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"We need real campaign finance reform to loosen the grip of special interests on politics." - Tom Daschle
Every five years around election time, incessant lip service is paid to campaign financing. It can only be lip service because after the ballots have been cast, counted and catalogued, the notion of campaign finance reform retires to hibernation - that is, until the next general election. Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider This...what practical approaches can we realistically take regarding how we finance political campaigns in The Bahamas?
Unquestionably, politics has become an extremely expensive exercise. When one considers the cost of political rallies, paraphernalia, including T-shirts and other garments now available, flags, posters, signage, printing of flyers, advertisements, including newspaper, radio and television broadcasts and commercials, the cost is staggering. Let's not forget the direct cost of personnel employed by political parties; the cost of constituency offices, sometimes four or five, particularly in the Family Islands; the cost of electricity, water, and telephones; the cost of food and beverages; of political consultants; and the printing of party platforms. When these and other costs are considered, the real cost of staging a general election could very easily cost $250,000 per constituency or nearly $10 million per party. So how are political parties expected to finance such a mammoth undertaking?
Using the public purse
It has become commonplace for the government of the day to use the power of the public purse to significantly finance its party's political campaign. We observed this practice when the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was in power; we witnessed it in the by-election in Elizabeth two years ago; and we are seeing it again in the current general election. While this has been a common practice, the Free National Movement (FNM) government seems to have taken this phenomenon to new heights.
Shortly after announcing the general election of 2012, the government launched a record contract signing marathon. The $12 million contract for the construction of a new clinic in North Abaco and a multimillion-dollar contract for a new hospital in Exuma are a few examples of this.
Last weekend, amidst great public fanfare at police headquarters, the prime minister awarded $1 million to charitable organizations. Ironically, this is the same government that - only one year earlier - reduced the government's subvention to such organizations during the annual budget debate in the House of Assembly. This is the same government that discontinued the extremely effective YEAST program that provided a positive prototype for young Bahamian men at risk and the same government that canceled the effective and internationally celebrated urban renewal program established by the PLP.
No matter which party is in power, an intelligent and discerning public should look askance at the government of the day exploiting and abusing the public purse in order to win votes after elections have been called.
In The Bahamas, political campaigns are predominantly financed by contributions from persons, companies, and organizations that believe in the democratic process and want to ensure that the message of the political party that they support is widely and successfully disseminated.
In the absence of campaign finance laws, there are no restrictions on who can contribute to a political party and how much they can donate. Accordingly, anyone -- Bahamians and foreigners - can contribute any amount to anyone at any time without any accountability whatsoever. The real question that we must address for the future health of our democracy is whether this is a desirable practice?
It has become customary for political contributions to be made in private, sometimes on the condition of confidentiality and often in secrecy with only a select few members of the party knowledgeable regarding the source of the funds.
Campaign 2012 has seen a new development in political funding. During the last few mass rallies, the prime minister has publicly appealed from the podium for campaign contributions, describing it as a further deepening of our democracy by allowing the public to become investors in his party. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, it is unprecedented and uncharacteristic. We have never before seen this prime minister - or any other for that matter - beg for money from a public podium.
It therefore begs the question: why has he done so now, during what he says is his last campaign? He alluded to the answer to this question on Thursday past at a mass rally on R. M. Bailey Park when he said that he will not tolerate anyone in his Cabinet who has financially benefited from conflicts of interest.
We believe that he made this appeal for financial contributions because, while the FNM is still well-funded by those wealthy interest groups who support him in order to continue reaping his government's largess, some of his traditional sources of funding are less generous than they have been in the past. This is possibly because he has cut some of his more financially well-connected candidates for reasons already stated and reiterated again from that podium last Thursday in a purposefully vague but very revealing way.
Campaign finance reform
Clearly, as the prime minister is opening party funding up to the masses in ways never seen before, the time has come to enact campaign financing legislation. There are several things that can be done in order to impose strict controls for campaign fund-raising, primarily to level the playing field and to minimize disparate levels of funding campaigns by the various political parties. Campaign financing legislation should also establish disclosure requirements with respect to funding and spending in elections.
Such a law could introduce statutory limits on contributions by individuals, organizations and companies, which would remove the influence of big money from politics and should also prohibit foreign influences from invading the local political process.
There should also be limits on large potential donors to prevent them from gaining extraordinary political access or favorable legislation or other concessions in return for their contributions. Campaign finance laws should also provide for the capping of such funding and for the disclosure of sources of campaign contributions and expenditures. It should also limit or prohibit government contractors from making contributions with respect to such elections.
Campaign financing legislation could even provide for matching funds by the government for all the candidates in order to ensure that the playing field truly is level and to enhance clean elections.
Finally, in order to more vigilantly protect the public purse, the law should strictly prohibit a government from signing any new contracts after general or by-elections are called.
Campaigns will become more expensive as time progresses. As we mature politically, we should seek to ensure that political parties operate on a level playing field and remove the barriers to participation in the democratic process because of a lack of funding. If we want to encourage the best and the brightest citizens to enter into the elective political arena, we should seek to eliminate the observation of U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton that: "Elections are more often bought than won".
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 email@example.com.
The election has been called (or the bell rung as some would say) and the manifestos, plans/vision(s), or whatever you call it, are now available. As usual, we note many promises. We believe promises should be measurable, and achievable.
One of the promises we note in manifesto 2012 (FNM), as well as by the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) is if either is elected, they will enact or cause to be enacted an Ombudsman Act. We have not seen the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) plan so we are not aware if this is on its agenda also.
We have heard this promise before dating back to 1992. In the summer of 1992, the FNM in its manifesto promised the Bahamian electorate that "an FNM government will enact legislation to create the Office of Ombudsman, with the following commitments:
1. To safeguard the independence of the ombudsman.
2. To allocate the resources necessary to carry out the mission of the ombudsman.
3. To educate the public so that potential complaints will come forward.
4. To require that a full report with matters dealt with by ombudsman be laid on table of Parliament annually."
Fast forward and today the Office of Ombudsman is still not a reality. We note that the PLP never seemingly, publicly, embraced the concept of an ombudsman. Again, we have not seen the PLP plan so we don't know if it now embraces this office also.
We wrote about this back in July 2003 and believe with the upcoming general election upon us that we should revisit this issue again, and are very happy to see it on two of the political parties platforms seeking office. Today we will look at the role of an ombudsman, examining how it functions.
We must admit that historically we were always intrigued by the concept of an ombudsman, which originated in Sweden and is defined as a government official appointed to receive and investigate complaints made by individuals against abuses or capricious acts of public officials. Many of our Commonwealth sister countries have also seen fit to create an Office of Ombudsman.
In 1967, the United Kingdom through the Parliamentary Commissioner Act, created a Parliamentary Ombudsman (PO) - also called the parliamentary commissioner for administration. The PO deals with complaints from members of the public that they have suffered injustice because of maladministration by government departments or certain other public bodies.
Additionally, this office also deals with complaints about problems in obtaining access to official information. The U.K. went one step further in 1994 when it implemented the code of practice on access to government information.
In the U.K., the ombudsman is independent of government and is not a civil servant. The PO is an officer of the House of Commons, appointed by the Queen, who reports to Parliament. Complaints to PO are confidential; and investigations are private. There is no charge for the services performed by the Office of Ombudsman.
The ombudsman can only consider complaints against central government departments and those other public bodies (or organizations acting on their behalf) that the law allows the office to investigate. The most recent road works complaints by the affected business owners would have been an example of where the Office of Ombudsman would have addressed their complaint. This again would have left the already strained court system to focus on other matters.
Examples of bodies where the PO has no authority to investigate include the police, judges and local authorities.
What can the
The office can consider any complaint of maladministration by those bodies which has caused injustice. Generally, "maladministration" means poor administration or the wrong application of rules.
Some examples include:
o Avoidable delays.
o Faulty procedures or failing to follow correct procedures.
o Not telling you about any rights of appeal you have.
o Unfairness, bias or prejudice.
o Giving advice which is misleading or inadequate.
o Refusing to answer reasonable questions.
o Discourtesy, and failure to apologize properly for errors.
o Mistakes in handling your claims.
o Not offering an adequate remedy where one is due.
What can't the ombudsman investigate?
The ombudsman cannot investigate:
o Complaints which are about government policy or the content of legislation. Policy is for the government to determine; and legislation is for Parliament.
o The investigation of crime; judges' decisions, or actions taken under their direction; or matters relating to national security.
o Decisions about whether to begin court proceedings, or how they are conducted.
o Contractual or commercial transactions, except where they involve land subject to compulsory purchase.
o Complaints about public service personnel matters.
o Normally, complaints put to a MP 12 months or more after you became aware of the matters you are complaining about.
o The ombudsman cannot usually investigate any matter for which you can obtain a remedy by appeal to an independent tribunal (for example the valuation tribunal), or by proceedings in a court of law.
Following an investigation, the ombudsman may conclude that the complaint was wholly or partly justified, or that it was not justified. If the ombudsman finds that your complaint is justified, he can recommend that the organization complained about should provide a remedy.
The ombudsman has no power to enforce his recommendations; but the government almost always accepts them. Sometimes investigations reveal faults in procedures or systems; and the ombudsman's report can lead a department or body to revise their procedures so others do not suffer the same difficulties.
We are not suggesting that The Bahamas should create such an institution just because others have done so. To date one has not been established. We believe that efforts should be made to explore and ascertain whether such an institution could be used, if properly structured and respected, to enhance our democracy and a greater level of accountability in our public system. We hope whomever wins the government seeks to explore the benefits of such an office and, if deemed in the best interest of good governance, an Office of Ombudsman be established.
o CFAL is a sister company of The Nassau Guardian under the AF Holdings Ltd. umbrella. CFAL provides investment management, research, brokerage and pension services. For comments, please contact CFAL at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opposition parties have a slight advantage at the beginning of election campaigns in the Westminster system. Because they are not involved in the day-to-day process of governing, these parties can start officially campaigning early. Governing parties have to balance administration and politics.
The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and Democratic National Alliance (DNA) have taken the lead this campaign season when it comes to television advertising. Each party has been airing TV ads for several weeks. The ads usually come on during the nightly newscasts - the most reliable time to catch a large audience of Bahamians on TV.
The DNA is pushing the message of change and that the old parties and their leaders are not taking The Bahamas to where it needs to go. The PLP is saying it has new ideas; that it did well when it was last in office; and that it has a new young team.
The governing Free National Movement (FNM) has not started airing its TV ads yet. However, considering what the opposition parties are doing, we expect the FNM to soon roll out its TV spots in an effort to counter and put forward its message.
In developed jurisdictions, TV ads are at the center of election campaigns. Tens of millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions, will be spent in the U.S. during its current presidential campaign. In The Bahamas TV advertising previously was not as significant a feature of our elections. Things seem to be changing.
This change comes at a time when the parties have also embraced social media. The PLP, FNM and DNA have Facebook pages - as do many party candidates.
Some savvy and organized members of Parliament, such as Dr. Hubert Minnis, also have well-managed email operations with wide mailing lists. His team keeps those on the list aware of what Dr. Minnis is doing in Killarney and what he thinks of issues of importance.
There are various reasons for the changing tactics in Bahamian politics from a few decades ago. After the FNM won the 1992 general election it liberalized the broadcast sector, ending the ZNS monopoly. Consequently, numerous radio stations emerged. Television news operations also started at Cable Bahamas and Jones Communications.
The commercial expansion of the Internet in the 1990s also created a new media landscape. Now, party websites help the organizations transmit their messages to potential voters across the multi-media platform.
The old concentrated audiences of the monopoly state broadcaster, ZNS, and the dailies have fragmented due to legislative and technological advancements. Parties, therefore, now have to consider a wider range of approaches to reach the electorate.
Thus far, the opposition parties have repetitively aired a limited set of ads. To be effective using this model of advertising they must realize that more ads have to be created with varied messages.
In recent times, rallies have been the events at the center of Bahamian political campaigns. The more the parties spend of varied forms of advertising, the more the rally will diminish in our elections. Rallies will never be insignificant. But it makes a lot of sense to use more of those campaign dollars to reach people on a daily basis where they are rather than saving them up for a few events.
Parliamentary Registration Department doing a good job
The Parliamentary Registration Department has set up a voter's card collection center at Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium. Tables have been organized labeled with the names of the various constituencies to assist with the pick-up process. Yesterday around midday it took five minutes to collect a voter's card at the gym.
Bahamian government agencies are often berated when they fail to deliver the services they should. On this occasion, the department is doing well. We hope the entire election process flows this well.
I'm usually wary when people in the political class keep repeating the mantra that a program they've designed worked as planned but the country just needs more of it. And just more resources (taxpayer money) are required for the bureaucracy to solve all our problems.
The myth being created that a certain program constructed by a political party to fight crime was dismantled just doesn't make sense when the department responsible for the activities advised that the budget and number of centers in vulnerable areas were increased, with some $14 million being budgeted and/or spent on it between 2006 and the budget for the fiscal year ending 2012.
Other things don't add up either. Reports and press releases suggest that crime statistics for the years 2005 and 2006 show reductions in total crimes reported as a result of this politically constructed program. But these claims are questionable at best.
Crime overall has reduced since 1992 and it seems total crimes reported in 2001 with no special program were about as low as 2005 and 2006 when it existed.
A few questions arise that deserve consideration:
What was the overall economic performance of the country in the years crime was lower?
What was unemployment in those years?
Were the crime statistics in 2005 and 2006 manipulated? Indications are that crimes under $500 were not reported during those years?
How many crimes were thwarted as a result of this famous program?
Can we get a demographic breakdown of where crimes were committed?
Suggestions have been made that most crimes during 2005 and 2006 were committed in those areas where the special offices are located.
How about a list of what crimes are committed - that is, armed robbery, housebreaking, drugs, etc.?
What about crime related to the drug trade? Should we legalize drugs?
Until all the details are released and a proper study is completed providing these answers and more, it seems the nation is stuck with what "he say" or "they say" for answers. Can the police be more forthcoming with information?
Maybe organizations like Rev. C.B. Moss', Bahamas Against Crime and other neighborhood watch associations can assist with the establishment of local groups with the interested neighbors in the affected areas?
Can the concerned citizens living in the most affected areas build trusting relationships with the police, and vice versa, and start reporting crimes and suspicious individuals instead of waiting for the political class to solve the problem? Will this produce some positive results as seen in other countries?
Of course the political class and police must provide encouragement and law enforcement should receive resources they need, but outside of that, individuals, churches, Junkanoo and other community groups should step up to the plate and help resolve the crime problems in our neighborhoods. Even if it means pimping on their friends or family members.
Having said all that I'm not a sociologist or a psychiatrist, but I know the rhetoric we're getting is not the solution. If political parties must get involved all they need to do is agree that crime is a national issue that affects all Bahamians, FNMs and PLPs alike, and work together for possible solutions.
How about hiring private security companies and deputizing their officers to patrol areas?
Maybe a joint political rally on crime? There would be lots of people there at least.
How about starting neighborhood crime watches in constituency offices?
It's up to us as individuals to help find solutions because the country deserves more than cute slogans to help solve such an important issue.
- Rick Lowe
NASSAU, Bahamas -- Bahamian professionals from a wide cross section of the community gathered on Wednesday April 18 in a networking reception hosted by the U.S. Embassy to celebrate their participation in U.S. government sponsored academic and professional exchange programs. Since 1973, more than 200 Bahamians have had the opportunity to take part in exchange programs through the U.S. Embassy, such as Fulbright and Humphrey, the International Visitor Leadership Program, Summer Institutes, and others.
During a brief ceremony, United States Chargé d'Affaires John Dinkelman presented Ms. Christine Campbell with a special plaque recognizing her as the U.S. State Department Alumni of the Month for April, for her leadership and commitment to public service. Throughout her career, Ms. Campbell has been a central force in the prevention of drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS. Today, in her capacity as the Ministry of Labor and Social Development's officer-in-charge of the Bureau of Women's Affairs, Ms. Campbell has brought a renewed public focus to the issues impacting women throughout The Bahamas.
In his remarks Mr. Dinkelman noted that the exchanges are truly bilateral in broadening cultural, educational, political and economic contacts between The Bahamas and the United States. Mr. Dinkelman also announced a new grant opportunity funding to be awarded to State Alumni-affiliated community based organizations that are directly engaging at-risk youth.
Photo: United States Chargé d'Affaires John Dinkelman presents Ms. Christine Campbell with a special plaque recognizing her as the U.S. State Department Alumni of the Month for April, for her leadership and commitment to public service.
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
"Make no mistake about it. Our region is in the throes of the greatest crisis since independence. The specter of evolving into failed societies is no longer a subject of imagination. How our societies crawl out of this vicious vortex of persistent low growth, crippling debt, huge fiscal deficits and high unemployment is the single most important question facing us at this time".
That is not an assessment of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to be taken lightly. It is an assessment by a Caribbean prime minister who has also had the advantage of serving as legal advisor to the CARICOM Secretariat.
Dr. Kenny Anthony, the prime minister of St. Lucia, delivered this appraisal to a meeting of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry on October 31.
The prime minister's statement is so important to the present crunch in which CARICOM exists, and so crucial to its future path that one would have expected it to be a matter of discussion at all levels of society in the 15 member-states of CARICOM. Yet, beyond its brief reportage in some of the regional media, attention to this grave warning died almost immediately after it was spoken.
The reasons for the absence of widespread discussion including by the regional media, is probably because the Caribbean public has become accustomed to inaction by regional governments, institutions, and private sector organizations. Few would doubt the importance of what Dr. Anthony said and the urgency of addressing it. But all appear unconvinced that anyone will act decisively to change the situation. So, the appraisal alarming and forceful as it is evokes little more than resigned weariness in Caribbean publics.
This is a worrying condition for the CARICOM region. For, if the public has lost faith in the willingness of governments and institutions to act swiftly and together to extract them from crisis, the consequences will be even more serious. They will include increased emigration of the skilled persons in our societies, shrinkage of investment by local business people, and a general malaise in the productive sector. In short, it will lead to a worsening of the crisis.
The sad aspect of all this is that every leader in the member-states of CARICOM, in its institutions and in the private sector knows very well that deeper integration of Caribbean economies and closer harmonization of their external relations would be an immediate stimulus to pulling CARICOM countries out of what Dr. Anthony rightly describes as "this vicious vortex of persistent low growth, crippling debt, huge fiscal deficits and high unemployment".
What each CARICOM country needs is not more nationalism, but more regionalism. This is not to say that they should form a federation or political union, though, for the record, let me say it would be the best thing they could do. But, they have to stop operating as if, by themselves, they individually have the capacity either to deliver the public goods required by their people or to bargain effectively in the international community.
Again, Dr. Anthony crystallized this matter in his remarks when he said: "The issue we face is that our institutions, whether at the level of the state or supranationally, have not kept up with the times. This is the reality check that should have hit us, thanks to 2008 and the world financial crisis. And again, if we are to observe and learn from another epicenter of integration, Europe, this process is no simple undertaking, but requires unwavering commitment. What was also clear from 2008 is that we were still spending too much time using our integration machinery dealing with our insularities instead of charting an outward response to the looming global realities."
Well, what are some of those looming global realities with which CARICOM countries should be concerned?
Food security: CARICOM's food import bill now runs into billions of dollars and will escalate in the coming years; the fragility and cost of regional air transportation to support tourism and the absence of region-wide sea transportation to facilitate trade in goods; competition within the region from external nations, such as European exporters, who under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) will, over time, be landing goods and services and even opening businesses that will compete with local companies putting some of them out of business and reducing government revenues from tariffs; continuing erosion of preferences that certain key commodities from CARICOM countries have enjoyed, in the past, in the EU, US and Canadian markets; reduction in aid because, except for Haiti, CARICOM countries are regarded as middle income countries, and a continued restriction from concessional funds from international financial institutions for the same reason; the effects of global warming that demand adaptation infrastructure to stop sea-level rise from drowning huge parts of many countries, dislocating human habitats and destroying tourism infrastructure and agricultural production; and the lack of capacity to bargain effectively with larger countries and financial institutions on investment, trade and debt.
The list of issues identified here is by no means exhaustive, and they require bold thinking and courageous decision making including a resolve to pool sovereignty regionally to make each country stronger. Dr. Anthony diagnosed the ailments of the region accurately, though he stopped short of prescribing the medicine for curing them. But, he hinted at it when he said: "When appropriate, CARICOM must have the power and the resources to lead, setting both the objective and the tone of the dialogue, followed by a greater intensity of action".
There are many countries and agencies that are ready to help the countries of the region to progress, but they know that, apart from Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and perhaps Guyana because of their natural resources, none of the Caribbean's countries can survive let alone prosper without the economies of scale and the bargaining strength that comes from deeper integration. As Dr. Anthony counselled, "the specter of evolving into failed societies is no longer a subject of imagination".
o Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean diplomat who publishes widely on small states in the global community. Send Responses to: www.sirronaldsanders.com. Printed with the permission of caribbeannewsnow.com.
The head of the most influential sports organization in The Bahamas is calling on the government to re-visit the prioritizing of those areas that drive the nation forward. In particular, he wants the sports industry to be acknowledged as one of the prime positive elements in the country.
"The sports industry is here with awesome potential. It is very real and it would be just great for the government to give it special attention. I feel the sports industry should be right there along with education, health and tourism. There is so much that we can do to propel our sports image. We are highly regarded around the world for our success in sports, but the knowledge that we could do so much more, kind of dilutes the enthusiasm a bit. A much bigger budget, comparable to the contribution sports make to the 'positive' image of our country is certainly in order," said Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC) President Wellington Miller recently during an exclusive interview about his reflections with his first four-year term in office closing out.
He laments the inability for federations to properly canvas all of the Family Islands for the sports talents hidden in those communities. He is saddened that on many occasions because of the lack of proper facilities in the country, opportunities to host regional and international events and a multitude of training camps, are lost every year.
"It is getting to be so very expensive for sports organizations to keep up with their peers around the world, most of whom are nicely subsidized. For instance, they fall short on funding all the time in trying to send teams away to get the kind of experience that enable them to better compete. We don't really have strong programs for the Family Islands. Federations are just unable to find the finances to get into every little island corner to weed out the raw
talents, nurture them and heighten the success level of The Bahamas.
"The lack of proper facilities makes for another big concern. We miss out all the time on getting tournaments and camps because we lack the facilities that those wanting to come, need and deserve. Just very recently as an example, Canada wanted to send a team of 30 boxers plus officials here for a training camp. Well, we just do not have any boxing facility that can accommodate them. This is a shame and I felt badly having to acknowledge that fact, but there it is. Now, you know how much more each federation could do in that area, if there was the kind of funding allocated to us from the national budget? I can tell you that it would make a big difference, an awesome change for the better," said Miller.
Miller makes an excellent argument. It is exciting and refreshing that he has decided to come forward and speak to the needs within the sporting landscape of The Bahamas, even if it means ruffling the feathers of those who make up the political directorate.
Be sure to stay connected to Sports Scope as this series of reflections by BOC President Wellington Miller continues. To respond to this column, kindly contact Fred Sturrup at email@example.com
I am a proud graduate of St. Augustine's College, class of 2002. After high school, I obtained a bachelor's degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs at Princeton University. I then worked in New York for a few years before returning to school to get my law degree from Northwestern University in Chicago. In January, I will move to New York to work at a large corporate law firm practicing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, capital markets and financing. I am a young Bahamian living aboard, full of energy and optimism for our country, and I would like to believe that I can return home in a few years to a bright future, professionally, socially and personally. However, in conversing with young Bahamian professionals, at home and abroad, many of them have a feeling of disconnection and frustration with our economic system as it relates to career development and advancement.
Young Bahamians are frustrated because of: The failure of successive governments to diversify our economy from tourism and off-shore banking; the inability to adequately promote Bahamian ownership and expertise in our economy; the failure to sufficiently imbue our young people with the belief that they can achieve their full potential in The Bahamas; and a paucity of established mentorship programs designed to guide young Bahamians in their career advancement. This article will examine the aforementioned factors that contribute to the brain drain in our country and offer some solutions to reduce the number of Bahamians that leave or fail to return to The Bahamas due to frustration, disappointment and hopelessness.
Graduates who obtained degrees in traditional and well-defined fields have all too often been faced with the reality that the number of suitable positions available, if any, are greatly outnumbered by the number of persons seeking a job in areas such as law, finance, business, accounting and the civil service. Furthermore, young people with expertise in disciplines with little presence in The Bahamas are often left jobless and hopeless. While a smaller economy such as ours may not have as diverse a complement of career paths as exists in larger economies, our governmental and private sector actors must seize the opportunity to look at feasible opportunities for us to diversify our economy using and harnessing the special talents of our nation's most valuable resource - its people.
One possible way to employ the diverse skills of young Bahamians would be to finance and encourage alternative energy programs and sustainable development related projects. Also, established industries such as farming, fisheries and offshore financing must be bolstered. All interested stakeholders must take a step back and develop innovative ideas to improve the international competitiveness of these industries while also increasing Bahamian ownership in these areas, especially with respect to the offshore finance industry. Increasing the number and visibility of Bahamian owners in hotels, banks and similar businesses provides hope and inspiration for young Bahamians to believe that they too can become owners in our largest industries if they work hard and make smart business decisions.
To facilitate and develop sustained youth empowerment in this country, the government must take seriously the business of Bahamians acquiring a more significant ownership interest in the economy. Young people have to feel that there is a realistic possibility of prosperity in The Bahamas beyond simply securing a job, especially for high-achieving young Bahamians who have access to opportunities around the world. It is interesting that although the incumbent government in Singapore won the recent general election, it lost a number of parliamentary seats and the former foreign minister, who was highly regarded internationally, lost his seat. One of the main grievances young Singaporeans articulated during the electoral season was the belief that expats are receiving many of the high paying jobs. In other words, many Singaporean youths are disheartened, like many young Bahamians, because they do not believe they have a realistic chance to truly flourish in their domestic economic market.
It is not sustainable for a nation's economic development and advancement to have such a high level of disaffected youth, particularly highly educated youth, as this exacerbates the brain drain The Bahamas is currently experiencing. Creating awareness programs designed to inform Bahamians living abroad about lucrative and challenging opportunities at home can also reduce our brain drain challenges. There are already a number of Bahamians who previously lived abroad and have returned home to rewarding careers. To the extent that these success stories can be promoted and disseminated locally and internationally through the Bahamian diaspora, it can go a long way in giving young Bahamians hope that they can achieve professional success beyond their wildest dreams in The Bahamas. At the same time, public-private partnerships designed to broaden our economic expertise, facilitate entrepreneurship and attract global companies to set up shop in The Bahamas will go a long way to lure highly educated Bahamians back home.
The government along with the private sector, churches and other relevant stakeholders must address the lingering nihilism and hopelessness that afflicts many of our young people. In my short time at home, in conversations on social media platforms and elsewhere, many young Bahamians, regardless of political affiliation, have said to me that they feel advancement in this country is gained primarily based on familial pedigree rather than competency. Furthermore, many Bahamians feel that successive governments are selling our "birthright" to foreigners and that foreigners seem to be the only ones really reaping the financial rewards here in The Bahamas. Whether or not these claims are well substantiated, it is clear that leaders in the public and private sectors must do a better job of inspiring young people and informing them that there is still opportunity in The Bahamas regardless of parentage. They must convince young people that if they work hard and are fair in their dealings with co-workers and community members, they will one day enjoy the benefits of their dedication and delayed gratification. This effort to address this pernicious and persistent nihilism among your young people must start with strong public policy geared towards facilitating strong Bahamian entrepreneurial and corporate success.
Developing a culture of mentorship will also promote youth empowerment over the long-term in The Bahamas. Connecting young Bahamians with established business people, scholars and other accomplished individuals can help young people navigate their way up the corporate ladder in an environment that is perceived to be plagued with cronyism, nepotism, despotism and even political victimization. All interested persons must accept that a vibrant, effective mentor relationship cannot be forced or bureaucratized. It must be organic and genuine. Having said that, prominent business, political and civic leaders publicly coming forward and stating their willingness to mentor young Bahamians can go a long way in helping young people feel accepted and a part of our political, social and economic landscape. Also, young people must understand the importance of excellence and hard work. Successful individuals often have very tight schedules. Any time they make available for mentorship must be treasured and effectively used. We must be respectful of their time and also offer to assist them as well because young people often have valuable insights into trends and ideas popular among their contemporaries that older Bahamians could find useful.
The "Occupy Protests" that have rocked cities from New York to Rome underscore the pain and suffering young people feel the world over. Unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons, countless nations around the world have failed to provide their young people with affordable, practical educations and jobs that allow young people to live in a dignified manner. Going forward, governments will have to prioritize empowering young people if they wish to maintain any semblance of peace, prosperity and normalcy in their countries. Our Bahamian government and private sector leaders must act quickly, decisively and creatively to encourage and promote youth empowerment in our country or else we could see our own "Occupy Rawson Square" movements in the not too distant future.
A few weekends ago, I went to Arawak Cay to catch up with some old friends and to enjoy succulent Bahamians delicacies such as conch salad and guava duff. It truly feels good to be home and I love my country, but unless our government and other social organizations take significant steps to making our country more attractive to talented, ambitious young Bahamians, I do not believe that I and other young Bahamians will be returning home to this country that I love.
- Rishard P. O. Cooper
Following a year of work, including reviewing over 300 written submissions, the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group (EPG) has completed its report and submitted it to the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, for transmission to the 54 heads of government of Commonwealth countries on reforming the 62-year-old Commonwealth of Nations. The report will be considered by leaders at their summit meeting in Australia in October.
The EPG was created at the 2009 Commonwealth Summit in Trinidad and Tobago as an initiative to define the Commonwealth's role for the 21st century. The task of the EPG has been to explore and recommend ways in which the Commonwealth can sharpen its impact, strengthen its networks, and raise its profile to ensure that it remains relevant and serve its citizens now and into the future.
The eleven members of the group, chaired by former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Badawi, spent the last year listening to a broad range of stakeholders from throughout the Commonwealth about their vision and ideas for the association.
The group also closely examined the work of the many inter-governmental bodies and non-governmental organizations that constitute the Commonwealth. At the end of its work, the group is convinced that the Commonwealth is important to all of its member states, and that as it had done in the past, it can and must continue to make a significant contribution to peace and development in the world.
Indeed, had the Commonwealth not already existed, many would have wanted to create it. The association encompasses the governments and people of 54 member countries: from India, the world's largest democracy to the small Caribbean and Pacific island nations. Commonwealth members also include developed countries such as Australia, Britain and Canada and rapidly developing nations like South Africa and Malaysia.
Together, the countries of the Commonwealth are the most ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse grouping in the world. It is quite exceptionally an instrument for straddling the world, for commingling races, religions, cultures and views that would otherwise not connect in any single place. The world is better for the opportunity for dialogue and for understanding that the Commonwealth provides.
And, while the association originates in the defunct British Empire, the member countries chose either to remain in or join the Commonwealth voluntarily. Unlike many other organizations, the member states of the Commonwealth enjoy equal status each exercising rights as much as other countries in the group.
The Commonwealth suffers from hiding its light under a bushel in the areas where it is outstanding. In part, because while its work is beneficial, it is not sensational it is not front-page news but also because it has not sufficiently employed modern media techniques to tell its story.
In recent times, critics have also accused it of not speaking-out when the values for which it says it stands are violated. They claim that the organization is hypocritical. The claims are not entirely fair. But, these are issues that the Commonwealth must clarify if it is to be respected as significant, and if its work is to be known and valued by its people.
No other organization delivers relevant technical assistance to developing nations as rapidly and without conditions as the Commonwealth's Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC). Countries, such as Britain, Canada, Australia, contribute significant sums to CFTC for the benefit of developing Commonwealth countries, including all those in the Caribbean.
In every minute of every day of the year, there is a CFTC expert in one or more Caribbean countries, for instance, delivering assistance in a range of fields where expertise is urgently needed but does not exist among the local population. So, while the person in the street may be unaware of the role that the Commonwealth is playing in the improvement of his or her country, that role is being played out every day quietly and effectively. CFTC is a fine example of co-operation between rich and poor countries of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth has always been an unashamed champion of the interests of its small member states. For example, Caribbean small states were able to call on the government of Canada to stand-up for them in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) over 'harmful tax competition' which threatened the off-shore financial sector.
And, the present Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, took the initiative to invite the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, to brief him on the issues facing the Caribbean when Canada chaired the G20 meeting in Toronto in June 2010. No other organization has taken up the concerns of small states in the international community more consistently and effectively than the Commonwealth, and it has done so with the full backing of its developed member countries.
The association also has tremendous value for the governments of its developed member countries. No other organization brings together heads of government, ministers and senior officials from every continent of the world, from every race and religion, from every size of country as does the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is a special opportunity for governments to talk with each other, to listen and to act in an atmosphere of informality and genuine co-operation.
The EPG has made it clear in its report that it believes the Commonwealth must strengthen its advocacy work in development and it must expand its capacity for promoting investment that will deliver more employment to its developing member states and, by so doing, alleviate poverty. It has also focused on youth and proposed measures that will create funds from which young entrepreneurs might be able to access funds for well-founded ventures that unleash their energies and creativity.
In making recommendations on reforming the international financial architecture to give developing Commonwealth countries a strong voice in decisions that affect them and to alleviate them from the burden of debt, the group was also mindful that political, civil and human rights are as important as economic rights and opportunities.
It has argued that the Commonwealth, as an association, must remain the guardian of these values in all its member states, helping to correct infractions at an early stage and protecting the rights of people to live in freedom. This is the Commonwealth that works for its people. To make it work better, governments have to ensure that the principal instrument for delivering the goods the Commonwealth Secretariat is given the support to carry out reforms necessary to make it fit for its purpose.
Re-printed with the permission of Caribbean News Now.