that company.
o Nicole Burrows in an academically-trained economist. She can be contacted at: nicole.burrows@outlook.com.

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Boys to men: A deficient rite of passage for the Bahamian male

June 17, 2014

o First published Wednesday, June 18, 2013.
In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father's Day a national holiday in the United States of America. The day is celebrated on the third Sunday in June and The Bahamas, like many other nations, has adopted this tradition.
The significant role of fathers in the national and social development cannot be emphasized enough. Moreover, the extremely pivotal part of fathers and fatherhood in the proper upbringing of children has never been more pronounced than in today's society. Fathers and father figures must continue to provide the unique nurturing necessary to help boys transition successfully into men.
Questions in today's society
Our society and indeed the world as a whole is plagued with so many woes that raise a myriad of questions and create conundrums in communities challenged by the degradation of the fabric of our moral values. Central to the heart of our societal evils and problems, it appears, is the void created by the absence of the revered guidance and discipline that fathers and the men of The Bahamas are known and respected for. Hence, the debate and queries persist as to the origin or genesis of this abdication of this divine duty to instruct and guide the next generation.
It is important that we take an introspective look and search out the answers to the silent questions that arise in our minds as crime continues to plague our society and our young people subconsciously seek help. Who will stand up and stand in the gap for our young men? Who will be their voice? Where are the fathers armed with the responsibility of nurturing and mentorship? Where are the upstanding men of society who are living a successful and prosperous life but fail to help our young men? Who dares to go into the communities and reach out to these young men and show care? The key word being 'care' - not for exploitation, gain or publicity, but out of genuine concern and care for their well-being.
Our young men are dropping out of school in droves; they are roaming through the streets while others sit on the blocks lamenting their travails and the cruelty of a society in which they feel like outlaws. While some refuse to seek legitimate gainful employment, others are unable to find jobs and pledge their allegiance to the 'street'. They say the streets have raised them and therefore they must be loyal to the streets. Truly this is a vexing issue that provides a challenge to the transition of boys to men.
Rites of passage
The phrase 'rite of passage' often speaks to an individual's transition from one status to another. In this regard, the transition to manhood in the case of boys is marked in some indigenous cultures in the form of a ritual. The essence of this ritual, which is often preceded by successful completion of certain prerequisites under the tutelage and guidance of older men, is the culmination of a period of teaching, mentoring, discipline and impartation of a sense of responsibility.
In our civilization, the responsibility to ensure the successful transition of our boys into good men falls upon each and every one of us and more specifically upon the fathers and older men of The Bahamas. There is no doubt that the family, communities, churches, the government, schools and civic organizations ought to make their contribution. We cannot assume that the other is doing their job and run the risk of no one executing their part. However, the men of today have a significant role to play in determining the future men produced by our country. Today's fathers and men in leadership roles must observe the actions of our young men that are killing one another and have by consequence declared war against themselves. Their actions appear to show unconsciously an aggressive and negative cry for help from the stronger in society - specifically fathers and older men.
It is often said that one cannot give what he or she does not have. How can a man without honor seek to raise an honorable young man knowing fully well that actions speak louder than words? Are today's fathers and leading men in society living a life worthy of respect and honor? The answer is a subjective one, but we must be true and honest with ourselves when answering. Respect for one's self and others is key to the promotion and attainment of peace and harmony in today's society.
Respect for women
We can only successfully tackle our social ills by returning to the basics and the principles that have worked for us as a society. In simple terms, we must teach our sons the common basics such as manners, etiquette, proper hygiene and a growing sense of respect for women.
We live in a society where infidelity, domestic violence, rape and other offenses against women are prevalent. We must return to the days when it was admirable to be a gentleman; a time when it was inappropriate for a male to touch a lady without her expressed permission or implied approval based only on a high level of familiarity. Young men must be taught to address ladies that they have no relations with, with respect, addressing them by their names and not "sweetie", "honey", "baby" and the likes. In today's enlightened and liberal society, there is a thin line between what constitutes sexual harassment and what does not.
The best gift fathers and men can give to boys as they transition from boyhood to manhood is to lead by example. Affection and loyalty shown by a man to his wife as an example go a long way. Men must master the art of conflict resolution and walking away from a fight, rather than fueling the same with violent retaliation. More importantly, morals and values - spiritual or otherwise - must be central to any rites of passage for boys.
Young men are the solution
Our young men must not be seen as the problem, but rather a solution to today's and tomorrow's problems. How can a problem solve a problem? Therefore, we must label them what we want them to be. The young men have strength, and we should utilize it. The old men with wisdom and understanding should use it to address the challenges of the young men by applying the knowledge they have acquired over time.
A salute to fathers
The transition from boyhood to manhood is rarely easy. Today we salute fathers who have taken their rightful place in society and have provided instruction to their biological, foster and adopted sons. Indeed it is their investments in the next generation that gives hope to our dear nation. Even though the celebration of Father's Day is officially over and the festivities have been completed, we honor the men of our country who have been responsible for the transition of our boys into good men.
The fathers and father figures must continue to teach our young men that their manhood is not defined by the level of bass in their voices, the number of female acquaintances they possess, the number of times they have been on the wrong side of the law or how much money they possess. They should know that a man is defined by his honor, dignified labor and integrity. All they need to do is emulate their fathers and they will be fine. Or will they? Happy belated Father'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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June 16, 2014

"But in that coming day, no weapon turned against you will succeed.
You will silence every voice raised up to accuse you."
- Isaiah 54:17
This past week, Phil Bentley, chief executive officer of Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC), announced that Mr. Leon Williams will become the new chief executive officer at BTC, formerly the Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation (BaTelCo). This was the government's most lucrative public corporation, which for many years had not only paid vast dividends to the government but had developed a world-class telecommunications organization that was literally built with the blood, sweat and tears of and managed by Bahamians. For more than a decade, BTC was at the center of discussion and debate about the propriety of its privatization.
During the privatization process, Williams, then president of BaTelCo, was fired by the corporation's board, without cause, although it was later determined that it was because he opposed privatization of the corporation. Therefore this week, we would like to Consider this... With his re-instatement as the CEO of the now privatized BTC, has Mr. Williams been vindicated?
The background
In the 1990s, the Ingraham administration decided to privatize BaTelCo. This decision was met with vehement disapproval by a deeply divided, broad-based cross-section of the citizenry, particularly when that administration decided to sell a majority share of the corporation to a foreign strategic partner, Cable & Wireless Communications. That decision was even more controversial and offensive because of the Ingraham administration's "resolute" position early in the process that Cable & Wireless should not even be considered by the privatization committee as a strategic partner.
In 2008, Mr. Williams was fired as the corporation's president by the board, notwithstanding that during his tenure BaTelCo had implemented cutting edge telecommunications technology, and consumers, while not completely satisfied, were generally pleased with the company's performance. In addition, Mr. Williams was twice elected by acclamation as the chairman of the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organizations (CANTO), which at the time of his election was comprised of telecommunications organizations from 33 countries. At the time Williams demitted office two years later, CANTO members numbered 116 telecommunications organizations from 72 countries. Clearly, he was highly respected by his international telecommunication colleagues.
However, Mr. Williams was not satisfied with the direction that the board had taken in its move toward privatization. The chairman of the board at the time said that Mr. Williams was terminated for gross mismanagement of the corporation, although the performance indicators did not support such a claim. Before he assumed the presidency of BaTelCo in 2006, the corporation recorded sales of $293 million, operating profits of $34 million and had $70 million cash in the bank. By the time he was terminated in 2008, BaTelCo had increased sales to $353 million, and recorded operating profits of $44 million and had $170 million cash in the bank. At the same time, the corporation had 300,000 customers and had reduced rates for both land-line and cellular service.
Following his termination by an FNM-appointed board, Mr. Williams sued the corporation for unfair dismissal. The corporation ultimately settled with him, resulting in a vindication of the injustice that the board had meted out to him.
Cable & Wireless' performance
Shortly after Cable & Wireless acquired the controlling interest in BTC (the privatized corporation), it became patently clear to all consumers that the executives at the helm of the company did not enjoy the confidence they had developed with the earlier public corporation. Notwithstanding their vast telecommunications experience and financial resources, both landline and cellular telephone service rapidly deteriorated. There was a new level of customer dissatisfaction, resulting from incessantly dropped calls, especially in its cellular service, and the corporation's staff morale reached historically unprecedented depths never before experienced. Bahamians and residents alike deeply lamented the day that the Ingraham administration effectively "gave away" the country's most precious and valuable national asset and regretfully reminisced about the years gone-by when BaTelCo was owned and managed by Bahamians.
To add insult to injury, the corporation made several critically significant personnel changes that resulted in the replacement of qualified, trained Bahamians with foreign surrogates who could not deliver the quality service levels to which customers had become accustomed. In addition, it "persuaded" many qualified persons to take an early retirement package. After privatization, the person who was appointed by CWC to head the new BTC had come from a CWC post in Jamaica where CWC Jamaica had posted net losses of three billion Jamaican dollars for the preceding three years.
In these last two years, there were three catastrophic failures of the telecommunications system where many of the country's land-line and mobile services simultaneously and completely collapsed. The last systemic national meltdown several months ago saw a public apology from BTC including an announcement that there would be a minuscule monetary compensation to customers for the system collapse.
Hence, there was a collective sigh of relief when Mr. Bentley announced that he had decided to reinstate Mr. Williams. Mr. Bentley's announcement was met with near universal euphoria by the public and employees of the corporation, including the union leaders who had developed an excellent relationship with and deep respect for Mr. Williams while he served as president.
The opposition's reaction to Williams' appointment
It should come as no surprise that the announcement of Mr. Williams' reinstatement was met with discordant disdain by the official opposition who described his return as a "step backward". Not surprising at all from a party whose initial position was that "Bahamians need not apply" for the purchase of the corporation during the privatization process. Not surprising at all from a party that had long demonstrated that it did not have confidence in Bahamians, despite the appalling performance by the corporation's foreign managers. In other words, The Bahamas would be better served by foreigners whose performance was dismal at best and appalling at worse than by an exceptionally more competent Bahamian who has demonstrated that he can perform exponentially better than his foreign counterparts. Suffice it to say that Mr. Bentley, as chairman, wanted the best for his company, notwithstanding the vociferous protests of the official opposition. For this, Mr. Bentley should be commended by all right-thinking Bahamians.
Mr. Williams and the road ahead
This is not to suggest that we should expect an immediately miraculous transformation of the corporation with Mr. Williams at the helm. There are no "quick-fix" solutions to the entrenched challenges that need to be immediately addressed. Mr. Williams will probably be the first to admonish Bahamians that it will take time to reverse the missteps and mistakes of his predecessors. Above all, it will require a commitment by CWC to make the necessary capital improvements in the system and time to identify the right persons to fill the essential positions at BTC. As Mr. Williams has pointed out, correcting the problems that face BTC is like "fixing a plane while it is in flight".
When all is said and done, it is ironic that, although Mr. Williams was vilified by the former BTC board for his position on the corporation's privatization, and now even by some in the opposition, he will now captain the privatized BTC. He can certainly take comfort in the words of the Prophet Isaiah that: "...in that coming day, no weapon turned against you will succeed. You will silence every voice raised up to accuse you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and this is their vindication from me."
It now remains for all Bahamians to recognize that Mr. Williams, who once led the corporation to unparalleled heights, now enjoys the confidence of its chairman, Mr. Bentley. We should demonstrate the same level of confidence and support him because, if he succeeds, as we are confident that he will, we will all be the beneficiaries of his success.
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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Should the legal profession allow foreign lawyers in

June 13, 2014

The protectionist view of some in The Bahamas is one that has emanated from the Bahamianization policy which was proffered by the government in the independence era. While it is important that we protect jobs for Bahamians, it is also important to create jobs for Bahamians. In a stagnant legal profession which has developed primarily in the absence of foreign specialists lawyers, our financial services have diminished to the bare minimum.
How many lawyers in The Bahamas do substantial offshore financial work with hedge fund managers in New York, Singapore or Hong Kong? Do the majority of our lawyers really have the experience in managing major offshore financial transactions, the likes of which take place on a daily basis in the Cayman Islands? The contrast between the lucrative legal profession in the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas is clear. Lawyers in The Bahamas struggle to attract international business, which is what contributes substantively to an international financial center.
The international financial center of today requires a legal profession that moves with alacrity and is able to facilitate the work that will come. Foreign specialist lawyers are not interested in moving to The Bahamas for the measly work that exists at the local level. When a hedge fund lawyer coming from the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand or Australia relocates to the Cayman Islands, it is likely that he or she is bringing a client base that otherwise would not have been in that jurisdiction. Moreover, their ability to attract more international clients will be predicated on their track record and experience in these specialist areas of law which currently have a limited number of practitioners in The Bahamas, because they do not have the connections to attract the client and/or the legislation in The Bahamas is antiquated and does not promote efficiency and business growth as does Cayman or Bermuda.
In tandem with looking at immigration reform as Sean McWeeney, QC, recently spoke of in regard to allowing foreign specialist lawyers to practice in our jurisdiction, there has to be a review of the monetary policy which explores the free flow of funds within the context of the internationally accepted rules. Our existing policy makes it extraordinarily difficult to have serious inflows of investment and stymies Bahamian business persons from sourcing international funding without the approval of the Bahamas Investment Authority and/or the Central Bank of The Bahamas. The same policy does not exist in progressive International Financial Centers where funding for business development and any legitimate purpose is abundant.
Having worked in the Cayman Islands, I have seen the substantial difference between the Bahamas' approach to financial services and that of the number five-ranked international financial services center in the world. It is like night and day and the progressive and open approach to embracing foreign specialists, within the context of ensuring that Caymanian attorneys have an opportunity to excel professionally while enjoying lucrative financial remuneration, is evident. How many Bahamian lawyers have considered looking to gain experience in another jurisdiction where their skill set can be honed to the changing demands of international clients?
It appears to me that the lawyers in The Bahamas are fighting for scraps when the bulk of the opportunity passes them by on the international market, because of the protectionist position that has kept foreign lawyers out. This position, no matter how enticing to the few naysayers who have no experience outside of this jurisdiction, is not sustainable for the growth and development of The Bahamas as a financial services center.
Bahamian law firms have been expanding to other jurisdictions in an effort to benefit from the considerable level of business opportunities. The trust, funds and securities business is an unbelievably large area of the financial services sector and The Bahamas is not anywhere near the reference point for what is an emerging business opportunity. A big contributing factor to this is the inability of foreign lawyers to practice in The Bahamas. I have spoken with exceptionally wealthy lawyers in other jurisdictions who advise clients to send business to Cayman, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) or Bermuda, while The Bahamas is ignored. This happens because if they are unable to benefit from the legal business if it is sent to The Bahamas, they will not direct work this way. If a client meets with an attorney in Hong Kong who has law offices in the BVI, Cayman or Bermuda, and asks for advice on where to establish a structure, it is likely that the attorney will advise based on the benefits of the jurisdictions mentioned. In addition to the obvious benefits to operating in those international financial centers, the attorney will likely want to ensure that the legal work generated is not farmed out to a jurisdiction like The Bahamas, where his or her firm has no presence and therefore is unable to benefit.
Whether we like it or not, every day these business opportunities are happening and clients are choosing on the advice of their attorneys to go elsewhere. No amount of chest beating, fist pumping, we are the smartest jurisdiction and nationalism, will get that business. Adopting the common sense approach presented by McWeeney is the only logical way forward if the Bahamas wants to generate wealth from untapped sources in the provision of legal services which constitute a part of the financial services offering. All who wish to bury their heads in the sand run the risk of one day looking around to see that we will have a country with the highest per capita lawyers who are looking for other careers because there is no business locally to sustain the quality of life that lawyers in successful international financial centers enjoy.
o John Carey served as a member of parliament 2002 to 2007.

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Branville McCartney's politics of triangulation

June 12, 2014

DNA Leader Branville McCartney's central political equation is that he's not A or B, but C, with A or B representing the leaders of the PLP and FNM, respectively, Perry Christie and Hubert Ingraham and now Christie and Dr. Hubert Minnis.
What exactly C is, is a moving target, depending seemingly sometimes on McCartney's mood, how he needs to position himself to force a contrast with the two major parties, or some other calculation to demonstrate that he and his political creation are "the best/greatest thing since sliced bread" in Bahamian politics.
"The best/greatest thing since sliced bread" idiom was popularized during the first half of the last century. It refers to when someone thinks that "they are extremely good, often better than they really are" at something.
The idiom also expresses "a sense that something is innovative, outstanding, and generally superior to something that has come before".
Bequeathed the coveted FNM Bamboo Town nomination at the 2007 general election McCartney already saw himself as a rising star, a child of destiny, from whom the universe, or at least his universe of fans, expected great things.
Following the FNM's electoral victory he was appointed a junior minister along with the late Charles Maynard, Loretta Butler-Turner, Desmond Bannister, Phenton Neymour, Byron Woodside and Zhivargo Laing.
Laing was returning as a junior minister. He has never served as a substantive minister. To their great fortune, the others in the incoming group of junior ministers, all new to the House of Assembly, did not first serve as backbenchers before receiving a Cabinet appointment.
By contrast, a number of former PLP MPs and others like Tommy Turnquest, Dion Foulkes and Carl Bethel did not immediately go into the Cabinet after their election to the House. Turnquest did initially serve as a parliamentary secretary.
In an early Cabinet shuffle, two of the seven junior ministers, Charles Maynard and Desmond Bannister, were made substantive ministers.
McCartney, who left tourism to go to immigration as junior minister, was crestfallen and angry that he was not given his own ministry. His ego bruised, the clock started ticking down to McCartney's exit from the FNM.
A more mature and less egotistical personality would have bided his time and demonstrated to his Cabinet colleagues and others that he possessed the gravitas necessary to advance in the FNM. Many of his colleagues recall that he had little to say around the table and that he was largely unimpressive.
McCartney was given a junior ministerial assignment at immigration, quite a political plumb for a neophyte MP with no experience and no distinguishing attributes except a penchant for grandstanding. He used much of his brief tenure at immigration to exploit the xenophobia of some Bahamians.
Then came the break. A clear sentiment emerged amidst the quite incoherent utterances McCartney made upon leaving the Ingraham Cabinet. It was that the then prime minister had not fully utilized his talents! Translation: Ingraham had not made him a substantive minister. For that he left the party and started his own vanity party.
None of the other junior ministers who were not promoted bolted the party. In leaving the FNM, McCartney threw a mega-tantrum, deciding to play the role of the Big Bad Wolf, huffing and puffing to blow the FNM house down because he couldn't get his way.
Never mind all the later rationalization, the tortured logic, the revisionism, the considerable effort to show that the DNA is somehow dramatically different from the major parties. Had Ingraham made McCartney a minister he would undoubtedly have remained as his ego would have been satisfied.
He would likely do cartwheels and somersaults were the FNM to invite him to lead the party. The DNA would be a distant memory and would soon collapse were he to leave his institutional alter ego.
To justify his political existence McCartney has tried to master the art of triangulation. He's sometimes proficient at it. But not because of his own genius. He sometimes succeeds because the other political players are often that bad at their craft.
Take the idiotic example of the FNM agreeing in a House committee with the PLP to look at increasing the salary and allowances for MPs. If the FNM had another leader other than the continued disaster that is Minnis, McCartney would have been denied another opportunity for grandstanding and pandering.
Having lost his House seat McCartney does not enjoy the platform he once had. He rarely has anything original to say, preferring to reiterate the criticisms of others against the Christie administration. His comments are typically glib and unsubstantial.
His politics and policy views are mostly derived from others, such as his joining the bandwagon in criticizing the government over the National Intelligence Agency. His is the "me too" politics.
With the DNA now several years old, McCartney has failed utterly to establish any reasonable grounds to justify his breaking away from the FNM and establishing what many regard as nothing more than a vanity party. He has not demonstrated any substantial ideological difference from either of the major parties.
With one exception, none of the third parties that have sprung up from time to time have had any real philosophical or ideological justification for existence since both of the two national parties seem to offer adequate accommodation for the fairly narrow range of Bahamian political philosophy which is generally liberal or right to left of center depending on the issue.
The exception to this rule was the short-lived far-left Vanguard Nationalist Socialist Party headed by the late Dr. John McCartney.
Since the consolidation of the two-party system by the Progressive Liberal Party and the Free National Movement - both claiming liberal credentials - all other third parties have also claimed the same credentials. The differences have been mostly over issues of leadership, style, competence and good governance.
Although our constitution places no limit on the number of political parties, our history indicates that the Bahamian people are deeply invested in the idea of two national political parties. They have consistently rejected the idea of third parties and the instability that multiple political parties have brought about in other jurisdictions.
The existence of the DNA is more about voter frustration with certain political personalities and the need for ongoing reform within the major parties. A new, vibrant and competent leader for the FNM can quickly upend McCartney's political calculations.
But for the FNM it is about more than attracting DNA voters. Forget the conventional wisdom and look at the hard numbers. With small margins the FNM may have lost some seats because of the DNA.
But a more persuasive reason for the FNM's loss is that it also lost the under 35 vote, the youth vote and women to the PLP, who won because they defeated the FNM among those demographics.
The FNM does not simplistically have a so-called DNA problem. The greater concern for the FNM is to attract younger voters and women who voted PLP, as well as DNA voters, not the other way around.
And, the FNM can attract DNA voters without kowtowing to the interests, vanity fair and megawatt ego of Branville McCartney.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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How consumers drive the economy

June 11, 2014

Most of what is produced anywhere but particularly in a free market or open economy is produced to satisfy the demands of humans, driven by their desire or their need to have things.
Because of this nearly endless demand, in the average, open market, general consumers typically account for the largest spending sector in the economy.
The wider spending habits of consumers are so reliable by their sheer existence that they determine the development of various industries within a country, so much so that if businesses, newly formed or established, small or large, don't know what consumers want or need, they don't know what to sell to them, they don't know what to produce to be sold, and they do not earn revenue let alone turn a profit.
Cyd Essock, while training as a journalist at the University of Wisconsin, once wrote in an essay that "...the reins of the free market economy lie in the hands of the consumer. And the consumer, because he is in the driver's seat, has an obligation to consume wisely."
What consumers want, for the most part, will determine the allocation of a business' scarce resources to the production of consumer products, to the extent that our prevailing culture determines what we designate as important and what is in the greatest demand for consumption.
What we demand most of all determines what we consume most of all. And what we spend our incomes on is not only a reflection of our cumulative personal priorities, but also our cultural and social priorities.
Adam Smith, Scottish moral philosopher and political economist stated: "Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it might be necessary for promoting that of the consumer." In other words, producers exist primarily to satisfy consumers.
What we want most
If we drive around our country's busiest cities, starting with our nation's capital, scouting the types of businesses which predominate, what we find speaks very loudly to the nature and quality of our demand and expectations of businesses in general.
This exercise of searching around our local markets, malls and mom-and-pop stores, and assessing our people's main interests based on what we find in these locations, reveals a stark and pervasive predisposition to certain goods and services which add little or no further value to the quality of our lives or our level of industry and productivity.
What we find, after such an analysis as this, tells an even greater story about our development, or our lack of development, over the last four decades. The same observation can be had by listening to and watching radio and television ads and by perusing print ads.
So what do Bahamian consumers spend most on? It seems we are preoccupied with food and physical appearance.
Canvassing one of the longest and busiest streets of commerce on the island of New Providence, from the northern end to the southern end and back again, shows some troubling realities about the leading types of products sold in more than half the businesses in The Bahamas, which is driven by the demand Bahamians have for these same products:
Alcohol. Numbers. Artificial hair, hair-styling services, hair and makeup products, and hair accessories. Clothing and fashion accessories. Fried chicken and French fries, burgers, barbecued rib dinners, and other fast or franchise foods. Used vehicles. Phone cards.
The story within
What does this tell us about the people we are or are becoming? Are our interests so shallow and fleeting that the bulk of our purchases are of temporary, or, intangible and temporary goods or services, as well as tangible products/ final goods which lose value as soon as they're purchased?
Is this a deeper indication of how we perceive ourselves, the purpose of our lives and our ability to achieve? If most of what we buy goes in a flash, are we concerned about (our) longevity?
What matters most to us as individuals and as a collective people? Do we simply believe that companies make things that we must buy, or do we, could we, see that we actually have the clout to determine the choices of products and services brought before us, i.e., that what a reseller sells to us or what a local producer manufactures for us to buy, is really a function of what we ask them for?
Are material things that make us look and feel good what we want most out of life? Is that the end of our personal vision? And does this short-sightedness translate into our narrow-minded views of many other issues we face in our society on a recurring basis?
Can we broaden our prospects and our thoughts to include the desire for durable goods and life-enhancing services which elevate us and serve us better in the long run, raising our standard of expectations and of living, with respect to our physical, social, and mental health?
Because, if we preserve those things, we place ourselves so much more strategically for every other type of success we could envision in the future whether we are individual consumers or business owners.
Can we raise our standard of consumption - of products and services - in order to raise our standard of living?
The picture we see now is of a nation whose consumption of goods and services is comprised mostly of aesthetics and vices. But where do we see ourselves growing to? Do we not recognize the benefit in expecting and wanting more from our own existence?
With our current inclinations toward patronizing the kinds of businesses that satisfy us with things for brief periods of time, which direction are we pointed in to achieve the economic expansion, diversification, and development we all say we require?
o Nicole Burrows is an academically trained economist. She can be contacted at: nicole.burrows@outlook.com

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The evolving role of trade unions

June 10, 2014

On Friday June 6, 2014, workers across The Bahamas joined members of the trade unions across the archipelago to celebrate the second annual Randol Fawkes Labour Day. The parade commemorating this event was attended by thousands who marched with their respective unions while many more lined the streets as spectators in support of the trade unionists.
Held under the theme "United We Stand, Together We Can", there could not have been a better close to the festivities than the Junkanoo rush-out, which has become one of the highlights of the Labour Day holiday. Indeed, the pulsating sound of cowbells and goat skin drums accompanied by the brass and Rake & Scrape tunes constituted the best of our culture as a people.
Overall, this year's Labour Day parade could be regarded as a great success for trade unions in their determination to demonstrate their strength, solidarity and relevance as advocates for the Bahamian worker. Despite the success of the 2014 parade, it has become apparent over the last several months that there remain concerns and anxiety among trade unions in our country, with union unrest and threats of strike action coming to the fore during this period.
The voice of the trade unions
It would be an understatement to suggest that the leadership of the various trade unions in The Bahamas has been exceptionally vocal over the last year or two. One only need consider the amount of press coverage union leaders have received in recent months to appreciate this fact. Of particular note has been the increased commentary by union leaders of late on national and economic issues ranging from the protection of the environment, the country's natural resources, taxation of web shops, fiscal reform and review of the salaries of members of Parliament, just to mention a few.
On specific matters affecting workers, the trade union leaders have sought to ensure that the respective agreements of their member unions were addressed and finalized by the government.
Among other concerns, trade unions have sought amendments to the Employment Act to address several issues, including the recognition of commissions, and tips and gratuities as a form of remuneration under Section 2 in order to allow for workers to bring successful claims under this provision.
It was noted that the National Insurance Board (NIB) Act was amended for this purpose, hence it is submitted that the Employment Act should be consistent with the NIB Act.
There has also been a call for the government to codify into local legislation the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Convention 87 which has been ratified by the government, which would allow union members to join any union of their choice and not restrict members to their trade or profession.
The Bahamas is a member state of the ILO, which is a specialized agency of the United Nations. The ILO states that its mission is to promote and realize standards and fundamental principles and rights at work, create greater opportunities for women and men for decent employment and income, enhance the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all and strengthen tripartism and social dialogue.
The government's efforts
In his national address to mark Labour Day this year, the Minister of Labour and National Insurance and Minister of the Public Service Shane Gibson emphasized the importance of ongoing communication among stakeholders; he stated that "continuous" dialogue with social partners is a fundamental principle of the PLP government and is supported by the International Labour Organization Convention 198.
The minister also noted various initiatives that were being undertaken to strengthen union partnership such as the reading and debate of the National Tripartite Council Bill which is anticipated to be consistent with international standards and best practices as well as amendments to the Health and Safety At Work Act to empower inspectors of the OSHA Unit to ensure safety in the workplace.
The enhancements to legislation covering employees and employer-employee relations seem to be in progress. In this regard, it is anticipated that the National Tripartite Council, which held its first informal meeting on May 29, 2104 will submit recommendations to the government to amend both the Industrial Relations Act 1970 and the Employment Act 2001 to address various issues including increases in statutory redundancy and severance entitlements, the definition of a lunch break, overtime entitlements and minimum time limits for employers to enter into good faith negotiations with the recognized bargaining units.
The minister further highlighted proposed developments concerning proposing an increase to minimum wage and the proposed establishment of a National Redundancy Fund.
In his opening remarks issued at the first Conference of Ministers, Vice Ministers and Directors of Labor in Latin America and The Caribbean held in Mexico City, Mexico in November, 2013, Gibson informed his counterparts on the international scene of the efforts that the Bahamian government was undertaking to enhance our country's most vital resource - The Bahamian people.
He cited the establishment of the National Training Agency, improvements in the system of recognition and registration of trade unions and collective bargaining agreements, and enhancement of National Employment Service designed to match trained and qualified job seekers with vacancies in the private and public sectors as initiatives aimed at improving industrial relations within The Bahamas.
The relevance of the trade union
There is no doubt that the trade union movement has played and continues to play a pivotal role in improving the quality of life for Bahamian workers. The history books ably document this notion from the Burma Road Riots to the General Strike and the election of the late Sir Randol Fawkes in the 1967 general elections which led to the first coalition government comprising labor, independent and the PLP. It can be argued and trade unionists will probably suggest that trade unions are more relevant today considering the economic challenges we face as a country.
However, another school of thought questions not just the real relevance of the trade union movement but also the level of conviction of trade union leaders and their connection to the realities our Bahamaland faces today. This is considering our nation's financial challenges in the midst of rising debt, high GFS deficit, decreased government revenue and high unemployment.
The question often arises as to whether the overall demands of the unions are appropriate considering the aforesaid facts. Another point that union leaders cannot afford to ignore is the perception that they sometimes promote their own selfish interests above that of their members and prioritize self-preservation over the national interest.
In a letter to the editor published in The Nassau Guardian on March 14, 2012, trade union leader, Jennifer Isaacs-Dotson, reiterated the relevance of trade unions in The Bahamas and how the movement has evolved with the changing times by educating their members and preparing them for the workforce among other things.
She further opined that trade unionists should be provided a greater opportunity to participate in affairs by holding roles in Cabinet, Parliament and on statutory boards among others as is displayed throughout our sister countries in the region. She opined that the trade union movement should be viewed as an 'equal partner' in nation building.
Trade unions should continue to help deepen our democracy and strengthen our commonwealth as expressed in Isaacs-Dotson's words: "solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong".
In this sense, trade unions are still as relevant in today's Bahamas as they were yesterday. Additionally, their role in Bahamian society continues to evolve as they foster relations with both regional and international bodies geared toward improving labor standards.
However, in order to achieve the objective of solidarity and strength, union leaders must be mindful of the evolving global and local economic landscape while keeping their hands on the pulse of the workers they represent. They must remember that we are Bahamians first and then unionists; hence, the national interest must come first and should not be superseded by individual ambitions.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com

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The PLP's secrecy and contempt for democracy

June 05, 2014

Don't tell me what you believe. Show me what you do and I'll tell you what you believe. This adage captures Prime Minister Perry Christie and his government's ever growing disdain for democratic norms even as they profess to be such committed democrats.
Don't mind Christie's endless promises or what he says he believes. Watch what he does or fails to do. The gulf between his words and actions is often vast. There is more than hypocrisy here. There is sheer naked contempt for a litany of democratic practices.
With his usual braggadocio and chest-thumping, Christie boasts that he's a great democrat, much as a D-student who finally gets a C-minus on an assignment or two, wants you to believe that he's a straight-A student.
From stacking the PLP with hundreds if not near a thousand or more stalwart councillors to ensure his continued rule, to slapping Bahamians in the face by arrogantly ignoring the gambling referendum, Christie exhibits a contemptuous attitude towards democracy within his party and in the country.
Christie is known for promising financial accountability and transparency, then utterly failing to live up to his word. Recall his promise to disclose how much money Mohammed Harajchi gave the PLP. Recall too his promise to say how much Peter Nygard gave the PLP.
Each man claimed to have given the PLP millions. Christie has never given a full accounting. Why has he failed to do so? Why is the self-proclaimed democrat so mum in giving the figures?
Following his extensive travels and that of his large traveling party to Sri Lanka for the 2013 CHOGM then to Rome and London, Christie promised to give a full accounting of the trip. As usual, he failed to be forthcoming.
When Christie looks you in the eye and makes a solemn promise it's a good bet that it will never, ever materialize.
Now Christie has taken his lack of transparency and lax attitude towards financial accountability to a new and dangerous level. In a stunning departure from convention the minister of finance introduced a national budget lacking in all manner of details.
Salaries within ministries and departments are lumped as a single line item. The College of The Bahamas, which once had its own head, is subsumed in a single line item in the Ministry of Education's head, and the Public Hospitals Authority, which has certain statutory independence as an authority, is collapsed under the Ministry of Health's head as a single line item.
Christie and the PLP have failed to bring into force the Freedom of Information Act, another promise yet unfulfilled. Now, budgetary details heretofore in the public domain are being withheld. This is an outrageous and dangerous precedent which may allow a government to hide all manner of subterfuge and skulduggery.
When a government operates with unnecessary secrecy, it betrays a certain attitude and potentially questionable activities it may want to hide.
The finance minster allowed approximately $20 million in untendered contracts to be generously doled out to scores of PLPs in Andros. He publicly seemed cavalier about a contract for a new Ministry of National Security building that has raised eyebrows.
Christie is grossly incompetent as finance minister. He was late for his budget presentation, which was largely incoherent, typical of his abysmal performance in office.
He seems on track to become one of the most unaccountable finance ministers since the advent of ministerial government.
Christie and his government's abuses of power, secrecy and despotism are mounting. Having created a National Intelligence Agency (NIA) with no legal standing or oversight mechanisms, the PLP brushed off criticism.
As is his undemocratic pattern the prime minister has yet to speak in any detail on an issue for which he bears responsibility, the likely illegality of a secret surveillance and intelligence operation. His contempt for democracy and the Bahamian people could not be clearer.
Having gambled and lost on the gambling referendum Christie declared that he would abide by the decision of voters. His message now to voters: Drop dead, I'm going with the numbers boys.
One guesses that his long-missing horse in the gambling debate has been discovered, with Christie riding it roughshod over Bahamians who will be left behind to clean up the horse's mess even as the head of government rides off into a lucrative sunset, referring of course to the brilliance of the sunset.
Meanwhile, Christie continues to be dogged by a glaring conflict of interest having served as a consultant for an oil exploration company when he was leader of the opposition from 2007 to 2012, the same company which had previous business before his government from 2002 to 2007 and which has business before his current administration.
We do not know how handsomely Christie was paid for his services. What we do know is that he promised to have a referendum on oil exploration before further exploration, another promise in the dust.
With his spectacular conflict of interest and having broken his referendum promise the garrulous Christie has arrogantly said nothing, which is standard fare for him on issues the public has a right to know about, including the level of remuneration by a foreign oil exploration company to the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.
Don't fall for what Christie says he believes. Watch his actions. They so often are not the actions of a great democrat as he claims to be. His conflict of interest as a former consultant for the Bahamas Petroleum Company is reminiscent of a conflict of interest that dogged Sir Stafford Sands.
Sands, then a minister in the UBP and an attorney, accepted lucrative "fees" from gambling concerns to help promote their interests. Though not illegal, Sands arrogantly flouted good standards of governance.
The PLP used the conflict of interest issue as one of the main rallying cries of the 1967 general election claiming that Sands had a conflict between the interests of his clients - the casino operators - and that of the Bahamian people.
Fast forward several decades and Christie as a member of Parliament, opposition leader and potential prime minister took a consultancy on the particularly sensitive and highly controversial matter of oil drilling, the introduction of which would have enormous consequences for the country.
To the PLP, what Stafford Sands did was despicable, vile, a sell-out of the national interest, a betrayal of the Bahamian people.
But in Christie's case, he's a PLP and they are entitled to do whatever they please as the standards of conduct which apply to others do not apply to them.
Imagine Stafford Sands saying back then, "How dare anyone question my integrity?" He would have been derided for being so arrogant and acting as if he were above questioning.
One should not too quickly accept what Christie says he believes. Watch what he does and one may discover what he truly believes.
Remember how much Christie says he believes in Bahamians? Never mind the slogan, remember that he alienated approximately 10,000 acres of prime Bahamian land in Mayaguana to foreigners, then said it was a good thing for the very people he sold out.
Also alarming is the self-proclaimed democrat and his party's contempt for Parliament. The PLP created the NIA without the consent of Parliament. Now the PLP is hiding critical details from Parliament on the budget.
All of this demonstrates the autocratic and secretive mindset of an increasingly dictatorial and unaccountable government.
The PLP's major problem is not mostly about poor public relations. Their main problem is that their relations with various publics are poor because of bad policies and abysmal performance, as well as a public which generally loathes having to listen to yet more nonsensical claptrap from Christie.
The PLP now seems to deem the press as its enemy, launching all manner of assaults at the fourth estate, while trying to co-opt certain media personalities with assignments and contracts.
What so amazes, is highly amusing, is Christie's feigned indignation when criticized on certain matters.
He balls his fist, chops the air, looks earnest, ramps up the volume, furrows his brow, all playacting and defensiveness designed to intimidate and to deflect from his incompetence, broken promises and failures.
On the NIA, his conflict of interest as an oil exploration company consultant, on his ignoring the failed gambling referendum, Perry Christie should have resigned on any one of these issues as would be the convention in other jurisdictions.
Collectively, they constitute a pattern of abuse and shameful disregard for accountability and transparency. Christie claims that he's a great democrat. Look at his actions and believe such self-praise at one's peril and that of the nation.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Budget 2014/2015: Answering the questions on VAT

June 03, 2014

Last week, the prime minister of The Bahamas delivered his budget communication to the House of Assembly. As expected, the speech and details of the aforesaid communication attracted a lot of attention from the Bahamian people as we sought information and clarity on the plans of the government for the new fiscal year. Chief among our interests in the communication was the specific details on the proposed value-added tax (VAT) regime.
There is no doubt that we now possess more information on how VAT will be implemented in The Bahamas and some level of certainty has been provided to the private sector and the Bahamian public as a whole. In this piece, we take a look at what we now know, analyze some initial commentary and responses, as well as determine the questions that ought to be answered as we move toward the implementation of VAT.
The government's position
After over a year of extensive deliberations, engagement of myriad experts, multiple reports commissioned by the various stakeholders and sometimes emotional debates on fiscal and tax reform, the government has specified that VAT will be introduced at one single rate of 7.5 percent effective January 1, 2015.
The announced positions were driven by consultations with the private sector and other stakeholders and reflected compromises on the part of the government after having proposed a standard rate of 15 percent, a special rate of 10 percent and an implementation date of July 1, 2014.
Additionally, it is anticipated that fewer exemptions than originally proposed will be granted and the Ministry of Finance will have the necessary resources by October 1, 2014. In this regard, the government ought to be commended for keeping its promise of working with the private sector and taking their concerns into consideration in making the final decision.
The new VAT proposal also entails a VAT-inclusive pricing system to simplify price comparisons by consumers and more favorable procedures for accounting and tax credits, as well as refunds to accommodate small businesses.
Based on the lower rate at which VAT will be introduced, there will not be a wide-scale reduction in import duties and excise taxes during this budget cycle. However, the government has indicated its willingness to revisit these taxes in the next fiscal year as The Bahamas moves closer to accession to the World Trade Organization.
The impact of VAT on government finances
The acknowledgment of the importance of curbing government expenditure and the deficient nature of our current tax system in the budget communication is welcomed.
It is hoped that this will translate into a calculated and focused effort to ensure a more efficient allocation of taxpayers' funds and the effective collection of taxes by the government going forward. This is vital as the fiscal predicament of our country cannot and should not be addressed solely from the revenue side. The government must remain resolute in the implementation of its fiscal consolidation plan.
It was noted in the budget communication that tax revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) for The Bahamas is expected to be about 17.1 percent in 2013/14 which is significantly lower than the global average and lags behind the regional norm.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the average tax to GDP ratio in OECD countries was 34.6 percent in 2012. While this suggests that we have the capacity to increase tax yield to meet the demands on government, the rise ought to be gradual and calculated to ensure sustained economic growth and to avoid a distortion of the economy.
That being said, VAT is expected to only slightly enhance revenue yield by 1.5 per cent of GDP in 2014/15 based on the date of implementation, while other revenue measures outlined in the communication are expected to increase revenue by 2.7 percent of GDP in 2014/15 with a resultant improvement in overall tax yield as a percentage of GDP from 17.1 percent to 19.8 percent.
Are there any winners or losers?
It was recently reported that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in its Caribbean Region Quarterly Bulletin had suggested that The Bahamas has "further worsened its potential" to be downgraded by one or two notches by international credit rating agencies due to the postponement of the implementation of VAT.
This report highlights the potential risks to the maintenance of our investment-grade rating and further drives home the point that has been reiterated over the last two years - that we need to urgently address the fiscal challenges confronting us as a nation.
The positive side in this discussion is that as we now know that VAT will definitely be implemented at the specified rate at a specific date; this should dispel any doubts in the minds of international rating agencies as to whether we will be proceeding with tax reform. When combined with the downward trajectory of our GFS deficit evidenced by a reduction in the GFS deficit to 5.4 percent of GDP in 2013/14 compared with 6.3 percent for 2012/13, international rating agencies should be comforted that the government is committed to fiscal reform; after all S&P had indicated earlier that our overall fiscal plan will guide any decisions on revisions to The Bahamas' rating.
Against this backdrop, it is obvious that we cannot approach the issues of fiscal and tax reform from a win or lose perspective based on the interest group we belong to. Rather, we must seek the best formula and optimum strategy to address an issue of significant implications for our commonwealth.
It is difficult sometimes to understand the rationale for certain commentaries that appear to ignore this reality. The decision of the government not to carry out any wide-scale reduction of custom duties with the implementation of VAT, while it has invoked some commentary, could be understood in the initial implementation phase of VAT. It is often said that the devil you know is better than the angel that you don't; hence, the government must exercise prudence and conservatism so as not to further worsen the country's fiscal position in the event that actual revenues from VAT are not in line with projections.
The other important details
Now that we have the most important details on VAT, there is other specific information that should be provided as soon as possible to enable proper preparation for the new tax system. It is important that the full list of exemptions (which are expected to be fewer than initially proposed) is released.
In this regard, the discussions with sectors that will be impacted by this new proposal should be expedited by the government. While we do not expect wide-scale reductions in custom duties, the planned reductions should be communicated to stakeholders and the general public in a timely manner to allow for the necessary internal changes.
Industry-specific guidelines on VAT would also be very helpful in simplifying the information contained in the VAT legislation and assist businesses with VAT compliance.
Concurrently and in the lead-up to the implementation date, more information should be provided on the reforms to the social welfare system aimed at minimizing the impact of VAT on lower income families.
Finally, the proposed public education campaign which will entail private sector involvement must now commence without delay. The clock is ticking and even though it seems like we have a lot of time before VAT implementation, there is much work to be 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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