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News Article

March 05, 2012
Financing political campaigns

Elections are more often bought than won.
- U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton

As the general election in The Bahamas approaches, there has been considerable discussion about the sources of political campaign finance. One of the local tabloids has suggested that the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) is being funded by "unsavory characters". At one of the Free National Movement (FNM) rallies, the prime minister is quoted as saying: "The PLP has plenty money! And there is a reason they have plenty money. The money they've got, we don't want! We'd rather be out than in if we have to use that kind of money! Our hands are clean!"
Therefore this week, we would like to Consider This... should we be concerned where political parties receive their campaign contributions?
Campaign finance refers to funds that are raised and spent to promote candidates and political parties in election contests. In modern democracies, such funds are not necessarily devoted exclusively to election campaigns. Political contributions are also used to finance issue campaigns in referenda, party activities and party organizations.
For the most part, however, in The Bahamas, political campaign finance is used to establish campaign headquarters at the constituency and national levels, to purchase party paraphernalia, including signage, pins, and flyers, to pay political consultants for polling and focus group activities, party manifestos, newspaper, radio and television commercials, constituency activities, travel to the Family Islands and for political rallies and concerts.
And, yes, political campaign finance is also used to purchase votes. Although this is illegal, vote buying has been a feature of our political culture long before the establishment of the first political party in 1953.

Reasons for giving
There are many reasons why persons contribute to political campaigns. The first and most obvious reason is that donors support the political positions, programs or personalities of one party over another and want to see that candidate and party win in order to implement those policies and programs. In many cases, the donor's intentions are noble and sincere and contribute to the strengthening of the democratic process.
Another reason for making a political contribution to a particular candidate or a party is to ingratiate oneself to both, in case the candidate or his party wins the election. The donor then hopes to be able to obtain support for his personal, business or civic programs.
There is also wide public perception that some donors expect government favors in return, such as specific legislation being enacted or defeated, the awarding of significant government contracts or other benefits granted as a result of large campaign contributions; so some have come to equate campaign finance with political corruption and bribery.

Financial contributors
So then, does it really matter who finances political campaigns in The Bahamas? The short answer is yes. If political parties expect to be taken seriously, significant contributors must be closely scrutinized in order to determine whether the acceptance of their contributions will adversely affect the voters' perceptions. Let's look at several examples.
Much has been made about lawyers who defend clients who are accused of criminal offenses. The suggestion is that if a candidate is to be taken seriously by the voter, he should not represent persons so accused. There is an even more pernicious suggestion that lawyers who do so are undesirable candidates for Parliament. We totally disagree.
We are a country that is governed by the rule of law, whose primary precept is that a person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a candidate representing such persons, even in cases where the accused are awaiting an extradition hearing. Let us remember that there was no similar public outcry when Eugene Dupuch and Sir Orville Turnquest successfully represented Robert Vesco, the internationally renowned financial fugitive, when the United States sought his extradition. In fact, Sir Orville subsequently enjoyed an illustrious and distinguished career as a Cabinet minister and deputy prime minister and then ultimately as governor general of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
Even more has been made of candidates accepting donations from such individuals. Keeping in mind the innocent until proven guilty concept, we see nothing untoward about taking donations from such accused individuals, nor do we see anything inappropriate about accepting donations from individuals who have been acquitted of the charges against them. They were presumed innocent and proven to be innocent, therefore donations from such persons are just like those from people who have never had a brush with the law. Of course, if the contributor was actually convicted of an offense, then it would be imprudent for such contributions to be accepted. Far too often in this society we do not appreciate the difference.
A second example involves a completely legitimate, clinically-clean contributor who makes a substantial contribution with the clear understanding that, if elected, the winner would ensure that certain actions are taken or favors granted for the contributor's benefit. Notwithstanding that contributor being above reproach, such an arrangement is equivalent to bribery and corruption.
Accordingly, the real test of the appropriateness of the contribution must be the legal standing as well as the intention of the contributor and an understanding of the motivation of such contributions.

Campaign finance laws
Most countries that rely on private donations to fund campaigns require extensive disclosure, including the name, employer and address of donors. This is intended to police undue donor influence, while preserving most of the benefits of private financing, including the right to make donations and to spend money to enhance political free speech, saving government the expense of funding campaigns and keeping government from funding partisan free speech, which some citizens would find odious.
Supporters of private financing systems believe that private financing fosters civic involvement, ensures that a diversity of views are heard, and prevents government from tilting the scales to favor those in power or with political influence. They also encourage enhanced transparency in the funding of candidates and the political parties.
There is no campaign finance legislation in The Bahamas and we submit that the time has come to consider changing this. We believe that the correct balance of political finance impacts a country's ability to effectively maintain free and fair elections, effective governance, democratic government and the regulation of corruption.

Conclusion
Political campaign finance can affect various societal institutions. We fully recognize that money is necessary for democratic politics, and that candidates and political parties must have access to funds to play their part in the political process. Money is never an unproblematic part of the political system, and, therefore, regulation of this process is highly desirable.
We also believe that our political culture must be taken into account when devising strategies for controlling money in politics in Bahamian elections. Ultimately, the effective regulation and disclosure of political campaign finance can help to control the adverse effects of the role of money in politics, but only if well-conceived and implemented. Without those proper regulations, our democratic process is in danger, and the pirates might just have to be expelled once more.

oPhilip 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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News Article

March 16, 2013
The Commonwealth Charter, human rights and Sri Lanka

The most important reason for the selection of a country as the host-venue for a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is that it serves the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole.
If this reason were a consideration, President Mahinda Rajapaksa would already have withdrawn Sri Lanka from hosting the CHOGM in November. The president has not done so. Instead, he has insisted that the Commonwealth Summit must be held in Sri Lanka even as his government is mired in intense controversy over violations of human rights and disregard for the rule of law.
By this insistence, the Sri Lanka president demonstrates only an ambition to claim honor and respectability through hosting the meeting and representing the Commonwealth for the next two years as its chair. This self-serving position of the Sri Lanka government is injuring the Commonwealth.
Every member state of the Commonwealth - particularly its small and weak ones - needs the organization to be strong and credible. A discredited Commonwealth, that cannot stand-up for its own declared values, would have no moral authority or convincing status to advocate effectively for the welfare of its member countries in the international community.
Rajapaksa's dismissal of the country's chief justice, Shirani Bandaranayake, after an unfair impeachment process that was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court, and the appointment of his former attorney-general to the post, is "serious" and it comes amid evidence of "persistent" human rights abuses of journalists, and other groups within Sri Lanka.
These developments follow the government's refusal to allow an independent inquiry, as requested by the United Nations, into the deaths of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in 2009 towards the end of a conflict between government forces and the Tamil Tigers.
The unsuitability of Sri Lanka at this time to host the CHOGM is drawn into stark clarity by the Charter of the Commonwealth that was signed on March 11 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as head of the Commonwealth after the complete concurrence of 53 of the Commonwealth's 54 heads of government. The fifty-fourth member state, Fiji whose military government seized power in 2006, is currently suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth.
The charter was one of the important recommendations for reform of the Commonwealth made by an Eminent Persons Group (EPG) of which I was privileged to be a member. The recommendation was accepted by all Commonwealth heads of government at their meeting in Australia in October 2011.
An important clause in the charter reads: "We are committed to equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds as the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies." Unless the Sri Lanka government demonstrates that it upholds that commitment through actions that have been urged upon it by the UN, many Commonwealth governments, and a myriad number of international legal and judicial organizations, it is not qualified to host the CHOGM. Attendance by other heads of government would sully the Commonwealth by validating the Rajapaksa government.
This is not the first time that the Commonwealth has had to deal with violations of its values and principles by a member state. It did so in 1977 in relation to Idi Amin, whose brutal regime in Uganda engaged in massive violation of human rights and sustained disregard for the sanctity of life.
At that time, the Commonwealth secretary-general, Shridath Ramphal, said to Commonwealth leaders: "There has been in the Commonwealth, of course, as in the international community, a long and necessary tradition of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. No Commonwealth country (indeed, who anywhere in the world?) is above reproach in some respect or other. If these traditions were not to be respected there would be no end to recrimination and censoriousness. How to strike a balance of political judgement between the two extremes of declamation and silence is sometimes difficult - but it would be entirely illusory to believe that such a judgment could, or indeed should, be avoided altogether. There will be times in the affairs of the Commonwealth when one member's conduct will provoke the wrath of others beyond the limits of silence... although the line may be indefinable, all the world will know when it has been crossed."
It had been crossed in Uganda and, at their meeting in 1977, Commonwealth leaders stated that it was their "overwhelming view" that the excesses of Amin's regime "were so gross as to warrant the world's concern and to evoke condemnation by heads of government in strong and unequivocal terms".
In those days, there was no Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) as there is now, tasked with dealing with states where the Commonwealth's declared values have been violated. Nonetheless, heads of government themselves made it clear that the excesses of Idi Amin were unacceptable, as they did later with the white minority government of Ian Smith in Southern Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) and the apartheid regime in South Africa.
As CMAG has since suspended other member states - Fiji, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Pakistan - after addressing their violations of Commonwealth values, it should do so now with Sri Lanka, or the freshly minted Commonwealth Charter will simply become another set of words, not worth the paper on which they are inscribed in the name of the people of the Commonwealth.
There is also precedent for moving a Commonwealth meeting if the host government has breached Commonwealth agreed principles and values. In 1981, the New Zealand prime minister, Robert Muldoon, ignored the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement that banned sporting contact with apartheid South Africa. Muldoon strongly supported the South African Springbok rugby team's tour to New Zealand. Commonwealth governments, feeling that Muldoon had violated agreed Commonwealth principles and values, moved a finance ministers meeting from New Zealand to The Bahamas as a mark of their displeasure.
The Sri Lanka government should withdraw from hosting the CHOGM in November, or the other Commonwealth countries should withdraw themselves from attending. Either action would strengthen the Commonwealth and enhance its authority. But on no account should the CHOGM be held in Sri Lanka.

o Sir Ronald Sanders is a consultant and visiting fellow, London University. Send responses to: www.sirronaldsanders.com.

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News Article

May 11, 2012
Preliminary autopsy report on the general election

Dear Editor,

The following is my preliminary autopsy report on the May 07, 2012 general election, which resulted in the crushing defeat of the Free National Movement (FNM) party and its now deflated leader, Hubert Alexander Ingraham.
Firstly, it was a people's victory - more than one for the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). The last five years were financially exhaustive for many of us; and scores of Bahamians, including me, have expressed how it was the worst time economically that we have faced in our lifetime.
Home ownership was lost left, right and center; unemployment increased dramatically, and we the people became naturally apprehensive about our and our children's futures while we watched a very grand road improvement and infrastructure project gobble up hundreds of millions of dollars in borrowed funds.
Then, there were fellow FNM supporters who had abandoned ship in mass numbers during the last term of the Free National Movement government. It was indeed a creepy experience to be witness to card carrying FNMs from the inception of the party move on to other political organizations.
The FNM defeat was in the making the day after its 2007 general election victory. Most FNM MPs had abandoned their constituents from 2007 to 2012; and when they did confront the voters to vote for them this time, they discovered that they were out of favor with the people. Brensil Rolle, Tommy Turnquest, Carl Bethel, and a lot of others now understand that the Bahamian electorate would not tolerate rotten representation.
Through it all, how was it that the FNM incumbent candidate for Killarney was able to hold on to his seat in believable fashion, despite the massive PLP wave? The answer to this holds the key to the future successes of the FNM party - in my humble opinion.

- Dennis Dames

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News Article

May 03, 2011
Does it matter

Dear Editor,
It is about that time again when politicians find their way back to Church. In the past, there were very active political surrogate communities within the numerous church bodies and many were even labeled as PLP or FNM denominations.
However, the last decade has seen a decrease in the level of influence that political organizations have on congregations, due primarily to the non-partisan stance that Pastors have taken. This position was taken out of necessity. The fallout that happened following past elections had a negative impact on the ability of a congregation to do what it was mandated to do, not to say that it has stopped the ground level skirmishes.
There are chu ...

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News Article

March 20, 2013
An interesting idea on electoral reform

The Bahamas has a bicameral (two chamber) Parliament. The House of Assembly's members are elected and the members of the Senate are appointed.
Maurice Tynes, the clerk of Parliament, recently appeared before the Constitutional Commission and recommended a new electoral system be adopted in The Bahamas to better reflect the will of the people.
More specifically, Tynes suggested the Senate be abolished and the Parliament be unicameral (a single chamber). The chamber would be comprised of elected and appointed members. The appointed members would be selected based on the percentage of votes the political party they represent received. A party would be required to gain at least five percent of the vote before it could be considered to participate in the sharing of parliamentary seats, Tynes argued.
Such a system would open up our democratic process to voices beyond the two dominant parties who currently occupy all of the political space in The Bahamas. In the last general election, the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) received nearly 10 percent of the vote. Yet, all those Bahamians who voted for the DNA have no voice in Parliament.
In that same election the Progressive Liberal Party secured 48.7 percent of the vote and won 29 (76 percent) of the seats in the House. The Free National Movement captured 42.1 percent of the vote and only won nine (24 percent) of the 38 seats.
The PLP's super-majority in the House is a distortion of the will of the people. Consequently, it can force through laws without consultation with a majority it truly does not deserve. Our Constitution is archaic in this regard, noted the clerk.
"This first past the post, or winner take all, voting system is indeed a simple and fast way to vote and to count ballots, but the first past the post system produces too many distortions in the result of the balloting and most often the result does not accurately reflect the will of the people," said Tynes.
It is unlikely that this generation of politicians will change our electoral system. There are few revolutionary thinkers in that bunch. Younger Bahamians, however, should examine the various voting models that exist around the world and seek, in their time, to create a voting system that allows more voices to be recognized in Parliament.
We all have seen that the two main political organizations have become bloated and exhausted patronage parties. New voices need to be given a chance to bring forward new ideas and modes of operation in order to help reinvigorate The Bahamas.

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News Article

July 27, 2014
The referendum gamble

Just over a dozen years after voting in favor of constitution amendment bills in the House of Assembly then campaigning mightily against the referendum that followed, the government of Prime Minister Perry Christie has tabled four bills aimed at eliminating gender discrimination from the constitution.
The government also announced that a referendum will be held on November 6.
With the first effort at constitutional reform a still birth, the Christie administration is asking the Bahamian people to support the upcoming referendum.
While it might be tempting to reject this effort for any number of reasons, we are hopeful that the process will be free of political posturing and partisanship, and the Bahamian people will fully support the four ballot questions.
For the government, the referendum will be a gamble.
There is still anger among the electorate after Christie ignored the results of the non-binding gaming referendum in 2013.
Christian Council President Rev. Ranford Patterson is on record saying he will not support the constitutional referendum.
"Bahamians, I believe, we don't care to hear about another referendum," said Patterson, while predicting that the turnout will be less than the 45 percent turnout in the gaming referendum.
The government also runs the risk of confusing voters through information overload. While it has kept the referendum down to the single issue of gender equality, it plans to run a referendum education campaign simultaneously with a value-added tax (VAT) education campaign.
This will be a lot to digest.
With anti-government sentiment seemingly high, there is also the gamble that the November referendum will be a referendum on the Christie administration.
Some members of government believe it is a poor strategy to go to referendum this year as a rejection of the questions could deal a huge political blow.
The government is hopeful that opposition backing will help secure widespread approval of the proposed changes.
But some FNM members who took to social media after the bills were tabled last Wednesday suggested it was time to pay back the Progressive Liberal Party for driving the 2002 constitutional reform effort to its death.
The November vote should not be a political exercise, however.
The Bahamas remains one of the only countries in the Americas with gender discrimination written into its constitution.
Wiping the supreme law clean of discriminatory language should have been achieved in 2002 when the Ingraham administration followed through on an important commitment to "eliminate the entrenched bias of the constitution against Bahamian women, which denies Bahamian women privileges and entitlements granted to Bahamian men with regard to award of citizenship to children and foreign spouses".
While opening debate on the Constitutional Amendment Bill in 2001, the first woman elected to the House, FNM member Janet Bostwick, said, "This process, to be brought to speedy conclusion, will allow Bahamian women - no matter what their status, nationality of their spouse, or the country in which their children are born - to say with dignity that their children are entitled to a most precious gift - their Bahamian heritage."
She added, "It seems unthinkable that the framers of the constitution of a modern Bahamas, as recently as 28 years ago, would have intentionally discriminated against Bahamian women. Surely, it is absurd to think that our women should not be equal citizens with men in our Commonwealth of The Bahamas."
The new effort deserves serious consideration and a reasoned approach by the electorate.
Christie is hoping for just that.
"These four bills, representing the first round of constitutional reform, are bound together by a common thread: The need to institute full equality between men and women in matters of citizenship and, more broadly, to eliminate discrimination in The Bahamas based on sex," said Christie in the House of Assembly last Wednesday.
The first bill seeks to give a child born outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian-born mother and non-Bahamian father the same automatic right to Bahamian citizenship that the constitution already gives to a child born outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian-born father and a non-Bahamian mother.
The second bill seeks to enable a Bahamian woman who marries a foreign man to pass on her Bahamian citizenship to him. However, the bill will still outlaw marriages of convenience. As it stands now, a Bahamian man is able to pass on his citizenship to his foreign wife.
The third bill seeks to reverse the law that prohibits an unwed Bahamian man from passing his citizenship to his child if he or she is born to a foreign woman. It would require proof of paternity.
The final bill seeks to make it unconstitutional for any law or any person acting in the performance of any public office to discriminate based on sex.
This would not permit same-sex marriage, the prime minister explained.
In tailoring the referendum question to the single issue of gender equality, the government might be seeking to avoid many of the issues that accompanied the 2002 referendum.
Failed effort
That referendum was a dark period in our national life.
It is hard to forget it as we refocus our attention on a similar effort being spearheaded by political leaders who urged and secured a no vote.
Opposition leader Dr. Hubert Minnis, on behalf of the opposition, is backing the effort to push through the constitutional changes.
"Though there is much which divides us in this place, let us speak with one voice when the issue is equality before the law," Minnis said in the House of Assembly.
He also noted that, "The success of this effort will require a bold and unified, multi-partisan and multi-sectoral effort on the part, not just of the political parties, but of civil society organizations, the Constitutional Commission, as well as social, civic and religious leaders."
It is too early to gauge public reaction to the announcement that another referendum will be held in just over three months.
There are distinct differences between the atmosphere that existed when Parliament passed a package of constitutional bills in 2001, and now.
Back then, the church, key areas of civil society and the community at large expressed vociferous opposition to the referendum.
It is unfortunate that the reform efforts fell victim to the politics of the day, but it is not surprising. The vote took place less than three months before the general election.
As a result of the failed referendum, The Bahamas has remained in the Dark Ages with respect to gender equality.
The 2002 referendum ballot addressed multiple issues: The creation of an independent election boundaries commission; the creation of an independent parliamentary commissioner; the removal of gender discriminating language; changing the retirement age of Supreme Court judges from 60 to 65 and appellate court judges from 68 to 72 and the creation of a commission to monitor the standards of teachers nationally.
Following the failed referendum, the late Timothy Donaldson, a former Bahamian senator and the country's former ambassador to the United States, said he has always been "incensed and ashamed" by the constitutional language in the constitution. Donaldson was an advisor to the Pindling government during the constitutional negotiations in London.
"To me it's just not right," Donaldson said.
He explained that the thinking of then Prime Minister Pindling was that the provision would ensure that Haitians would not eventually take over The Bahamas, which at the time had a population of only about 220,000.
"Pindling said, 'These Haitians produce like rats'," Donaldson said. "He said they're going to produce all those children, and at some point in time, the Haitians will outnumber Bahamians. But when you make a law geared at just one particular group of people, it's certainly not a good policy."
Milestone
On December 6, 2001, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham drew attention to the discrimination question and gave it an early highlight as the key issue in the upcoming referendum.
"The one dealing with discrimination against women is fundamental, and we propose to move that and as I understand it, there is consensus in the House in support of that particular amendment," Ingraham said.
He told Parliament that he had in hand letters from the leader of the opposition and the only third party member in the House, Dr. Bernard Nottage, that registered their support.
On January 16, 2002, members of the House of Assembly - with the exception of Nottage - approved the package of constitutional bills.
Not long after, Christie and the PLP did an about face on the matter.
Despite voting for the bills, once outside Parliament they urged voters to reject the referendum, saying the process was botched and being rushed.
The bills were introduced without a Constitution Commission appointed.
Not long after they passed, a tidal wave of opposition rose across the country.
In addition to concerns about the referendum process, there were widespread issues with how the questions were worded.
Despite calls for the government to give the process more time, a proclamation sealing February 27 as the day of the referendum was read from the steps of the Supreme Court Building on January 27.
On referendum day, a majority of voters rejected all of the questions.
The day after, Prime Minister Ingraham - who had called the referendum his last major agenda as leader of the country - said he was "ashamed" that Bahamians rejected the proposed amendments to the constitution.
Weeks later, Christie and the PLP sailed to election victory.
More than a decade later, there is a new opportunity to effect significant change to the constitution.
If the process is properly handled with a clear and focused education campaign, and if it is allowed to proceed without politicization, this could signal a milestone for the Bahamian society.
It is unfortunate the PLP derailed the critical 2002 vote. We could have been significantly advanced in our constitutional reform efforts.
That said, we are at another important moment in our national life when we as voters could maturely effect positive change, putting men and women on equal footing with respect to sacred constitutional rights.

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News Article

August 18, 2012
Tell us how to tackle crime

Dear Editor,

Please publish this open letter to the Minister of State for National Security Keith Bell.

My Dear Minister,

On Thursday August 9, 2012, I was a guest on the Gems radio show "Building a Nation" hosted by Tennyson Wells, a former minister and attorney general in the Ingraham administration. I had the occasion to voice my opinion on your appointment as a junior minister in National Security. My opposition to your appointment is for the same reason I have against the appointment of Dr. Perry Gomez as minister of health.
As former members of your organizations it is fair to assume that you both, at some time during your tenure, had crossed swords with a number of your colleagues who are still serving in those organizations. Human nature being what it is and with the spirit of victimization and retaliation in both political parties, FNM and PLP, it stands to reason that the power of your office will be used to the fullest extent in attempting to settle old scores.
I also feel that with your unbridled ambition you can easily wander in to unfamiliar political zones that will prove embarrassing to your portfolio, leader and your party.
In less than 24 hours after voicing my concerns about your ability to properly function in that position, I was amazed to read in The Nassau Guardian of August 10 your criticisms of the former FNM administration's interference in the administration of the RBPF.
The majority of the senior ranks of the force from the inception of ministerial government in 1964 have given their allegiance to one or the other of the two major political parties.
Do you remember what happened to Marvin Dames, the best and most efficient officer to have headed CDU under the 2002/7 Christie administration? He was unceremoniously removed from CDU and transferred to the Airport Division to relieve an ASP. What humiliation and degradation for an Assistant Commissioner. Since his departure from that body it has never been the same. Did anyone hear a dissenting voice from you? No, but you were in a position to protest.
And while I am looking to get some answers, will you kindly tell us out here in John Q. Public why you, as a minister, must be armed. Why do you feel it is necessary for you to carry a firearm? What was the purpose of your taking two empty AK47 magazines to the Senate floor? What were you trying to prove?
And for your information, derelict buildings were being demolished for eons before you were a minister and will be long after you have departed the scene.
Tell us how to tackle the escalating crime situation and stop reminding us what the politicians are doing with the force. Stop telling us what Ingraham and his crew did and show us what you are all about.

-- Errington W. I. Watkins

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News Article

July 05, 2014
U.S. envoy says FNM had no influence on report

U.S. Charge d'Affaires John Dinkelman yesterday emphatically denied that the Free National Movement (FNM) had any involvement in producing the U.S. Embassy's 2014 Investment Climate Statement on The Bahamas.
The U.S. diplomat spoke to The Nassau Guardian after suggestions by Labour and National Insurance Minister Shane Gibson that the son of former FNM Chairman Johnley Ferguson wrote the report.
"The Bahamian opposition had nothing to do with this report," Dinkelman said.
"The Bahamian employees of the [U.S.] Embassy did not write the report.
"American diplomats wrote the report for Americans to consider the Bahamian investment climate."
The report raised concerns about an alleged lack of transparency and "undue government interference" in The Bahamas' bidding and procurement process.
Gibson said on Thursday that Hank Ferguson, commercial specialist in economics in the commercial section of the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, wrote the controversial report.
He questioned whether the criticisms of the government are those of the United States or those of the son of a "staunch FNM".
But in a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Embassy in Nassau said non-American staff members do not author such documents.
At the end of the report, Ferguson is listed as the "contact point at post for public inquiries".
Dinkelman explained that Ferguson was listed as a point of contact for potential U.S. investors.
As it relates to Ferguson's political affiliation, Dinkelman said he does not know and does care as a foreign diplomat.
"I am only concerned about the quality of his work, which has been superlative," he said.
"Any aspersions that Mr. Ferguson may have twisted any report that the United States Embassy puts out, in any sort of partisan manner, I reject entirely and categorically.
"The products, which come out of our embassy are unfettered by any domestic partisan disagreements or differences that may exist."
Dinkelman was also asked to respond to Prime Minister Perry Christie who asserted on Tuesday that the information in the report was likely gleaned from opposition sources.
In response, Dinkelman said, "Undoubtedly, a series of American diplomats assigned to Nassau contributed from every conceivable source, from the private sector to the public sector, from non-governmental organizations, international organizations and, as cited in various parts of the reports, from international watchdog organizations, which measure The Bahamas and The United States, but literally every country of earth to provide, as I would stress, a snapshot of where things sit in The Bahamas as of today."
The report also said many of the Progressive Liberal Party's "ambitious campaign promises" remain unfilled more than two years after the Christie administration took office.
Christie suggested it is "simply inappropriate" for the U.S. officials to draw negative conclusions on the success of his government's plan, based on a "snapshot" of the current situation.
Dinkelman said the document, which has 19 sections, is an overall positive review of The Bahamas.
"Anybody who is overly critical of the document simply has not read the entire document," he said.
"The United States, through this report is actually supporting and reaffirming a positive light on the investment climate in The Bahamas."
Dinkelman admitted there was a factual error in the report, which he said is being addressed.
The report said Standard and Poor's (S&P) downgraded the country's credit rating in 2013.
S&P did not downgrade The Bahamas that year, but revised its outlook to negative in September 2012, as pointed out by Christie.
"When that was called to the embassy's attention we immediately reported that to Washington," Dinkelman said.
"I suspect that, given the long holiday weekend, that the change to the website for this report would not be affected until early next week."
He added that while the report has negative and positive aspects, the document would not dissuade American investors from doing business in The Bahamas.

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News Article

March 15, 2012
Confronting the debt crisis pt. 2

Last week we explored the effects that monetary policy at the turn of the millennium may have had upon the current mortgage and overall debt crisis. As several individuals are calling for a further reduction of the discount and prime rates (DR and PR), it is important to note the impact such a move will have on individuals' credit positions and financial wellbeing.
There is no doubt that the reduction of the DR and PR proved beneficial to the government in that it provided the government with an opportunity to service its debt at a lower interest rate, even though the overall benefits to consumers appears to be minimal. On the other hand, the reduction of the DR and PR would have negatively impacted some organizations, Financial Institutions (FIs) and the National Insurance Board, as they would have lost millions of dollars in investment income.
In the final analysis, FIs usually win and are rarely dealt the bad hand of the stick in any situation within a credit-driven and consumer society like The Bahamas. Financial Institutions in response to the aforementioned reduction imposed charges in other strategic areas, increased some of their fees and maintained their rates for consumer loans. We have witnessed quiet increases in FIs' fees for transactions such as ATM or passbook withdrawals - service charges on accounts and additional fees were applied to loans in the aftermath of the rate reductions. A well-known fact is that the ultimate and main loser is usually the consumer who on the one hand receives a 'supposed' break on his debt servicing due to the DR and PR reduction, but pays hidden fees and charges on the other hand.
The net effect on the consumer is that he/she ends up paying the same amount and in some cases more to the FIs, which may result in non-performing loans or lost property to foreclosure. This reinforces the point that an active Consumer Protection Commission ought to be in place to provide checks and balance on behalf of consumers relating to financial transactions among other things.
In addition to providing debt-servicing relief, it is expected that further reduction in the DR and PR should have also provided access to credit at a cheaper rate for individual and business consumers. The positive effect for business owners is that it creates the opportunity for expansion of the business and/or maintenance of inventory levels. However, it is estimated that approximately one third of commercial banking loans extended to Bahamian companies are in arrears. If businesses are faced with increased energy and gas costs combined with tax increases in National Insurance, business license fees and other diverse areas, it becomes less possible for businesses to be sustained during the current economic climate and more importantly create jobs that will help stem the growing unemployment rate.
The likelihood of FIs extending credit under already constrained circumstances is lower than normal and the underwriting of new loans is being done with extreme caution - a prudent course of action. This further emphasizes and highlights the importance of and the urgent need for a functional and effective credit bureau. It is noted that the Central Bank of The Bahamas had obtained assistance from the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Center (CARTAC) with the aim of establishing a credit bureau, albeit the process has been ongoing for a few years. Considering the history of adjustments to the DR and PR, these rates are normally revised (downwards for the most part) not more frequently than in five-year intervals. Whereas this does not suggest that monetary policy should be stalled or be predictable, the historical trends suggest that there is ample time to establish a credit bureau prior to any potential adjustments to the DR and PR.

What are the fiscal policies of the political parties?
In light of the challenges that our economy faces and the general consensus that we must revisit our economic model, it is disturbing to see that little is being said about the proposed fiscal policies of political parties as we enter the heart of the general election campaign. It is a well-known fact that during the election campaign seasons in the past, we have heard politicians produce their grand ideas of what they intend to do for the Bahamian people. The important part of the equation is, however, often omitted and very rarely if ever do we hear about how they propose to 'foot the bill' for their grand but necessary ideas.
It seems inevitable that the next government post the 2012 general election will have to continue this spate of borrowing at least during year one of governance to ensure the government is able to meet its obligations. Fortunately, government debt servicing has been aided by one-off payments in 2011 from the sale of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company and capital inflows from Baha Mar. However, the likelihood of similar capital injections for 2012 is slim. A part from a significant turnaround and increase in tourism numbers and the government's ability to constrain its spending habits, it is difficult to see how we will get ourselves up out of this national disaster.
Our politicians seem to have mastered the art of avoiding reality and failing to inform us that hard decisions will have to be made. In essence, austerity measures are not unforeseeable and it could be argued that these measures are unavoidable. Of course such declarations are unpopular (albeit they would be truthful) and politicians fear the potential backlash of such honesty. The government has continued to borrow in the midst of declining revenues and increased taxes that placed a heavy burden on the Bahamian people. It would not be surprising, therefore, if the current tax levels are maintained or increased to meet budget requirements. Unfortunately, the persons most affected by these tax burdens form part of the working and shrinking middle classes. In the absence of foreign direct investment or new sources of revenue, any reduction in taxes will most certainly require the government to carry out extreme measures to cut its spending, increase the efficiency of state-owned enterprises to stop wastage and implement efficient tax collection policies.
The national debt crisis constitutes an unwanted and unsolicited gift to future generations of Bahamians that threaten their opportunity for economic prosperity. This crisis and prevailing macroeconomic indicators makes it difficult to see any significant economic growth in the near future. Our leaders and all of us must rise above the partisan politics and make a concerted effort to place our economy back on track.

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

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News Article

January 29, 2014
Message of hope for sports at BOC thanksgiving service

This past Sunday, the Bahamas Olympic Committee's (BOC) Thanksgiving Service took place at New Covenant Baptist Church. There was representation from sporting organizations, some in better numbers than others, but the objective was for all to be minded that the BOC remains that ultimate sports body, prepared to assist and bring about a national bonding within the sports fraternity.
The order of service, energized by the praise and worship renditions, was a rather good mix. It typified the gathering of sports personnel, young and older, who came together to reflect upon the way forward in 2014.
The service booklet carried messages from some of the country's more noted leaders, inclusive of the Governor General, the direct representative of Queen Elizabeth II. As always, Sir Arthur Foulkes was substantive. It is remarkable that his consistency has carried through for so many years.
I recall, as a boy, observing a young, vibrant-sounding Arthur Foulkes open the political meetings for the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). Blessed with the ability to send forth compelling words, it was he who got the crowds excited. With the one exception, another great stalwart, Lynden Pindling, most often no other connected with the supporters at the rallies more so than Foulkes.
Pindling went on to become Sir Lynden, the 'Father of the Nation'. Here today, is Sir Arthur, in his own very special way, giving the advice that is necessary for the sporting family in the country.
"I trust that you will resolve to mend many broken fences, to come together in true love and friendship, and that all your actions are seen to be geared toward team spirit and brotherhood."
Seldom is there a significant representation of sporting bodies at respective events. Just think of how much more successful all sporting events could really be, if leaders of every discipline arranged for there to be an appreciable presence. Even more deplorable is the fact that within organizations, bickering goes on that threatens to break down entire programs. It is this malady that the esteemed Sir Arthur was speaking to in his message at the BOC Thanksgiving Service.
Let's all hope that as 2014 moves along, the suggestion of "team spirit and brotherhood" resonates through the sporting communities in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. Indeed, hopefully those in attendance at the thanksgiving service and all others pledge to go forth in the manner advocated by Sir Arthur.

(To respond to this column, kindly contact Fred Sturrup at sturup1504@gmail.com)

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