Opinion

Saving CARICOM, pt. 1

March 05, 2014

o This commentary is taken from a lecture given by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell on February 6 at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago. Mitchell's address was on "Saving CARICOM".
Kamau Brathwaite, the Barbadian poet writes in his work "Negus":
It is not enough to be free
of the red white and blue
of the drag of the dragon...
In the days just before Christmas the great man Nelson Mandela died. The Bahamian prime minister had made arrangements to get to South Africa on a commercial airline. We received a call from the secretary general's office at CARICOM to say that the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, had offered a Caribbean Airlines flight to all CARICOM countries without cost and would we take advantage of the offer. Our prime minister agreed right away. He was joined by the president of Haiti, deputy prime ministers of Grenada and St. Lucia, the foreign minister of Barbados and ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda. That single gesture of Caribbean outreach made an impression on Africa and ourselves which went beyond what money could buy.
The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who is ethnically Indian, wore on the occasion an African dress and headwear. She was resplendent. She joined the heads of Jamaica, Guyana and Suriname, who had already made their way there. We appeared in South Africa as a team. That is CARICOM at its best. This was no group of groveling mendicants, as Errol Barrow had once lamented about Caribbean leaders. In South Africa, the leaders got along well and the chemistry was there. It is that chemistry about which Prime Minister Kenny Anthony spoke last year when he hosted the heads of government conference as being the key to CARICOM's survival.
Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar's decision reinforced the great comfort which The Bahamas got when in September last year CARICOM issued a statement in support of The Bahamas in the face of withering criticism by Cuban-American protestors in Miami. We knew we were not alone. Someone had our back.
Tonight's discussion is about CARICOM's survival.
I am pleased to be here. This is a special honor for me and for The Bahamas. Being up at the northern end of the chain people tend to think of us as a world away and a world apart but I have come to tell you this evening that we see ourselves as an integrated part of this region. Our founding father the late Sir Lynden Pindling on July 4, 1983 committed our country to this CARICOM project. He reaffirmed that by signing the Grand Anse Declaration in 1989 committing The Bahamas to the Single Market and Economy although we have some ways to go.
All governments of The Bahamas, admittedly with varying degrees of enthusiasm, have embraced the notion that we have a common future together.
I come, therefore, tonight representing that generation of Bahamians to whom the task of governance for today has been entrusted, to renew our commitment to the CARICOM enterprise.
CARICOM is not just an economic project. It is the very soul of our people from Bermuda to Suriname. It is that narrative that I have come to tell.
In doing so I begin by saying thank you to my hosts for their gracious invitation to listen to what I have to say. I recall Pastor David Johnson who has now sadly passed away. He was being honored with the naming of the village Christmas tree in my Fox Hill constituency. He was then 77-years-old. He said he could not believe it. He could still on that cool winter evening in Nassau remember when he was running around in short pants and talking about the elders of the Fox Hill village. Now, he said they are calling me one of the elders.
That is the stark reality of time. It reminds us that our time on the stage is short; but I committed myself a long time ago to the notion that if I ever got a chance to be on the public stage I would not squander the opportunity. I would do what I was called upon to do.
So this then is dedicated to all of those teachers and their patience from the time I was a little boy; my parents, particularly my mother, who forced me to wake up early each morning and get ahead of the day; dedicated to Dawson Conliffe and Bonaventure Dean, my old headmasters. All now gone on but they live on the heart and mind of their student.
I thank Dr. Monica Davis, the honorary consul for The Bahamas to Trinidad and Tobago, who graduated with me from high school in The Bahamas way back in June of 1970 at the Catholic High School in Nassau, St. Augustine's College.
James Baldwin reminds us in "The Amen Corner" how strange life is, the twists and turns it takes. I call these Dickensian moments after the pattern in those Dickens novels where someone disappears at the start of the book and then magically pops up at the end of the book with a smart and pleasant surprise.
I would like to thank the Secretary General Irwin La Rocque for his kindly providing me with access to the secretariat's headquarters building where this work was largely written and to his supportive staff. The speech was written in Georgetown, Guyana which V.S. Naipaul, the Trinidadian-born writer, described in turns as "the most beautiful city in the West Indies" and then "the most exquisite city in the British Caribbean".
I also thank the current prime minister of The Bahamas, Perry Christie, for permitting my participation in this, even as he complained that I was going to be away from home too long. However, I have always enjoyed a good relationship with all my bosses and with this boss the relationship is no different. I thank my constituents and Cabinet and parliamentary colleagues for their understanding and support.
I would however be remiss if I did not also dedicate this evening's presentation to a man I greatly admired and respected. The name: Rex Nettleford. I first met him when I travelled with the late Winston Saunders, a Bahamian scholar and cultural icon in his own right, to Kingston for CARIFESTA in 1976. To quote one of the English ladies of quality who admired him, this man Rex Nettleford simply said "the most wonderful things". He had a way of expressing life that could not be copied. He was an intellectual leader in Jamaica and widely admired and respected throughout the region as a dancer, choreographer, lecturer, trade unionist, writer, thinker, vice chancellor of the University of The West Indies and finally as the chairman of the Public Service Commission in Jamaica. He died at the age of 76 on February 2, 2010, four years ago.
CARICOM is an idea born from the genetics of the people themselves. I, for example, am the grandson of a Barbadian Sonny Forde who came to The Bahamas with his father at the turn of the last century as a baby. His father was a tailor for the Bahamian police force. My great grand grandmother was named Angelina Barrow. I never knew any of them.
The founder of our country Sir Lynden Pindling was the son of a Jamaican policeman who emigrated to The Bahamas. Many in the Cabinet that ended the white minority rule government in 1967 had one parent from the southern Caribbean. Indeed, today the governor general of The Bahamas, Sir Arthur Foulkes, is the son of a Haitian woman. Our first black member of Parliament in The Bahamas was Haitian, a man by the name Stephen Dillette elected in 1834.
Lynden Pindling was a classmate in law school in London of the late Dame Lois Browne Evans of Bermuda. She founded the PLP (Progressive Labour Party) in Bermuda with the advice and counsel of Sir Lynden of the PLP (Progressive Liberal Party) of The Bahamas. The rallying cry of both parties to this day is " All the way!". It was Ewart Brown, a successor of Dame Lois and a former Bermuda premier, who mooted the idea at a CARICOM Heads of Government meeting of a CARICOM airline that could provide transport for people from Bermuda to Suriname within a single day without having to traverse Miami.
I dedicate this to Rex Nettleford because he always talked about "the Caribbean ethos". That is what this evening's address is really about: the Caribbean ethos. The CARICOM project came about and continues and will continue because of the Caribbean ethos - what St. Vincent's Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves amongst others has called " the Caribbean civilization".
So I am deeply indebted to Rex for imbuing in me a sense of hope and confidence that we as a people will one day get to the promised land.
Shortly after he died, there was a symposium in Kingston which was dedicated to his work and life. Some of Jamaica's intellectuals and scholars were there. I was invited to lunch with some of them. For the first time in the history of my relationship with Jamaicans I detected despair. This was in the middle of the Dudus affair.
They lamented what had happened to their country. They did not see a way forward. They did not think that even with all their intellectual capacity that they could see a way out. They lamented the rise of criminal behavior in every enterprise, going so far as to say that they were shocked that some of the most respected business people in the country were infected by criminal enterprises.
This left me quite disturbed. I had come up at a time when Jamaica was bold and strong and relentless, no despair. Even in the worst of the economic issues of the Manley years, that remained true. Michael Manley himself told me that he was unreconstructed, unapologetic and unrepentant. That was the Jamaica I knew.
o Fred Mitchell is the member of Parliament for Fox Hill and minister of foreign affairs and immigration.

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Former church of Randy Fraser more than 1m in arrears and facing lawsuit

March 04, 2014

PILGRIM Baptist Temple, former church of convicted sex offender Randy Fraser, is facing a major financial crisis amid rising debt which threatens to have the edifice seized, The Tribune can reveal...

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The fiscal reform series:The government's plan

March 04, 2014

The main financial problem we are faced with as a nation and which we must address without delay can be easily explained, albeit the road to correcting the issues will not be an easy or smooth one. At the root of this dilemma is the harmful pattern of spending more than we earn which has been sustained for years. In speaking to this matter in last week's column, it was noted that the habit of living beyond our means has been a problem at the national and individual levels.
Against this backdrop, we know that for the most part the government via successive administrations has run fiscal deficits from year to year. In essence, the government's expenditure has generally exceeded its revenue. It would be logical and simplistic to state that there are three main ways to correct the fiscal imbalance created by the referenced behavior. The options are to reduce expenditure below the level of revenue brought in or to the same level, increase revenue intake to exceed or equal expenditure, or implement a hybrid; that is, reduce expenditure and increase revenue to achieve the same objective. In this article we take a look at the government's strategy to get The Bahamas out of this perilous financial situation.
The roadmap for fixing public finances
The minister of state for finance had articulated actions the government intends to take over the coming years to address the existing fiscal challenges and return our public finances to a better condition. In summary, the action plan involves restraint on the expenditure or government spending side, enhancement of revenue administration within the country, creation and addition of new sources of revenue for the government and creating an environment for stronger economic growth.
It has been stated and echoed for some time now that it is important that The Bahamas puts its fiscal house in order before we are forced to do so. Indeed we must not forget that we lose control in relation to the severity and timing of reforms if we are coerced into such an exercise by international agencies and other external factors. It is noteworthy to state that in an earlier article titled "Self-Imposed Austerity Measures Advisable for Next Government" published in The Nassau Guardian on January 12, 2012, the need for fiscal reform and recommendations in this regard was explored. This piece ended with questions on whether the incoming government will have the will, fortitude and courage to do what is necessary to address the country's fiscal dilemma.
The expenditure side of the plan
The plan communicated by the government requires the exercise of prudence and control over public spending and financial management. The effectiveness and efficiency of operations of public sector corporations comes under scrutiny in the plan with the objective of enhancing the oversight of these entities and encouraging restructuring where appropriate in the interest of the populace and public purse. In this regard, subventions to these corporations which have placed a financial burden on the government will be subject to continuous review so as to systematically reduce allocations. In simple terms, the goal is to reduce or eliminate wastage and deliver more efficient operations.
In curbing government expenditure in The Bahamas, the proverbial elephant in the room, besides the streamlining of operations in the public sector, is the reform of the public sector pension system. It has been proposed that the long-run liability position of this pension system be assessed to secure its financial viability. There is no doubt that the government will have to address this issue with the knowledge that this bold step will evoke some emotion and may meet some resistance. However, we must face the reality that the public sector pension system is simply too costly for the government and is not sustainable in the long run.
Improving revenue administration
The establishment of the Central Revenue Agency (CRA) is a vital part of the plan to consolidate the administration and collection of taxes by the government. According to the Ministry of Finance, there are currently over 30 departments and agencies collecting different taxes and fees on behalf of the government. This could very well explain the reason for the tax compliance rate and high revenue leakage that we currently face.
It is expected that the CRA will ensure compliance with relevant tax laws and will be empowered to carry out enforcement actions against violators of tax legislation. There is no doubt that if the CRA is to achieve its objectives and improve the status quo, the agency must be properly staffed with qualified professionals that possess the requisite integrity, skill set and expertise. Additionally, the CRA must be properly equipped with state-of-the-art information technology and its operations standardized and efficient.
Other aspects of the plan focus on the modernization of the real property tax regime and transformation of the Customs Department. The government anticipates a doubling of property tax revenues and improved efficiency of the Customs Department resulting in a significant increase in overall government revenue over the next five years. The increase in government revenues may not be unrelated to the expected efficiency gains that will result from over 90 percent of all taxes, fees and service charges being collected by the Customs Department and CRA.
New revenue and economic growth
The cornerstone of the government's initiative to add new sources of revenue is the proposed value-added tax (VAT) system, which will be discussed in more detail next week. While VAT is expected to replace revenue loss from reduced tariffs in anticipation of our accession to the World Trade Organization, the revenue from VAT levied on services is expected to increase total government revenue.
The correlation between high economic growth, success of businesses, expansion of the private sector and the creation of entrepreneurship or job opportunities is apparent. It is therefore not surprising that the government's plan includes the attraction of foreign direct investments and fostering strong economic growth in the country. The importance of empowering Bahamians and local entrepreneurs in this process should also be an objective for the government in this exercise.
Commentaries on the plan
The government's plan has attracted different reactions from various stakeholders and interest groups. It seems fair to state that the general consensus is that the plan is generally a good one with proposals and features that could be expected in a country facing the realities that we do. However, there have also been questions raised regarding the aggressive nature of the reforms with other commentators arguing that it is not only ambitious but also drastic in certain aspects with some proposed spending cuts described as draconian.
The government has maintained that the plan is a responsible one which is not only realistic but also achievable. When considered with the statements and warnings issued by international agencies, it is apparent that desperate times call for desperate measures. The urgency of now does not provide for changes that will have little or no effect on returning our public finances to a more healthy and sustainable condition.
Conclusion
It is often said that he who fails to plan, plans to fail. Our dire financial circumstances require an approach that is effective but balanced; hence, we must have a plan to get out of this predicament. The measures taken by the government must address expenditure patterns and revenue levels without disrupting the economy. We must remain mindful that we did not get to this point overnight and we will not emerge from the same instantaneously.
In the final analysis, the government has articulated a plan which seems comprehensive, viable and impressive. However, as is often stated, a plan is only as good as its implementation or execution. It is not good enough to devise a good plan; it is important that this plan is properly implemented and the necessary resources allocated to ensure that all aspects of the strategy are carried out on time and on budget.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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Forgiveness, justice and dysfunctional culture

March 04, 2014

Rage is a simple emotion. We are wronged. We get angry. We seek retribution...

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Tolerance and gay rights

March 03, 2014

Fred Mitchell, our minister of foreign affairs, last month said at a lecture in Trinidad that his career has been harmed by his advocacy for gay rights...

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Tax avoidance and evasion

March 03, 2014

"Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury."
- United States Supreme Court in Gregory v. Helvering, 1935
The Bahamas government has announced that it plans to become fully engaged in tax reform and the centerpiece of that reform is the implementation of value-added tax (VAT). It has been suggested that, based on our experience with taxes, VAT is the preferred form of taxation which is being sought to increase public finances by at least $200 million per annum. The government has also suggested that it would simultaneously reduce import tariffs in consideration of its accession to the World Trade Organization. The debate has heated up and the temperature will likely increase significantly before a final decision is taken.
The government's efforts to sell its preferred VAT proposition hit a significant snag recently when the newspapers disclosed that the government's chief advocate for VAT had not paid taxes for the past 10 years on his personal property and for nearly twice as long for commercial property in a company of which he was an owner and director. This has resulted in some persons, mainly those in the opposition parties, calling for his resignation or, in the absence of such resignation, that he should be terminated.
Therefore this week we would like to Consider this... are Bahamians naturally averse to paying taxes and, in the context of a country that has grown an entire industry that boasts of being a tax haven, do we even recognize the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion?
Tax avoidance
Tax avoidance is generally the legal exploitation of the tax regime to one's own advantage to attempt to reduce the amount of tax that is payable by means that are within the law whilst making a full disclosure of the material information to the tax authorities. Tax avoidance involves using tax deductions, changing one's business structure through incorporation or establishing an offshore company in a tax haven.
Tax evasion
By contrast, tax evasion entails efforts by individuals, companies, trusts and other entities to evade the payment of taxes by illegal means. Tax evasion usually entails taxpayers deliberately misrepresenting or concealing the true state of their affairs to the tax authorities in order to reduce their tax liability including dishonest tax reporting, such as under-declaring income, profits or gains or overstating deductions.
The U.S. experience
Although the U.S. constitution specifically limited Congress' ability to impose direct taxation, deriving its funding primarily from taxation on goods, it was in 1861 during the Civil War that the first personal income tax was established. It levied a three percent tax on all incomes over $800.
In spite of some very substantial objections, in 1913 the 16th amendment to the constitution was ratified, providing Congress the "power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration". The maximum rate at that time was seven percent on incomes over $500,000. This rate would increase during World War I to 77 percent on incomes over $1 million and reached its highest marginal rate for individuals in 1952 and 1953 when it hit 92 percent.
It was certainly understandable, given those kinds of escalating taxation rates, that U.S. taxpayers would look for tax relief to be more formally defined. To that end, it was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that delineated the parameters of legal tax avoidance. In its decision, the court affirmed: "Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes. Repeatedly, the courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands."
The Bahamian experience
The Bahamas has long marketed this jurisdiction from its earliest days as a tax haven with many tax-free exemptions. Later it became known as the more politically correct "offshore financial center" which included no personal or corporate income tax, no sales or value-added tax, no death or inheritance tax, no capital gains tax; in short, none of the regular taxes that are extracted in other jurisdictions. It seems we always held the view that taxes should be paid by others.
We seem to have always believed that we had a right to cheat the taxman, partly because we did not make the connection between the payment of taxes and the delivery of public services.
In addition, many people believe that politicians are either dishonest or corrupt and do not pay their taxes. Inspired by this belief and determined not to contribute to such nefarious undertakings, many citizens therefore do not feel compelled to pay the taxes that are owed. A classic example of this is the non-payment of customs duties, which we believe to be our inalienable right to evade.
Additionally, with the exception of National Insurance, there has also been little to no legal requirement for personal or public accountability by our citizens. Therefore, we have developed a culture where there was no appreciation or compulsion for the need to be tax compliant.
We now find ourselves at a significant national crossroads where there is an urgent need for increased government revenue and the growing realization that if we do not change course the country will be downgraded, with the attendant negative effects that will result from such an action.
An historic first
For the very first time in the nation's history, the government has invited its citizens to provide input both on the tax that should be implemented in order to increase public finances and also on the rate of such tax. This is a first for our democracy. When was the last time you heard of the political directorate inviting its citizens to comment on the type and rate of taxes that should be imposed on them?

What to do about tax evaders?
As noted, there has been considerable outcry that one of our citizens has not paid his taxes, with some suggesting that he should either resign or should be fired. For a brief moment, however, let us consider the far-reaching implications of such a reactionary suggestion.
Given our deeply ingrained national reluctance for being tax compliant, it is reasonable to assume that this situation is not unique to the individual who is currently making headlines, but is pervasive throughout our entire national psyche. Therefore, we need to seriously consider that if we start terminating the services of every public official who has succumbed to this national inclination, there just might be very few left.
Instead, this recent incident should serve as a warning to us as we proceed with reforming our tax regime. Given our national nature, we should be careful to ensure that the taxes established by this reformed regime should not be so overly burdensome and punitive that they will result in a high incidence of tax evasion. Otherwise, we will create a recipe for a high rate of failure and the proposed tax regime reform will not attain its desired goal of refinancing our nation's public finances and ultimately putting us all on a firmer footing for a flourishing future.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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Sociopolitical reflections of an octogenarian Bahamian native son, pt. 2

March 01, 2014

The Village comprised of an area called the Big Yard, Museum and Art Gallery, the movie room, homestead, culture gardens, historic and documents center, arts and crafts commercial center and the theater for the performing arts with a seating capacity of 400. As the minister of finance, Carlton Francis assisted the project greatly. The first Jumbey Festival was held at Jumbey Village on Blue Hill Road in 1971 and the last one was held in 1973.
In 1973, Livingstone Coakley, then minister of education, instructed me to broaden the scope of the community development program and prepare a Cabinet paper for the approval of the same. We submitted the paper in November 1973. The introduction of the paper was as follows: By previous memoranda Cabinet has been kept informed of the progress of community development program which also incorporates the cultural and recreational program for the development of the youth of this commonwealth. The government must in keeping with its policy recognize that community development must play a vital role in the development of this nation specifically mentioned in the white paper. This program was designed to promote social and cultural stability especially among the young people of the nation and we celebrated when we received the news that the youth development program was adopted by Cabinet. I was utterly shocked when I discovered a few days before the budget was tabled that the approved program was not in the budget. I demonstrated on the floor of Parliament and was spitefully fired by the prime minister.
The context of the times
The year 1974 was a rough one for The Bahamas. The decision to become independent in 1973 led to a rise in unemployment and we became somewhat paralyzed as a nation. The rift among government members and backbenchers over the takeover of the casinos by government, the resignation of Carlton Francis and the dismissal of the parliamentary secretary for community development did great damage to the Progressive Liberal Party and the government.
As a result of social and economic problems looming there was unrest in the country. I decided to take a stand and planned a march on Parliament to awaken the government. We organized a march for May 29, 1974 and at the same time I tabled a resolution in Parliament requesting a select committee to consider the social, cultural and economic plight of the Bahamian people. At 9 a.m. hundreds gathered at Jumbey Village with placards and marched from over the hill, arriving at the House of Assembly at 10 a.m. singing songs of comfort. I moved the resolution on the floor of the House of Assembly calling for a select committee to consider the social, cultural and economic plight of the Bahamian people with powers to send for persons and papers and with leave to sit during the recess, and it was unanimously adopted by parliamentarians. The select committee completed an interim report on the economic problems which loomed in the face of the Bahamian people and the report was laid on the table of the House of Assembly on September 4, 1974.
Shortly after the report was tabled, I was informed by the prime minister that the report would be deferred by ministers back to the committee. After the meeting with the prime minister, I was shocked to learn that the figures provided to the committee by the Department of Statistics were changed after the report was tabled. The committee came to conclusions and made recommendations on the following programs:
1. Touristic facilities.
2. Agriculture and fisheries.
3. Light industries.
4. Entertainment industry.
5. Youth development schemes.
Members of the committee came to the conclusion that the plan of action that had great promise for the people was sabotaged by members of the government.
Today, this country is going through a major crisis and is on the border of anarchy. Many are wondering how we arrived at this critical stage. I am compelled to reflect on the revolution of January 1967 when we danced and celebrated our newfound freedom and I also remember how we soon forgot our responsibilities to those who elected us. I have vivid memories of our commitment to true freedom. Then we had the available resources and the attitude of the people to accomplish anything we desired of them.
I would like to thank Sir Stafford Sands for his vision and commitment to our Bahamas. He must be given credit for his efforts in laying the ground work in 1966 for a massive urban development program. It was during this period that he commissioned a study that was prepared for the government of The Bahamas by the Institute of Urban Environment and the Division of Urban Planning of the School of Architecture of Columbia University in New York City. This study began in 1966 and was completed during the PLP government's first term in 1967. The study recommended sweeping social development action in Over-the- Hill areas in New Providence. It should be noted that every serving member of the House of Assembly during that term was issued a copy of that document. I am convinced that this plan had the key to most of today's problems and would have transformed over the hill. What a tragedy.
Today's situation
Urban Renewal 2.0, as we know it today, is a work in progress. I am of the view that the fundamental problem is that it is not structured correctly; for instance, the use of members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the overlapping of social services and urban development. Urban development is a highly technical field requiring qualified, well-trained people to develop the whole man or woman. Social services, on the other hand, is catering to the poor and the underprivileged who are in dire need of social help like food, shelter and immediate assistance during mishaps like fires, hurricanes, flooding and other disasters. If the urban development is to be successful there has to be a separation among social services, urban development and interventions of the police force. The involvement of police should focus more on community policing exclusively, which deals with the symptoms of crime rather than the rehabilitation of criminals. We cannot afford to have our officers in khaki uniforms talking about social issues as a primary focus. It gives the wrong impression and sends the wrong message. Their role is defined as police officers in our country and they should be focusing on their mandate to protect and serve the individuals and the community. Additionally, urban development encompasses creating sustainable and meaningful development programs to be executed throughout the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are well-written, documented community development programs in the ministry from as far back as 1971 that can assist in bringing about the desired changes today. These programs are as relevant today as much as they were when they were written more than 40 years ago.
On February 8, 1976, I resigned from the Progressive Liberal Party. In my closing statement I said: "Over the years I served you to the best of my ability, because I fought for the principles and ideals for which I was elected and because I took the case of your social and economic plight to the halls of Parliament. I was maligned, victimized and most recently detained in a small, unhealthy cell for 12 hours without explanation. I have come to the conclusion that there is no freedom in the Progressive Liberal Party."
In spite of the sacrifices made by the Bahamian people to construct Jumbey Village it meant nothing to the decision makers in 1987. I passed Jumbey Village one Friday evening in July 1987 and when I returned on Saturday morning it was flattened. Later, I was informed that they had to use explosives to blow away the theater. Can you imagine how traumatized I was to learn that our government had granted permission to blow up its nation's cultural heritage? Words cannot express my sadness, anguish and the disappointment that I experienced concerning the destruction of Jumbey Village.
Today, we have become victims of a patronage system which destroys our ability to grow and excel. The social and economic conditions are indeed explosive and our leaders seem to be unable to meet the challenge. If we are to solve these problems, we have to search where we went wrong and admit it. It cannot be business as usual. We, the masters of the Quiet Revolution made mistakes somewhere along the lines and it is my humble belief that we all know what went wrong and who is responsible. We all must confess our transgressions and ask God for forgiveness. Our political leaders should take the lead. I have taken the high road in these matters. Although I have reasons to be bitter, I am not and neither should you be. We must rid ourselves of this cult atmosphere prevailing in the country and unite in a serious mission to build the nation.
In conclusion, it would be safe to say that the template to correct and fix most if not all of the social and economic problems was created many years ago, and well exemplified by the creation of Jumbey Village.
It is also safe to say that self-help and community involvement are not foreign concepts even if they now appear to be almost unknown to many Bahamians. But as in the past, committed and enlightened leadership is required to lift us out of the cesspit of social degradation in which we now find ourselves.
Urban Renewal as envisioned four decades ago involves the youth of the country and creates economic opportunities for the people and a deep sense of self-empowerment which can be successfully transmitted up and down the line across varying age levels.
Despite the decided reality of our political and philosophical differences, the bottom line is if we are to succeed as a caring nation, we must put aside some of the ever-present acrimony that certainly creates more harm than good. It would behoove us to rally our cooperative efforts behind those who are clearly committed to the overall improvement of our people as individuals and as communities.
If the government cannot accept advice, even in the face of the murderous scourge engulfing the country, then we are doomed. However, I am hopeful that the era of spiteful recriminations and tribal behavior is behind us and we can come together, government and opposition, church and civil society, for the common good. I am also hopeful that the promise of 1967 will finally be realized, where the good of the people trumps all other interests.
o Edmund Moxey is a former member of Parliament.

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Sociopolitical reflections of an octogenarian Bahamian native son, pt. 1

February 28, 2014

On December 2, 2013, I celebrated my 80th birthday with much gratitude. Having reached such an important milestone, I paused to reflect on my youthful days when I became a part of an organization dedicated to the struggle for social justice.
Today, my soul mourns the social, economic and political state of the nation and I must conclude that we have travelled from slavery to slavery. We have to agree that something is drastically wrong in our nation and we must unite to seek an effective remedy.
My struggle on the battlefield was rough and sometimes disappointing. However, I remained steadfast and focused in my resolve to preserve democracy. Recently, I was shocked and disappointed in the minister of tourism regarding his revelation of the intention to establish a gaming mecca in The Bahamas. Our forefathers must be in misery as they turn over in their graves. My, my, what a serious departure from our heritage culture and the things we fought for not so long ago. Questions about who should get the next casino license and the establishment of a gambling economy should be cause for serious reflection by all Bahamians.
I vividly recall that in March, 1972 I was informed that Cabinet was to develop a green paper on independence. A green paper is a working document that is sent to Parliament for further development of a final document called a white paper. I was elated because this meant that we were continuing to uphold the primary underpinnings upon which our election rested. My joy quickly vanished when I found out that the venue for the national conference was to be the casino theater on Paradise Island.
I immediately sought an audience with the prime minister to find out what was the reasoning behind his decision to discuss and develop independence for a nation in a casino theater. The prime minister confirmed that the casino was the intended venue and bluntly told me that if I had a better location to suggest he would accept that location. I accepted the challenge and within days identified Harold Road Auditorium (A.F. Adderley School gym) located over the hill. The prime minister accepted the Over-the-Hill location and fortunately the conference was opened on April 15, 1972.
This conference was indeed symbolic because we created a mock parliament setting up the auditorium like the House of Assembly. We borrowed the paraphernalia from the House, including the mace, and constructed a replica of the House over the hill.
It was a national event and it seemed like everybody attended. In attendance were social and cultural organizations, a delegation from every Family Island, unionists, taxi drivers and persons from all walks of life. It was a historic event and we were able to openly discuss and share our views on what we thought an independent Bahamas should be. The official opposition members refused to attend the meeting because they felt as if we should not have created a mock Parliament over the hill and while they believed in independence they did not believe that we were ready for it in 1973.
The opening of the mock Parliament took the form of the official opening of Parliament held in Parliament Square today. During the meeting we were able to develop the green paper and place the completed draft of the proposed format on the prime minister's desk. It was sent to Parliament in the fall of 1972 and a date was set in January 1973 for independence on July 10, 1973.

Transitioning
and gambling
On December 12, 1973, there was a serious rift within the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and the government over casino operations and ownership in The Bahamas. I recall the nasty confrontation between former Minister of Development the late Carlton Francis and the former Minister of Finance A.D. Hanna. It was truly a rude awakening for those present. The confrontation came about because of the critical position taken against the United Bahamian Party in 1967 by the PLP. As a matter of fact, the PLP waged a vicious campaign against casino gambling and the mafia bosses during the 1967 campaign which led to majority rule. It was unthinkable to many of us that the government would want to form a partnership with the mafia group that we campaigned so vehemently against after winning the government. We must not forget the remarks made by Francis that day on the floor of Parliament in connection with the government's plan to take over the casinos in The Bahamas. Francis, who was also perceived to be speaking on behalf of the Baptist Convention, stated the following, "I am making it clear that as far as I am concerned this is a conscience matter. This resolution raises a fundamental question for me. I am making a clear divergence between my principles and political considerations. Leaving conscience aside, I would like to raise the point that we are a young nation. We have not yet found a national identity. I feel that the white paper (on independence) and the speech from the throne put before us certain ideals and qualities that I would like to see in a young and growing nation. Gambling is a cancer eating away at the qualities that help to make people what they are. I believe there are alternatives, but no one will find these alternatives as long as they can find the easy way out. I do not believe that gambling is good for the country."
Francis was forced to resign as minister of development and it is my opinion that his reaction was brought about by the behavior of Hanna. Further, I found it difficult to understand why the prime minister seemed eager to let his most able minister go and demonstrated no compassion or sympathy for him. Francis' removal from the Cabinet table created a void that was difficult to fill.
Some 41 years ago, our government seemed hellbent on lying in bed with casino operators and today nothing has changed. The mission of the Quiet Revolution has been betrayed.
On January 26, 1974, I made the following statement at the First Annual Conference of the Coconut Grove constituency, "The introduction in this country of an economy based on organized gambling will surely destroy our cultural heritage."
Today, 40 years later, I stand by that statement and call upon the nation to take a stand. We do not need any more casinos in The Bahamas. I humbly beg the government to reconsider its present position. We all know that there are alternatives, but we refuse to explore them. We must act now and we must be creative.

Community development
I was first elected to Parliament on Tuesday, January 10, 1967 to represent the Coconut Grove constituency. I soon found out that the Progressive Liberal Party government inherited a system of oppression and had no intention of changing it. I called my constituents together and we decided to seek help to embark on a social, cultural and economic development program. The program was a success and to our credit the constituents of Coconut Grove gained a community center, Jumbey Festival, and Jumbey Village on Blue Hill Road. I recall our first classical and folklore concert on March 9, 1969 at the Government High School Auditorium. The Rt. Hon. L.O. Pindling attended the concert and expressed surprise and shock at the talents displayed by our young people from the Coconut Grove constituency.
Shortly after this concert, the prime minister invited me to his residence for a talk and congratulated me for the work that I was doing in the community and invited me to become a parliamentary secretary in his office with responsibilities for community development known these days as Urban Renewal. I accepted the post and received my instrument of appointment in December 1970.
I arrived at the prime minister's office in January 1971 to receive instructions and was shown a nine by 12 office in the Cabinet building very near the prime minister's office and instructed to set up the community development program from there. I expressed some concern about the space I was offered and was informed that it was the only space available. I sought some assistance from Carlton Francis, minister of finance, and with his help I was able to set up satisfactory machinery on the second floor of the Spotless Cleaners Building on Madeira Street.
I was eager to get started and immediately contacted the community development unit of the United Nations requesting assistance in the development of a community development program. An officer from the United Nations was dispatched to Nassau to assist us and we developed a program for The Bahamas. On September 15, 1971, I wrote to the prime minister expressing my frustration and disappointment in the government's attitude towards social problems in the country. The following is an excerpt from that letter, "Our educational system is nearly up to par at present, however, we must remember that we took this country over just four short years ago and all who voted for us at that time are now in the cold and in need of social development machinery. Immediate steps should be taken: To improve and build the minds of the masses in Over-the-Hill areas like Grants Town, Bain Town, the Five Pound Lot etc. and to develop a program that will allow our people to further participate in the economy of the country. Then and only then will we be able to say that we represent all our brothers and sisters."
In October 1971, I presented that community development program to the Progressive Liberal Party's convention and it was unanimously adopted by the convention.
The Coconut Grove Community Centre was an ambitious venture but the residents of the Coconut Grove constituency and their member of Parliament rose to the task undauntedly. The community library and clinic,
preschool, cultural workshops and a small theater were a part of a self-help project. This was the first time that a member of Parliament had personally done something so significant in his constituency. The first fundraiser, a telethon, was held on Sunday, June 15, 1969. We received pledges of donations in the sum of $10,000 and donations of labor and material. In October 1972, we delivered to the government of The Bahamas two complete units, namely the community clinic and
library, which are still in operation today. Both units, which are located on Acklins Street, were fully equipped and professionally staffed, putting in operation the first of its kind over the hill. It may be interesting to note that the clinic served women and infants from as far away as Gladstone and Carmichael Roads. The pre-school unit was completed at a later date and that too is still in operation today.
Cabinet initially agreed to provide funds for the completion of the center, the cultural workshops and small theater with a seating capacity of 200, but later we were denied by the powers that be. God knows I tried. The theater on Acklins Street was to be a training ground for artists, an opportunity for them to sharpen their skills and talents before they performed at Jumbey Village Theatre, which was likened to Carnegie Hall.
Every year we constructed a site for the four-day street festival on Coconut Grove Avenue called the Jumbey Festival, which brought thousands of persons in to the Coconut Grove community to experience indigenous Bahamian culture and way of life. The site included a replica of a typical Bahamian village. It was a strenuous task having to build and take down the site every year and I recognized that eventually we had to develop a permanent site.
In 1970 I had a vision for a cultural center, Jumbey Village. I knew that through self-reliance and self-help, we could produce life from a former dumpsite on Big Pond to create and construct a beautiful heritage village. In 1970 our Jumbey Festival on Coconut Grove Avenue provided the financing to begin land clearing at Big Pond. I was able to get the entire community involved. The proposed Jumbey Village was a three-prong mission: social, cultural and economic. Donations came in the form of monies, trees, trucks and delivery drivers, to name a few items.
The Coconut Grove Women's Charity Club, Junior Jaycees, Southern Youth Corporation, College UNICOMM, churches and the nation's schools, private and public, all played a major role in the development of the Village, as it was called.
The junior and secondary schools had a function and the proceeds were donated and the teachers donated a half day's pay towards the Bahamian people's Jumbey Village. Dame Doris Johnson, then minister of transport, and Livingstone Coakley, then minister of works, provided assistance in materials and equipment.
o Edmund Moxey is a former member of Parliament. The second and final part of this piece will be published in tomorrow's newspaper.

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The dangers of the web shop status quo

February 28, 2014

A year has passed since the web shop referendum. The people voted against legalizing web shops and a national lottery...

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Legislators and the payment of taxes

February 27, 2014

The government is holding to its July 1 deadline to implement a value-added tax (VAT). The business community is against it...

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God's faithful recognized

February 27, 2014

Twelve people will be recognized for the work they have done for the Lord during Prophetic Evangelism Network's annual conference.
Apostle Christopher Russell, Elder Anna Russell, Reverend Esther Thompson, Pastor Jason Russell, Minister Sophette Russell, Irene Dawkins, Rozella Brown, Troy Clarke, Deaconess Edris Rolle, Bishop Stanley Pinder, Elder Minalee Hanchell, and Pastor Bruce Farrington will be honored during the church's conference, an event at which they hope to create an atmosphere where people of all denominations will be able to come together to hear and heed God's word.
"It is expected to be a time of apostolic instructions, prophetic impartation, release, refreshing, deliverance and an elevation of the people of God in attendance to another level in God, based on what God is saying for this time and season," said Minister Kay Johnson, founder and president of Prophetic Evangelism Network.
Johnson, along with Apostle Brenda Pratt, pastor of Global Worship Centre in New Providence; Pastor Larry Weathers, pastor of Revolution Mark Church, San Diego, California; Apostle Christopher Russell, senior pastor at Christian Tabernacle Church, New Providence, and Prophet Michael Carter, pastor of Celebration Church, Kingston, Jamaica will speak during the conference which began on Wednesday and concludes on Saturday, March 1. The services are at the sanctuary of the Latter Glory Kingdom Embassy located on East Street north (on the left, just before Big One Shoe Store). It is being held under the theme "Truth, Dominion and a Season of Recovery, with evening services at 7:30 p.m., midday encounters from 12 noon to 2 p.m. and a Saturday morning encounter at 7 a.m.
The conference will conclude with a black and white banquet on March 1 at which time the honorees will be recognized.
Apostle Christopher Russell
Raised by his grandparents, the late Victor and Araina Russell who taught him the principals of living and the importance of obedience to God, Russell, a former Royal Bahamas Defence Force marine who has a degree in theology from Christian Life College, is described as a devoted soldier for Jesus Christ who has proven to be an invaluable asset in his leadership role as God's under-shepherd.
"He is sensitive and obedient to the voice of God, his commander-in-chief and is known to seek direction through fasting and praying before he attempts to fulfill the task of his master," said Pastor Johnson.
Russell has held several positions in the church before being called to lead as pastor of The Christian Tabernacle Church.

Elder Anna Russell
His wife, Elder Anna Russell will also be honored for recognizing the fact that God called her to preach the Gospel, and that she did it.
"From a young child [Anna] always had an urge to be in the house of God not knowing that the hands of the Lord were upon her, she pursued God although unaware of the call," said Pastor Johnson. "Elder Anna believes as the Father had sent Christ unto the world, that Christ has now sent her. She believes that God has called her to preach the gospel to the meek, to the bind the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to open the prison to those that are bound, and to bring total deliverance to his people."
Russell who holds an associate degree in theology believes in putting God first.

Reverend Esther Thompson

Reverend Esther Lee Dawkins
Thompson was raised by her parents, the late Bishop Norris Dawkins and Irene Gertrude Dawkins, who taught her the principles of living and the importance of being obedient to God, and as such, she is sensitive and obedient to the voice of God.
"She is known to seek direction through fasting and praying before she attempts to fulfill the task of her master," said Johnson. "She is a vessel of honor that truly loves the Lord and has a great passion for the justice of those who cannot defend themselves."
Thompson who has an associate degree in Christian Education and Theology has held many positions in the church. She currently serves as one of the associate pastors of the Voice of Deliverance Disciple Centre.

Pastor Jason and Minister Sophette Russell
Pastor Jason and Minister Sophette Russell are being honored for their many years of involvement in community development in Old Bight, Cat Island. They founded Tabernacle of God Outreach International Ministry.

Irene Dawkins
"Irene Dawkins, a straw vendor by profession is known to be a lady who really loves the Lord and serves faithfully at the Greater Bethel Cathedral. In addition, she held the position of vice-president of the 'Unity Fellowship Prayer Band' the official prayer group of the Bay Street Straw Market," said Johnson.
She described Dawkins as a woman who has been a mother to many people that she did not give birth to.

Apostle Rozella Brown
Apostle Rozella Brown, the pastor and founder of Tabernacle of Deliverance Outreach Ministries Inc. in Ocala, Florida, will also be recognized during the conference. She believes that as a pastor she is a servant first with a mission to release believers to the work of the ministry and to not only lead by example in both preaching and teaching, but to also challenge and equip believers to fulfill the great commission.
Brown said she has no greater joy than ministering as the Spirit leads and in seeing believers grow spiritually empowered to stand for God.

Troy Clarke
Troy Clarke is presently pursuing an advanced Degree in Biblical Studies and Theology from Beacon. He has completed Levels 1-3 of the Myles Munroe Leadership Mentoring Program.
He is the president/CEO of the Destiny Group of Companies providing professional services in training, personal development and consultancy and is the founding president of the National L.E.A.D. Institute, a community correctional organization in The Bahamas. Based on the best practices he adopted through education and experience, Clarke's mission is to establish the National L.E.A.D. Institute with innovative programs that integrate local approaches to similarly structured, successful programs throughout the United States and Canada. To this end he established the Eagles Academy, an alternative to school for at-risk males and juvenile offenders.
Clarke believes that all men fall, but the great ones get back up; and that you do not drown by falling into the water, but that you drown by staying there. He also strongly believes that it takes a community to raise a man.

Deaconess Edris Rolle
In every generation, God raises up extraordinary people who understand the value of hard work, and they never hesitate to express gratitude along the way -- Edris Rolle is said to be such a person.
The daughter of Elder Clarence and Elva Ellis of Bailey Town, Bimini, she accepted the Lord as her personal savior at an early age and became a member of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church where she held various offices over the years. She currently serves at the church's secretary and leader of the church praise team.

Elder Minalee Hanchell
Described as a true servant of God, Elder Minalee Hanchell has participated in numerous mission trips throughout The Bahamas and around the world. The executive director of Great Commission Ministries International, which focuses on the needs of the poor and homeless, Hanchell has ministered in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the United States.
She also serves as the director of "Save the Children" club and as the director of the Miss Gospel Bahamas Pageant. She is a board member of "Hands for Hunger" and a member of the Bahamas Feeding Network and the Bahamas Committee for Families.

Pastor Bruce Farrington
From the moment Pastor Bruce Farrington received his call to the ministry of God, it is said he became a dedicated soldier, preaching and teaching the gospel of Christ.
He joined with his uncle, Cecil Leadon who brought the Pentecostal faith to Andros in 1955, and was appointed assistant pastor of the Little Power House, a position he held for 42 years before he decided the people needed somewhere bigger and better to continue their weekly fellowship. He spearheaded the building of the Greater Power House Church, which was completed in 1978.
Due to the fact that Pastor Leadon was up in age, Farrington took on the job of the daily administration of the church. He believes in the saying that if he could help somebody as he travels along, that he knows his living would not be in vain.

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As Christians, Jesus expects us to bear up under the most extreme hurts

February 27, 2014

You have heard that it was said, 'eye for eye, and tooth for tooth'. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also...

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Two ideas of politics

February 26, 2014

Historically, societies have struggled with the idea of what constitutes good governance and have devised different strategies to create order among their people. Even the Arawaks had their system of governance with chiefs, and in other societies the medicine men gave advice on what strategies should be followed and how. The Inca and Aztec civilizations also had sophisticated systems of governance, despite what other civilizations thought of them.
But, as we know, these were impacted on not so nicely by those who came from the outside. And the politics of how much government is necessary was reflected in these situations, and still continues.
This idea of what politics or governance should be about is shown in the writings of two political thinkers, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. And this has influenced governance up to the present. Hobbes wrote about what he termed the social contract, which he used to conclude that citizens ought to submit to the authority of an absolute ruler with unlimited power. He felt that for stability to be had, people should refrain from any activity that might undermine the political system. For example, they should not dispute the extent of the power of the absolute ruler, and should not rebel.
Many political writers feel that, because Hobbes lived in a period of social challenges, this was the reason why he saw law and order as being at the heart of politics. And they also see this as providing a basis for authoritarian and dictatorial systems, where the word of the political leader is absolute.
Political leaders in our modern context do not seem to realize that Hobbes stated these views because of the disorderly politics of his day. And some Caribbean historians note that the system of colonial rule in the Caribbean had clear features of Hobbes' politics. But another reason for the position on politics Hobbes took had to do with his concept of a state of nature in which humans lived their lives.
This alleged state of nature, is a condition without government where each person decides how he should act and is judge, jury and executioner when disputes arose. This is why Hobbes advocated absolute power for the ruler to enforce decisions to ensure security and a civilized life. But Hobbes does say this absolute authority is mutually recognized, because people come together to form an agreement to obey a common authority since they were incapable of protecting themselves on their own. This also involved a transfer of rights to this absolute authority in return for protection.
But Hobbes seems to contradict himself when he says that political legitimacy does not depend on how a government comes to power, but whether it can effectively protect those who agreed to obey it. He does say that the people are free to disobey some of the government's policies, but does not seem to appreciate that excessive power can corrupt individuals and cause them to become a law unto themselves and not act in the public good.
So here we seem to have the idea of government by dictatorship and the powerful. And many political leaders have taken their cue from this and used it as a political strategy to govern. This also suggests government by an elite, although the sovereign authority is mutually recognized and agreed to.
The other view of political governance advocated by John Locke states that men are free and equal by nature and that people have rights such as the right to life, liberty and property, independent of the laws of society. Locke further notes that legitimate political government comes from a social contract where people transfer some of their rights to the government to ensure the stable, comfortable enjoyment of their lives, liberty and property. And he adds that, since government exists because of the consent of the people, to promote the public good any government that fails in its responsibilities can be replaced with a new one. Locke also defends the idea of majority rule.
In general, Locke supports private property, minimal government and distrusted the use of power, but notes that factions should not be tolerated if their numbers grow to such an extent that they pose a threat to the state. And for him, government is a tool that depends on the consent of the people, and that the state is commissioned by the people to serve their interests.
Locke seems to present a more democratic and consensual view of politics. Government results from the consent of the people. It is not absolute, and its power is not absolute either. In Locke's view of politics, government is an instrument of the people to institute their wishes. It is not separated and apart from the people. Here we have a view of politics which puts the sovereignty of the people in the forefront.
Government is not above or on top of people, but is there to execute their will. People put a government in place to protect them and promote the good of everyone. And if it fails in this, it loses support and can be replaced. This is direct democracy, with the full weight and expression of people power.
But it so happens that politics in the Caribbean seems to be based on a form of deception. Although some political aspirants go to the people and ask for their support, the agreement is not reciprocal. What really happens is that, after voting for a political party, what the people appear to have really voted for is to put a certain number of people in jobs, which many could not get elsewhere because they lack the proper and relevant credentials, exposure and experience. The lives of many voters remain the same and what results from political activity is a form of tribal warfare, with the victory of one over the other accompanied by continued skirmishes until the next time around.
There is no concept of looking after the general will of the people, or of a social contract to which government and the people subscribe. Rather, Caribbean politics is legalistic, bureaucratic, and somewhat static and repetitive. It appears incapable of making the kind of radical changes that would transform the lives of constituents.
The authoritarianism of Hobbes' view seems to predominate over the real and direct democracy advocated by Locke. Political institutions in the Caribbean seem to pass legislation that has neither meaning nor purpose to the majority of Caribbean people. Our political systems reap from the people in the form of more taxes, rather than sow genuine development initiatives that enables them to use their energy and initiative to live a decent rewarding existence.
Good, caring politics does not allow poverty, unemployment and crime to be a constant feature of political life. This happens because Caribbean political systems do not provide people with a genuine vision of how things could be, with their help. And this is why we have societies where development initiatives, when manifested, are lopsided and appear not to have the desired impact on the circumstances of the majority.
Perhaps the Caribbean political directorate needs to study some of the political ideas of the ancient philosophers and gain some wisdom from them. To their surprise, they might find that what they are now struggling with was dealt with in antiquity. And people like Plato, Locke, and Rousseau would be a healthy place from which to begin the quest for a more ethical politics and a more authentic people-oriented development strategy, which could emerge; which is sustainable. But they would have to trust the people first. They will then understand that sometimes in order to move forward, you have to look back with new eyes and an open mind.

o Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and training, University of Leicester. He is a past permanent secretary in education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Publicizing the disbarment of lawyers

February 26, 2014

Lawyers occupy positions of trust. They are supposed to be our representatives and advocates. They at times handle our money...

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Retired police to sue for more than 100m

February 25, 2014

HUNDREDS of retired police officers are taking legal action against the government and the head of the Royal Bahamas Police Force concerning more than $100m in gratuities owed to them...

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The opposition should embrace a leadership fight

February 25, 2014

When political parties lose elections the spotlight is always on the leader. In the case of the Free National Movement (FNM) after the 2012 general election Hubert Ingraham, the leader at the time, resigned...

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The fiscal reform series: Consumption and proposed taxes

February 25, 2014

Fiscal reform and revisions to our taxation system are arguably the hottest topics in The Bahamas at the moment. The commentators on this very important issue have been diverse based on their expertise, professional background, political affiliations and objectives. While the variety of inputs has enriched the general discourse and invigorated the national debate among the populace, it has also contributed to the level of misinformation and frenzy on an issue that is so critical to the future of our country.
In the aftermath of the release of the government's white paper and draft legislation on tax reform, the discussion on the proposed value-added tax (VAT) has intensified with various stakeholders and groups expressing their views on the actions that should be taken to correct our financial imbalance. The suggestions have been generally constructive and have included proposals on the revenue and expenditure side. In this piece of the series, we briefly consider the role of consumption in the tax debate.

Decisions on government expenditure
There appears to be a general consensus that we arrived in this critical financial state due to practices by successive governments that were not always prudent over the years. In simple terms, we perpetuated the habit of spending more than we were earning. The imbalance created by this pattern has not been confined to The Bahamas and continues to impact countries across the globe as political leaders grapple with making the tough, albeit right, decisions for fear of backlash from the electorate at election time.
While it seems quite easy to suggest drastic cuts in government spending, it is not as straightforward when considered against the backdrop of the role of public expenditure in spurring economic growth. In the Bahamian context, the revelation that about 70 percent of salaries of public servants are deducted to pay for various goods and services - that is, to service consumer loans - adds to the complexity of this matter. This also highlights the impact that an irrational and/or ill-timed reduction of staff within the public service would have on our economy. The importance of caution in this instance does not eliminate the need for more efficiency and productivity within the public service.

The link to private consumption
Over the years, a number of local economists and financial analysts have decried the lack of a culture of savings and investment by Bahamians. It has been reported that about 95 percent of Bahamian dollar personal savings accounts have a balance of less than $10,000. Of particular note is the fact that statistics suggest that the average balance is less than $1,000. When considered in conjunction with the percentage of salaries earmarked for financing consumer loans as highlighted above, the overall picture raises serious concerns.
While we do not have the corresponding figure for the entire Bahamian workforce to include the private sector, the government remains the number one employer in The Bahamas and it is apparent that a debt crisis spurred by consuming more than we earn may not be farfetched.
The importance of consumption within any economy cannot be emphasized enough primarily due to the correlation between consumer spending, economic activity, business turnover, employment and economic growth. However, when consumer spending takes place on a large scale by individuals without the requisite financial wherewithal and is financed by loans obtained by persons who do not have the capacity to pay, the consequences can be devastating in the long run. The establishment of a credit bureau and prudent lending practices should assist in addressing this issue. However, the culture of spending more than we earn or can afford is not sustainable and will require a paradigm shift.

Taxes and discretionary income
One of the main points that have been raised in the tax reform debate has been the regressive nature of our existing tax system and the proposed VAT. There has been considerable debate on the need for a tax system that takes into consideration the earnings and purchasing power of persons in the allocation of the tax burden. The discourse has featured consistent reference to disposable and discretionary income of the populace. It is noteworthy to state that while disposable income generally refers to income after taxes, discretionary income is the amount of the disposable income left after deduction of other expenses such as utility bills and further expenses necessary to maintain a certain standard of living.
The opponents of VAT have cited income tax and payroll tax as viable alternatives while rightly stating that there is hardly any country with a consumption or sales tax system that does not also have a form of progressive tax such as income tax. Payroll taxes are levied on the payroll of employers and are paid either from employees' wages or employers' funds based on the wages paid. It has been stated that the existing infrastructure for the remittance of national insurance payments and business license fees provide for the easy implementation of an income or payroll tax system.
The counterargument on the inappropriate nature of income tax focuses on the fact that it discourages hard work, investments and individual progression. It has also been postulated that income tax in the current environment of sluggish economic growth and high unemployment will not broaden the tax base enough to generate the amount of revenue required to address our financial situation. This is not unconnected to the inability of income tax to capture some residents of The Bahamas as well as individuals outside of the organized formal economy who consume both goods and services within this nation.

Few questions to consider
There is no doubt that VAT in its strict sense is a regressive form of taxation, albeit as proposed it is expected to be more progressive than some of the existing taxes we have. Vital questions abound in this tax debate. In light of the demands on government, how much more can we tax our people? How much mandatory non-discretionary tax can Bahamians afford to pay since we have to raise additional revenue? VAT is a consumption tax which is paid by the final consumer; hence, the discretionary element of the VAT gives the taxpayer some control as to when (in terms of goods and services procured) and how much tax they pay (based on their level of consumption). Could this be useful in addressing our macro- and micro-debt crisis without hurting the economy? With the current rate of unemployment and underemployment, can the average worker afford more compulsory deductions from their wages? If businesses are taxed some more in the form of corporate tax, how do we expect them to create more jobs? Would we rather tax natural and corporate entities rather than consumption?

Politics and the tax debate
As can be expected in all debates with consequences for the country, politics continues to play a major role in the fiscal and tax reform discourse. Politicians must remember, however, that good politics is about serving the public in the national interest. It is no doubt convenient to postpone tough decisions and it is fair to say that we are in this predicament because successive administrations have been guilty of deferring the issue of tax reform arguably due to the potential backlash at the polls as well as appeasing foreign investors and the wealthy.
The Bahamas is bigger than any one individual, interest group or political party. There is too much at stake for us to base decisions of national importance on the potential outcome of the next general election; our focus should be on the next generation and the preservation of our commonwealth. The government has an obligation to make what it deems to be the right decisions based on the facts available considering feedback received from various stakeholders. Subsequently, it will be left to future generations to judge this administration for positions taken and/or decisions deferred.
We must continue to hold successive administrations to a high standard and level of accountability as it relates to the prudent management of our economy and the exercise of fiscal discipline from year to year. However, we must not forget the fact that a major overhaul of our tax system is inevitable and required for the sustenance of our freedom and national development.

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

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What are people thinking

February 24, 2014

"Public opinion is the thermometer a monarch should constantly consult."
- Napoleon Bonaparte

Earlier this month, we wrote about the developments related to web shops in The Bahamas one year after the ill-fated referendum on the regulation and taxation of web shop gaming and the establishment of a national lottery. For much of this month, there seems to have been a softening of the opposition in certain quarters and outright support from some parts of the community that heretofore were silent on the issue. In addition, following several articles that appeared in the media about the effectiveness of the official opposition, we thought it would be instructive to take the pulse of the nation on this topical issue as well as one other.
Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider This... what are people thinking now about the important issue of the regulation of web shops and how do they generally feel about certain members of the official opposition?

Referendum results
We previously reported that on January 28, 2013, the referendum results were neither conclusive nor persuasive. The voter turnout of just 48 percent of the 2012 registered voters was extremely low compared to the 156,000 votes cast in the 2012 general election, which represented an impressive 91 percent turnout of the 172,128 registered voters.
In the referendum, the total number of votes cast against the regularization of web shops was 51,146, or 62 percent of the votes cast, versus 31,657, or 38 percent of the votes cast in favor of regularization. We concluded that the low voter referendum turnout compared to that of the 2012 general election demonstrated that it would be erroneous to conclude that a majority of Bahamians are opposed to regularizing web shops.
In an earlier article, we proffered several reasons for the outcome of the referendum which we will not repeat here.

The January poll results
Also in the aforementioned article, we reported on the results of a scientific poll of 575 individuals that was conducted in January, noting that the number of persons who supported the regulation and taxation of web shops was 55 percent of those polled while 40 percent of the respondents opposed the prospect.
In light of that poll's results, we maintain that the referendum outcome in 2013 did not accurately represent the genuine national sentiment on this issue, particularly in light of the extremely low voter turnout.

The February poll results
M'wale Rahming, president of Public Domain, a Bahamian research company, recently conducted another scientific poll, this time of 606 persons, about local sentiments regarding the web shops and the results of this most current poll were even more instructive than the poll that was conducted last month.
In this later poll, persons were asked two questions: "1. If the government of The Bahamas announced that they were tabling legislation to regularize and tax web shop gaming as of March 1, would you support or oppose this decision?"
The results of the February poll indicated that 68 percent of the respondents supported the regularization and taxation of web shops while 24 percent were opposed to doing so. The results represent a 13 percent increase in support for the regularization and taxation of web shops over the January polling results. Instructive indeed!
The second question posed by Public Domain was: "If the government of The Bahamas announced that as of March 1 they would begin arresting and prosecuting anyone involved in web shop gaming, would you support or oppose this decision?"
The results of the poll indicated that 57 percent of the respondents opposed such action by the authorities while 35 percent supported doing so.

Results on the opposition's favorability ratings
We also asked Public Domain to poll the favorability ratings of members of the opposition, something that would probably be similar to what is known in the United States as a politician's all-important approval rating. Again, the poll was conducted on a statistically valid basis from 606 respondents. The opposition members who were selected to be polled represented a cross section of politicians. The following is a recap of the poll results:

The two persons who stood out in this exercise were Loretta Butler-Turner and Branville McCartney. It is interesting that, of all the FNM members who were selected for this exercise, she enjoyed the highest favorability rating; considerably higher than Hubert Ingraham, who also marginally outpaced the favorability rating for Dr. Hubert Minnis, the current leader of the official opposition. This is especially enlightening because she is a relative newcomer to Bahamian politics, although her antecedents are not.
In addition, notwithstanding his relatively low favorability rating of 35 percent, compared to his colleagues, John Bostwick, a virtual newcomer to Bahamian politics, has performed impressively, especially because he has a relatively low unfavorability rating which very closely compares with that of Loretta Butler-Turner. It can be suggested that the large number of persons who responded (for Bostwick) that "they did not know" is a function of his fairly recent entry into the political fray.
But it was Branville McCartney, leader of the Democratic National Alliance, who scored the highest favorability rating of all members of any of the opposition parties. It is also interesting that he enjoys the lowest unfavorability rating of all his competitors in opposition who were polled. Perhaps, based on the public's feedback, he should not be so quickly discounted by others in the political mainstream. And more importantly, he should conduct his own poll to help him to understand what accounts for his overwhelmingly impressive polling in this lot.
In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Public Domain performed a similar exercise for the Progressive Liberal Party but could not release the results of that poll because it has been retained to poll members of the PLP by another client and the release of those results would constitute a breach of confidentiality.

Conclusion
Regarding the results relative to the web shops, we repeat that the time is long overdue for the government to demonstrate bold, decisive leadership in this regard and to finally do the right thing by regularizing this activity which tremendously and positively impacts our economy by way of employment, business financing and other spinoff benefits that are not currently factored into the nation's gross domestic product.
Regarding the results relative to the favorability ratings of members in opposition to the government, it is apparent that challenges for the leadership of the FNM are in the cards. It is also very evident that Branville McCartney should be energized by his performance in this polling and, perhaps, begin an even more vigorous challenge to what has, up to now, been a firmly entrenched two-party system.

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

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