Opinion

2015: A watershed year for the PLP government, pt. 2

January 18, 2015

Every life has a watershed moment, an instant when you realize you're about to make a choice that will define everything else you ever do, and that if you choose wrong, there may not be that many things left to choose. Sometimes the wrong choice is the only one that lets you face the end with dignity, grace, and the awareness that you're doing the right thing.
I'm not sure we can recognize those moments until they've passed us.
- Mira Grant

Two weeks ago, before we took a break last Monday to observe the majority rule holiday, we thanked our readers for their encouragement and support of eight consecutive years of the weekly Consider This columns, as well as their constructive criticisms and alternative viewpoints to our weekly columns over the years.
Part one of the first column for this year invited us to Consider This... will 2015 be a watershed year for the PLP government?

A watershed
We defined a watershed as an important period or factor that serves as a dividing line. It is a turning point, a defining or pivotal moment or tipping point. Consequently we asked whether, in this context, 2015 will be a watershed year for the PLP government.

Visited issues
In answering this question, we addressed several salient issues that the government must effectively address if it will inspire the electorate to give them another mandate when the next general election is held in 2017 or earlier.
We spoke about the importance of containing crime, the most intractable challenge facing the government. We also recognized that it is vitally important to implement policies and programs to rapidly grow the economy.
We identified the introduction of value-added tax on January 1, 2015 as the most dramatic fiscal phenomenon in modern Bahamian history which could arrest and hopefully reverse the out-of-control fiscal deficit and national debt.
We also suggested that a successful referendum on constitutional changes will significantly signal the government's likely general election success the next time around.
Finally, we observed that the extent to which the government is successful in raising the anticipated taxes from the newly regulated web shop industry will also signal whether the public is satisfied that this watershed event will place the country on a positive pathway to raise urgently needed revenue in order to reverse the national debt and the fiscal deficit.

New challenges
In addition to crime, the second most important challenge facing today's government is the intractable level of unemployment, especially among our young citizens. We were recently informed that there are approximately 30,000 Bahamians who are unemployed, a totally unacceptable statistic.
Closely connected to the level of Bahamian unemployment is the extent of hunger and poverty that has afflicted too many of our citizens, young and old. There are reports that many school children go to bed hungry, eagerly looking forward to their next meal, not at their breakfast table, because they have none, but at their schools during the lunch hour which is offered by the school system. The extent of this problem needs to be fully documented and definitive action must be taken to eradicate this unpardonable reality.
The extent to which the government improves its communication with the public will also test its commitment to openness and accountability. While there is no need to rehash them here, there have been too many unexplained or poorly explained matters in the past two years that have left the public wondering what really happened in one case after another.
This will also be a watershed year for The Bahamas as far as the international ratings agencies are concerned. If those agencies believe that we have taken the appropriate regulatory steps to strengthen our established institutions, we should be fine. If not, we can anticipate that the country's rating will be adversely affected.

Hopeful signs and
great expectations
Sometime later this year, the Baha Mar mega-resort will open with much fanfare and great expectation of more jobs being created, an improved tourism product and an enhanced number of stop-over visitors who will spend more and thereby improved both the gross domestic product and our foreign reserves.
In May, the much-heralded and inadequately explained Junkanoo Carnival will be featured. There is considerable hope riding on the success of this event and hopefully, as is our custom, we will be able to pull it off in fine form as the event approaches.
Perhaps the most controversial issue that is looming in the wings is the government's intention to launch its National Health Insurance plan. While there is no doubt that too many of our citizens do not have access to catastrophic insurance, the proverbial question remains: What will it cost and who will pay the bill? The prime minister recently indicated that the initial cost will be approximately $600 million, although he anticipates that the first tranche will cost the Bahamian people $250 million. Again, greater public discussion is needed about this urgently needed social service, but, in light of the recurrent deficits, the national debt, the increase in taxes from VAT, the question remains: Can we afford this bill at this time?
Some of our Family Islands are suffering from want of urgently needed capital improvements. The clinic in Exuma, which has been erected but has not yet been opened, is badly needed for the delivery of satisfactory health care on that island. The hospital that was been promised to the people of Central Eleuthera during the last election campaign seems to remain only a figment of the imagination of the political directorate. The roads in Central and North Andros remain a constant challenge for the residents of that island.
Too many of the airports around our archipelago remain in an unacceptably deplorable state and are in urgent need of upgrading.
There has been considerable talk about the development of a national development plan for the future. Few will dispute the need for such a plan, but will this exercise be approached in a realistically practicable manner in order to enhance the orderly development of our country?

Conclusion
We repeat that the government should be given high marks for its herculean efforts in addressing many of the tough issues that face us. The government has taken several unpopular decisions that have been controversial, but needed to be made in the challenging exercise of governance.
We again observe that the prime minister has not replaced the Senate vacancy that was created by the resignation of Senator Cheryl Bazzard nearly two months ago. And while he seems to have had a successful visit to China, the prime minister has yet to name a Bahamian ambassador to that country. Similar attention should be given to appointing a resident ambassador to Brazil if we are to benefit from formalizing such an arrangement.
For all of these reasons - and more - we believe that 2015 will indeed be a watershed year for the PLP. We hope that they recognize that these are important watershed moments before they pass by and how crucial they are for its future as the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

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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China and CELAC: Is China redefining its engagement

January 16, 2015

While many look at the China-CELAC forum as an event that will strengthen cooperation and deepen ties between China and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, the results of this meeting may be starkly different than what is being envisioned.
While committing to doubling trade with the region to over $500 billion and providing an economic lifeline to Venezuela and Ecuador in loans are nothing to scoff at, the reality may well be that China is searching for a mechanism under which to coordinate the over 150 bi-lateral agreements that it has signed with countries in the region and advance a China-Regional agenda, versus trying to manage disparate requests for support.
In some respects, China may be pursuing the same path taken by major powers, in assuming that the region can be dealt with as a bloc. As to whether a China-CELAC mechanism can serve to do this while other frameworks have failed is uncertain, especially considering how fragmented the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are in terms of their economic development levels, and social and political agendas.
That said, supporting an effort to stand up institutions within CELAC is likely to be a cheaper proposition than trying to handle multiple parties increasingly approaching with hat in hand. Interestingly, a China-CELAC arrangement may well add a level of complexity to the already overlapping agendas of the alphabet soup of entities established to advance cooperation within and outside of the hemisphere.
The ability of smaller countries such as those within the Caribbean and Central America to finance active engagement within China-CELAC institutions while managing existing obligations will be interesting.
Fundamentally for Latin America and the Caribbean, gone are the days of China's largesse through grants and free stadiums. The new China is a slowing economy, whose leaders will be primarily focused on domestic economic growth and employment in 2015 and beyond. While a more mature relationship with the larger regional economies will continue to center around market access for Chinese goods and services, and the sourcing of raw materials for China's domestic market, there should be concern by smaller economies in the Caribbean and Central America as to their futures.
For many observers, the sense is that the smaller regional economies of the region will be relegated to the sidelines, unless they serve some particularly strategic interest. Logistics hubs and fossil fuel producing countries stand out as those that justify interest. Sadly for smaller economies, the relationships of the future may mirror that which exists with the U.S., with sporadic initiatives and engagement the best to be expected.
Ultimately, it is a key plank of China's political agenda, which is to be active within this hemisphere that will guarantee a certain level of presence. While the bulwark against Taiwan's influence may be no longer needed, Chinese interests align with some regional countries in a common desire to try to keep the U.S. in check.
U.S. active engagement in Asia through the proposing of trade agreements that exclude Beijing and a military presence in support of traditional allies clearly irritates China. As a result, China as an economic power is willing to flex some muscle in the hemisphere while the U.S. struggles with domestic problems, a fractured political system and foreign policy flashpoints in the Middle East.
For some in the region, China's involvement goes beyond economics and rests in the political realm, as that the country's firm position on non-interference in internal matters by external parties - notably the West - is quite appealing.

o Anton Edmunds is an emerging markets expert and corporate consultant. He heads The Edmunds Group International, blogs at www.onthecaribbean.com, tweets at @theedmundsgroup and can be contacted via email at anton@antonedmunds.com or anton@theedmundsgroup.com. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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The homosexuals are coming!

January 16, 2015

This month, the state of Florida legalized same sex marriage. Quite an accomplishment for such a very conservative leaning state in the South, barring South Florida (Miami-Dade and Broward) being a very liberal territory.
It's no secret that South Florida is a melting pot of Caribbean and Latin American people via extension of the Cuban migrants. Caribbean people and Latin Americans are somewhat socially conservative, holding on vigorously to their religion with most of their inner fibre. This is what makes the embrace of the homosexual movement, in South Florida in particular, so incredibly fascinating and interesting as it relates to Caribbean and Latin American people.
What does all of this mean for Caribbean countries looking at the same homosexual rights issue? I'm not sure we can say with any significance that it would mean a great deal for Caribbean people in the Caribbean territories. Even though, if you were to throw a rock in a crowded room in any Caribbean country, you would hit someone that has either visited South Florida, has a close relative that lives in South Florida, or has dual citizenship with strong ties in South Florida.
So South Floridian ties and respect for and with the people of the Caribbean is clear. Clear on both sides. We love our Miami. We identify with Americans and share values with our brothers and sisters in South Florida. Yes, we do. In fact, we have a saying in The Bahamas: "Bahamians have an inalienable right to learn how to read, write and visit Miami twice a year." It is our "right"!
Be that as it may: How soon would places in the Caribbean begin to embrace homosexuality and same sex marriage? This is a very good question.
A snapshot of what issues surrounding even the mere notion of providing any launch pad for homosexual marriage has and is taking place in The Bahamas. To be quite frank: the initiative of homosexual marriage, at this time, would probably sink faster than a one hundred pound bucket of cement in shallow water.
The issue of homosexual marriage came out as a result of a proposed referendum that initially had nothing to do with homosexual marriage at all. But because it was perceived to be paving the way for the introduction of homosexual marriage at a later date, it torpedoed all of the other merits that were presented in that referendum.
Here are the proposed Bills:
Bill #1 seeks to give a child born outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian-born mother and non-Bahamian father the same automatic right to Bahamian citizenship.
Bill #2 also seeks to achieve gender equality in another respect under the constitution: It seeks to enable a Bahamian woman who marries a foreign man to secure for him the same access to Bahamian citizenship.
Bill #3 seeks to make provisions for an unwed Bahamian father to pass his citizenship to a child born to a foreign woman.
Bill #4 seeks to end discrimination based on sex. This involves the insertion of the word "sex" in Article 26 of the Constitution so as to make it unconstitutional to discriminate based on whether someone is male or female.
From first glance, these Bills represent all that is fair and just for a first world country, or one boasting to be a first world country, and all that a country should strive for to enshrine in laws by virtue of its most sacred legal document: the constitution. Everything seems fine, from first presentation.
Even a remotely controversial Bill #2, which sought to smooth immigration issues for foreign born men married to Bahamian women was met with some resistance, but a small majority of people came to the understanding in due time that in reality it did not extend to making naturalized citizens of foreign born men in perpetuity.
More startlingly, however, what transpired with regard to the promotion and public education on these bills was something fierce at its midway point. Something utterly shameful and embarrassing on many levels.
Bill #4, instead of being seen as a general application of the removal of gender discrimination, turned into a proxy war on gay marriage and thus devolved into an assault on homosexuals in general.
Homosexual-equality proponents initially championed Bill #4 as the beginning of removing the legal constructs that bound them from being honest citizens in The Bahamas, and thus paving the way for equal and fair treatment and the enabling of rights with regard to social justice and marriage. From the moment their lobby made mere mention that it helped their cause, persons became livid.
The church went on high alert! Condemning the constitutional commission responsible for drafting the Bills along with the players in the background for this backdoor gay-marriage push into our social living and consciousness.
Those not "churched" and simply opposed to homosexuals on any and every level took it to the tenth level and used it as a platform to spew their homophobic rants and hatred towards gays. It was quite troubling to see so many well respected, and seemingly level headed people just turn hot-red with anger, vitriol, hate and spite.
The opposition political party needed to do nothing at all. That's how bad it was.
Personally, I don't care if gays were all to jump up and get married today, or never marry ever again, ever, ever, ever. I'm aware of the social issues and religious underpinnings that we have as a society in The Bahamas, and won't drag myself into a religious or moral debate on the matter because we all have our views on how we interpret Christian principles.
However, I'm not a homophobe either. Because the reality is that discrimination based on gender, gender appearance, sex and sexual preference, is what it is: discrimination.
I always ask persons spewing the usual homophobic rhetoric: Are you aware of how many homosexuals are in your midst? Can you be certain of how many people in your own family and friendship circles are heterosexual?
How many gays cut you, your family members and your friends checks? How many gays run successful businesses? How many homosexuals do you watch on television and enjoy their art forms, whether film or music?
How many persons in the public service, from politicians to team-leaders are living homosexual lifestyles? The real answers to all of these questions would stagger you.
So, for The Bahamas at least, an extension of rights or even the expansion of the tolerance of homosexuality is not something we would see any time soon based on these recent events. A political party, at this time, would introduce it at their own risk.
Even though homosexual activity was legalized for persons practicing in private quarters as per the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act 1991, with the age of consent for homosexual activity being 18 years of age, the next steps won't happen anytime soon.
In a nutshell: The homosexuals are coming. Coming hard too, particularly in American and European countries. How far they get in the Caribbean territories, and not trying to speak for all Caribbean countries, is something else all together.

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

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Ryan Pinder's brazen conflict of interest and questions of race and politics

January 15, 2015

Democratic standards continue an unabated decline under the administration of Prime Minister Perry Christie. The appointment of three sitting members of the Cabinet as Queen's Counsels, raises questions of appearance, and seems an abuse of the power of appointment.
Quite unseemly is the appointment of Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson. Normally such a recommendation is made by the attorney general (AG) to the prime minister, after consulting the chief justice. Was she the AG at the time or was there an acting AG who made the recommendation, similar to when a nolle prosequi was granted to one of her former clients?
Are we to believe that only one woman in the country is deserving of appointment? She also recommended a minister in her office, the minister of state for legal affairs.
The Ryan Pinder affair is another example of the glaring conflicts of interest in an administration beset by a just about anything goes attitude.
Pinder has left the Cabinet and his post as minister of financial services where he had specific and collective responsibility for oversight and policymaking functions in financial services and other areas. These same areas would be of immediate interest to a banking and financial services concern such as Deltec Bank where he is the "new chief legal officer, head of wealth management and a member of the bank's executive committee".
His departure for a lucrative package some estimate is at least $500,000 raises a host of troubling questions. Was Pinder approached about a job or did he go seeking one while he was minister? Was his new assignment negotiated between him and the foreign owner of Deltec while he was minister? Was the bank's board aware of the Pinder offer and pay package before it was agreed or announced? When was Prime Minister Christie informed: at the beginning, during or after the negotiations? How long were the negotiations? Did Pinder initially keep secret from the prime minister his negotiations with a foreign bank while a Cabinet minister and minister of financial services? If Christie knew about the unfolding negotiations, why did he allow his minister to remain in his Cabinet under such circumstances?
Depending on the answers to these questions, they may constitute a grave matter and a glaring apparent conflict of interest, and perhaps a breach of a code of ethics instituted by Christie in 2002, and a general breach of the public trust.

Tortured
Here, as reported in The Tribune, is Christie's tortured explanation which explains little and leaves as many questions: "I understand and in fairness to him he came to me some time ago and we discussed this. He discussed it with the deputy prime minister as well. We discussed it together and I said to him, give me time to think about it. I will give you the benefit of my advice and I said to him, come go to Cuba with me and show me all the things you were doing in trade so I have an understanding while meeting with Caribbean leaders.
"We've had that opportunity and I'm able to come back to The Bahamas, say to my Cabinet that Mr. Pinder has given me an indication that he is resigning. That's the process that took place."
One cannot make up this stuff. Those are actually Christie's words, which are revealing of his thought processes.
It seems that neither Pinder nor whomever he negotiated with has much respect for Christie and for the standards to which Cabinet ministers are to be held. Is it now open season for private concerns to raid the Cabinet for well-connected employees?
What has transpired is the minister of financial services negotiating a lucrative pay package with an institution involved in financial services and/or the prime minister aware of such negotiations and allowing them to unfold.
What is disturbing is the prime minister's odd justifications, which seem part sheer embarrassment at being dissed by Pinder, and part an attempt to cloud and confuse the matter.
His comments as reported in The Tribune have made a mockery of his office: "When someone is giving [sic] an extraordinary, mind blowing offer in an economy like this and they're young and they have kids, no matter how wealthy they are that offer is not just dollar and cents, it's a prominent position in a banking order that will enable you to become one of the power brokers on a global basis. That's what Ryan Pinder is looking forward to, being a huge player in financial services in the world."

Contradicted
Why should not the same be said of any minister? Christie then contradicted himself: "Those are opportunities where you may say, 'Well, maybe he shouldn't have done it because of service and service commitment and what not.'"
What exactly did he mean by "what not"? What has so annoyed many PLPs is that Pinder, having been the beneficiary of the party's coveted nomination for the Elizabeth constituency in 2010 by-election, then being appointed to the Cabinet, has now run off at midterm for a huge pay package even as other ministers remain in their posts.
As reported in The Tribune, Christie made other related bizarre statements: "Wherever I have gone in the region with respect to his performance as minister he has been applauded. He has been recognized for having a grasp of his ministry. I have gone to the United States of America and I have found, much to my surprise, the high esteem they held for him in areas of regulation."
Leaving aside the obvious question as who are "they", the prime minister is stunned at the esteem in which Pinder was held? Even the more reason to keep him in the Cabinet. Of greater note, Christie actually speaks of the role of Pinder in - "areas of regulation".
Which makes Christie's other statement seemingly contradictory: "And it's the regulatory part of it that Allyson Gibson deals with as attorney general, that is the one that you might say does favors for people. But if you look at the record, and you look at what (Mr. Pinder) has been saying, what he would have been doing, it's very difficult to say that he would have been feathering his nest or the nest of the people he's going to work for."
What does Christie mean by the attorney general's office being, "the one that you might say does favors for people"? Might he say more on this matter?
Pinder said of his new assignment that it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Is that not also the case of serving in the Cabinet? For all his talk of service, Pinder abandoned his Cabinet post in less than three years.
The country afforded him the opportunity to serve in government and to fly around the world at taxpayer's expense, making contacts and gaining experience, all of which has now resulted in a lucrative new assignment.
Pinder has been roundly and justifiably criticized for his speedy departure from Cabinet, including by PLPs, who weathered criticism for parachuting him into the Elizabeth constituency, even though he had previously shown scant interest in Bahamian politics

Golden
He became one of the PLPs golden boys, and was twice elected by voters in a constituency in which most voters are black. Notably, both major parties have worked hard to have white Bahamians run on their tickets.
One writer asked: "Why are people so angry about the resignation of Ryan Pinder?"
Her answer: "Because Mr. Pinder is a white Bahamian and he has let black Bahamians down."
She continues: "How do we know this? Because white people in the country don't really care that Mr. Pinder has resigned... As far as white people are concerned, what's the big deal?
"...Mr. Pinder does not need the money. He comes from a wealthy family, so money could not have been his primary motivation for bowing out."
Had Minister of State Khaalis Rolle, for instance, resigned under similar circumstances he would have been roundly criticized by this columnist and many others, not because Rolle is black, but because of certain principles at stake. Pinder is being criticized not because of the color of his skin, but because of the content of his political character in this instance.
Disturbingly, some white Bahamians have given Pinder a pass precisely because he is white and they hold him to a different standard than others. Had Rolle left the Cabinet, many of these same few white Bahamians would have heavily criticized him.
How the writer presumes to know that white Bahamians don't care is anyone's guess, though one suspects it is through limited anecdotal evidence, and not dispositive. Does the writer presume to speak for white people?
More disturbing is the intended message to black Bahamians: Since some white people don't care, black Bahamians criticizing Pinder should not be so concerned.
Then there is this non sequitur that because Pinder is wealthy that he didn't primarily leave for money, as if having access to family money, makes one less inclined to leave for a "mind-blowing" amount of money.
If Pinder does have access to such money and is considered so gifted, why did he decide to be so stingy in his public service, whereas others continue to sacrifice for the national good?
Notions of white privilege and exceptionalism are alive and well in the mindsets of some, who often hold black Bahamians to a higher standard than they hold certain white Bahamians, including it seems in this instance, Ryan Pinder.

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

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Further consideration needed on VAT

January 12, 2015

When politics are used to allocate resources, the resources all end up being allocated to politics.
- P.J. O'Rourke
I read with interest politicians' comments recently about certain repeals suggested with respect to VAT.
I will not at this time belabor the point of whether VAT is the best tax for The Bahamas. While VAT has its strengths and weaknesses, it is regressive as with our current system of taxation. I believe we had and still have better alternatives. The debate about the best tax for The Bahamas is a moot point, as we never had one. We have had several external decision makers and consultants decide for the Bahamian people, which is all well and fine, as we elected the officials who appointed those persons. What is disheartening, however, is it appears, yet again, we are making decisions without regard to what is in the best interest of The Bahamas of tomorrow.
Yes, the VAT train has left the station. However, it left poorly organized, with no manifest, no conductor, not enough staff, disgruntled, confused and befuddled passengers, no specific destination or alternative plans. It appears that we are comfortable to learn as we go. However, I would have liked to have seen accountability measures put in place for the efficient disposal of the new tax revenue and direct most of it to reducing our fiscal debt, given that this is the primary reason suggested for imposing VAT at this time. I would have liked to have seen automatic spending restraints ingrained into the system. It is not too late for the government to address this and I hope it does so sooner than later.
Yes, we need to raise taxes but this is so because of the poor management of our fiscal affairs over the years. We continue to support non-essential, non-performing government corporations and other "projects" with limited oversight, efficiency or accountability. We make decisions for today, for expediency. We continue to blame the ratings agencies about possible downgrades. We, as a country, need to chart our own course; the course that is in the best interest of The Bahamas and articulate our own vision to these agencies with specific times and goals. Doing so is no different from you visiting your friendly banker and seeking a facility for your business or project. There is no definitive number (debt/GDP) or detail that says if you violate it your country's rating will automatically be downgraded. I can give examples of many developed countries around the world with worse debt-to-GDP ratios and better ratings than The Bahamas.
To continue to make selfish political decisions and burden future generations with the delinquent management of the economy is unforgivable. To continue to raise funds and then increase the social payout as more citizens drift into poverty is a recipe for an increase in crime and social disorder.
I agree that certain provisions of the VAT Act should be repealed as articulated by Dr. Hubert Minnis. New Zealand (where our consultants on VAT came from) and The Bahamas are the only two countries which tax health care. (In the interest of fair disclosure I am associated with Colina Insurance). As we have adopted a rather comprehensive basket of goods and services to tax, following the New Zealand model, we should have also adopted some of the measures in New Zealand's legislation like the fiscal accountability, transparency and other measures to control government spending.
Just last week, the junior minister for investments articulated that we need to reduce the cost of doing business. I fully agree and support him. We can start by repealing the tax on electricity, which is a horrific burden, second only to rent and mortgage payments, for most businesses and consumers. We cannot have it both ways. We need to grow our economy if we truly wish to reduce our debt/GDP. Our educational system continues to be challenged yet we wish to tax it more. The budget for social services has increased several fold over the past couple of years, as the middle class declines and more people slip into poverty. Yet, we are taxing a number of essential services and items. So we take with the one hand only to give it back with the other.
There will be challenges as in the implementation of any new systems. We all wish for it to succeed and quite frankly as it relates to increased revenues, it will. Businesses will collect taxes on behalf of the government and submit it to the treasury. I fully expect to see improved government revenues over the next six months. I also expect to see some pertinent social issues addressed from the new increased tax. However, I am also hopeful that the government will direct some of this new found revenue to slowly and methodically addressing the ever-increasing budget deficit.
As Ronald Regan would say, "Government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them."

o Anthony Ferguson, CFA, MCSI, is the president of Colina Financial Advisors Limited (CFAL). The opinions expressed are his.

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2014 as it happened

January 09, 2015

Well, as we move into 2015, the obligatory wrap up of last year's events must be conducted.
First of all, I thank everyone for reading my submissions and sending me feedback. I thank all of you, from the bottom of my heart.
It's not often the average citizen, like myself, gets a chance to communicate his thoughts, ideas and feelings with a broader audience, regardless if people care about my topic or not. But, I truly do appreciate it and I thank you for being a part.
Well, this 2014 has been a relatively mundane year. Perhaps it's me who's getting older, and the regular things that used to titillate and excite me just don't anymore. But, in all honesty, this year seems like a continuation of the regular. Sad, I know.
The first thing that comes to mind is the upheaval in the Ukraine and the standoff between that country and their former colonizer, Russia, under the former communist bloc, the USSR pre-1991.
The upheaval was bloody, unnecessary and very much avoidable. The situation was also embarrassing for the United States, and particularly President Barack Obama, leading NATO during the crisis.
President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, flipped the entire western world the bird and said that as a result of this crisis, he will annex Crimea - a territory within the Ukrainian border - and no one would be able to do a blessed thing about it.
Those thinking that President Putin was "punking out" President Obama, forgot that Putin did something more egregious back in 2008 to former U.S. president George W. Bush. Not only did Putin induce a war in the sovereign state of Georgia, he also simply took massive tracts of land on the northeastern border of Georgia. That time his intentions were more clear and decisive than in the case of Crimea, because it was a direct response to U.S. missile defense systems being placed in Georgia as installations of first response in the event Russia and America were to ever go to war.
Another thing that has happened, and still happening, is the scandal that comedian Bill Cosby is embroiled in as it pertains to allegations that he raped Hollywood starlets for years and years.
Over 20 women have come forward and stated that Bill Cosby raped them. What was so startling and shocking about this entire affair is the length of time over which these alleged rapes took place. Some women claim to have been assaulted as far back as the late 1970s.
Almost all of the women have the same story: they were invited to Cosby's home, given drinks and in some instances narcotics, drugged to sleep and then woke up and found themselves in compromising positions, with a taxi-cab waiting on them outside and told to get out.
Also - and it seems to feed the stereotype of the ravenous, sex-starved black man, who is only hungry for the poor and defenseless white woman - most of Cosby's accusers are caucasian.
It is too soon to tell what will happen with Bill Cosby. I wish him all the best during his time of trial.
Another major event, albeit very subtle, was the position of the Catholic Pope Francis. He has taken some very interesting positions that were once considered anti-religious and anti-Catholic. He has become more and more vocal in his warmth and understanding towards homosexuals and their lifestyle; something that has angered bishops within his own ranks, and also generated tremendous criticism worldwide, both pro-gay and anti-gay.
Whatever the end game Pope Francis has in mind, his pronouncements are taken very, very seriously. He has a worldwide following, and influences not just Catholics and Christians, but people that look to him as a guiding light of morality and a voice of reason.
Something also very, very important happened this year, a globally dangerous issue for us as peace loving citizens and, in my case, as a follower of Christ, and that is the emergence of the radical Islamic terrorist group, ISIS.
This group of radicalized Islamic terrorists is responsible for the murder of hundreds of Christians and non-Muslims in the Middle East. They have displaced thousands of people inside Iraq and Syria, and sent them on the road to no-man's land and to their slow death by starvation and at the hands of the elements.
Who or whatever started this group is unimportant at this time. I condemn their actions, and so too should you. I condemn their radical form of Islam. And anyone that stands with them are also condemned and should be rooted out, eradicated.
I say that because, oddly enough, there were not only American citizens that went to fight with ISIS, but there were European men and women in addition to, and most puzzling, Caribbean nationals that were reported to have joined ISIS in their Jihad. This puts the peace and conscience of Caribbean people on edge, as we do not have the security or response measures to combat a major terrorist attack on our soil.
Further with regard to the Caribbean, there were a host of issues that resonated with me region-wide. The kerfuffle with the Dominican appointee to head the Commonwealth Secretariat, Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal, sparked major controversy.
An appointee that was a British parliamentarian, which was the primary reason persons around the Caribbean cried foul. Foul because how can you have a British parliamentarian sit in on meetings for the Caribbean nations and other former colonized nations and, at worst, be the head of such a grouping with Britain, where her current allegiance lies, as the former colonizer of all of the English-speaking Caribbean - predominant among Caribbean nations?
Folks in these meetings - meetings that are very important because they are few and far between - for obvious reasons, like and need to talk shop. Talking shop means issues sensitive to our former colonizers. Not that anything damaging would be discussed, but some things we just don't want the British government to know.
Speaking of politicians, former premier of the Turks and Caicos (TCI), Michael Misick, was given bail for his corruption charges and is walking around to many a warm reception by his people in the TCI. For whatever it's worth. I wish him all the best.
Also, and this takes me back to my opening salvo that 2014 seems to be a year filled of more of the same, the current upheaval in Haiti. The prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, has been forced to resign amidst allegations of corruption.
Several other ministers have resigned with him. This has put the spotlight back on President Martelly, as he is now the only other person Haitians can blame for things not going right. To me, he was doing a fairly decent job as president of Haiti, notwithstanding his lack of formal skills and training.
Whatever has Haiti bound by this spirit of upheaval and chaos, I pray that one day, and one day soon, it all will be solved. For their sakes.
I wish you all a very prosperous New Year. Thank you for reading and God bless you all.

o Youri Kemp is president and CEO of Kemp Global, a management consultancy firm based in The Bahamas. This article was published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Where have all the progressives gone

January 08, 2015

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
- Pete Seeger

Six decades ago, the 1950s, was a wonderful time in what was then the British colony of the Bahama Islands. Never mind the distended bellies of malnourished children; forget about extremely limited job opportunities; disregard the extreme imbalance between the very wealthy few and the very poor and undereducated majority.
During the 1950s, young men and women talked about the new world which was emerging following the Second World War. And, what mighty changes there were in this brave new world.
The local British satraps, Royal Governors George Sandford; Robert Neville; Daniel Knox, Earl of Ranfurly; and Raynor Arthur, had, during this period, oversight of the colony representing the British Colonial Office. A rather loose grouping of white men, variously described as the Bay Street Gang or Bay Street Boys, were the political elite of the time committed to maintaining political and economic control among themselves; and, keeping black people out except for the occasional token "colored man".
The colonial rulers generally had a rather low opinion of both sides of the political divide: The Bay Street Boys were not quite "white" enough and were generally conservative reactionaries; the black or "colored" alternatives were, well, black.
This was fertile ground for deeply emotional discussions among an intelligent young community who read voraciously and considered grand concepts of eventual freedom from colonialism and the jackboot of white rule.
Weeks old international newspapers augmented by magazines, radio and motion pictures represented opportunity to discuss some enormous concepts. Local newspapers attracted some wonderful writers and thinkers. Young men and women had returned after exposure to the great debates taking place in universities and pubs in and around London and other large metropolitan cities. In these locations Bahamians interacted with other young people from all over the world. There were two principal concepts, especially in London, at the core of discussions: namely, independence from colonial domination and leftist political thought supplemented by critiques of social justice issues.
Those young people here who did not go away had the opportunity to read and think and many did in order to share with their university compatriots as intellectual equals.
Thus was created the modern progressive.
Our history had been blessed with progressive thought for centuries. This effort was regularly suppressed by white overlords of one sort or another.
There were those revolutionaries opposed to the institution of chattel slavery. Men and women, including Pompey of Exuma, after whom the Museum of Slavery and Emancipation is named, generously sacrificed their lives to fight against slavery in order to free themselves and their kin.
Following the abolition of slavery and throughout the ensuing century and a half of colonialism, the black majority fought to liberate themselves from the vestiges of their ancestor's lives in bondage. We benefited from immigration, mostly young men from the British West Indies, to work as policemen and teachers. Many of these immigrants were in the throes of the same effort. During this colonial period, we also exported young people to other lands where many made meaningful contributions to their adopted communities.
Think back to your memories of the 1950s or to the stories which you heard from parents or grandparents. Remember that Government House was that place on the hill where few 'people of colour' could see themselves ever being invited. Few people, black or white, ever went off to University. Most children finished school at age 14. Church schools along with the Government High School, offered a high school education to the lucky few. Far-sighted parents arranged for private tutoring to augment limited structural school facilities.
The vote had just previously been extended to all men over the age of twenty-one ending a requirement for property ownership as a necessary qualifying element to register as an elector. Women were a decade away from the right to vote.
The 1950s was, without question, a difficult time for the colony's black citizenry. For most, this was a time of distress; but, for the progressive movement, a time to organize and plan. Progressive thinkers came together to create and build, over the months and years, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
Much of the PLP's underlying social philosophy could be traced to a widely read 1891 Papal Encyclical, 'RERUM NOVARUM' (Rights and duties of Capital and Labour), which was written by Pope Leo XIII in response to the structural ill treatment of workers by the European lords of industry. This document confirmed the right to ownership of private property and called for the natural entitlement to fair treatment by workers and for fair wages and conditions. Industry leaders of the time accused the Pope of being a socialist. Progressives here were accused of belonging to the left wing as opposed to those in the government who were generally recognized as being 'right wing' or simply greedy co-conspirators.
So, a cauldron of social justice thought and the reactionary response to it, led to a decade of incredible political events. First up was the 1956 general election, in which the PLP took 33 percent of the popular vote (mostly out of New Providence) and secured just 6 of 29 seats. The political conversation between the party and the people, which had been going on since the party's creation in 1953, continued apace, which annoyed the colonial governor and created fear in the ranks of the Bay Street oligarchy.
The demands of organized labor, combined with public agitation, led to the 1958 General Strike which 'encouraged' the British Colonial Office to take a closer look at political realities in the Bahama Islands. During this period, the Bay Street Boys organized themselves into a political party - the United Bahamian Party (UBP).
The Colonial Office recognized a need for greater representation of the masses in the House of Assembly leading to the creation of four additional seats for New Providence in the House of Assembly in order to begin to address the Bay Street crafted gerrymandering in favor of far fewer voters in islands historically favoring them. Special elections were held in 1960 for the four new seats, all of which the PLP won.
Progressives, women and men, campaigned for the right to the vote for women. They took the case to international organizations concurrent with conducting an aggressive campaign in the colony. The necessary change was made and women voted for the first time in the general elections of November 1962. Most progressive pundits 'knew' that women would vote in their great majority for the PLP. They were shocked when the election was lost. The PLP secured 44 percent of the popular vote; and, the UBP only secured 36 percent with the remaining 20 percent going mostly to independent candidates. Effective gerrymandering resulted in securing the bulk of the seats for the UBP.
Many PLPs were disheartened; but, progressives understood that this was but a setback, unexpected though it was. The discussion with the People continued.
The year 1964 saw the introduction of a new constitution, creating Cabinet government and abolishing the executive council.
In the run-up to the 1967 general election, there were those among progressives who did not expect that the PLP would win but rather position it for a solid run in the next election by achieving a close result. And, close it was. The PLP and the UBP both won 18 of 38 seats as well as almost parity in votes with the PLP besting the UBP by just 71 votes or 44.21 percent vs. 44.05 percent. The Labour Party's Randol Fawkes and Independent Candidate Alvin Braynen were the other two people elected to the 38 member House. Fawkes became a member of Cabinet in the PLP government led by Lynden Pindling. Braynen became Speaker.
So, the people, utilizing the PLP under the philosophical leadership of progressives, freed themselves from the ruling white oligarchy by ushering in Majority Rule in the general election of January 10, 1967, the 48th anniversary of which we celebrate this year.
This is truly a people's holiday and deserves the greatest of event celebrations. Maybe we would have a grand people's celebration for the Golden Anniversary in January 2017.
Fifteen months after the 1967 general election, the next in 1968, saw the PLP win 29 of 38 seats with 72 percent of the popular vote. The once mighty UBP was relegated to just 25 percent of the popular vote.
With this abject showing, the UBP effectively went into destruct mode, eventually going the way of the dinosaurs after a bye-election loss in Central Andros in 1971. The natural home of the white right wing had disintegrated.
In the early 1970s progressives found themselves shared between the PLP and the Free-PLP which morphed into the Free National Movement (FNM). There are those who believe that the FNM continues to be the home of the remnant of the right wing UBP simply because it is opposed to the PLP.
Maybe it is time for progressives to reflect on where they are and what The Bahamas needs. To paraphrase a folk song written in the 1950s: "Where have all the progressives gone?"
The progressive ideal remains; but, the womanpower and manpower seem limited. Those of us who claim the designation must come out of our shells and join together in order to, once again, do our best to ensure that, in all things, the needs of people come before things.
People matter. The economy and the government exist to serve the people and not the other way around. We must do all that's necessary to ensure that this is the truth rather than just a public relations story.
Long live social justice and true freedom for our people.

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Perry Christie's hypocrisy and those 'mindboggling' conflicts of interest

January 08, 2015

Over a 40-year public career Perry Christie has proven to be one of the great pretenders of Bahamian politics, vaulting hypocrisy to unimaginable heights, the gulf between his words and actions as vast as the Milky Way galaxy and ever expanding.
The self-proclaimed democrat has, politburo-style, ensured his re-election as party leader by stacking the PLP with now approximately 2,000 stalwart councillors whose votes easily swamp those of branch delegates. By stark comparison, the FNM has a ceiling of 60 meritorious council members (MCM), and presently only 58 MCMs.
Christie exhibits a pattern of callousness and contempt for democracy. His democratic credentials continue to wither: He has allowed a domestic spy agency to operate without proper legal footing; his last national budget was woefully lacking in critical details; his promises to report on all manner of issues are usually broken, from the amount of money given to the PLP by Mohammed Harajchi and Peter Nygard, to the costs of certain trips, to that infamous letter of intent imbroglio with Renward Wells; his silence about the seemingly irregular payments made to BEC by corporation Chairman Leslie Miller is but one example of his studied silence on a four-drawer filing cabinet of troubling developments; and the list goes on and on in an endless loop of democratic insincerity.
Meanwhile, the hypocrisy, insincerity, callousness and contempt for democratic accountability and transparency are writ large in the blatant conflicts of interest swirling around the Christie administration.
One apparent reason the prime minister will not admit or fails to admit the glaring conflict of interest of former Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder leaving his post to take up a lucrative job with Deltec Banking, is Christie's outsized conflict of interest, a mindboggling conflict which would have required his resignation in other jurisdictions.

Consultant
Christie acted as a consultant for the oil exploration concern Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) 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 was granted exploratory licences during that previous term, and which has business before his current administration.
We do not know how "handsomely" Christie was paid for his services. Supposedly to address questions of conduct, Christie promised a referendum on oil exploration. Such a referendum has been seemingly indefinitely postponed.
What are Bahamians left to conclude about Christie in light of the postponement? What of the fact that the postponement was announced by the environment minister and not the Cabinet Office? Christie's silence is deeply troubling and undermines his democratic credibility.
With handsome consulting fees from BPC, Christie's revolving-door conduct is just the beginning of his gargantuan hypocrisy. It gets worse. The oil business is one of the more polluting industries in the world from exploration to production to accidents and major spills bespoiling our planet.
The devastating 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico mega-disaster has done untold and long-term damage, including the massive ill-effects of various chemicals used in the mitigation efforts, with certain compounds having coagulated sitting on the seabed, with many negative effects all too apparent and some perhaps still unknown.
But typical Perry Christie, his words rarely match his actions. The hypocrisy is often so profound that it seems as if he is two different people. The man who was paid handsomely by an oil company has now twice gone before the U.N. lecturing the world about climate change.
Does Christie conveniently forget the extraordinary role played by fossil fuels in climate change? He is like a method actor, someone who simply reads the lines of a script, playacting with feigned sincerity and passion. It is one big act, in which he comes across more as a character playing a role than a leader of conviction.
"In the dramatic arts, method acting is a group of techniques actors use to create in themselves the thoughts and feelings of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances."

Performance
Here is the fairly recent oil company consultant turned prime minister's performance on September 28, 2013 at the U.N. General Assembly's 68th Session: "The Bahamas is surrounded by the sea and is low-lying. Indeed 80 percent of the land mass of The Bahamas is below five feet of sea level. The implications of climate change and associated rises in sea level are therefore obvious for us."
Was this in his mind when he was acting as a consultant to an oil exploration company? The man who speaks of rising sea levels has been involved in work that may help to make the situation worse.
How in good conscience can anyone make such a statement having been paid handsomely for efforts that will help to warm our climate and acidify our oceans even further? This is stunningly hypocritical and is deserving of utter disdain.
Speaking to larger nations on a variety of global issues, Christie, with seemingly no compunction, said: "Find your courage, because the hour grows late."
Does he have the capacity to hear himself? This is exactly the sentiment many environmentally minded Bahamians would express to him. But, once again, it gets even worse. The former oil company consultant actually had the gall to proclaim in this clincher of hypocrisy: "We need to see more courage, more leadership, more sustained action on the global stage" and "but we need to ensure that such pledges are not just so many catchy phrases. We need to not only talk the talk but walk the walk."
Christie doubled down on his near immeasurable hypocrisy when he went back to the U.N. on September 2014, speaking at the Climate Change Summit.
"I want my presence here today to signal that for The Bahamas, climate change is serious business. This threatens our very existence..."
The former oil company consultant whose work may help contribute to further global warming made the pretense of seeming like a concerned environmentalist: "Every day the sea is rising, the coral reefs are dying; yet so far all the world has done is talk. The fact is that nothing the world has done so far has stopped this upward trend in global emissions...
"We must increase global action so as to trigger the necessary shifts in investments, and changes in business models toward sustainable development and renewable energy. We must meet the potential for rapid deployment of renewable energy and positively change the global energy mix...
"We must look at each country's vulnerability to climate change, its debt and more importantly honor the principle that the polluter pays."
How exactly did Christie's work as an oil company consultant help in shifting "investments, and changes in business models toward sustainable development and renewable energy", and instead of simply making polluters pay, why work as a consultant advancing an industry known for high levels of pollution and vast contributions to climate change?

Pretending
Christie has often tried to be all things to all people. But this act of being paid handsomely by an oil exploration concern and then pretending to be concerned for the environment is too slick by far and does not wash.
At 2014 conference under the title "Toward a Corruption-Free Caribbean: Ethics, Values, Trust and Morality", Christie was at it again in seeming to say all the right things. Speaking on a code of ethics he tabled in 2002, Christie declared: "Like many codes, it was primarily intended to be (and has been) a moral signpost and guide for the conduct of political decision-makers in our country. In introducing the code, I said that:
"If public confidence in the integrity of the political directorate of The Bahamas is to become a hallmark of our political culture, it is of the first importance that the prime minister and other ministers of government observe - and be seen to observe - the highest standards of probity in public life.
"I believe in leading by example, and it is clear that one of the necessary ingredients for the success of any national initiative to fight corruption is sustained political will and the power of personal example."
In this case the prime minister has utterly failed to lead by example. His conflict of interest in this instance is glaring. "The highest standard of probity" as is the case in other jurisdictions, is for Christie not to have allowed such a conflict of interest in the first instance. The moral signpost seems to have been knocked down.
So now we have the case of the Ryan Pinder conflict of interest which would not have been tolerated in any number of jurisdictions. Christie's response: There's no conflict of interest because Pinder was only in a promotional role. He was not. He was a policymaker sitting around the Cabinet table, with collective responsibility in influencing government decisions.
Christie's response is the epitome of hogwash, bullcrap and a barnyard of euphemisms, more of which next week. Christie is again trying to boggle and baffle others with his typical balderdash, yet another euphemism.
Perhaps Pinder has simply followed Christie's poor example through that revolving door. How handsomely was Christie paid and what is the "mindboggling" figure Pinder will be paid?
As curious as Christie's dismissal of any conflict is a related bizarre statement by others that Pinder is being criticized primarily because he is white. It is a disturbing racial mindset typical of the blinkered worldview of those making such a claim.

Next week: Ryan Pinder, conflicts of interest and questions of race and politics.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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The way ahead for Haiti

January 07, 2015

At the time of the rotation of the calendar year, I usually take time to ponder and reflect on past events so as to foresee the trajectory of the new year.
In the rest of the world, there was the opening of the freezer door between the United States and Cuba. There were, in New York and Ferguson, Missouri, vast demonstrations against police brutality.
Masses of unfortunate Africans are still taking boats seeking a hospitable sky in Europe. The wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq are coming to a close but there are killings every day since there was no nation-building infrastructure implanted in those countries. It was also the year of the pandemic of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
ISIS has raised its ugly fundamentalist head in Iraq and Syria, killing women and children without mercy.
In Haiti, the Martelly government has been enduring, with a crescendo in the tempo, the anger of the opposition pregnant with those who belong to the past governments of Lavalas and Preval as well as to the Mirlande Manigat clan that lost the election in 2011.
The Haitian government position is a hot commodity unit that provides instant gratification in money, privilege and standing to the occupier and, as such, the fight to get in is rude, without mercy yet filled with the veil of hypocrisy enrobed with disguised morality.
It was a grueling fight from the very beginning, with no honeymoon usually reserved for an incumbent government. From a singer transformed into a head of state, President Martelly has done well for himself. An impartial observer could not resist adjudging the fact that, for the past 60 years, Haiti did not have three governments, nay one government that tried so hard, albeit with results not so palpable due to fierce opposition and lack of thoughtful coordination.
The globe trotter columnist of The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof, celebrated Haiti in an op-ed page on Christmas Day:
"I visited a program that trains flower farmers to use greenhouses and is supported by the United States as part of the Feed the Future initiative. One farmer, Michel Dorlean, told me that, with greenhouses, he has tripled production of chrysanthemums.
"You come back and this hillside will be covered with greenhouses," he predicted. He added that the flowers I buy for my wife in New York will eventually be exported from Haiti.
"Here in Haiti, too many people are still homeless from the earthquake. But, in the last few years, the economy has been growing more quickly than the American economy."
But from government to government Haiti has not defined its vision and the right mission for its people. The blame game has been its best formula to avoid taking responsibility for the welfare of its citizens. It was first the French, then the Americans, now the United Nations and the Dominican Republic.
Haitian politics has centered on taking control of the spoils of the meager resources that can be collected from a few citizens, the international community and the Diaspora. A true project of society leading to the well-being of all has not been entertained.
Even when forced to do so by the international community, as in 2010 after the earthquake, it was a pure academic exercise, with no faith in or responsibility and determination for its implementation. As such, Haiti is as poor as it was some 60 years ago when the Duvalier regime took power in 1961 under the mantle of caring for those most in need.
From a dictatorial regime to military one and then to illiberal governments, the fate of the majority of the citizens of Haiti has remained the same, men peddlers of used tennis shoes, women selling from door to door a stock that does not amount to $50 and children looking for and selling a bag of water. The majority of the Haitian population is living an undignified life with no end foreseen in the near future.
This Christmas season, which was so festive on the other side of the island named the Dominican Republic, is filled with controversy in Haiti. A vociferous group, led by a sitting senator, Moise Jean Charles, which names itself Sons of Dessalines, pledged to disturb all signs of seasonal celebration.
They framed the disturbance in such a raucous manner, I am surprised they are not aware that their supporters are collecting the ire of the average citizen with the defacing of private walls with badly written slogans, the destruction of public buildings and public vehicles, inconveniencing the normal way of life for kids who go to school and for adults who go to work.
An emasculated president is reduced to concede terms of negotiation that were concocted by a conciliation group. Amongst those terms was the resignation of the prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, the presumed heir to the president.
Without a chosen candidate to assume his legacy, without a party that could rally the troops, President Michel Martelly is reduced to a lame duck government that may lose the momentum that has made him attractive to the populace.
He was elected under the appropriate name Repons Peyizan Party, but under the influence of his friends and his counselors he has chosen to ignore that party and build his own, named PHTK that has struggled to gain in popularity and in attractiveness from the population.
The policy chosen by Laurent Lamothe, the deposed prime minister, was filled with bold marketing and excellent packaging but low in substance and result. With a population living in extreme poverty, a policy of social welfare is inappropriate and can lead to only state bankruptcy.
Haiti's population, albeit uneducated and unpolished, is resilient and creative. The Lamothe administration should have aligned itself towards a policy of wealth creation based on the existing framework proper to the Haitians. A "Haiti is open for business" formula is not fit for Haiti. It should have been instead "Haiti is seeking business for its organic agriculture and husbandry as well as for its exotic arts and crafts".
The ebullient minister of tourism, Stephanie V. Balmir, who has been getting high marks for his choice tourist destinations, failed to hit the ground where it matters most: creating wealth in that sector, because Haiti, without decent infrastructure and reliable institutions, is not ready to graduate into the mainstream tourist path.
She could, though, profit from the country's unusual Catholic tradition of Saint Fiesta that would attract Catholics from Spain, Italy and the Gothic branch of Catholicism to Haiti. The devotees would find themselves in a familiar path and the Haitian towns, rural or urban, would garner manna not from the sky but from earth from May 1 to November 1 on saints' days.
They will certainly come back for Carnival and Rara (peasant's carnival) from January to April, completing the circle of manna every month.
When it comes to the potential candidates for the 2015 election, I am not bullish about any of the potential aspirants. Without a clear vision and a set mission for Haiti, the electoral fight will center around name calling instead of principles.
The principle must be that Haiti must become a nation with a sense of purpose that will become the glue for building the chain of solidarity that shall lift those who have been left behind for the past 200 years.
The principle must include that Haiti must engage itself in building a ring of infrastructure and institutions that will surround the entire country, so its citizens will no more become nomads in their own country and wandering like lost sheep around the rest of the world.
Last, but not least, the principle must include that Haiti must regain its destiny of an emancipatory nation by becoming free and caring for and engaging its citizens in becoming nation builders not only in the motherland but also in the rest of the world.
But, first and foremost, Haiti must struggle with its own demons to rebuild its ecology devastated first by the colonists, now by the Haitians themselves. It must also stop the culture of waiting for Washington or from the western world to bring solutions for its woes.
The political platform under which President Martelly gained power did not have the chance to apply this vision for Haiti. Under the right leadership of its own president and its own prime minister in power, Repons Peyizan, again in true control of the government, Haiti can stop its descent into hell, at last to start producing milk and honey.
Already with a new prime minister given as a gift on Christmas Day, Mr Evans Paul, a seasoned politician, the government will be humbler, readier to listen, ready to strengthen the infrastructure and the institutions while helping Haiti to regain its confidence and leadership in nation building for itself and for its neighbors.
My wish for the year 2015: may God and his saints protect and extend to Haiti and the rest of humanity the aura of peace and prosperity.

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. This is published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Top 15 topics for 2015

January 06, 2015

The year 2015 is now in full swing and as the melody of the Auld Lang Syne fades for the time being, several Bahamians would have wrapped up their celebrations and are settling down into a year with expectations and aspirations. As we turn the page and focus on all that 2015 has in store for our country, there are quite a number of topics that we expect will receive attention and make news headlines.
This piece considers a number of such subjects and initiatives briefly with the caveat that this list is not exhaustive. If 2014 was the year that significant and game-changing legislation were tabled or passed in The Bahamas, 2015 promises to be the year that we begin to see and feel the impact of these laws. And so we explore in no particular order the top 15 topics that Bahamians will be keeping a close eye on during this year.

The economy and fiscal reform
The economy will continue to be a matter of discussion as forecasts point to a modest increase in economic growth for The Bahamas in 2015. This topic is interconnected with subsequent topics noted in this article and many Bahamians are hopeful that this year will be much better for them financially than the last one.

On a related note, the discussion on real fiscal reform will no doubt intensify following the coming into effect of the Value Added Tax (VAT) regime on January 1, 2015. It is expected that there will be a learning curve and we will have to work our way through the most significant changes to our tax system in decades. However, the public education exercise must continue and the Government must continue to work with stakeholders to address any concerns or issues. All eyes will also be on the selection of the VAT Comptroller, compliance efforts, the impact on overall consumption, consumer protection and social services initiatives to provide relief for the most affected segment of our society. As the government increases its revenue intake via VAT, the populace will also be watching how its spending is curtailed and financial discipline is exercised. In addition, the implementation of the fiscal consolidation plan and the Central Revenue Agency (CRA) is expected to receive attention in 2015.

Junkanoo Carnival
The inaugural Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival in 2015 will be on display both locally and internationally. While there were some concerns initially and opposition to the concept remains in certain quarters, we will be able to ascertain in a number of weeks whether the event can generate the level of economic activity that it is projected to spur. The actual and potential impact on our tourism product will also be assessed. Regardless of our thoughts or reservations on this new initiative, its success will not be confined to a few individuals but will belong to the nation as a whole. In the meantime, the Bahamian people will be watching to see whether we receive adequate return on our investment in this venture.

Financial services industry
The importance of our financial services industry cannot be emphasized enough. As the second highest contributor to our GDP, it is important that the industry remains viable and competitive. The government must therefore continue to provide the necessary support to help the industry navigate successfully through this difficult period of its existence. Congratulations are extended to Hope Strachan on her appointment as the new Minister of Financial Services as she continues the great work that was commenced by former Minister Ryan Pinder in this re-established ministry.
Industry participants expect an active year as the industry continues to evolve to meet the new global environment of increased tax cooperation and transparency. The expectation is that the government will move swiftly to pass the local legislation required to implement FATCA via the Intergovernmental Agreement signed late last year, put in place the structure and infrastructure to meet its obligations under the IGA and provide the necessary guidance to ensure compliance by financial institutions in The Bahamas. The hope of many in the industry is also that the volatility and job loss experienced in 2014 will be stemmed in 2015.

The health sector
The government has committed to the implementation of National Health Insurance (NHI) by January 1, 2016. This means that all of the necessary preparations, discussions, consultation and infrastructural developments will have to occur in 2015 if the aforesaid implementation date is to be achieved. The debate on the feasibility and affordability of NHI by The Bahamas at this juncture and based on our fiscal reality is expected to continue during 2015.
On a related note, the opening of the Critical Care Block and the upgrading of the health facilities in preparation for the introduction of NHI in 2016 will no doubt attract more discourse during the year. Ultimately, the government's resolve, determination and ability to be flexible in order to present the best possible version of NHI without increasing the burden on taxpayers and disrupting the private health insurance sector will be tested in 2015.

Trade unions
Last year was no doubt an active year for the labour movement and there were demonstrations as well as threats of demonstrations or strikes by several trade unions. Bahamians watched as the various unions took turns to place demands on the government and by extension the public purse. In certain instances, the threats and actions of the unions seemed like the nation was being held hostage for the benefit of union members.
While the role of trade unions is an important one and they ought to fight for the rights and interests of their members, the Bahamian people should not be caught in the crossfire or be made to suffer to any impasse in discussions. It is becoming apparent by the day that the populace are becoming impatient and intolerant of irrational actions or demands that threaten our way of life in the midst of fiscal constraints faced by our country. Nevertheless, the Bahamian people will be observing the actions of trade unions to see whether they are sensitive to our plight or disconnected from reality.

Crime
The issue of crime continues to be a vexing one in The Bahamas as we commence our voyage into 2015. The national discussion on capital punishment will no doubt surface on a number of occasions during the year with the suggestion that a referendum be held on this subject likely to re-emerge. The spotlight will be on the government's crime fighting strategies as we work to fight this menace to our society.
The Office of the Attorney General and the Judiciary will also be under scrutiny as was the case in 2014 as justice is sought by victims and family members of victims of crime. The Bahamian people will be looking to law enforcement agencies, civil society and all stakeholders to work together to reverse the adverse trend of crime in general and violent crime in particular in The Bahamas. The politicians on all sides of the political divide will do well to desist from using crime as a political football and propose solutions in 2015 as the populace has become weary of their antics in this regard.

Baha Mar
The hype surrounding the opening of the mega resort that is Baha Mar in late spring 2015 will continue to intensify until the doors are officially open. There are high expectations that Baha Mar will put a dent on the unemployment figures for The Bahamas with the creation of thousands of jobs for Bahamians. Our GDP is also expected to grow based on the impact of this investment on our tourism product.
In the aftermath of the opening of Baha Mar, the focus will shift to the marketing efforts and ultimately the success of the resort. The ability of Baha Mar to coexist with the Atlantis Resort and thrive rather than survive within our tourism industry is also something that many observers will be watching in its maiden year.
Stay tuned for the concluding part of this series as this writer seeks to highlight what I believe will be the remaining topics for discussion in 2015.

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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2015: A watershed year for the PLP government - part 1

January 05, 2015

"Every life has a watershed moment, an instant when you realize you're about to make a choice that will define everything else you ever do, and that if you choose wrong, there may not be that many things left to choose. Sometimes the wrong choice is the only one that lets you face the end with dignity, grace, and the awareness that you're doing the right thing. I'm not sure we can recognize those moments until they've passed us." - Mira Grant

As Consider This...begins its eighth consecutive year of weekly columns that are deliberately devised to address issues of national importance, we thank our readers for their encouragement and support of, as well as their constructive criticisms and alternative viewpoints to our columns over the years. We extend our very best wishes for a positive, productive and prosperous 2015.
In the first 14 years of the "New Millennium" - a term that was coined to coincide with the commencement of the 21st Century, but seems now to have faded from our daily dialogue like a shadow that dissipates with the impending decline of the daylight - The Bahamas has experienced substantial changes that have placed us on a trajectory that will forever transform the country that we knew in the latter years of the 20th Century.
If they were to return today, the fathers of the nation and heroes of the Quiet Revolution would wonder in amazement if they had arrived in a foreign land, a very different country than the one they had envisioned and left when they departed us to enter eternity.
It would be interesting to observe their facial expressions at the colossal structures that have been erected on Paradise Island and Cable Beach.
In fourteen short years, we have transformed our financial services sector by abolishing bank secrecy and replacing it with what can be best described as a cumbersome culture of compliance under the guise of knowing your clients, many of whom have banked with the same institutions for decades.
In 14 years, we have witnessed two single-term governments, we have legalized web shops, we have introduced a new tax system where previously the nation boasted about its tax-free status; we have privatized telecommunications; and we have initiated modest attempts to redefine our indigenous culture of Junkanoo by mimicking a cultural expression that is foreign to our own, notwithstanding our persistent and perennial pronouncements of loving things Bahamian.
Therefore, in light of the foregoing and in anticipation of things to come, this week we would like to Consider This... will 2015 be a watershed year for the PLP government?

A watershed
A watershed is defined as either the dividing line between two adjacent river systems, such as a ridge, or as an important period or factor that serves as a dividing line. It is a turning point, a defining or pivotal moment or tipping point. It is in the latter context that we will consider whether 2015 will be such a year for the government of The Bahamas.
There are several dramatic changes that the government has proposed that will foreshadow its ability to embrace enormous challenges in 2015.

Containing crime
The most intractable challenge facing the government is its ability to implement workable programs and policies to reduce the level and fear of crime in the country. Crime is unquestionably the single most vexing and perplexing issue with which government must demonstrate progress if it has any chance of obtaining another mandate.
While the government's ability to successfully address this persistently pernicious problem will foreshadow its ability to obtain another mandate from the electorate at the next general elections, its failure in this area will signal its death knell, principally because the PLP came to office with a promise to significantly reduce the level of crime that has become a prominent feature of society.

Growing the economy
In order to reduce crime and to improve the standards of life for Bahamians, the government will have to implement policies and programs to rapidly grow the economy. This can be achieved by improving the speed with which it approves foreign direct investment proposals, as well as radically removing the burgeoning bureaucratic red tape that frustrates Bahamian entrepreneurs' ability to implement their business proposals.

Value-added taxes
The most dramatic fiscal phenomenon which will radically alter the Bahamian economic landscape is the introduction of value added taxes, at an initial rate of 7.5 percent. Many Bahamians have argued that the introduction of this tax will be inflationary, notwithstanding the government's insistence that the rate of inflation will be minimized by the offsetting of Customs duties.
The argument has been posited that this tax will be more injurious to the poor in our country as it will be universally applied on most goods and services. This ultimately means that consumers will have less disposable discretionary income for those who are fortunate to earn a salary or wage.
The jury is still out on the eventual effect that VAT will have on the consumers' lifestyle and the government's ability to arrest and reverse the out-of-control fiscal deficit and national debt.
Only time will tell if Gregory Moss, the Member of Parliament for Marco City, Freeport, is correct in his assessment that the introduction of VAT will cost the PLP government the elections when next Bahamians are asked to go to the polls.

The constitutional referendum
The government has promised that it will hold a national referendum on constitutional changes to enhance gender equality. It has also promised that it will proceed only if it has general parliamentary consensus to proceed, a reality which to date has been evasive. In the meantime, a national education process is underway to inform the public about the benefits of such constitutional changes.
We believe that a successful referendum vote will significantly improve the government's likelihood of election success and therefore this referendum will be a watershed event.

The regularization of web shops
The regularization and taxation of web shops is well in train and the government anticipates that this exercise will raise significant gaming taxes from the web shop operators. The extent to which the government is successful in raising the anticipated taxes will also signal whether the public is satisfied that this watershed event will place the country on a positive pathway to raise urgently needed revenue in order to reverse the national debt and the fiscal deficit.

Next week
In part 2 of this series, we will consider other important issues that the government must address in this watershed year.
Those issues will include the OECD country review later this year, the possible downgrading of The Bahamas by the international rating agencies, the government's ability to successfully address hunger, poverty and the level of unemployment in the country, greater public accountability of its decisions, the emotive issue of succession in leadership, the much anticipated opening of Baha Mar, Family Island development, and the government's much touted and controversial National Health Insurance plans.

Conclusion
We believe that the government should be given high marks for its efforts in addressing many of the tough issues that face us. It has taken several unpopular decisions that have been controversial and needed to be addressed in the challenging exercise of governance.
On the other hand, the government has not been as forthcoming in explaining some of the decisions that have been taken. At the beginning of 2015, the vacancy of Minister of Financial Services has not been filled following the resignation of Ryan Pinder.
In addition, the Prime Minister has not replaced the Senate vacancy that was created by the resignation of Senator Cheryl Bazard nearly two months ago. And on the eve of his visit to China, the prime minister has yet to name a Bahamian Ambassador to that country.
For all of these reasons - and more - we believe that 2015 will indeed be a watershed year for the PLP and for its future as the government.
Happy New Year, Bahamas!

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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Bravo President Barack Obama

January 02, 2015

In 2007, the whole world expected a lot, maybe too much from Obama. The whole world expected drastic changes, particularly in American foreign policy. After almost seven years since he became the first black president of the United States, a concern, if not a disappointment, settled in the hearts of all those who saw in him the president of the world.
For some, their prediction that Obama would be just another "white" at the White House was confirmed. Some saw in his background of child born of a white woman and raised by his white grandmother, elements that can explain a lack of sensitivity for the cause of blacks in the United States and the disenfranchised in the world. Others are convinced that the "white" establishment would not allow him to succeed in anything whether in the United States or on the international political scene.
On December 17, 2014, I was driving while listening to a radio show called "di m m a di w" (Tell me, I'll tell you) by Marvel Dandin on Radio Kiskeya when the news fell like a hair on soup: President Obama has decided to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba!
I spontaneously applauded while shouting, "Bravo!" The person next to me, who was not following the radio show, thought for a moment that I had lost my mind. But yes, I couldn't believe my ears... yes for a moment I was overjoyed.
I was expecting that the radio broadcast would be interrupted to make way for a debate on the significance and the impact of such a decision on the daily lives of Cubans, on the economy of both countries, on the tourism industry in the Caribbean and on the world. This was not the case. The show continued its normal course. Too bad!
Better late than never! Finally the real Barack Hussein Obama has emerged from a long time of hibernation under the yoke of the American white establishment. I'm guessing that the inconsistency of not having diplomatic relations with Cuba while the United States has relations with Communist China was obvious since the beginning in Barack's head (I can now call him by his first name because I feel that he is much closer to me). But he had to find the right time. He has nothing to lose since he was re-elected and he only has just a few months to go at the helm of the largest military superpower of the world. Furthermore, Hilary Clinton, the next Democratic presidential candidate, has already pronounced herself in agreement with such openness with Cuba.
Despite the very real power of the Cuban lobby in the United States, despite the fact that the Republicans will certainly use this decision against the Democratic candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections in the sole aim of securing the votes of the Cuban community, Barack hit strong and well. He regained in a jiffy the confidence of the world, which annually demands at the General Assembly of the United Nations the suspension of the embargo against Cuba; he won the confidence of all the countries of Central America, South America and the Caribbean: "Somos Americanos". We understand better now that the handshake that he has exchanged with President Raul Castro in South Africa at Mandela's funeral was neither improvised nor innocent.

Bravo and thank you, Barack!
The path that leads to world peace is long and difficult. Of course, the opening of the United States on Cuba announces a new era in relations between the countries and peoples of the world. But Barack will have to keep the momentum and dare other bolder actions:

o He has a date with history and he should hurry. The photo of the century will be the handshake that he will exchange with Fidel Castro before his death
o U.S. policy towards Venezuela will have to change and immediately to make room for another more tolerant and less hostile
o He shall order an assessment of the role of the CIA in the world for the past 20 years and proceed with the reform of the institution
o He will have to initiate in the U.S. and worldwide a debate on outdated ideologies of communism, socialism, capitalism etc. It is time to rethink the ideological "shackles" in which the world has been confined for so long. Long before Karl Marx in the 1840s, there were forms of communism around the world, including the beginnings of Christianity and the Shakers of 19th century America. During the second half of the 19th century, in response to the monarchies and many right autocratic regimes which were in power, various organizations of the left emerged around the world. In the decades that followed, several governments using the 'communist' name have come to power in many regions of the world, including in much of East Asia, Eastern Europe and parts of Africa. During the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, most of these 'communist' regimes collapsed and the countries have adopted a more or less capitalist economic policy, even if some remain nominally communist, like the People's Republic of China".
So historically, communism was a 'must' or a necessary evil of the time and has since evolved into something very different that too often cannot be labeled. It is not too early to start a debate around the world about these dogmas. It is time to rethink global systems. It's time to demystify the cold war mentality that still prevails in the world. Time has come to actually tear down the walls that still divide us;
The P-5 + 1 group (United States, England, China, France, Russia plus Germany) must at all costs find an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. It may be advisable to include Israel at the negotiating table. The future of the countries of the Middle East is at stake. World peace hangs in the balance.
Mr. President Barack Hussein Obama,
The world thanks you for having resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba and for having declared war on war at the rostrum of the United Nations. The world begs you to assert that a third world war will not take place under your watch.
Mr. President, forward! Time is of the essence, but there is still time for you to provoke world peace. It is still within your reach. The whole of humanity will be grateful.

o Marcel Duret is the former Haitian ambassador to Japan

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Educational quality key to boost Latin America's growth and keep social gains

January 02, 2015

For Latin America, 2014 did not turn out as well as we envisioned. We expected that a Latin American nation would win the World Cup, bringing the trophy back to the Americas, and, more seriously, that the region's economic growth would continue on a steady, albeit slower, pace. Argentina played heroically but did not prevail. And, according to our latest forecasts, the region will grow barely 1 percent this year. Considering population growth, this means the average per capita income of Latin Americans did not progress in the past 12 months.
Growth won't come easy. A commodity-fueled expansion such as the one experienced by South America in the past decade is unlikely to return with reduced global demand for its production, particularly from China. And if this were not enough, the cost of financing development will probably rise in the years ahead as United States' monetary policy changes course. The historic social gains achieved in the region in the past decade are at risk. Latin America will have to turn to its own devices in order to return to the path of growth with equity that made those gains possible.
This challenge puts significant pressure on public coffers. Thus a new premium will be placed on policies that can boost growth while keeping the focus on the poor. And when it comes to public investments that can do both at once, few come to mind as easily as education. On the one hand, a country with improved human capital can become more productive and grow at a faster pace. On the other, a population with better education can find better opportunities in life, and break the cycle of poverty that is too often perpetuated across generations.
In a region where access to education up to secondary level is close to universal, the central challenge now is quality. And to raise the quality, what goes on inside the classroom, or more to the point, the skills of those in charge of teaching, are fundamental.
Every week, however, due to teacher absenteeism, low skill level and pay, as well as weak school leadership, public school students in Latin America and the Caribbean are deprived of the equivalent of one full day of class. That is one of the key findings of this year's groundbreaking World Bank report, Great Teachers: How to Raise Student Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Another key finding that stands out is that individuals entering teaching careers in Latin America are academically weaker than the overall pool of students in higher education. In Singapore and Finland, teachers come from the top third of students. And this brings me to Lionel Messi.
The Argentine soccer star was awarded the Golden Ball, as the World Cup's best player. There is no question that Messi deserves the attention and praise, but Latin America could benefit from having teachers who are admired half as much as soccer players.
That's easier said than done, many will say. But it is not impossible. It requires, above all, a serious dose of political will.
In the 1970s, for instance, Finland made raising the bar for teacher hiring a cornerstone of an education reform strategy. Finland used to have an education labor market very similar to Latin America with many teacher training institutions of variable quality producing an excessive number of teachers. Over several decades the country managed to change it to one where a much smaller number of high quality institutions produce just enough talented teachers, all of whom find teaching positions and enjoy high social prestige (as well as competitive salaries).
There is a growing consensus that the long-term growth path for Latin American economies has to be paved with productivity. This largely means investing in more skill-intensive industries that more competitively insert the region in global value chains to produce more growth by learning about new technologies and management practices. This transformation will require a skilled labor force, and education quality has to improve first. To avoid the risk of widening income gaps in the process of becoming more productive, quality education cannot be limited to the lucky few.

o Jorge Familiar is the World Bank's vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean. You can reach him via Twitter at @Familiar_BM.

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Person of the year: Alanna Rodgers of Hands for Hunger

December 31, 2014

Today Front Porch launches an annual tradition of naming its Person of the Year. In various magazines those chosen are typically high-profile individuals. In this venue, the individual selected is a Bahamian citizen or resident who, though likely not a high-profile individual, has contributed significantly to our national life in the past year. This year's choice is Alanna Rodgers, a leading Bahamian social entrepreneur, who is helping the country to rethink philanthropy, corporate citizenship and the role of the social sector in national development.
Hunger and malnutrition mostly ravage individuals in "low-income, rural areas of developing countries" with three-quarters of the undernourished living in these countries and "the percentage of hungry people ... highest in east, central, and southern Africa," according to The Bahamas Hands for Hunger website.
Among the approximately 820 million to over one billion hungry people in the world are the many millions who go hungry in the most affluent and developed countries on the planet.
The United States of America is a political, military and economic behemoth. Yet in the land of superabundance and the super-rich, "82.6 million Americans are at risk of or suffering from hunger and are living at or below poverty", according to the Capital Area Foodbank of Washington D.C.
The American Banking and Market Report observed that Americans spent $60.9 billion on weight-loss products in 2010. A March, 2014, Associated Press report on the CBS Money Watch website noted: "Americans spent an all-time high of $55.7 billion on their pets in last year and spending will creep close to $60 billion this year ... The biggest part of spending in 2013 -- $21.57 billion -- went for food -- a lot of it more expensive, healthier grub ... "
America spends more taking off weight than scores of countries combined spend putting on weight. It spends more on its pets than scores of countries combined are able to afford for basic food for many millions. And it wastes enough food a day to feed millions at home and abroad.
S. Census ACS 2006-2008)
Washington D.C. is the capital of the world's superpower, the seat of power for arguably the most powerful country in human history. It is also a classic tale of two cities: Washington, the city of gleaming white monuments and mostly white affluent residents, and the District of Columbia, mostly black, with hunger rates some considered that of various third world countries.

Shadow
In the shadow of the grand dome of the imposing U.S. Capitol Building, "one in eight District households is struggling against hunger", according to D.C. Hunger Solutions. The Capitol Area Foodbank notes, "1 in 3 residents in Washington, D.C. is at risk of hunger." (U
And Food for all D.C. reports: "Approximately 200,000 children are at risk of hunger in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area - 56,000 in the District alone or 1 in 2 children."
In many countries and cities of affluence, hunger is often hidden, but chronic, with hunger having worsened in many locales following the Great Recession.
New Providence, inclusive of Paradise Island, is one of the more affluent islands or geographic areas in the Caribbean. There is a glut of American fast food chains alongside an array of medium- to high-priced restaurants, with Bahamians now enjoying luxury foods like sushi.
Food store shelves are stocked with all manner of choices from meats to cereals to an unhealthy extravaganza of high calorie, sugary and processed foods.There are also upscale food stores and gourmet markets catering to more luxury tastes. Ours is a meat-intensive diet.
There is plenty of food and wealth on New Providence. Yet, according to Hands for Hunger, "one in six Bahamians go hungry every day and 50 per cent of those living in hunger are children."
Many children in New Providence either do not get breakfast or are fed in a growing number of breakfast programs. And for many children their last meal, nutritious or otherwise, is the lunch program in government-operated schools. During the summer break many food programs are unavailable.
While many in affluent societies including The Bahamas are often able to ignore issues of hunger, poverty and inequality, Alanna Rodgers at the age of 21 decided to make a difference in the lives of thousands of hungry Bahamians.
In 2008, the year the Great Recession began, Rodgers, along with a group of other young people, launched Hands for Hunger with this ambition:
"Our vision is a transformed Bahamas where everyone has access to three nutritious and fortifying meals each day. No one goes hungry. The quality of our environment is enhanced."
It is an ambition born of this inspiration:
"Our inspiration was founded on the critical realization that an incredible amount of edible food is thrown away every single day by restaurants, hotels, cruise ships, markets, bakeries, and other local vendors. Meanwhile, countless people struggle to secure their next meal.
"We asked ourselves: how can we possibly expect issues of violence, crime, poor education, unemployment, and environmental ills to be eliminated, when we cannot first satisfy the most basic of human needs by guaranteeing that every citizen has food to eat?"

Mission
It is an inspiration with this mission:
"We strive to inspire a shared sense of social and environmental responsibility amongst citizens, who, individually and collectively, come to realize the power of their own contributions. We do this by food rescue and distribution, education and other innovative solutions aimed at achieving national food security."
Rodgers marries ambition, inspiration and mission with great passion and enormous talent. She has been described by those working with her as possessing a combination of high intelligence, creativity and compassion. She thinks and speaks in the language of transformation, the language of entrepreneurs seeking everything from medical breakthroughs to innovations in communications.
Indeed, she is a leading voice of a new generation of Bahamian social entrepreneurs, committed to blending international best practices, business savvy, innovative strategies and an array of entrepreneurial skills to respond to pressing social issues.
Rodgers understands the linkages between social problems and appreciates the vital role to be played by the social sector in partnership with government and the business community in addressing a host of social challenges.
She worked with the former government and then Minister with responsibility for Social Services Loretta Butler-Turner to get passed "The Good Samaritan Law of 2010, which protects food donors from liability associated with their donations."
Rodgers and her team convinced many high-profile players in the hotel industry and in the business community to donate food, money and in-kind goods. Hands for Hunger partners with an impressive array of outreach agencies to provide 10,000 nutritious meals every week. Beneficiaries include groups ranging from Teen Challenge, the Bahamas AIDS Foundation, the Salvation Army and Great Commission Ministries International.

Impressive
Within a few short years Hands for Hunger has become one of the more notable, successful and well-run non-profits in the country. Its well-designed website and communications suggest a certain entrepreneurial savvy not often associated with local groups. Its fundraising strategies are impressive such as the annual Paradise Plates.
Its food rescue program is equally impressive. As noted by the agency: "To date, we have rescued more than 650,000 lbs. of fresh, surplus food and provided the equivalent number of meals to Bahamians in need [and]each week, our two refrigerated trucks collect and distribute an average of 2,500 lbs. of food.
Rodgers understood from the inception the need to make the organization sustainable. While she sits on the board of the agency, she stepped aside from the daily running of the organization.
There is a professional staff, with an executive director and a board of directors comprised of a group of highly-talented thirty-something- and forty-something-year-old Bahamians.
The agency is guided by strategic planning and is committed to innovation. What makes Rodgers a successful social entrepreneur is not only the thousands now fed weekly. She has also helped to model how non-profits should be operated.
The not yet 30-year-old social entrepreneur embodies the well-known adage of thinking globally and acting locally. She is a globe-trekker and an adventurer, who reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and volunteered at an orphanage in Madagascar.
Like other successful entrepreneurs with a broad range of curiosities and ideas, Rodgers seems set to create a number of start-ups in various fields.
With an appreciation of how food and cuisine capture and represent a country's history, Rodgers "launched Tru Bahamian Food Tours in the Fall of 2012 on a mission to connect visitors with Nassau's most beloved culinary treasures and the local artisans, chefs and entrepreneurs preserving these traditions."
She is helping to bolster the niche and potentially lucrative heritage and food tourism sectors. One can only imagine her next idea.
For now, she has helped to bring more focus to issues of hunger and poverty. She will likely become one of the leading social justice advocates in the country. Rodgers is a beacon and bellwether of creative change and how to organize for social transformation. She matches vision with action.
What she has already accomplished is impressive. And there is likely much more to come.
Alanna Rodgers is a Bahamian face of a global social sector revolution combining community service, social venture ideas, new forms of volunteerism, philanthropy, social marketing and other innovations to transform lives and communities while reducing inequality and poverty.
The country is fortunate to have a young Bahamian of such ideals, imagination and boundless energy.

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

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2014: As the end of the year draws near

December 30, 2014

This column will be the last one published by yours truly for 2014 and as the countdown begins for the advent of a new year, we pause to reflect on the year that was. We reflect on the events that occurred during a year that many will remember for diverse reasons and the various seasons they experienced therein.
In the final hours of 2014, we hear its swan song echoing through the sands of time and cannot but bear the sound of the ticking clock that ushers in a new beginning for our dear country. While some will recall the faith that sustained them, others will reminisce on the fear that they hope will pass to appear in their rear view mirror in short order. Indeed while the wear and tear left behind by the year are obvious for some, the promise of a new dawn invigorates us to move on. This piece wraps up 2014 with a recap on the highs and lows, ups and downs and trials and triumphs of a year, the end of which draws near.

The demands on government
The various arms of government were indeed busy during 2014 as they sought to discharge their constitutional duties in an environment in which the demands of the populace remains on the rise. The legislature was quite busy and the debates were no doubt spirited and in some cases confrontational as bills with significant implications for our commonwealth were brought to parliament.
The executive made and deferred certain decisions while the judiciary remained under scrutiny as pressure was constantly put on the court system to expedite the administration of justice. The electorate like never before demanded transparency in governance as the status quo in our approach to matters of national importance was challenged by a people recognizing the urgency of now. In essence the fourth branch of government reported for duty and showed up in full scale during the year with the Fourth Estate - journalists - leading the charge in this regard.
The game changers
A number of initiatives introduced during 2014 could very well be described as game changers based on the expected impact on our way of life, our social fabric, moral values, economy and mind set going into the future. The enactment and passage of the value-added tax (VAT) bill which introduced and will bring into effect a new era of taxation in The Bahamas is one of those. After years of burying our heads in the proverbial sand, we finally came to full realization that our fiscal position was not sustainable and decided to address our financial imbalance either by choice or force based on the obvious. While VAT is not the panacea for our financial woes and the fiscal consolidation plan must be properly implemented, there is no doubt that the introduction of this consumption tax represents the most significant change in our tax code since independence.
The Bahamas signed an intergovernmental agreement with the US for the implementation of the Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act in 2014 and also committed to the adoption of the automatic exchange of information global standard on a bilateral basis in 2018. The financial services in The Bahamas will have to adapt to the new paradigm and evolve in the months and years ahead if it is to remain competitive among the community of nations. A new era was also ushered in with the passage of the Gaming Bill which sought to modernize our gaming laws but also legalized web shops in The Bahamas after decades in which they operated without a legal framework, formal structure and were not subject to proper taxation.

The outstanding items
While a number of programs were introduced and plans implemented during the year, some remained outstanding from the agenda set for 2014. One of these items is the constitutional referendum aimed at ending discrimination against men and women in The Bahamas. The planned referendum followed a report by the Constitutional Commission in 2013 and was expected to take place during the year. One of the highlights of the year was indeed the positions taken and utterances made by members of parliament in relation to the Constitutional Amendment Bills. The proposed date has since been changed to a time in 2015.
The opening of Baha Mar in December 2014 was anticipated by both Bahamians and individuals across the globe with high expectations on the impact on our tourism product. This mega resort, which represents arguably the most significant event in our tourism in years, is also expected to give our economy a much needed boost and put a dent on our unemployment figures. Set to open in late spring 2015, all eyes remain on Baha Mar to add a new and dynamic twist to our tourism product.

The goodbyes we said
The frailty of our mortality and fragile nature of humanity flashes before our eyes from year to year as we journey through life. We were reminded on multiple occasions of the inevitability of the end of our voyage here on earth in 2014 as we said farewell to our compatriots, friends and loved ones. The loss of prominent Bahamians such as Edmund Moxey, Myles Munroe, Warren Levarity, Maureen Duvalier and Samantha Perigod just to mention a few reminds us that death is certain and we must live meaningful lives with the goal of leaving the world better than we met it.
The departures that remain touching and more disturbing are those of our brothers and sisters that have been cut down by the menace of violent crime in our Bahamaland. While we mourned the demise of many, our pain and sorrow were increased by the blood that flowed on our streets as a few persons chose to cheapen the precious gift of life that only God can give. The tears and cries of parents, friends and relatives evidenced the abandoned national mantra of being our brother's keeper and the level of deterioration of our moral values.

The conclusion of a year
The festivities of the season will soon give way to the arrival of a new year which provides us with a new opportunity as a blank canvass before an artist. There is so much that can be said of the highs and lows of 2014 albeit the limitation of space does not provide the luxury of a prolonged thesis. The Bimini Bay project, opening of Memories in Grand Bahama, the new immigration policy, BAMSI, Marco's Law, the National Intelligence Agency and labour disputes among others made news headlines during an eventful 2014.
As many Bahamians prepare to bid 2014 farewell and welcome 2015, some of us will be around family and friends while a vast majority will be in church as the watchman provides the countdown. We will say adios to a year that has had its fair share of challenges but we must give thanks as a resilient people for the many blessings we overlooked during the year. The government, private sector, civic society and we the people will do well to reflect on the events of 2014 and make a commitment to do more to enrich the lives of our fellow Bahamians. Selflessness and servitude with unflinching dedication to transparency, responsibility and accountability are prerequisites if the New Year is going to be better than the current year. As the end of the year draws near and final curtains are drawn on 2014, I wish to express my utmost gratitude to the readers and followers of this column for your support during the year. It is my hope, desire and prayer that you have a prosperous 2015. Happy New Year in advance!

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 fumbled, failed fiasco of BTC

December 29, 2014

The following column was previously published on March 31, 2014.
"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
- George Bernard Shaw
There is nothing more important when living in an archipelagic nation like ours than good communication. That's why mail boats came into being early in the 1800s in order to connect the men and women living in our islands. That's why telephones came to the country in the early 20th century so families could remain connected even though they might decide to live on different islands. That's why we invested in a radio system a little later in the 20th century so that information could be transmitted from end to end of our island chain. As we matured as a nation and entered the 21st century, we had the very reasonable expectation that our ability to communicate would not only improve and expand but would become even more reliable. Apparently, we were misinformed.
Therefore, this week we would like to Consider This... what is the state of telecommunications in The Bahamas since BaTelCo was privatized?
Telecommunications in The Bahamas
International telecommunications began in The Bahamas in 1892 with the connection of the first submarine telegraph cable from Florida to the western part of New Providence in an area that was and still is known as Cable Beach. Then the first manual telephone exchange was installed and on October 5, 1906, the first telephone system opened in Nassau with 150 subscribers; thus, international telegraph communication preceded domestic telephone service by 14 years.
Regulation and control of telephonic services was established under the Colonial-run Telegraph and Telephone Department (later the Telecommunications Department), until the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1966. This act created a state-owned corporation, Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation or BaTelCo, which, until its privatization in 2012 to Cable & Wireless, operated as a monopoly of telephony and related services.
The Telecommunications Act, which became effective on March 25, 2000, repealed the earlier act, paving the way for the privatization of the company.
As of 2012, BTC had approximately 137,000 fixed lines, 141st in the world and approximately 254,000 mobile cellular lines, 176th in the world.
The privatization nightmare
During his second term in office, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham announced that his government would privatize BaTelCo, ostensibly to move that public corporation to a first-world telecommunications company that would introduce state-of-the-art technology, enhance service quality and hopefully lower prices as a result of the operational efficiencies that a privatized company would provide. In addition, there was a promise of eliminating political interference from the management of BaTelCo, a practice that some suggested had evolved into a "fine art" under the PLP government over its 25 years in office.
It took nearly the next two decades to convert the privatization dream into reality. There were countless missteps and mistakes made by successive administrations en route to privatization. But one thing is irrefutable. Ingraham pointedly and emphatically asserted that he would not even discuss the matter of privatization with Cable and Wireless, a company which had not even submitted a bid to purchase BaTelCo. He probably correctly arrived at that "intransigent" and "irrevocably voiced" position because of the dismal reputation that that company had earned throughout the Caribbean.
It was therefore stunningly surprising when Bahamians learned that Cable & Wireless had been "invited" to propose on the privatization of this national asset. Not only was it invited to submit a bid for our greatest national treasure, it actually won the bid! This move left many Bahamians stunned as to what could possibly have transpired between the government's initial pronouncements and its final position to sell this asset to a foreign company it had initially categorically rejected - and at a price that seemed significantly lower than its intrinsic value suggested.
The vast number of Bahamians believed at the time, and even more so now, that the entire privatization process was misguided, mismanaged and mired in a quagmire of confusion that was not in our best national interest. It is reported that Ingraham made an 11th hour futile attempt to reverse the decision taken by his government to sell a majority interest to foreigners.
The fumbled, failed fiasco of privatizing BTC was birthed out of the vortex of the perennial love affair that we have historically developed for foreign ownership of our important national assets.
The current situation
Today, a privatized BTC has demonstrated that the decision to sell to Cable and Wireless was a national nightmare of epic proportions. Since BTC was sold, we have experienced what can only be described as the worst telephone service in the country's modern history. Land line and cellular calls are frequently dropped, cellular telephone calls customarily fade in and out like a tenuous apparition, depending on where you are on the islands, and the customer is often faced with a complete black-out of services for no apparent reason. Recently the entire island of New Providence and consumers on the Family Islands had no cellular service whatsoever for most of the day. That failure prompted BTC to print a full-page ad in the dailies, apologizing for "any inconvenience caused". And what have we heard from the regulator, URCA, in all of this? Absolutely zippo! No one is protecting the public interest because of the power of corporate might.
BTC was developed, managed, and financed by Bahamians and, for many years, provided impressive dividends in the millions of dollars to the central government. When we reflect on the tumultuous events caused by foreign managers at BaTelCo back in the 60s and 70s, we are reminded of how hard Bahamians worked to rid the corporation of those managers, making it 100 percent Bahamian. For some unknown reason, it really appears that the Ingraham government, in its decision on privatization, was determined to go backward, with no regard for the competence, ingenuity and business acumen of Bahamians who could have continued to manage BTC under its privatized reincarnation.
Conclusion
It is sad but true that what Bahamians spent decades developing into a modern, state-of-the-art telecommunications company has taken foreigners only a few short years to depreciate, devalue and degrade.
In 2014, our telephone services leave so much to be desired. We should demand more from the regulator and actively petition the government to move with alacrity to introduce more competition into the marketplace, so that the consumer will have a choice and the ability to fire the provider who does not deliver quality, efficient, reliable and reasonably priced service.
We are also concerned, and will closely monitor, the proposed relationship that BTC is slated to develop with the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (BCB) with specific application to television. If BTC's past experience is any indication of things to come, this does not augur well for BCB or Bahamian consumers. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, until we are provided with real and reasonable telephony choices, we must daily endure yet another bungled blunder of the political directorate that has saddled the Bahamian people with the fumbled, failed fiasco of BTC.

o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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Our City of Angels

December 24, 2014

Two weekends ago on Friday and Saturday in the early dark evenings of winter, the ancient solid grey stone walls of St. Matthew's Anglican Church could not contain the light and the exuberance emanating from the sanctuary toward the City of Nassau as the Sunrise Choir repeated the sounding joy of the season in its ninth annual Christmas concert.
The statues of the saints in marbled repose appeared transfigured by the "sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus" raised.
Under the direction of Marjorie Knowles, the choir exemplifies the passion and dedication of the many Bahamians and residents who remind us year-round that, amidst the violence and venality of human beings, cityscapes and urban life, ours is also a city of angels, the divine and the best of the human spirit manifested in so many who volunteer their finest gifts and hope to help make ours a better and more humane city.
In an interview with The Tribune, Knowles, the dedicated choirmaster, pleaded: "Everywhere you turn you hear sad stories and bad news. But we want the world to know that there is some good news and there is some hope for the present and hope for the future..."
She witnessed: "Our theme is ministry and we just try to minister through song, dance and drama. Music is the language of heaven and God inhabits the praise of his people. That is why we like to praise God, because we like to bring God's presence with us. We want to stay in his presence and bring his presence here at all times to break all chains." Amen! Amen!
There are many chains to be unshackled and broken. We are a city in sin and error pining. Many souls shedding blood do not feel their worth or that of their victims.
We are a weary and beleaguered city so often absorbed by bloodshed and the contagion of violence, growing hunger in a city of plenty, indifference and self-absorption by elites amidst mounting inequality, rapacious materialism alongside rising poverty, and various manifestations of cynicism and despair.

Magnificent
In his magnificent solo of "O' Holy Night" at the concert, Rashad Cunningham elicited raised hands in thanksgiving and touched chords in many, which summoned tears amidst rapturous applause.
Cunningham repeated in song this invitation to grace and to action:
"Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and his gospel is peace
Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise his holy name."
Talk of hope and goodness seems naive to some. And yet, one does not have to don rose-colored glasses to see the extraordinary goodness resident in New Providence and in the lives of countless citizens and angels of mercy and compassion who dedicate so very much to our commonwealth.
Among the host of the better angels of our nature are the delightfully curmudgeonly Betty Cole; Cleophas Adderley Jr. with his relentless pursuit of excellence; the many decades of commitment of Karen Lightbourne to the Girl Guides movement; and Lowell Mortimer, with his exceptional philanthropy, example and generosity of spirit.
Through swimming and Guiding, Cole has instilled discipline in thousands of Bahamians and Adderley has insisted that members of the Bahamas National Youth Choir perform in a manner that is world class, empowering them with life-lessons beyond their graduation from his tutelage.
Lightbourne's advice on the key to success as a volunteer: You need to show up every week. Mortimer offers that one should share and spread one's resources as a sort of miracle grow to help others to flourish.
There is now a new generation of Bahamian angels such as Alanna Rodgers, the founder of Hands for Hunger, and her mostly thirty-something and forty-something board members, staff and volunteers who help to feed thousands amidst a growing crisis of hunger and malnutrition, a moral scandal and shame in a country of plenty, where too many of us waste food.

Pancakes
Then there is Briealessa Wilson, who shares her love through The Pancake Wednesdays Foundation, which is decidedly about much more than pancakes. The foundation spreads cheer and fellowship, making and distributing homemade pancakes to special-needs and underprivileged children.
It was inspired by a then 12-year-old autistic boy who loved pancakes and advised, "Make pancakes with love!" Blueberry and banana pancakes are distributed to students at Palmdale Primary School every Wednesday. The program now also includes the Birthday Club and Curve Ball Wednesdays.
The Tribune reported: "One of the main goals of Pancake Wednesdays, Briealessa said, is to give underprivileged and disabled children an opportunity to be confident in who they are and what they were placed on this Earth for.
"'Pancake Wednesdays aims to achieve equality by diminishing stereotyping towards these children,' she said.
"Briealessa said she hopes that through the organization children are treated equally and are not stereotyped for their appearance.
"'I want people to see beyond the imperfections of these children and realize they are beautiful on the inside and out,' she said."
Venture to another Anglican church, St. Gregory's on Carmichael Road, on most Saturdays during the school year. Listen in at the parish hall to the squeals of delight, the lively discussions and the festive sounds of fellowship and enjoyment of a community of love and hope that is the TARA Project, made up of about 40 or so older children and teens, and a group of adults committed to the growth of these young people.
Through speakers, field trips and all manner of creative activities, the TARA Project cultivates the conscience and enlivens the imagination of the young people who voluntarily return weekly on a Saturday to experience the magic of the project.
At the heart of the project is a hallmark of the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, a Roman Catholic religious order, which counts Pope Francis as a member.
That hallmark is cura personalis, translated as "care for the entire person". It "suggests individualized attention to the needs of the other, distinct respect for his or her unique circumstances and concerns, and an appropriate appreciation for his or her particular gifts and insights".
It is this quality of attention and dedication which Livingstone "Bones" Hepburn and his wife Claire and their team shower on these kids as if they were their very own.
Joseph Campbell wrote "The Hero With a Thousand Faces", detailing the archetypical journey of mythological heroes. Central to the journey of many heroes is overcoming profound loss, transforming heartache into new life.
Heroism is sometimes a great act in a moment of crisis. There is also the heroism of fortitude, the daily courage to press on, to maintain and share the joy of living amidst life's mixed and rolling fortunes.

Parable
Bones and Claire Hepburn are two of the faces of the many heroes in our country. The work they do in the TARA Project is a living parable of hope and hospitality. The kids keep coming for more than the activities and the friendships.
They return also because they touch in the Hepburns two hearts overflowing with love and abundant generosity and infectious joy and unstinting hospitality.
The Hepburns have passed this witness on to another generation. Helping them in the project, among others, are Keisha Ellis Hunt and her husband Emille Hunt, young people committed to Bahamian culture and arts, education and social justice, as well as Charlene Russell.
We have so romanticized the birth of Jesus that we often forget the chaotic and brutal world into which he was born, as well as the difficult circumstances of his birth to refugee parents living in a foreign land hostile to foreigners.
The heroes and better angels of our nature have clay feet and clipped wings, and many times can only voice broken hallelujahs. They know of despair, the many temptations of lost hope.
But they recognize something essential that is the weekly theme of Beverly Curry's radio program, of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, often in the face of enormous challenges and apathy.
They know also that they cannot wait for others to do the work that they do, that complacency is the enemy of love and that ambivalence is one of the worst and cleverest enemies of life.
Life is a perpetual struggle, as is the struggle for progress. When we are uncertain as to whether we want to live or die, death is on the horizon. When we are ambivalent about fighting for progress we are complicit in allowing narrow interests to triumph over the greater good.
Were all of those or any of those celebrated in this column ambivalent, how much poorer would we be as a country? How much poorer are we because of the many others who have yet to join the chorus of our city of angels?
How immensely enriched we are as a country because those celebrated in this column cast aside ambivalence! And how much richer we would be if others now on the sidelines were to join the chorus of our City of Angels!

o Next week: The Person of the Year. frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Giving Thursday: Christmas Day

December 24, 2014

The 25th of December in most countries is recognized as Christmas Day. The most popular activity on that day is the giving of gifts to show appreciation and love to those close to us. Far too often we forget those who do not have the means to celebrate. We forget the poor, homeless or just those who are financially struggling.
Sounds of Encouragement (SOE) is asking all residents of The Bahamas join together to make this December 25 the first "Giving Thursday". Let us make this Christmas the best Christmas The Bahamas has ever experienced. It is part of SOE's Social Transformation Month. Last week Thursday was Friendship Thursday and January 1, 2015 will be New Relationship Thursday.
We have become a very individualistic, cold and distant society. We do not really care for each other anymore. The rampant crime has forced us into our secluded cocoons of safety and security. While it is logical to care for and protect ourselves from the criminal elements in society, it has made us unnecessary prisoners in our own homes. When we shut and lock our doors and windows in the evenings after coming home from work, we also lock out a world of opportunity and growth. We shield ourselves from thinking and caring for those outside our own "peaceful castles". To exasperate this conundrum, the development of personal, held-hand devices such as iPads, tablets and smartphones has encouraged solitary enjoyment instead of group sharing or group fun. Even within sheltered walls the residents themselves seldom interact intimately. When gathered in a room, each one can be seen in his or her corner with a hand-held device swiping, reading, watching or listening.
It is a cold, dismal picture to see. So we do give, shamefully to ourselves and not to others. This behavior has resulted in the build up of a toxic level of selfishness and self-centeredness in each one of us. We are slowly killing ourselves with this approach to living.
We must change this picture. We must take the cleansing agents of kindness, caring and giving to others to purge ourselves of this poison. In the article "The Values of Giving and Self Worth" the authors remind us that it is healthy emotionally to think and care for others: "Thinking and caring about others allows a person to learn more about life than thinking and caring about him or herself alone. Finding an interest in helping others can teach you about how other people live and how difficult life can be in many circumstances. Caring about others opens up your world to new friends and provides a sense of satisfaction in life."

The benefits of giving
It should be obvious here that giving is not only beneficial to whom is receiving the gift but also to the one who is giving it. Psychologists Jill Suttie and Jason Marsh of the Great Good Science Center in the University of California, Berkeley, said: "New studies attest to the benefits of giving - not just for the recipients but for the givers' health and happiness, and for the strength of entire communities." Here are the five ways they say giving is good for your health:
1. Giving makes us feel happy. "A 2008 study by Harvard Business School Professor Michael Norton and colleagues found that giving money to someone else lifted participants' happiness more than spending it on themselves (despite participants' prediction that spending on themselves would make them happier)... These good feelings are reflected in our biology. In a 2006 study, Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a 'warm glow' effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the 'helper's high'."
2. Giving is good for our health. "A wide range of research has linked different forms of generosity to better health, even among the sick and elderly. In his book 'Why Good Things Happen to Good People', Stephen Post, a professor of preventative medicine at Stony Brook University, reports that giving to others has been shown to increase health benefits in people with chronic illness, including HIV and multiple sclerosis... Researchers suggest that one reason giving may improve physical health and longevity is that it helps decrease stress, which is associated with a variety of health problems. In a 2006 study by Rachel Piferi of Johns Hopkins University and Kathleen Lawler of the University of Tennessee, people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than participants who didn't, suggesting a direct physiological benefit to those who give of themselves."
3. Giving promotes cooperation and social connection. "When you give, you're more likely to get back: Several studies, including work by sociologists Brent Simpson and Robb Willer, have suggested that when you give to others, your generosity is likely to be rewarded by others down the line - sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else."
4. Giving evokes gratitude. "Whether you're on the giving or receiving end of a gift, that gift can elicit feelings of gratitude - it can be a way of expressing gratitude or instilling gratitude in the recipient. And research has found that gratitude is integral to happiness, health, and social bonds."
5. Giving is contagious. "When we give, we don't only help the immediate recipient of our gift. We also spur a ripple effect of generosity through our community. A study by James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, shows that when one person behaves generously, it inspires observers to behave generously later, toward different people. In fact, the researchers found that altruism could spread by three degrees - from person to person to person to person."

What to give?
I am encouraging everyone and every organization to find a way of giving something to someone in need on Giving Thursday (Christmas Day). In addition, you can give something to someone who is not in financial need, but who is emotionally distraught and would appreciate someone showing a caring spirit towards them.

Here are a few things
we you do on
Giving Thursday:
o Give words of appreciation. Write a letter to a friend. Call someone and uplift them up by your words of encouragement.
o Give a meal. Invite a friend, neighbor or even stranger for a meal in your home or just to have a fun time.
o Give your space. Invite neighbors to watch a movie together with you on Christmas night.
o Give dry goods. Purchase dry goods such as peas, rice, fruits, pumpkin, canned goods, or make an attractive food baskets to give to someone in need.
o Give your skills. On Christmas Day it is a great time to repair someone's roof, clean a car, install computer software, paint a wall, etc.
Here is a famous, wonderful story to end with. Have the tissue box nearby.
"It's a cold day in December. A little boy about 10 years old was standing before a shoe store on Broadway, barefooted, peering through the window, and shivering with cold. A lady approached the boy and said, "My little fellow, why are you looking so earnestly in that window?"
"I was asking God to give me a pair of shoes," was the boy's reply.
The lady took him by the hand and went into the store and asked the clerk to get a half dozen pairs of socks for the boy. She then asked if he could give her a basin of water and a towel. He quickly brought them to her. She took the little fellow to the back part of the store and, removing her gloves, knelt down, washed his little feet, and dried them with a towel.
By this time the clerk had returned with the socks. Placing a pair upon the boy's feet, she then purchased him a pair of shoes, and tying up the remaining pairs of socks, gave them to him. She patted him on the head and said, "No doubt, my little fellow, you feel more comfortable now?"
As she turned to go, the astonished lad caught her by the hand, and looking up in her face, with tears in his eyes, answered the question with these words: "Are you God's wife?"
This dear kind lady gave more than shoes and socks on the cold winter day. She gave her time, her love, and her concern. This Christmas do you think someone would ask you the question: "Are you God's wife/husband?"
Let's change our country by giving of ourselves to others. Happy Giving Thursday!

o Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist and board certified clinical psychotherapist, U.S.A. Send your questions or comments to barringtonbrennen@gmail.com; or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas; or visit www.soencouragement.org; or call 242-327-1980, or 242-477-4002.

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Valuable lessons from the Christmas story

December 23, 2014

The weather across the archipelago called The Bahamas has been cool over the last few days as if to mark the arrival of something unique while celebration has been in the air. The cheerful mood of the populace and the increase in traffic congestion on the streets of New Providence leave no doubt that indeed the Christmas season is upon us. It is after all for most Bahamians the season to be merry and jolly, to wine and dine as well as exchange pleasantries and gifts.
One of the most important aspects of our Christmas tradition has been and must remain the gathering of families and the expression of gratitude for the many blessings which we so often take for granted. For indeed the curtains are being drawn on one year as we approach the gates of another year. While 2014 has been eventful and full of its challenges, we ought to be thankful for all that has transpired as they were all designed to make us more resilient as a people. In the hours leading up to the celebration of Christmas, this piece considers key messages and invaluable lessons from the biblical account of the first Christmas.

The unusual and unlikely vessels
The expectation of mankind in relation to royalty is often painted with visions of extravagance, elegance, finesse and renowned family background. The nativity story defies all of this logic and departs from the established setting for the birth of a king. The vessel that was chosen to carry the Prince of Peace was a lowly maiden whose ancestry was unknown and not recorded. The choice of the unborn king's mother marked a notable deviation from what was and is convention for royal families. The identity and social status of Joseph - his earthly father further contradicts the status quo. Thus the unbelief of many to this day is linked to the conditions under which the messiah was born.
The missing link in the explanation of these unorthodox circumstances for many is the understanding of the deity of the child in question and the magnitude of his assignment which was not confined to earthly things. Nevertheless, it holds promise for those of us who feel downtrodden, rejected, irrelevant or insignificant. We are not exempt from greatness and a higher calling based on our social status, gender, occupation, family ties or other limitations imposed by others in our society. All we need to qualify is to be available, obedient and be willing to serve. The actions and exploits of Jesus in his latter days elevated his profile from the manger days and from his humble beginnings so much so that they led to questions: Can any good thing come out of Nazareth, and is that not the son of Joseph the carpenter?

Is there a place for us?
The absence of rooms in the various inns could have easily led the soon-to-be parents of Jesus to ask this question. In the end and with the time of delivery fast approaching they had to settle for a manger to accommodate their newborn. And so indicative of his humility and role as the true shepherd, the savior's first companions besides his parents were livestock.
The same question rests on the lips of several Bahamians and echoes across our islands as many seek to take their parts in our beloved country. Many with aspirations and dreams long for opportunities to contribute to the development of our commonwealth. The yearnings of the youth are particularly pronounced in this question, as they feel that they have no voice in the governance of their country. The manger component of the story tells us that one's origination does not determine one's destiny and the end justifies the means. In the interim, however, are we prepared to dwell in the manger if not but for a little while? This is bearing in mind that none of our experiences will ever go to waste but they all contribute toward who we shall become. In this sense, the saying "do not despise humble beginnings" comes to mind.

A peculiar case of opposing objectives
The gospels documented the role of the wise men that saw the natal star of Yeshua in the east and sought him to give him gifts and to worship him. The narrative also includes King Herod who, having heard of the birth of the king of the Jews, set out to kill baby Jesus. Herod was threatened by the baby, not in his current state, but based on his potential. While Herod was aware that the perceived threat to his kingdom may not have materialized in his lifetime, this birth disturbed the establishment and status quo which dictated succession to the throne based on lineage.
The dichotomy in the two objectives for seeking the baby is a classic case that personifies the age-old saying that one man's meat is another man's poison; or put another way, one man's gold is another's coal. The motives highlighted here were pure and honorable, on the one hand, while the other was conniving and wicked albeit concealed. Nevertheless, the wise men displayed wisdom by not revealing the place of the messiah - anything to the contrary may have changed the course of history for all of us who believe in Jesus Christ as lord and savior.
It goes without saying that the above accurately describes human nature and approaches to both personal and national matters within The Bahamas. However, we can rest assured that we must stand for that which is right knowing that, ultimately, good will prevail over evil.

Focus on the outcasts and lowly
Shepherds watching their flock by night on a cold winter's night also featured in a story for the ages as recounted by Luke. While some theologians have linked the timing of their watch to their poor financial status, there is an inherent message of their dedication to their flock, commitment to their craft and diligence in their occupation. It is against this backdrop that the appearance of an angel announcing the birth of Christ is described in the Book of Luke.
Human nature is one that supports the sharing of important and life-changing information to the elite in society who are considered privileged among others. The choice of the shepherds as recipients of news that changed the world and brought about Christianity is evidence that God looks at the heart and not the outward being. The prerequisites for being chosen besides the all-important grace, which is free, include dedication, commitment, diligence and faithfulness.

The unstoppable force of destiny
The various accounts of the birth of the messiah in the gospels highlight the adversities and challenges present leading up to the event we are preparing to celebrate. However, in spite of the difficulties, the power of the purpose of Jesus' birth and the power of his calling could not be stopped by the circumstances surrounding his advent to the world. The Christmas story is testament to the popular scripture that God's word shall not return to him void without accomplishing that which it has been sent out to do; though it tarries, it shall come to pass.
We have chronicled in the Bible an inspirational story which begins the evolution of the Christian faith to which a majority of Bahamians subscribe. Let us therefore be encouraged by the lessons contained therein and hope yet again knowing that we are able to overcome whatever challenges we face or comes our way. In the final analysis, we must not forget the reason for the season; we should remember while we are exchanging gifts that the most important gift of all is the gift of our time, talents and presence, not necessarily presents this holiday season. I wish you and yours a merry Christmas!

o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed at arinthia.komolafe@komolafelaw.com.

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