Opinion

Corporate governance and public corporations in The Bahamas, pt. 2

October 07, 2014

Last week, we considered the important role of good governance in general and corporate governance, in particular, in public and statutory corporations in The Bahamas. Based on the comments and general feedback received in relation to that article, it is apparent that a deeper dive into this vital but often ignored topic is warranted.
The loyalty and commitment to the status quo by opponents of change in our commonwealth continues to be the greatest hindrance to the progressive idea of good governance in theory and practice among state-owned enterprises within The Bahamas. Hence, this week we take a look at why reform of governance in these corporations has been slow or not forthcoming.
The balance of power
One of the most famous quotes attributed to John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, who was referred to as Lord Acton, is "power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely". This quote is one that has stuck with this writer for years following an introductory course in law school almost 15 years ago. The relevance of this statement to the governance of public corporations in The Bahamas cannot be overstated.
State-owned and statutory corporations are prone to abuse of power by the political directorate, appointed directors and management. This is made easy because non-adherence to the principles of good corporate governance is not frowned upon and has become generally accepted. The separation of powers and implementation of appropriate checks and balances are often not codified in a corporate governance policy document which is enforced in entirety.
The Apostle Paul said it best in Romans 5:13, that sin is not imputed where there is no law; in essence, in the absence of clear and specific guidelines or requirements, any allegation of a breach is baseless. The government will do well to promote and mandate public corporations to implement corporate governance policies if the abuse of power in corporations owned by the Bahamian people is to be stemmed.
Autonomy and good governance
In the case of certain statutory bodies, the government has over the years given up significant control over the decision making and the affairs of these institutions. The relinquishing of power by the government over the operations of such entities in a number of cases has not been voluntary but rather spurred by the need to comply with international standards and best practices. The consequences of not giving autonomy to certain statutory bodies would have included negative reviews from international bodies and multilateral regulatory agencies.
Autonomy and independence from the political directorate by a public corporation makes it easier to implement good corporate governance policies and practices within such an institution. The reality is that even though some corporations have some autonomy in theory or on paper, they are still subject to significant influence by politicians in the fulfillment of their mandate. This becomes even worse in the case of corporations that do not have or have minimal autonomy within their governing legislation. In such cases, the empowering statute vests the power to make literally all decisions in the minister responsible for such an entity.
A fundamental paradigm shift
One of the biggest obstacles to good governance and ultimately the success of public corporations in our nation is the archaic mindset that supports cronyism and rewards inefficiency, insubordination and unprofessionalism. One only need reflect on the last experience or encounter with public corporations and government departments in The Bahamas to understand the challenges we face in this regard. This behavior has survived for decades because successive governments and public servants have shied away from confronting this menace that has plagued our country.
It will take discipline and fortitude on the part of the political directorate and leaders within public corporations to bring about the much-needed change in the approach to work within these entities. In short, a radical shift in the current paradigm is required and the change must begin with our political leaders if we are to succeed in this effort.
This may very well be seen as utopia, as many do not see politicians as being the champions of drastic changes to the culture and work ethic of the public sector and statutory bodies due to the fear of backlash at the polls. Unfortunately, this fear translates into interference for political expediency.
On their part, certain leaders of public corporations are just reluctant to trouble the waters because they are concerned that their initiatives or decisions will be undermined by the political directorate. A change in mindset and attitude to work in public corporations will not happen by accident; rather, it will require specific focus and a concerted effort by our leaders.
Conclusion
The discussion surrounding poor service from certain institutions in the public and private sector is an interesting one. On the one hand, we complain about the level of service and on the other hand, we continue to patronize or accept this behavior.
We the people must realize that we perpetuate that which we tolerate and we should commit to changing the existing culture which upholds mediocre service. Additionally, we should promote changes either in law or policy that ensure the independence of public corporations, empower management to perform their duties and free up professionals in these entities to do their jobs.
The employees and customers of public corporations alike have major roles to play in the reinvention of these entities and the public sector as a whole. The change must begin with us all, with the most important focus being on the image we see in the mirror daily.
Accountability and responsibility by the policy makers, directors, management and staff are prerequisites for good governance in public corporations. Transition to good corporate governance within public corporations will not occur in an environment in which leaders provide a safe haven for unproductive workers.
The government must lead the charge by being guided by the following words of J. Ramesh: "There never is a good time for tough decisions. There will always be an election or something else. You have to pick courage and do it. Governance is about taking tough, even unpopular, decisions".
The time for implementing good corporate governance practices across all public corporations in The Bahamas is now.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

read more »

Hate in the eyes and hurt in the heart, pt. 1

October 06, 2014

It has now been nearly two and a half years since the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won the general elections on May 7, 2012. Since then, the government has sought to fulfill an ambitious legislative, social and economic agenda.
During the time that has elapsed, there have been some successes, but there have also been mistakes and missteps which a government, some of whose members served before, could - and should - have avoided. Indeed, the prime minister frequently reminds us that he has served in Parliament for more than 40 years; therefore it is surprising that several politically amateurish mistakes have occurred on his government's watch.
Normally at the mid-term, political pundits and observers attempt to grade a government's performance, some with a view to analytically assessing that performance to date, others to criticize for criticism's sake. While others will engage in the latter objective, we are more interested in the former, principally to gauge the temperature of the electorate at mid-term.
Few objective observers would agree that the government has done a remarkably impressive job to date. More would concur that there is a general malaise that Bahamians are now experiencing at the mid-term of the PLP government, with some expressing disappointment, dissatisfaction, disillusionment and even disgust with the present government.
Therefore this week, we would like to Consider this...On the heels of what has been described as an electoral landslide, why are so many Bahamians expressing hate in their eyes and hurt in their hearts for the present government's performance to date?
The "landslide" illusion
The government often refers to its "landslide" victory in the 2012 general elections. By no stretch of the most creative concoction can anyone honestly suggest that the PLP achieved a landslide victory. One has only to review the election results to appreciate the fallacy of that assertion. A dispassionate review of the 2012 election results reflects the following:
The PLP did not win an absolute majority of the votes cast. In fact, the party won approximately 49 percent of the votes cast in that election, thereby handing it a minority mandate
The FNM received 42 percent of the popular vote, and the DNA polled nine percent, which means that a majority, 51 percent, voted against the PLP
Even more revealing, there were two seats where the PLP won with a razor-slim margin of less than 25 votes, six seats where the PLP edged out by less than 100 votes and 11 seats where the party prevailed by less than 200 votes
Those sobering statistics, particularly in a 38-seat Parliament, should be immensely instructive because there were 19 seats where the PLP won by less than 200 votes and eight of those seats where the PLP won by less than 100 votes.
The brutally honest conclusion: there are very few seats that the governing PLP occupies what are considered "safe" seats, and the political pendulum can quickly swing in the opposite direction, as we have seen in the last three elections.
The most important question that any one of those 19 sitting members of Parliament should be asking is: "What have I done lately to improve my standing with my constituents?" The answer to that question would be very revealing.
Given, therefore, the results of the last elections, what accounts for the general malaise confronting the governing party and what can be done to reverse the sentiments of so many who presently experience hate in their eyes and hurt in their hearts for the present government?
Expectations and performance
The PLP came to victory on a wave of high, and, some would say, unrealistic expectations. Because of the anemic economic circumstances that The Bahamas experienced since 2008 in the wake of the Great Recession, high unemployment and a political platform that contained promises that were difficult to achieve in the current economic climate, Bahamians, who are known for their impatience with politicians on both sides of the political divide, have begun murmuring in many quarters. That the governing party has not been able to deliver on many of its promises, has resulted in hate and hurt in quarters that expand partisan and socio-economic interests.
I'll get back to you later
One of the most prevalent criticisms of many politicians is the instantaneous amnesia that they suffer immediately after speaking to the voter. Bahamians, rich and poor, informed and otherwise, young and old, black and white, frequently complain about their inability to connect with their members of Parliament after their election to office.
With few exceptions, members of Parliament are either so deeply ensconced in their own sense of self-importance or too busy to return phone calls to persons whom they were elected to serve. This creates an atmosphere of inaccessibility to one's elected representative.
If, by some miraculous accident of nature, a citizen is able to connect in person, the politician will promise the world, but more often than not, deliver little to absolutely nothing to the person seeking assistance. Is there any reason that some of these same politicians who relied on their friends and workers are often accosted by hate in the eyes and hurt in the hearts of those who assisted in getting them elected in the first place?
Poorly executed decisions
No one can refute that this government has taken some tough decisions which could cost them votes, not so much because of the actual decisions taken, but because of the grossly inadequate communication regarding the rationale for those decisions. The referendum on the web shops is a classic example.
Unquestionably the time was long past for the government to deal with the existence of web shops in our society, and the government should be applauded for taking the bold decision to regulate and tax them.
However, the painful process that surrounded the execution of that decision left much to be desired. The government failed to frame the debate in terms of the urgent necessity to alter the status quo, in terms of the rightness of its resolve, the revenue needs of the country and the jurisdictional risk for failing to act.
A similar situation developed with the debate on the introduction of a value-added tax (VAT), which will become effective early next year. Again, the government failed to properly frame the debate in a way that would enable a majority of Bahamians to understand the appropriateness of its assessment, the critically urgent revenue needs of the country and the jurisdictional risk of a further downgrade by the international rating agencies for failing to increase fiscal revenue and reduce the national debt.
More recently, the government introduced legislation that will ultimately amend our constitution. While most people accept that our constitution should not discriminate on the basis of sex, the debate on the amendment was improperly framed and not conveyed in a manner to win the hearts and minds of the majority.
Until recently, the vitally important component that was sorely missing in all the aforementioned cases was a sustained educational program on the major decisions taken by the government which has resulted in the wholesale dissemination of misinformation and disinformation by opponents to the government's policies and programs.
Foreign investors vs. Bahamian entrepreneurs
The perennial complaint about the red carpet being spread out for foreign investors while young Bahamian entrepreneurs are still expected to jump through inordinately excessive bureaucratic hoops and unreasonable delays persists. There are instances where young Bahamian entrepreneurs have prepared appropriate business plans, raised the requisite funding and completed the required government applications, but are prevented week after week from realizing their business dreams, either because some persons in high places have contracted a strain of the "black crab virus" or are too busy catering to foreign investors to attend to their own countrymen.
This unresponsiveness and inaction by the political directorate has resulted in a chronic resentment and disillusionment of the established order by young Bahamian entrepreneurs who are prevented from earning their rightful place in the Bahamian economy. Like Sir Lynden and Hubert Ingraham, can the Christie administration point to a single example of economic empowerment of a young Bahamian entrepreneur? Just one!
To be continued...
In our next column, we will continue this discussion by reviewing two classes of Bahamians who are increasingly disconnected from The Bahamas, how we are building an "entitlement society", the government's continued love affair with foreign consultants, the Bahamian "Tower of Babel" syndrome, and whether it is too late for this government to reverse the growing hate in the eyes and hurt in the hearts of Bahamians who only two years ago believed in them.
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.

read more »

Structuring a legacy debt model for BEC

October 06, 2014

The reliability and cost of electricity generation in The Bahamas is vital to the local economy and, in our view, a matter of national importance. It is for that reason that we feel compelled, from time to time, to express a point of view on any policy changes which might adversely affect the economy, no matter how well-intended those changes may be.
The proposed energy reform process, specifically, the legacy debt that surrounds Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), has been a topic of much discussion lately. It is our considered opinion that there are at least two important points that are in need of further in-depth and objective analysis before proceeding any further. The first is the reported suggestion by the prime minister of deferring a decision on BEC until late December 2014 in order to give more time to address the legacy debt issue. The second and closely related issue is the recommendations by Simon Townsend, spokesman for the financial advisors, KPMG, for tackling the legacy debt. Townsend and KPMG are apparently in favor of having BEC issue a rate reduction bond which, in their view, should receive a positive reception in the capital markets, including any banking institutions that would be interested in investing in the bond.
In that regard, we are strongly of the opinion that it would be a grave mistake to take the approach of dealing with the legacy debt of BEC before dealing with the fundamental issue of power generation. In other words, it is a heroic and unrealistic assumption to believe that over $450 million of BEC's debt can be repackaged at better rates in today's market, given some of BEC's current challenges, such as:
o The electricity rates that are regarded as too high by households and businesses resulting in non-payment of electricity bills and an extraordinarily large accounts receivable at the corporation.
o BEC's technical and financial performance over the past several years has brought the company close to the point of bankruptcy and the type of strong revenue performance necessary to pay the legacy debt is not currently possible in BEC's present state.
o Potential lenders in the capital markets would most certainly take into account the less-than-stellar performances on the technical and financial sides and accordingly be wary of the risks associated with new debt offerings by BEC, especially when coupled with no new proven savings to the customers.
Matters to consider on the legacy debt issue
1. Under the new proposal, BEC/government would be attempting to raise the cost of power by 2.5 to four cents per KWH to pay for the legacy debt even before developing and implementing a plan to deal with power generation. It is unlikely that people who aren't paying their bills now would begin to pay at higher prices and also having to factor in the VAT when that becomes operational.
2. The legacy debt is likely to be set up in a non-standard revenue bond, which means it will be paid on a priority basis with no provisions for deferred payments. Those payments to the bond investors are pulled from the general revenue account even before BEC gets paid. When you factor in declining revenues due to fewer people paying and then to deduct this debt payment, it means that there is even less money available for subsidizing BEC. Any attempt by the government to increase the subsidy would adversely affect its fiscal position and place it at odds with the international financial agencies.
3. Despite the suggestion by KPMG, the financial advisors, that there is an appetite for BEC's proposed bond issue, it is more likely that the investors buying the debt in the capital markets are going to look at the issues outlined above and against the background of BEC's historically poor performances. Investors will either not buy the bonds or demand higher rates of interest. The capital markets are efficient; investors will demand a premium (via higher interest rates) for the risk of investing in a BEC bond.
In our experience, it is not unusual for some loan arrangers or financial advisors to be less than frank with a potential client in order to secure the services contract. Quite often, there are promises of very attractive terms and interest rates and then, at the last minute, the arranger informs the client that the market is not reacting the way they thought it would and the interest rate needs to go up and the term needs to be shortened. At that point the client, which would be BEC and the government, would have too much time, money and political capital invested to back out.
The recommended way forward to structure a legacy debt model
1. Firstly, there must be a demonstration that the corporation will make the necessary changes to effect efficient management and to ensure that its financial and operational performance going forward would be both successful and reliable.
2. Secondly, after improving operations, demonstrate concretely that costs will come down sufficiently to ensure a significant discount to the ratepayer, even after the cost of the legacy debt is added to the bill.
3. Thirdly, demonstrate that any technical improvements, including the acquisition of new equipment, will be configured in such a way that will ensure the long-term, continued success of BEC's operation and commitment to energy reform.
In summary, the proposal to deal with the legacy debt before fundamental restructuring at both the managerial and technical levels at BEC is a high-risk proposition that is likely to fail. Although some reference to the success of the Nassau Airport Development (NAD) model was alluded to, we offer a word of caution. The BEC proposal is much different from the NAD model in the way new revenue streams are applied. Under the NAD model the passenger facility charge is used primarily for debt repayment. Passengers must pay the bill in advance when they buy their tickets and the ticket price is competitive with regional airports. Rate charges at BEC are already beyond that charged by regional counterparts. A successful restructuring at BEC must include lower charges to consumers, improved efficiency and a clear path to profitability.
o CFAL is a leading independent investment and advisory firm based in The Bahamas with a long and proven record of stability and integrity across all economic climates. Its experienced team of advisors provides sound, informed and innovative financial planning solutions for institutions and individuals, including a full range of financial services that include investment management, pension management and administration, brokerage services and corporate advisory services.

read more »

What has The Bahamas done post economic crisis

October 03, 2014

The financial and economic crisis of 2008 seems something of an afterthought since first impact. But also, now that the U.S.A., at least, is coming slowly back to normal - from the financial markets to the labor markets - people have forgotten to a large degree what actually happened and why it hit so hard, so deep and for so long.
The Bahamas, and I can speak generally for Caribbean countries and our friends in Latin America, felt the brunt of this economic crisis.
For starters, The Bahamas is significantly tied to the U.S.A. A great number of foreign investors with American ties were impacted by the crisis, and a significant portion of our local investors have investment and financial ties in America.
Large investments, like the upcoming Baha Mar development, are examples of a budding jewel that was significantly impacted by the crisis. Because, as American investors and financiers lost appetite, the Baha Mar team's financing efforts shifted to China and in particular the Export-Import Bank of China.
In addition, almost all of our large companies, from importing businesses, large financial institutions (banks and insurance), manufacturers, construction and other services related companies, have subsidiaries in the USA - most notably Florida.
More importantly, we are an importing country. From food to other consumer related products, The Bahamas imports nearly all of it for domestic consumption. This is critical.
So, as it stands now, it is well within reason for Bahamians to ponder not only the likelihood of the events of 2008 happening again, but also, what should we do when it does happen again, and what institutions have we, or can we put in place, to ensure that the damage to our economic and social fabric is minimal.
Just a historical reminder on how the financial crisis and subsequent economic collapse happened: large U.S. investment banks were betting heavily on sub-prime mortgage loans and other mortgage-backed securities.
These securities turned sour because they were economically rooted in the basis that these housing starts and the subsequent loans/debt obligations were handed to lower-income earners, as a way to give them a piece of the U.S.A. to call their own. A worthy cause!
However, as the U.S. political cycle kicked in late 2007, and the customary retrenchment of businesses that wanted to keep their investments and expansions at a minimum, awaiting the next congressional session and political administration, things started to change. This was topped on a softening of employment from 2006 to 2007 and a slowdown in new business starts and business failures from Silicon Valley in California to the oil shales in Pennsylvania.
Just to validate from a naked perspective the U.S. political cycle dynamic, over the last 12 U.S. presidential elections, dating back to 1968, we have noticed some interesting trends.
There were five noticeable drops in the real GDP growth rate prior to the year of the election. Also, more startling over the last 12 elections, there were eight significant reductions, or negligible changes, of the real GDP growth rate in the U.S. the following year after the election.
A great number of inferences can be drawn from these seemingly random and unconnected occurrences, but fully understand that these occurrences happen more frequently than one can just flat out deny.
More startling is that, out of the eight instances that a drop in real GDP growth was recorded, there were five instances where the political party in power has changed and the growth rate was negatively impacted - from GOP to Democrat and vice versa.
There is much more that one can distill and extract from this phenomenon, but the evidence is becoming clearer from even this naked eye view.
When you compare all of this to Bahamian real GDP growth rates, the gyrations are incredibly significant. In fact, Bahamian growth rates do not correlate with U.S. election and business cycles; however we are more significantly impacted by U.S. growth rates, born through their election and business cycles, than we are by our own election and domestically-generated business cycles in almost every single instance since 1990.
This is enough information and evidence to make a lot of assumptions and draw a lot of inferences as to how important monitoring these cycles is.
This is where issues of safeguarding the Bahamian economy become critically important - monitoring and evaluating in a deeper and more fundamental way both developments in the U.S.A. and The Bahamas. Particularly around the election cycle and subsequent business cycle, or other related business and economic phenomena, we must base these evaluations on economic and social fundamentals and draw up scenarios in which these issues change and how that may affect us. This must include everything from minor changes to more dramatic and worst case scenarios.
What can we do with this new information, keeping mind that the U.S.A. simply can't be counted on solely and wholly as a bellwether for Bahamian economic development, due to the fact that it puts policy makers in a position that they cannot control, but a position that is seemingly inevitable in certain times and intervals?
For starters, the agencies responsible for monitoring international markets must be enhanced with new mandates and tools to monitor these markets effectively. New partnerships with other international financial agencies and agencies that monitor international markets must be critical for sharing best practices and gathering actionable data in real time.
New buffer requirements must be factored into the know your customer (KYC) policies. Buffer requirements that add critical value to the judgements based on the whole value of investors exposed to international markets and other anchor investments they are tied to.
The CLICO debacle comes to mind in terms of companies that were over-exposed in several markets, but ultimately local markets took a hit because the quality of the information presented didn't speak to the dangers the CLICO business model presented through the virtue of their financial statements and the true value of their parent company's balance sheet and assets.
An international/political affairs and economic unit must be created or existing units enhanced, and this area must play a more fundamental role in our international monitoring and assessment regime. Oftentimes regulatory regimes neglect the important function of political and government action within foreign jurisdictions. The roles of foreign affairs, trade and international finance watchdog agencies must be enhanced based on these principles, and formulas must be created within their risk matrix.
A new partnership with banks and other financial institutions must be formalized with The Central Bank and international development monitoring agencies - formalized on the basis of information sharing, with new data and assessment tools that they both share. KYC just doesn't extend far enough in terms of data analysis and data compilation of foreign investors.
We must see The Bahamas as not isolated from the global economy, and no Caribbean country should either. In fact, no matter the xenophobia and protectionist measures in place, once Caribbean countries are dependent on foreign direct investment and international NGOs for development assistance, we will never be immune from external shocks.
To some extent, neither the U.S.A. nor European countries are immune to external shocks. On the contrary, they are enmeshed in the global system. Where they are more developed and sophisticated in dealing with these issues, it is not because of their financial wealth and power status, but because they have developed agencies with networks and systems that buffer them from all-out collapse. In this way, they are able to insulate themselves from most of the rigors of economic turbulence.
Moving forward post-crisis, how Caribbean countries manage and deal with the catalysts of crisis and the significant polyps before they become incurable tumors and full-blown cancers is where we should begin to put our minds around reforms for the better. A new order of things!
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.

read more »

The magic isle named Haiti

October 02, 2014

I have remained in Haiti for a whole year without traveling abroad, with the exception of a one-day stint to Elias Pinas, Dominican Republic, observing the effect of climate change on the country. I am pleased to report happily, that Haiti, akin to its people, is resilient to climate change. Resilience is that capacity to fight against the rigors of life, to rebound with vigor and continue to grow while surmounting the stress of daily living or daily obstacles.
The issue of climate change is a hot topic today as the United Nations assembles in New York to demand the nations of the world to reflect and ponder on the consequences of gas emission on each continent and each country in a climate summit meeting preceding the larger World Climate Meeting next year in Paris. In parallel to the UN assembly, some 300,000 people marched in New York City under the label People's Climate March on Sunday, September 21, to sensitize world decision makers on the need to take action to remedy this dangerous environmental situation.
I have observed over the past five years that rain has been constant and regular in Haiti every night from April 1 to November 1. This year this pattern has been reversed - it is only this September that rain has come every night, a common and hospitable companion to the vegetation in Haiti.
In spite of the lack of rain, food production has been abundant in the country. The flowers leading to the formation of the crops (since there was no rain) have remained on the trees, giving up a crop that reminds one of the seven good years announced by Joseph to the Pharaoh.
Francis mangoes, the Haitian green gold from April 15 to July 15, in the peak season, have filled the shelves of the supermarkets not only in New York but were plentiful in the open markets in Haiti. The small season for the mangoes that usually arrive in January is already in full harvest in September.
As soon as the mango crop was gone for this year, the kenepa and the giant apricot were all over the shelves in July and August, providing the itinerant merchants with a new line of goods.
Guava, the versatile fruit, which is good for juicing and marmalade, was plentiful. It reminds me of the good old times when guava was not in the food chain of products to be sold but used as a dessert for the pigs.
The avocados have been on top of their game for the home consumers in September, in spite of the fact some of them have crossed the frontiers to be sent to the US via Dominican Republic shippers.
The sour note is the orange crop due in November and December, which is compromised due to the fact that the citrus is being harvested while green and not mature enough for consumption. The ministry of agriculture and commerce failed to take adequate steps to facilitate the importation of oranges from other countries during the off-season to satisfy through the year the need for oranges in the chain of consumption.
This rosy canvas painted early also has its dark side. In October and November, the many mahogany trees will be ready to deliver millions of seeds from the pods that resemble a pear or an avocado, with hundreds of seedlings that could replenish the Haitian flora. Very few people, including the personnel of the ministry of environment and the ministry of agriculture, are aware of that bonanza. The seedlings will be lost in the wind instead of being put in the soil to enrich the Haitian nation with a green and permanent endowment.
The coffee trees have almost disappeared due to the fact that most of the trees have been cut for charcoal, the ready-made local commodity with a safe and sure market, since 90 per cent of the households use that fuel for home cooking. Charcoal should be the business of the government making money from discarded trees or trees planted just for that purpose. The ministry of environment should be a giant moneymaker for the citizens of Haiti through charcoal production and the exploitation of precious trees such as ebony and mahogany.
Climate change has produced a perverse beneficial outcome with the produce in season remaining later and that for the next season coming out earlier. I have seen soursop (reportedly a good defense against cancer) due for the spring season already on the shelves in autumn.
The magic of Haiti is also in its many rural fiestas. I have followed this summer the cultural festival of saints in the northern part of Haiti. It is an exceptional trail based on the manifestation of Catholic fervor and voodoo engagement. It brings you right back to the Middle Ages when religion was at the center of life.
The festival of saints, an historical tradition proper to Haiti, is not correctly exploited. Very few tourists take part in that summer-long fiesta that a reasonable country bent on wealth creation would exploit to the utmost. The religious procession through the frontier streets of Ouanaminthe, for example, on August 15 for the feast of our Lady of Assumption, is soothing, comforting and filled with ecstasy that could replace several sessions of psychiatric consultation.
The people of Haiti, living in extreme natural wealth while vegetating in the midst of extreme poverty, have not yet found the magic formula to create wealth for all. Haiti, through its resilient biosphere which suffered raw exploitation by the colonial French and wrong exploitation by its people and its own governments, is still ready to deliver its wealth.
It needs the right vision that will stop the discrimination against 90 per cent of the population. It needs excellent infrastructure and sane institutions from the capital to the most remote rural villages. It needs to recalibrate its divine mission of an emancipatory nation bent on helping the failed nations of the world to create a sense of common vision for the future that includes "le vivre en commun" amongst all the sectors of the population.
On a more practical level, Haiti needs the shepherding support of the Caribbean Export Development Agency. I have noticed that no application was received from or at least no award went to Haiti in the call for proposals for funding to help the agro-processors to meet the stringent standard of food safety in produce exportation to the EU and to the United States.
This, more than magic or anything else, will help Haiti and its people incrementally enter the highway of wealth creation by sending its organic avocado, soursop, passion fruit and guava to connoisseurs in London, Paris and New York.
o Jean Charles is a syndicated Haitian columnist. This column is published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

read more »

Sir Ronald Sanders uniquely qualified to be Commonwealth secretary general

October 01, 2014

Consider the complex of challenges before the international community, especially vulnerable small island states, such as The Bahamas and other CARICOM members, as well as various Commonwealth countries in Africa and the Pacific.
The threats range from the effects of climate change with rising sea levels and droughts to human trafficking and the trade in guns and illicit drugs, helping to fuel alarming crime rates and piracy, as well as other security challenges including international terrorism and cybercrime.
Many countries are reeling still from the fallout of the Great Recession with trade and financial services and banking regimes often rigged in favor of the global powers inclusive of governments and corporate behemoths. Youth unemployment is staggeringly high. Income inequality is on the rise.
There are the ongoing challenges of development in fields ranging from education to agriculture to the increasing health challenges posed by an epidemic of chronic non-communicable diseases and infectious diseases.
Singular shocks such as a hurricane can wreck a national economy, as evidenced by Grenada and other natural and human-made disasters in other countries.
There remain the issues of sustainability, the outflow of human talent to more developed states and the need to augment the capacity of the state and civil society to meet these challenges, inclusive of the expansion of technical and technological know-how.
In a recent commentary, Sir Ronald Sanders, a noted regional columnist and international author and scholar, and now candidate for secretary general of the Commonwealth, argued why he considered it best for Scotland, with a population of approximately 5.3 million, to remain in the United Kingdom.
Sir Ronald argued that it made both Scotland and the U.K. stronger, globally and in Europe, and was good for Britain's standing in the commonwealth. The question of scale and size is critical for all states in meeting the rush of challenges left over from the last century and the emerging threats of the 21st.
Complex
For smaller and medium-sized states in an ever complex and more integrated international community, such scale and capacity is enhanced through membership in various international intuitions and regimes, prime among them, the Commonwealth of Nations.
The Commonwealth Secretariat's website notes: "The commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 independent and equal sovereign states. It is home to 2.2 billion citizens, of which over 60 percent are under the age of 30. The commonwealth includes some of the world's largest, smallest, richest and poorest countries, spanning five regions. Thirty-one of its members are small states, many of them island nations."
The Commonwealth is at the center and the periphery of the global commons, uniquely poised as a multilateral institution, and in critical ways unencumbered by some of the power politics of the United Nations.
The secretariat's website further notes: "The Commonwealth Secretariat promotes democracy, rule of law, human rights, good governance and social and economic development. We are a voice for small states and a champion for youth empowerment."
At the heart of the secretariat is the secretary general, who, is responsible for:
o promoting and protecting the commonwealth's values;
o representing the commonwealth publicly; and
o the management of the Commonwealth secretariat.
The secretariat "provides guidance on policy making, technical assistance and advisory services to Commonwealth member countries. We support governments to help achieve sustainable, inclusive and equitable development".
The Commonwealth is readying to elect a new secretary general at the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) at Malta in November 2015, with a Caribbean national set to serve in the post.
To many, the best person for the post is Sir Ronald, a former diplomat, who has been nominated by Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne. His columns appear regularly in the two leading daily journals
Unique
Sir Ronald's is a unique and informed voice, combing a Caribbean inflection and deep commitment to the region, with stellar international, diplomatic and academic credentials.
He is one of the leading Commonwealth academics on small states and is the author of "Crumbled Small: The Commonwealth Caribbean in World Politics".
He has lent his determined voice in support of equality, fairness and inclusion, and is well-known throughout the commonwealth, with extensive travels in the Caribbean, including to The Bahamas on several occasions. He has visited every Commonwealth CARICOM country and lived and worked in five of them.
He is a prodigious intellect, a gifted and prolific writer and articulate speaker, having worked in government, business and civil society. His regional and global brief includes political, economic and social affairs, with work in international bodies ranging from UNESCO to the International Foundation for Animal Welfare.
Sir Ronald's website chronicles his international career: "His diplomatic career spanned two periods between 1982 to 1987 and 1996 to 2004. He was twice high commissioner to the United Kingdom for Antigua and Barbuda and ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO). He had special responsibilities for negotiations on financial and trade matters in the WTO and with the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)."
Sir Ronald, currently a senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, has an intimate and deep knowledge of the Commonwealth and the secretariat, where he has served as a special adviser on small states and has been a member of the board of governors of the secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation.
He served in 2010-11 as a member and rapporteur of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group (EPG) to devise a report to reform the workings of the commonwealth.
The report "A Commonwealth of the People: Time for Urgent Reform" will be the basis for the restructuring of the organization and its current strategic plan. Sir Ronald would hit the ground running as secretary general.
With the complex of challenges before the Commonwealth and the Caribbean, he is not solely an excellent regional candidate for the post of secretary general. He is one of the best candidates for the post in the commonwealth.
Sir Ronald Sanders' gifts and experience match the challenges and opportunities we face as a commonwealth of shared values and interests.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

read more »

The electoral system in the Caribbean: reform please!

October 01, 2014

Most people agree that the electoral system is one of the gravest dangers facing democracy in the Caribbean. For sure, in order to safeguard and shield their individual rights and freedoms, it is central for a democratic people to profile the government of their choosing. On the other hand, it is also essential to understand that the very tenets of democracy can be destroyed if partisan politics continue to govern the electoral system in Caribbean countries.
While it may appear a dangerous fallacy to suggest that "electoral offices in many Caribbean states should redouble their efforts in carrying out programs of education and information to promote public awareness of the democratic process", it is also a timely reminder to note that much of the political trend in the islands can only be understood through the electoral system.
Notably, it is the chief election officer that administers and supervises the conduct of elections and not the power of a presiding government attorney.
Whereas the conduct and actions of election officers in many Caribbean states are beyond reproof and they continue to serve civil society led by the sovereignty warranted in their constitutions, attention must also be drawn to the role of the Organization of American States (OAS) in fulfilling its mission of providing objective analysis of the electoral process in Caribbean nations.
As a result it is now imperative for the OAS to re-examine the political environment in which the elections are taking place on the Caribbean island of Dominica as it could help thwart voter intimidation and act as a measure to preserve innocent lives and detract from the use of fraud and violence.
More significantly, the OAS' point in its election 2009 summary that "the Caribbean island of Dominica is one of the few remaining countries in the Caribbean without a voter identification card" and its strong proposal that voter ID cards be issued in time for the 2014 general elections" has gone by unnoticed by the ruling bureaucracy.
Elaborating further, it was also the OAS' recommendation that "the Skerrit administration in consultation with the opposition and the electoral commission, consider the implementation of an identification card system to registered voters of Dominica to facilitate the complete revision and updating of the voter registry."
Yet this recommendation lies somewhere in limbo.
Most obvious is the fact that "despite an estimated population of 69,000 persons, the voter registry in the Caribbean island of Dominica contains approximately 65,000 names and that the list also contain names of people who are deceased or have moved out of the country and have not returned." This problem has still not yet been amended by the Dominica electoral commission as they move on into the 2014 elections.
And, coupled with all of these issues - and the blatant disregard for the rule of law and lack of respect for the democratic process by the ruling regime - the recurring concern over the use of state resources for party political purposes again haunts the Caribbean island of Dominica.
Informed sources indicate that prominent government employees in various overseas missions are publicly campaigning for the ruling Dominica Labour Party in violation of the rules on the participation of public servants in political activity. The mobilization and air transportation for overseas voters to return to Dominica to vote is also another issue that should be of primary concern to the Dominica electoral commission, international election observers and to the ruling body of the Organization of American States.
Moreover, if partisan extremism is a important key in understanding the electoral system in the Caribbean, another is the enmity between the social democratic philosophy of the Dominica Labour Party's and the United Workers' centrist political position. The opposition remains barred access to the media in coverage of political campaigns or opportunities to air paid advertising.
It follows that if citizens are not allowed free access to information and ideas, they are robbed of their individual rights and dignity. The current dictatorial actions that now silence open debate and free expression on the Caribbean island of Dominica transgresses the United Nations human rights declaration treaty resolution 59(I) which states: "Freedom of information and expression is a fundamental human right and ... the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated."
Forthwith, it must be understood that the role of the opposition is also central to a democracy, and this should awaken the awareness of the Dominica Christian Council and the Dominica Evangelical Association of Churches to champion an election code of conduct that ensures equal access to the media, open debate and the modus operandi to instigate investigations into acts of election fraud as sketched out in the Dominica House of Assembly Elections Act Chapter 20:01 of 1951, and under part V which deals with election offenses.
As Stina Larserud, IDEA assistant program officer for electoral processes contended, "choosing an electoral system is one of the most important institutional decisions for any democracy." It is meaningful to note that although the colonial legacy of 'bicameralism' is still favored in the legislative process, it is now time for Caribbean nations to begin reviewing and revising their electoral systems.

o Rebecca Theodore is an op-ed columnist based in Washington, D.C. She writes on national security and political issues. This column is printed with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

read more »

Corporate governance and public corporations in The Bahamas

September 30, 2014

The debate and focus on good governance has been for the most part constrained to the private sector. This may not be unrelated to the emphasis on good corporate governance practices by regulatory agencies and governments particularly in the aftermath of financial scandals that have plagued corporate giants over the last few decades.
The Enron debacle and major corporate governance failures in companies such as WorldCom, Parmalat and Lehman Brothers have highlighted the importance of not just having corporate governance codes but also ensuring that they are effective and properly implemented. While the referenced scandals ended up in the public domain due to the scale of the repercussions from the corporate failures, the reality is that on a daily basis the absence of good governance practices continues to impact institutions the world over. This week we focus on the important role of good corporate governance in the public sector in The Bahamas.
The concept of corporate governance
Sir Adrian Cadbury defined corporate governance as "the system by which companies are directed and controlled". It is an established fact that companies have a corporate personality and are distinct legal entities from their owners, who are often referred to as shareholders. The owners appoint directors that are the alter egos of the company to oversee the management of the entity's affairs. The responsibilities, duties and potential liability of directors are enormous; hence, the role of a director is not one that should be taken lightly.
In addition to the shareholders who have a stake or interest in the performance and success of the company, there are other stakeholders which may include employees, customers, regulators, suppliers and the general public. These various stakeholders have their own interests, which may be unique and sometimes conflicting. Good corporate governance is aimed at ensuring that a company is managed in the interest of the shareholders with due regard for the interests of all other stakeholders. This requires good stewardship by the directors and prudent administration by management.
The catalyst for good corporate governance
An in-depth study of the history and origin of the various corporate governance codes and standards established over the years will show that they were born out of failures in the governance of entities across the globe. These events placed focus on the operations of boards, the role of directors, remuneration of directors, financial reporting, the role of external auditors and the oversight of management just to mention a few. The result of the studies that ensued would identify transparency, accountability, fairness and responsibility as the main pillars upon which good corporate governance is built.
In The Bahamas and particularly in the local financial services industry, the promotion of good corporate governance practices by companies has been driven by regulators such as the Central Bank of The Bahamas, Securities Commission of The Bahamas and Insurance Commission of The Bahamas. Publicly listed companies are also subject to certain corporate governance and disclosure rules.
Generally, the aforesaid requirements are consistent with international best practices and draw from various standards across several jurisdictions. However, there has not been a major push or drive by successive governments for public corporations and statutory bodies to adopt the vital principles of good corporate governance and the implementation of corporate governance codes for these entities.
Governance and public corporations
It is no news that the overall structure and operations of public corporations and statutory bodies in The Bahamas is different from that of the private sector. There are valid reasons for these distinctions based on the ownership structure, unique mandates and overall philosophy governing these entities. The weight attached to the interests of each stakeholder group is one of the unique differences albeit this needs to be balanced appropriately.
The sole shareholder or majority owner in most of the captioned bodies is the government of The Bahamas and by extension the Bahamian people. While the entities are not in business solely to maximize profits, they owe the people of this country the duty of exercising prudence, financial discipline and good governance in order to protect the taxpayers' funds. This is why the concepts of good corporate governance should be embraced, adopted and codified by public corporations and statutory bodies.
In appointing members of the board of statutory bodies, it is important that the government ensures that individuals that are selected are not only able to contribute to the deliberation of their respective boards but are also aware of their duties and responsibilities. It is also incumbent upon the government to ensure that roles and mandates are clearly defined to avoid confusion and ensure the success of operations.
In this sense, subsequent to the Director's appointment, members of statutory boards should undergo appropriate orientation on the entity as well as their role and be mandated to go through continuing professional development on an annual basis. For its part, the government should reassess the effectiveness of statutory boards via an annual evaluation exercise prior to the reappointment of individuals. All of these requirements and others would ideally be contained in a formal corporate governance code for all public corporations in The Bahamas. Deviation from provisions of such a code should require an explanation by the entity in question in its annual report.
A national corporate governance code
It is the view of this writer that the time is right for The Bahamas to consider drafting and implementing a National Corporate Governance Code (code). While this may seem like an enormous task to embark upon, there are several resources and international standards on this vital topic from which we can build our own unique document. In essence, we need not reinvent the wheel but rather draw from documents such as the OECD Principles of Corporate Governance, Commonwealth Association for Corporate Governance document, UK Corporate Governance Code, US Sarbanes-Oxley Act, German Cromme Code and South Africa King Reports among others. It should be noted that the fundamental principles within all the referenced standards are identical.
The proposed code will clearly address among other things, the roles of the chairman and chief executive officer, board composition and structure, board procedures, matters reserved for the board and delegated authority to management, appointments to board, evaluation of board effectiveness, related party transactions, code of conduct for board members, board balance, supply of information to the board, corporate social responsibility, the audit function, risk management, internal controls and disclosure. The code will contain principles that constitute minimum standards but can be customized by statutory bodies to suit their specific operations.
The implementation of or transition to the code by the private sector should not be onerous seeing that most of the larger companies in The Bahamas would ideally have robust corporate governance policies in place already. The code should adopt overall principles that can be implemented commensurate to the size and nature of an entity. However, all public corporations and statutory bodies should be required to fully implement the code in their corporate governance policies under the oversight of the minister responsible for the body in question.
The gains of good governance
The benefits of good corporate governance are often pronounced in the performance and financial results of an organization. Public corporations and statutory bodies stand to gain likewise from good governance practices with the added advantage of better serving the public interest and better stewardship of the Bahamian people's resources.
Our economy will also be better off in a society and culture that promotes ethics alongside good corporate governance in the public and private sectors. In speaking on East Asia's financial meltdown, Dr. Jesus Estanislao, Founder of the Institute for Corporate Directors in the Philippines and former finance minister, clearly articulated the important role of corporate governance in an economy. Dr. Estanislao remarked: "I see corporate governance as a basic foundation of reform, which really strengthens and modernizes an economy that is wired into the global marketplace".
In the final analysis, the incorporation of good corporate governance practices into the fabric of our economy will further boost investor confidence, enhance the public perception of our corporations and enhance The Bahamas' reputation among the community of nations.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

read more »

The Bahamas Christian Council

September 29, 2014

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."
- Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:15)

Recently, the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC), through some of its members, has taken positions on public policy that have left many Bahamians more confused by their utterances instead of being enlightened on national issues that are debated in the public square.
For example, several members of the BCC, and a number of other prominent pastors, have become "sensitized" to the idea of how taxes generated from and regulations imposed upon a legalized numbers industry could benefit The Bahamas. On the other hand, a few prominent pastors, including BCC members, have maintained that any parliamentarian who votes in support of the gaming legislation should be voted out of office in the next election. Accordingly, this week we would like to Consider this...What is the role and relevance of the Bahamas Christian Council in today's Bahamas and does the council speak for the Christian church in The Bahamas?

The Bahamas Christian Council
According to its website, the BCC "is constituted to promote understanding and trust between the various parts of Christ's church in The Bahamas at all levels; to further Christ's mission of service by joint action of Christians in The Bahamas; to witness for the Christian community in The Bahamas on matters of social or common concern". A noble mission indeed, but has the BCC accomplished that mission?
The BCC does not enjoy the full participation of all the major denominations in The Bahamas. For example, the Roman Catholic Church does not actively participate in the council and, although the Anglican Church is represented on the council by a prominent prelate, the Methodists and the Seventh Day Adventists, along with the aforementioned denominations, often find it necessary to issue official statements on public policy that are either in contradiction to or at least more intellectually and scholarly sound than the positions that are enunciated by the BCC. Other religious groups, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, have always declined to participate in the BCC's membership, deliberations and pronouncements.
Today's BCC can be described as a select group of special interests that are dominated by a few denominations. In fact, it has morphed into an organization that resembles a "political action committee" and not a council of churches in the traditional sense.
More recently, it has become a group of pastors who seem to be more interested in telling people how to vote than addressing issues from a spiritual or moral perspective. In fact, it has been suggested that the BCC has generally abandoned the moral argument.

Confusing commentary
What has become patently clear is that the BCC does not always address moral or social issues with a unified voice. As observed in another column in this publication, Front Porch by Simon, regarding the debate on the bill to amend the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act of 2009, the BCC's "rolling responses have been so scattered, chaotic and whiplash-inducing, that the [BCC's response to the bill] seems to depend on what day it is, how you read [its] statement, and then how you pick through the minefield of their tortured explanations on what they are trying to say.
"This lack of clarity has made the council appear amateurish, not serious and irresponsible on weighty matters of public policy."
By contrast, the statement of Roman Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder was described by Simon as "markedly different in terms of moral imagination, pastoral sensibility, scriptural exegesis, intellectual reach and an understanding of the relationship between church and state, Bible and constitution and citizenship and discipleship".
Regarding that same sexual offenses amendment, the statements issued by the Conference of the Methodist Church and Seventh Day Adventist leaders were considerably more informed and scripturally sound than that of the BCC.
We agree with Simon's observation that "besides the loss of authority by a broad cross-section of Bahamians, [the BCC] has lost credibility among significant elements of its own membership".

The gambling debate
In his column, "WHITE FILE: Thanks to the BCC, too many still walk in darkness", the late P. Anthony White, a prominent, long-standing icon in St. Agnes Church, observed on the issue of gambling that "there has...been the never-ending case of the council's position on the matter of the numbers business in The Bahamas, an issue stretching back to years before majority rule".
"It has been an issue with which successive governments of the old United Bahamian Party, the Progressive Liberal Party and the Free National Movement have wrestled, but could arrive at no point of resolution because, it is widely believed, of the influence of the Bahamas Christian Council," he said.
"The council, an organization with what has been seen as a litany of flexible principles, has traditionally said no to gambling, beginning in the early 1960s, when the UBP government refused to bow and allowed casino gambling by issuing exemptions to the colony's anti-gambling laws.
"The Progressive Liberal Party government...back in 1979, actually drafted legislation which would have legalized a lottery in The Bahamas. The matter went to Parliament for a first reading, but never went any further.
"The then powerful Bahamas Christian Council's continuing position on gambling powerfully prevailed. Politicians were not prepared to risk their popularity and electability by angering the church.
"That position prevailed, ironic and hypocritical in its nature, despite the quite obvious fact that so much of the proceeds of winning numbers-players ended up each Sunday in the collection plate, to a great extent funding the rich and expensive lifestyles of pastors who shamelessly ascend pulpits and rave against gambling."
As we observed in last week's article, on the issue of gambling, the BCC has yet to produce one iota of evidence that the Bible condones or prohibits gambling. We maintain that if they could they would, but they have not because they cannot.

The council's future
We believe that a re-engineered BCC has a vital role to play in the orderly development of The Bahamas. That role should be to recognize the need for the council to better analyze, address and articulate the fundamental factors that have led to the inundation, erosion, and decay of our national, social and moral fabric.
The BCC should be about promoting public discourse regarding the abject poverty in which so many Bahamians live, propose realistic solutions to arrest the cancerous cankers of hatred eating away at our young, at-risk men and prescribe methodologies by which we can overcome the constant challenges for restorative justice that perennially elude us.
Above all, if the council is to actually function in the normative sense, it should be more inclusive in its membership and comprehensively reassess realistic approaches to the suffocating social ills that surround us, including equality of opportunity and the attainment of human rights for all of our citizens, without reference to color, creed, gender or sexual preference.
The council must also unambiguously address how to bridge the deep chasm that exists between those in our society who have amassed enormous material wealth and those who have not. It should also emphasize our collective responsibility to safeguard those who do not enjoy the fruits of the nation's successes.
The council's voice should be heard regarding issues that concern the environment, crime, high unemployment, positive interventions for the young and dispossessed in our society and the overcrowding of our communities. The Christian Council's relevance will also be measured by the extent to which it can diffuse deeply divergent denominational differences while simultaneously ameliorating bona fide ecumenical advancements.
If the council is to reset and restore its relevance in the modern Bahamas, it must demonstrate how all citizens can better navigate the relationship between legal rights and Christian values, always cognizant of the inviolable principle of the separation of church and state in a secular, pluralistic democracy.
If we are to have a fully functioning, prescriptively proactive and effectively engaging Christian body, we should shun those who would be wolfish on important matters and allow true shepherds to lead the flocks along the kinder and more compassionate path toward a more positive and flourishing future.

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.

read more »

Value-added tax in The Bahamas: Fears and solutions

September 27, 2014

The value-added tax (VAT) initiative in The Bahamas has taken some interesting twists and turns down the road of reform, from the VAT Bill tabled in the House of Assembly in late August 2014, with an implementation date of January 2015 - a change from the initial July 2014 date for implementation.
The road hasn't been easy, to say the very least. But, it's a road that must be traveled and all parties involved should look at it as a solution to a lot of the fiscal problems and financial management issues we face in The Bahamas.
Be that as it may, the messaging of VAT with the subsequent reform efforts it is supposed to usher in has not been articulated extensively enough.
The financial secretary of The Bahamas, John Rolle, is the key spokesperson for the initiative - a very brilliant man by all accounts from all sides of the Bahamian divide. However, public speaking and presentation might not be his forte.
No one else has been more prominent in this exercise. Everyone else is virtually non-existent in this entire affair; the VAT coordinator is MIA, if there is one. The minister and minister of state for finance are consumed with political and policy agendas affecting the entire country, as they should be. The international consultants that were engaged on this matter should be more forthcoming.
I would wish, however, for those warning of hell and war-zone, with the main spokesperson seeming to be a little disconnected with his knowledge, to pump their brakes. Hold on for just one minute. Here's why:
For starters, it's not as if we all don't already know, though maybe not as much as Minister Halkitis and Rolle, where The Bahamas stands with regard to public finances. Years and years of waste, mismanagement, revenue leakages and high interest rates were met by this current political administration, some of it the result of their actions and a good portion of it from previous administrations.
It's also not a secret that The Bahamas is one of the least taxed jurisdictions in the Caribbean/North American region. Figures provided by the Heritage Foundation show Haiti is estimated as being the least taxed with a 9.4 percent tax to GDP, while Barbados is the most with 32.6 percent. The Bahamas is in third place with an 18.7 percent tax to GDP ratio, behind the Dominican Republic with 12 percent tax to GDP. The USA is situated at just about 30 percent.
These figures do not indicate, however, the amount of revenue collected as a result of the tax to GDP rates. In fact, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its Staff Report from 2013, estimated that less than 50 percent of all revenue is collected through our various revenue collection agencies. Some feel that figure is a very liberal estimate.
Without a doubt, even the recent downgrade by Moody's that puts the Bahamas Sovereign Credit Rating at Baa2, just two tiers above junk bond status, again shows the need for reform in a fundamental and most significant way.
The messaging on taxation reform, VAT, revenue enhancement measures and necessary budgeting reforms, is not going as well as could have been hoped. For obvious reasons, the content is sometimes difficult to grasp, but also the presentations have been somewhat terse in their representations, almost as a means to bring people to an understanding of the gravity of the situation in a concise manner in the shortest time possible.
Some hopeful suggestions at this time for bridging this gap are necessary.
For starters, what we would wish to see is more written commentary by the VAT team on all imparted information and tasks completed thus far. Aside from the public forums where presenters are made available to the public, written commentary adds not only a piece of information people can digest and study on their own, but also a way for points to be articulated more clearly as opposed to the rabble-rousing atmosphere of town hall meetings. This current political administration has met this extremely messy and controversial challenge head-on. We have to give them that.
Secondly, social media should not only used, but maximized and utilized effectively - particularly with regard to visual media, video presentations and junkets of news releases, guidance notes and their relevant updates and changes. The advent of electronic information highways and social media lends to regular print and television media an added kick, as information is readily and easily stored and made accessible to people that wish to review it at a later date.
Last, and certainly not the least, picture graphs, flow charts, process maps and the like should be used more effectively. Particularly with regard to the VAT mechanisms - points of entry for goods and the payment process and points of sale for goods and services. And also for the VAT return mechanism and how that should work.
A host of other initiatives could be undertaken to improve the VAT messaging and the optics of this entire initiative. Even though there are persons paid to coordinate this, we must take it upon ourselves and act responsibly as citizens: understand the weaknesses; pinpoint where efficiencies and lessons can be drawn; and work towards minimizing the fallout, as opposed to the wholesale destruction and chaos if not handled properly.
We owe our country our best efforts, despite the bottlenecks, the psychological damage already done by even the slightest intimidation of reform, the personalities that may invade the process and the political fallout from particular interest groups, all of which can become very problematic currently and in the future.
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.

read more »

We are not a Christian nation constitutionally

September 25, 2014

The level of ignorance about our constitution is widespread and disturbing. The ignorance is particularly alarming on the part of those who pretend to know about such matters, including certain pastors who repeatedly demonstrate a stunning ignorance of constitutional issues as well as certain inveterate writers of letters to the editor, not to mention certain uninformed radio talk show hosts.
Despite such willful ignorance, we are constitutionally a secular state. The preamble to the constitution has a Christian reference, but the preamble has no legal force and is not dispositive in deciding constitutional questions.
Chapter I Article 1 of the constitution does have legal force. It notes: "The Commonwealth of The Bahamas shall be a sovereign democratic state". Not a theocracy, not a Christian state, but a democracy.
Ours is a secular state with a constitution dedicated to protecting certain fundamental rights and freedoms, not a theocratic state in which the doctrines of any religion or denomination reign supreme in adjudicating constitutional matters.
The constitution does not protect or advance any notion of Christendom, in which Christianity is the state religion, nor does it grant any religion the right to force its doctrines or force its will on other citizens.
As a secular state, we enjoy freedom of expression and conscience. We enjoy freedom of religion, a pivotal freedom historically in the advancement of democracy.
Freedom is indivisible. In a secular democracy, religious freedom is a part of a charter of rights and freedoms from which citizens ought not to be excluded because of a circumstance of birth. Whether one is black or white, male or female, and regardless of sexual orientation, one has the right to assemble, to express oneself freely, as well other rights.
Again, the Bahamian constitution is not a Christian charter. It is not based on Christian scripture or the doctrines of any religion.
Dispensable
Those who would deny certain rights to gays and lesbians might want to note which of their own rights are dispensable. Those who are denied the right to freedom of religion or other rights around the world, similarly experience the deprivation of certain rights as experienced by many gays and lesbians globally.
The overriding issue is not about whether one is a Christian persecuted in a predominantly non-Christian country or a woman denied rights in a given society or gays and lesbians denied certain rights. The fundamental issue is about fellow human beings denied or accorded their dignity and rights.
Some who left or escaped from Europe for the Americas, beginning especially in the 16th century, were seeking religious freedom and freedom from persecution. Still, history is replete with pernicious ironies: Many with newfound freedoms often failed to observe or grant rights to others.
Some in the original U.S. colonies persecuted others on religious grounds. People of African descent and women struggled for centuries to achieve fundamental rights, despite the notion of their supposedly being created equally.
Freedom of religion is a critical element of pluralism, both of which emerged as central democratic themes following the French and the American revolutions.
We continue to debate the scope of pluralism in the 21st century, three centuries later, even in democratic countries. The contours of the debate are centuries old and thoroughly modern.
In parts of the Islamic world, mostly in the Middle East and in Africa, pluralism is anathema to the restricted world views of those who contest the notion of a secular state and religious pluralism.
Yet, even in the West, including at home, there are fundamentalist, mostly Protestant voices, who contest or are uncomfortable with a secular state and various forms of pluralism. Some Protestants are still learning the lessons of the democratic revolutions beginning in the 18th century.
The history of Roman Catholicism's engagement from the 18th century to the middle of the 20th century with the democratic revolutions is instructive for many fundamentalist Protestants in The Bahamas who still appear so shockingly pre-modern, anti-democratic, anti-intellectual and unenlightened in significant ways.
In the 19th century when Pope Gregory XVI was confronted with the ideas of freedom of conscience, freedom of the press and freedom of speech he described them as "delerimenta", which may be translated as utter madness
Freak-out
Recall Pastor Myles Munroe's recent freak-out about an event scheduled for gays and lesbians, and his apocalyptic and apoplectic ranting about the extinction of the human race, a seeming conspiracy hatched by gays and lesbians and unwitting heterosexuals. It's enough to make one join the doomsday preppers.
Things began to change in Roman Catholicism in the 20th century, in great measure due to the seminal work of an American Jesuit who appreciated the positive elements of democracy and the need for the church to engage in dialogue with democratic polities.
Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J., was silenced by the Vatican for a period of time, but his vision came to fruition, beginning in earnest with his decisive contribution to the Second Vatican Council's, Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Liberty).
Fr. Bryan Hehir is one the world's leading experts on Catholic social thought, with an intimate knowledge of the scholarship of Murray. In a presentation entitled "Catholic social teaching: A key to Catholic identity", the Office for Social Justice of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, based on remarks by Fr. Hehir, notes "three significant statements about politics" in the Declaration on Religious Liberty.
The presentation observes:
"1. The church accepts religious pluralism in a society as a given.
"2. The church accepts the secularity of the state...
"3. The only thing the church asks of the political order is the freedom to function, not favoritism but the freedom to function. The church wants neither favoritism nor discrimination in the exercise of its public social and religious role.
"Therefore, we are not excluded from the debate because we are religious. On the other hand, we are not to be given any special treatment because we are religious."
In significant ways, many fundamentalist Protestants in The Bahamas have not intellectually come to terms with some of the basics of a modern pluralistic democracy.
Many of these churches crave favoritism, have difficulty accepting the secularity of the state and believe that the state should enforce their doctrines. Some are even still grappling with the implications of the separation of church and state.
Certain comments on the church made during debate on the Gaming Bill by Prime Minister Perry Christie, his deputy, Philip Davis and Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe were too broad. Still, there is an important point to be made.
Moneygrubbers
Certain Bahamian churches and church leaders have fallen into bed as the handmaidens of various Caesars and political leaders. Many of these relationships are permissive, with various church leaders seeking state power, appointments, influence and handouts like the power-hungry and avaricious religious high priests of ancient times and the moneygrubbers in the temple.
For some politicians, the payback is votes and the turning of a blind eye by some church leaders to certain political conduct. And yes, a number of church leaders have been in the pay of numbers bosses.
Forget the notion of separation of church and state; there often hasn't even been reasonable distance by those who conflate the state, the Kingdom of God, and their own temporal kingdoms with all the requisite trappings of luxury in the interest of self-aggrandizement and self-promotion.
Further, considering the bizarre, at times unintelligible, poorly crafted statements released by some religionists who cannot manage the language with any degree of sophistication, it is no wonder that they are unable to appreciate certain ideas, complexity and nuance, preferring instead pop-theology and a truncated gimmicky version of the Gospels of Jesus Christ.
It is quite humorous to observe how obtuse and pre-modern in their theological worldviews are many of those who use modern communications technologies and are ferried on jets around the world to profit from their curious versions of the Christian message.
So steeped in the democratic tradition of pluralism and religious freedom is our constitution that it allows for conscientious objection in times of war. During his recent visit to the predominantly Muslim Albania, Pope Francis pressed the case for religious freedom and tolerance as well as dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
It is many centuries between Gregory XVI and Francis. Yet, fundamentalism remains in many quarters, with some certainly more extreme than others.
Many religious fundamentalists share a common agenda: discomfort or hostility toward pluralism, varying degrees of male supremacy and sexism, extraordinary antipathy or hatred toward gays and lesbians and displeasure with a secular state.
Thankfully, the democratic revolutions continue to unfold, with the arc of freedom bending toward greater equality and tolerance.
It is one of those ironies that it is often through secular states and constitutions and democratic pluralism that human rights and social justice are more greatly advanced than by those who claim to love their neighbors as themselves, but who fail to guarantee to their neighbors the same rights they so dearly cherish.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

read more »

Analyzing readers' reactions to last week's 'The Bahamian brain drain'

September 24, 2014

In the past, I've written on very sensitive issues and controversial topics, as I most certainly will again in the future, but nothing I've written before has compared - with respect to the level of feedback received - to last week's 10 reasons Bahamian college graduates don't want to come home.
The quantity of messages received and social media commentary shared, as well as the nature of the sentiments expressed therein, tells me that the exploration of this topic is both timely and crucial, and that the complexity of the young, college-educated Bahamian's decision to return home after graduation is widely experienced and deeply felt.
Some readers were misguided in their interpretations of my article, its caption, and its intention, thinking: a) it was meant to be a complete list of reasons why Bahamian college graduates don't want to come back home, b) it was comprised of things only experienced by Bahamian students and graduates and by no one else in any other place in the world, and, c) it was to be used as a tool to instruct Bahamian college graduates not to come back home.
All of these interpretations are inaccurate.
To understand the necessity of a writer to weave fact, circumstance, experience, opinion, and language, to create something relatable, stirring, and useful, and how a writer captures an audience's attention and draws them into discussion, would allow for a more accurate interpretation of the '10 reasons'. Getting to know the writer facilitates this understanding.
The writer
Even though it is a means of self-expression and a mode of catharsis, I write to encourage others to find words and ways to express themselves honestly and rationally, and to share stories and ideas with them, with the hope that they will share theirs with others, so we can all learn from one another and develop a level of understanding and acceptance that strengthens us as a collective.
I write also to gauge and engage the feelings, perspectives, and tendencies of a wide group of people, irrespective of age or sex, on matters they should be thinking about on a regular basis in order to be more involved in fortifying their culture and their country.
I am a keen observer; my ability to express easily and fully comes from watching and listening, which in turn allows me to develop heartfelt thoughts and feelings about the world around me.
I use my expressive ability to give voice to the people who may not have found their own.
My writing is not intended to require anyone to agree with me or to give me a position on a topic and then beat people over the head with it.
I feel very deeply and sincerely about the things I choose to write on, and everyone can and will take from my writing of experiences and observations whatever they should. In the course of my thinking, analyzing, and sharing, if it leads to healthy debate on important matters, then that, I consider, a byproduct of my original objective.
Curiously, those who have on many occasions been uncomfortable with or opposed to my words have often said that I've allowed my experiences to affect my judgment, and to this I simply say that everyone does.
Each one of us human beings is affected by our life experiences and, we, subconsciously or not, allow them to create the basis of our thinking; it's only natural.
Every experience is a benchmark for living, and, if we don't consider our experiences as we live, then why do we live? Our lives are a series and mass of experiences, some we may want to have repeated and some we would sooner forget, but they are the foundations of our humanity.
Moreover, any writer worth her/ his salt should always seek to stir her/ his readers with human experiences. Otherwise, what do we write for?
Whether a writer is trying to convince someone of something, or simply to inform or to share, knowing how to capture the attention of the reader and how to reach that reader beyond the writing on the paper or the screen, without argument, without the burden of trying to get them to agree, means the writer's work is halfway done and likely to be more impactful.
If you write and you can't connect with the people you write for without forcing yourself on them, then you need to do something other than write. But, as long as you do write, you should try to write about things with sincerity, so your readers can be more open to your words and to feeling welcomed into the larger dialog.
Writers usually have a lot to say, but readers help them to define what they will say next, to the benefit of both the writer and the reader.
My own position
Being as sincere as I can be on the matter, I will say that my perspective on Bahamian brain drain does shift between the absolute and the uncertain, because, on the one hand, I know what my country desperately needs to grow, even to survive, but I also know that four or five, 25 or 40 returning college graduates trickling in over the next few decades won't get us to where we need to be, at least not in this century and certainly not in time to reverse the impact of lost Bahamian intellectual capital. A precise action is needed and it would have to be implemented fully in one fell swoop.
What is most factual about this issue of Bahamian brain drain is that there is a serious and valid concern on the part of young, college-educated Bahamians, and it is not to be taken lightly.
Many of these young people want to come (and stay) home if their specialties allow, but they feel strongly that the tendency of Bahamian decision-makers to turn to non-Bahamians for exclusive expertise is as common as sand on our beaches. Were it not for the longstanding and pervasive lack of national self-worth, always looking to the outside for the answers, the problem of brain drain may have ceased to exist right now.
Listening to the feedback on the topic, it is also clear that there are many other people, not only the students or graduates, who are affected by this flight of Bahamian human capital to the rest of the world. Parents, sponsors, and potential beneficiaries of this group's skills and talents who lose out when these graduates don't return to The Bahamas are also greatly affected. The problem is not just a problem of the individual anymore, especially when it's replicated many times over.
What's most alarming (though not surprising) to me, in analyzing all of the comments I've received on the subject, is that it appears as if the Bahamians who reject the possibility that a majority of young Bahamian college graduates could and do genuinely feel averse to their home country, and have very acceptable reasons for feeling like they best not return, are more likely to be Bahamians with elevated financial or social means, with a financial or social structure or network having been in place for them when they decided to return to The Bahamas; they are the well-connected and the well-funded, not the average Bahamian student who has struggled from day one to afford college, or struggles with family obligations, or struggles with basic finances and living expenses the moment they set foot back in The Bahamas.
Those arguing that the '10 reasons Bahamian college graduates don't want to come home' are mostly irrelevant really don't understand the scale of the problem. They have little to no concept of lack, what it means to eat a can of corn for dinner, or pay all living expenses on a $200 per week salary, after spending $20,000 per year in tuition (loans) to escape poverty! And they don't understand it because their worlds are closed to it. They have no experience with it; again, they are not nor have they ever been the average young, Bahamian college graduate with legitimate concerns about returning home that go far beyond successfully curing nostalgia.
Ironically, but perhaps tellingly, many young Bahamians vehemently arguing that Bahamian college graduates should return home have themselves stayed away for many years before returning, only doing so when it was at their convenience, or when they were "set", or when there was something established for them to return to in The Bahamas.
There is another option
The decision to live and work abroad after graduating from college does not mean a Bahamian college graduate turned expatriate to or in another country cannot contribute to the development of their country of birth.
They can - and I feel very strongly that this should be done by each and every one of them - return once per quarter or at least once per year to "give back", to share their expertise by hosting clinics, seminars, workshops, and trainings, interacting with the people who need them, and with the students who need to learn from them, as they once needed to learn from others. It can be done. It has been done, even if only in small numbers thus far.
And maybe that is where we need to start to resolve this brain drain issue, by providing a small incentive in the form of free or reimbursed airfare to expatriate Bahamians so they can return to The Bahamas expressly to share their knowledge at reasonable intervals and structured events and help develop their native land.
And, if this could be done, and 'coming home' at intervals is still too much to ask of these original Bahamians domiciled elsewhere, then the problem will not be with the country's lack of effort but with the people's lack of concern.
Realistically, over the long-term, without great financial or other incentives to return to The Bahamas, en masse - an acre of land on a Family Island for their first homes or first businesses, an annual travel voucher, etc. - these young people are not going to sacrifice the next 20 to 30 years of their lives and earning potential to move back home for conch salad, Junkanoo, and free baby-sitting for their children. They will visit home to enjoy these things and that will suffice.
For Bahamian college graduates, the beginning and growth of a career, and obtaining work experience abroad, usually occurs in conjunction with other personal pursuits of relationships, family, etc., which often means that young Bahamians stay where they are abroad because they have to now consider quality of life factors, world exposure, and opportunities not just for themselves but for their children.
The reality is that opportunities do not abound in The Bahamas, no matter your age or education, without access to sufficient, bordering on substantial financial resources. And what you will pay to live in The Bahamas, for decent quality food, housing, utilities, transportation, education, and any other necessity of life, far outstrips what you get. And this ties back to...
Economic value and productivity
A country and a culture of people who are unaccustomed to reasoning, analyzing, planning, creating, and innovating will not easily catch up to the competitive appeal of any country or culture that is already accustomed to these things being the essentials of a productive society.
The Bahamian college graduate has gone abroad and discovered the true definition of productivity, and that becomes a feature of life that they cannot live without. They will identify the minimal value placed on productivity by their birth country in comparison to another, and they will seek to be in the place where they can not only be industrious, but where they are valued monetarily and professionally as a measure of their industry, the place that gives them (and their children) the best chance at a productive, prosperous, and meaningful life. With that in mind, while reconditioning its approach to the 'Bahamian brain drain' problem, The Bahamas (government or citizenry, whoever can do it) will need to simultaneously recondition its people to be active participants in the fruitful evolution of their country into a productive nation.
Today, the problem of brain drain in The Bahamas isn't just a problem originating with a lack of opportunity, but it is attributable also to a ballooning number of unproductive Bahamians who just live out their entire lives sucking every bit of life and opportunity out of their surroundings without giving life and opportunity back to the country they call home.
More ambitious Bahamians will not want to be associated with this fruitless lifestyle and until a general lack of productivity becomes less of a problem, Bahamian brain drain will always be a viable alternative for the college-educated Bahamian.

o Facebook.com/politiCole.

read more »

The anatomy of leadership in The Bahamas

September 23, 2014

The question as to whether leaders are born or made is one that will continue for years to come with valid arguments being put forward on both sides of the debate. However, this discussion pales in comparison to what happens when the aspirations of an individual to lead are accomplished. It becomes quickly crystal-clear to a newly elected or appointed leader and observers that it is not an easy task being in a position of authority.
In a country such as ours, it would be an understatement to state that the demands of the populace are not easy to meet. The reality is that, while the majority elect persons to lead, leaders must govern both the minority that did not support them as well and serve the entire country. This is where the true test of leadership lies, and only the courageous and wise will succeed in this role. In this piece, we consider the travails of leading in the unique and blessed country called The Bahamas.

Leaders and the led
It is no news that effective leaders at some point or points in their lives would have been led by another. For indeed how can one lead without knowing how to follow and be led by another? It is in the discipline of discipleship that leaders form their ideologies and build their characters to emerge as leaders of men and women. This is important, as leadership is more about servitude than it is about prestige and authority. Humility, compassion, conviction and integrity are key prerequisites for persons that are or aspire to be leaders.
The problem with some of our political leaders and aspiring leaders is that they want to lead without being led or having been led. They forget that, even after election or appointment, their decisions and actions ought to be led by the people of The Bahamas. More importantly, they ought to govern the country and themselves in the best interest of the Bahamian people. The following words of the father of our nation, the late Sir Lynden O. Pindling, to his parliamentary colleagues in his farewell speech echoes through time to today's leaders and aspiring leaders of tomorrow:
"Leaders, we must not forget, do not make themselves. They are made instead by the people they lead, by the people who believe in them and by the people who are prepared to follow them not out of fear, or because it might be the in thing to do, or because of some hypnotic spell, but because deep down there is a faith that moves them to lift us up to a height above their own in the hope that, from the lofty perch to which they have raised us, we can see what they cannot and, having seen, we, as their leaders, can point the way forward into the tomorrows that await us all".
The above statement is evidence that leadership bestows a responsibility to inspire, uplift and direct.

The voice(s) of the people
The popular quote that the voice of the people is the voice of God is often referenced in the aftermath of voting by an electorate. This saying suggests that the voice of the majority of an electorate ultimately conveys not just the wishes of the majority but is also a reflection of the will of the most high.
In a parliamentary system of government such as ours where general elections are held once every five years, does this mean that the people are silent in-between general elections? Certainly not; the expectations and yearnings of the electorate can be heard by those that keep their ears to the ground and hands on the pulse of the populace.
One of the biggest challenges faced by political leaders in addition to staying in tune with the people they serve is the ability to filter the myriad voices of different stakeholders to ascertain the true voice of the Bahamian people. While talk shows, print media and social media may be instructive or helpful in assisting political leaders in this regard, it is often apparent that the audience and contributors to these media are loyal and sometimes the same individuals. Hence, true leaders must remain on the ground and in the communities and constituencies they represent to listen to the people they were elected to serve - their employers.

Public and private sector leadership
The focus on political leadership in The Bahamas oftentimes leaves little time and room for discussions on the oversight of government agencies, public corporations and private companies. In actuality, the principles of good leadership and stewardship are not confined to political leadership but extend to governance in the public and private sectors.
It is often stated that leaders in the public sector ought to emulate some of the practices of their counterparts in the private sector. The challenge with this proposition is the mentality and level of accountability attached to the public sector when compared with private enterprise.
In the private sector, companies are generally in business to make profits and the consequences of bad decisions are often seen in the performance of the entity. Additionally, the productivity of the workforce in the private sector is tied as much as possible to compensation as well as job security.
The ideology of public sector workers is generally one that is grounded in job security, regardless of productivity or performance. The level of emphasis placed on customer service in both sectors is almost like night and day to the detriment of the public sector in The Bahamas. This does not suggest that the private sector is not without flaws, especially in commitment to ethics, the social conscience and consumer protection. However, the point here is that effective leadership must transcend politics to the public sector and corporate Bahamas.

Preparation for leadership
The market for leadership training and seminars is huge with patronage from individuals from all walks of life enrolling in courses to prepare them to be leaders. While these sessions and programs in some cases provide useful tips for aspiring leaders, there is no better teacher than experience. Experience in this context does not mean that only seasoned individuals with several years in leadership positions qualify; rather it means that personal experience in roles requiring leadership is the ultimate grooming ground for true leaders.
Indeed there is a difference between 10 years' experience and one year's experience 10 times. The main factor here being the quality and depth of the experience acquired over time as well as the lessons learned from such experiences.
A quick look at great leaders over the years will reveal that some of them emerged while still cutting their proverbial teeth in the midst of perceived veterans and elder statesmen or stateswomen. The late Sir Lynden O. Pindling, Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama are prime examples of young leaders that were deemed not to have the requisite experience. In the same vein, the contribution of the late Nelson Mandela in his twilight years will not be forgotten by the world.
The point here is that youth or the perceived lack of relevant experience should not be a deterrent to leadership. After all, Enron had an experienced and very qualified board of directors while veterans presided over the Great Recession all over the world. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, said it best when he stated that "If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes - then learn how to do it later". No one is ever fully prepared for leadership.

Going where eagles dare
Governance in 21st century Bahamas is not for the faint-hearted or timid; it is reserved for those who recognize that a paradigm shift is required in order to lead the Bahamas a generation after political independence. A more enlightened and demanding Bahamian population is seeking reform in all sectors of the economy and spheres of society.
We have become intolerant of mediocrity while subpar service from the public or private sector is deemed unacceptable. Taxpayers are simply asking for better stewardship, financial discipline and transparency in the management of the country's affairs.
Political leaders in this new reality will have to go where only eagles dare and be able to withstand the increased scrutiny of the citizenry. Corporate and public sector leaders will not survive with an archaic management style which ignores the fact that processes are managed while people have to be led.
The leaders in government agencies and statutory bodies will have to deviate from the status quo which has promoted inefficiency and indiscipline in some entities if The Bahamas is to succeed in years to come. In the final analysis, a change in the framework of leadership across our archipelago of islands is inevitable. The question is whether there are sufficient men and women willing and available to effect this long overdue change.

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

read more »

The death of democracy Pt. 2

September 22, 2014

In the first part of this series, we reviewed the reaction to the legislation that the government recently tabled in Parliament to regulate and tax web shops, despite the public's rejection of that proposition in the January 28, 2013 gaming referendum. Before the referendum, the prime minister proclaimed that he would abide by the referendum results. Subsequently, however, he changed his mind and introduced legislation that would regulate and tax web shop operations.
Accordingly, this week, we will continue to Consider this...Are some of the religious pastors who fought and won the referendum poll correct in their accusation that the prime minister's positional reversal and subsequent actions have signaled the death of democracy in The Bahamas?

The position of the pastors on the gaming poll
Some members of the Christian Council have caustically criticized the government for ignoring the will of the people and, in so doing, foreshadowing the death of democracy in The Bahamas. They suggested that the prime minister has lost his moral authority to govern because he reneged on his promise to abide by the referendum results. Other members have also asserted that they will not participate in any future referenda because they are not confident that the government will abide by the will of the people.
A few pastors have gone as far as maintaining that any parliamentarian who votes in support of the gaming legislation should be voted out of office in the next election.
In arguing their case, none of the pastors seems to appreciate that there are some referenda that are binding on the government, while others are not. For example, the gaming referendum is not one that binds the government to the will of the people, particularly if there are compelling reasons not to do so. The upcoming constitutional referendum, however, is binding and the government cannot act in contravention thereof.
To do so would result in a constitutional crisis which no government would be able to survive. Finally, the president of the Christian Council said that "we have many examples in the Bible of people and nations who go against the will of God." While that is not disputed, he and his colleagues, in all their discussions on this matter, have yet to produce one iota of evidence that the Bible condones or prohibits gambling. I am sure that if they could, they would, but they have not because they cannot.
The prime minister and his deputy responded to the pastors, suggesting that "not one of them has a passport to heaven" and that others have turned a blind eye to web shop gaming for decades.
We will have more to say about the role and relevance of the Christian Council in today's Bahamas next month in this column.

The official opposition
In the meantime, the leader of the official opposition has stated that the prime minister and deputy prime minister have "attacked God's representatives...and when you attack God's earthly representatives, that is a direct attack on God". The leader of the opposition could arguably correctly characterize some pastors as evangelists or perhaps even prophets; but to suggest that they are "God's earthly representatives" can only be described as quintessential hyperbole.
The official opposition's position on the gaming referendum and its reaction thereafter has been disingenuous and duplicitous, at best, and, at worst, laughable. It is disingenuous and duplicitous for the opposition to oppose this legislation because some of the same members who now serve in opposition served as ministers in the Ingraham administration which intended to regularize web shop operations while they were in office, but did not have the courage of their convictions to do so because of their inability to gain the support of the Christian Council.

The fallout from
the legislation
No reasonable person can persuasively argue that the prime minister and his government have not taken a big hit on this one. Perhaps the most serious consequence of the decision to act in contravention of the voice of the people is the erosion of the credibility of the prime minister and his government.
The entire gaming referendum process was fraught with mistakes and missteps by the government. The prime minister himself has admitted to making mistakes, the most egregious of which was seeking the will of the people in the first place. Christie should have followed Ingraham's playbook and proceeded with making the regulations for web shops without the cost of a referendum; but he also should have gone further, as he has now demonstrated, by having the political will to proceed by doing what is best for our country.
The prime minister also erred by declaring that he "did not have a horse in the race", fully cognizant of the urgent revenue needs of the country and the potential for blacklisting if no proactive move was made to regulate this sector.
The prime minister erred again in saying that he would abide by the results of the referendum, knowing full well that this type of referendum was not binding, particularly armed with the knowledge that the jurisdiction faced negative reaction from the international agencies if the government maintained the status quo.

The greater good
We believe that the prime minister and his Cabinet have weighed the considerable political fallout against doing the right thing and have made the right decision in the interest of the greater good. Several important factors would have informed their decision.
First, the web shops are an integral part of the economic Bahamian reality and the displacement of the persons employed in this sector would be harmful, irreconcilable, unjust and unrealistic.
Second, this economic sector provides a vitally useful service, particularly on those islands of The Bahamas where there are no banking institutions.
Third, the passage of the legislation and the resulting regulations will minimize the possibility of the jurisdiction being blacklisted by the international agencies.
Fourth, the enactment of this legislation will empower young Bahamian entrepreneurs to more meaningfully participate in the economy as owners in an area which heretofore has been the primary domain of the foreign Canadian banks. We realize that the commercial banks, especially the foreign commercial banks, have far too long been onerous and oppressive.
They have done little to encourage entrepreneurial development because of their stringent lending policies that are determined and dictated by their headquarters in Canada or Barbados.
Fifth, too much money in the form of banking profits leave the jurisdiction by way of the repatriation of profits of the foreign commercial banks. We believe that, in the fullness of time, web shop owners and regular Bahamians who invest in their companies will establish Bahamian banking institutions, much like the Bank of The Bahamas and Commonwealth Bank. Once the web shops are regularized, their stakeholders will have the opportunity to compete more effectively against the foreign banks, which will result in their profits remaining within the jurisdiction. We should not lose sight of the fact that some of the antecedents of at least one commercial Bahamian bank started in a business activity which, during the years of Prohibition, was considered illicit.
Sixth, the government will be able to increase its revenues from license fees and taxes from the web shops. It is anticipated that at least $25 million annually, which presently escapes the public coffers, will be paid.

Conclusion
In the final analysis, we firmly believe that the prime minister and his government have made the right decision for the economy, despite excessive opposition and criticism from spiritual and temporal quarters whose arguments are neither cogent nor persuasive. In years to come, we submit that historians will look back at this time in our history and will conclude that, consequential upon the debate surrounding the regularization of this sector, the Christie administration has not only laid the foundation for a tectonic transformation of our economy by empowering young, new Bahamian entrepreneurs to participate in the economy as they have never done before, but that the entire process has led to the deepening, not to the death, of our democracy.

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.

read more »

Letter To The Prime Minister
Letter To The Prime Minister

September 19, 2014

Good day to you and your Cabinet. This letter is a formal petition against the implementation of the Value-Added Tax (VAT)...

read more »

Taking care of the basics
Taking care of the basics

September 19, 2014

The ability to pay one's personal bills in full and on time is considered a sign of good organization and responsibility. In most business environments, it is a prerequisite for functioning...

read more »

Immigration policy change

September 19, 2014

o The following is the written communication of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell to the House of Assembly on Wednesday, September 17, 2014.

With immediate effect, we will not accept applications for people who do not have legal status in The Bahamas to work and anyone who comes to do so, the application will be refused and the applicant will be arrested and charged and deported.
The Cabinet is considering a permanent prospective ban on all people who have come here illegally and have been deported so that they will not ever be able to qualify for a permanent status in The Bahamas.
We are allowing a period for comment before proceeding with a formal proposal in this regard. The intention is to have new regulations or policies in place on this subject by January 1, 2015, subject to any exigencies.
With effect from November 1, 2014 new procedures are to come into force with regard to work permit procedures, and it is envisaged that the regulations will be amended and the policies accordingly.
The suggestions are out now for comment. Meetings have been held with various stakeholders including the Haitian ambassador and the leaders of the Haitian community. They are expected to meet again with the prime minister and the deputy prime minister.
The proposal is that as of the 1st of November, 2014 employers who wish to apply for first-time work permit holders - that is, persons with no status in The Bahamas who are from the Republic of Haiti - will have to do the following:
1. Come to the Department of Immigration and pay the processing fee of $100, provide the labor certificate, the cover letter, the stamp tax of $30 and the employee information sheet in Nassau.
2. That information will be forwarded to the Embassy of The Bahamas in Port-au-Prince where the individual applicant will fill out the application form and provide the supporting documents. The individual applicant must be certified as personally seen by an embassy officer in Port-au-Prince.
I also wish to announce that we will as of November 1 require all persons who live in The Bahamas to have a passport of the country of their nationality. Those people who have been born here will get a particular residence permit which will allow them to work and live here until such time as their status pursuant to any application under the terms of the constitution is decided.
This will also allow access of children to school. This will not apply to the children of those who are here illegally.
The Haitian president and the ambassador have confirmed that they will be able to meet the demand for these passports.
The holding of a foreign passport does not prejudice the right of anyone under the constitution to apply for citizenship of The Bahamas.
In addition, it is proposed that as of November 1, the practice of issuing certificates of identity to non-nationals born here will cease. These will only be for Bahamians who have a need for an emergency travel document or where in accordance with our international obligations we are to issue them to non-nationals.
Again, these matters are now in the public domain for comment.
The idea is to ensure that people are properly documented if they are living in The Bahamas.
The situation with immigration in The Bahamas is most vexing. The new class of recruits should graduate at the end of October; I think there will be 60 in that class. A new class has been chosen and will begin shortly thereafter. The RBDF is working actively on the high seas. The level of interdictions on land is ongoing.
There is so much criminality involved in immigration that these new rules and procedures are necessary in order to get on top of this problem.
This requires the efforts of all Bahamians to guard our borders and protect our country. We are particularly concerned about what is happening in Abaco and special attention is being paid to that island and to Eleuthera where many residents believe that things have gotten totally out of hand. It is important for us to address it before it gets out of hand.
There are reports that there are in some sections of those islands no-go areas for public officials. This cannot stand and this will be stopped.

read more »

Christie and the PLP: Smug, arrogant and undemocratic

September 18, 2014

Oddly, last week the head of government bared his soul in front of the press. It is important to note that, in our system, the prime minister is not the nation's chief executive. In our parliamentary democracy, the constitution rests executive authority in the Cabinet. Ours is not a U.S.-style presidential system.
Having abandoned his solemn promise to honor the results of the gambling referendum Perry Christie offered a confession of faith: "Faith tells me that there is no minister of religion in the world that can give me a passport to heaven and that ultimately that is where I want to be..."
We all want to go to heaven. But before the appointed hour, there is likely somewhere else that Christie wants to be after the next election: returned to the lofty heights of the prime ministership which has become his cloud nine.
Christie and God must sort out their affairs, with the creator rendering final judgment upon him. Still, voters will render unto Caesar Christie their political judgment on his stewardship in office.
Verily, such earthbound judgment is nigh. In matters of faith and politics, contrition and penance precede forgiveness. Christie has never really asked for forgiveness or demonstrated genuine contrition for having betrayed the will of the people.
Having broken his word and in failing to show contrition for double-crossing the electorate, Christie may well pay political hell with voters, many of whom are angry at his administration's smugness, arrogance and betrayal of the democratic trust, to name a few political sins.
Voters sense in their guts and hearts some of the essence of those they choose for high office. Christie enjoyed a bond with voters, an easygoing manner and empathy, making him a likable personality.
That bond began fraying during Christie's first term as head of government, one of the reasons he became the first prime minister in an independent Bahamas to lose after a single term. Though re-elected in 2012, the party did not win the majority of the popular vote.

Widely unpopular
Christie's likability has nose-dived, as he is seen by many more Bahamians as out of touch and someone liable to break promises at the drop of a hat. He has lost considerable public trust and affection and is now widely unpopular. He has lost touch with the soul of the nation.
Even many, perhaps most, who voted yes in the gambling referendum, remain stunned by his betrayal of the final vote, including his lame excuses for going back on his word. Many scoff at his claim that he and the PLP had no horse in the gambling referendum.
During debate on the Gaming Bill in the House of Assembly Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner summed up the views of many: "They told us they had no horse in the race. What they had were several horses in the race, with jockeys on each one of those horses galloping toward the finish line, all tended by grooms and trainers, all flying their colors.
"Now, since their horses dropped dead in the race, they are fully determined to drag them across the finish line, by hook or by whatever means necessary."
In the spiritual life and in politics, of the seven deadly sins, pride is often seen as the deadliest, because it may obscure other sins. Hubris is a version of pride.
The hubris is stark, disturbing. This is the first government in an independent Bahamas to dismiss the results of a democratic vote, which the government said it would honor.
Christie self-reverentially described himself as a great democrat. He lauded a march downtown in support of the yes campaign as a wonderful display of democracy.
After all his talk about democracy, the self-proclaimed great democrat ignored the results of the referendum. Having decided to dishonor the vote he should have resigned and called a general election. Instead he has turned out to be spectacularly hypocritical, his democratic credentials shot to hell.
What might this portend? Having served as a consultant to an oil exploration company with a resulting conflict of interest, Christie postponed a promised referendum on oil exploration. Strangely, the postponement was announced by the environment minister, not the Cabinet Office or the Office of the Prime Minister.

Conflict of interest
Given Christie's conflict of interest and his dismissal of the gambling referendum, the prime minister might similarly ignore the results of such a vote, which is unlikely to be held in any case.
Not in keeping with our parliamentary system in which the governor general is head of state and in mimicry of a U.S.-style presidential system, Christie beamed that he wants a prime ministerial coat of arms.
At a chamber of commerce conference he proclaimed, "I, the country", which should perhaps be the motto on his coat of arms, especially in light of his contempt for the will of the people after the gaming referendum.
The loss of trust and respect for Christie has reached such lows that he's being pilloried and satirized in popular culture. K.B. recently released Captain Kangaroo, a single comparing Christie to the eponymous U.S. television children's entertainer.
Those who loved Captain Kangaroo may be annoyed at the comparison. Still, the point is made as to the loss of faith in the direction of the country and the prime minister.
Christie and the PLP have earned the country's mistrust and enmity. The equality referendum has now been promised for a vote a stunning five times.
Christie's gross act of political expediency and flip-flop during the 2002 referendum and his betrayal of the 2013 vote are largely responsible for the impending defeat of the postponed referendum, which might never be held this term.
If women fail to gain equality in the foreseeable future, the fault is Christie's and the PLP's. They have so poisoned the referendum process, first by betraying the 2002 agreement with the FNM on reform and then by betraying voters in 2013. Such betrayal of the common good is now commonplace by the PLP.
History and irony are mocking Christie. The self-adoring man who bragged that he had the public goodwill necessary pass an equality referendum has earned so much bad will and loathing that he is the greatest stumbling block to gender equality. History will not treat him kindly in this regard.
"Animal Farm" author George Orwell famously wrote about the misuse of political language, of its evasions, cant and miscasting of the facts in service of baser motives. The misuse of such language has come to be known as Orwellian.
In the eighth annual Dr. the Hon. Lloyd Barnett O.J. Lecture held at the Eugene Dupuch Law School in September 2013, entitled "Contemporary constitutionalism and the consent of the governed", Christie self-servingly whitewashed the role that he and the PLP played in poisoning the democratic and referendum process.

Orwellian
Note Christie's Orwellian language during the lecture: "I need to emphasize that in both the 2002 constitutional referendum and the 2013 gambling referendum, there was a complete absence of consensus among the main political parties. This fact alone, given the acute political polarization of Bahamian society, may well have pre-ordained the failure of both initiatives."
What fact? There was political consensus. The results were not pre-ordained. As opposition leader, Christie agreed with the legislation, with the PLP voting for the amendments in the House, before their spectacular flip-flop.
Christie proclaimed during the lecture: "[We] must find effective ways to elevate issues of constitutional reform and change above the political fray, tapping instead into what Lincoln called 'the better angels of our nature', where we can all meet on the common ground of patriotism and love of country, looking only to what is best for us as a people, rather than as soldiers in some transitory partisan cause."
Having chosen the worse angels of our nature in 2002 in pursuit of partisanship in the service of political expediency, Christie is one of the last people who should utter such a line.
Fast-forward to the 2013 referendum, the results of which Christie ignored in the service of the numbers bosses. In breaking his word, we were again reminded of Orwell's warning of the abuse of language, with Christie trying to make a virtue of his betrayal. What is essentially a sell-out, he sought to bathe in virtuousness. It will not wash.
If Christie and the PLP sought to implement a national lottery, with the proceeds mostly going to public purposes rather than many more millions for private greed, Bahamians may have understood the change of heart.
Instead, he betrayed the will of the people to serve the interests of a few. This is neither virtuous nor democratic. Whatever Christie's interior disposition, he has betrayed the soul of the nation by becoming a hindrance to gender equality and by selling out to vested interests in the big numbers game.
God help us all!

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

read more »