Opinion

Vandalizing democracy with temper tantrums and sophomoric pranks

February 09, 2017

Throughout the 2016 U.S. presidential contest, then President Barack Obama fought not only his political foes, but also those who demonized him and who sought to undermine his legitimacy from the onset of his presidency.
He also battled: complacency; iterations of false equivalencies; the mindless conceit and arrogance by some that voting did not matter; the immaturity of some millennials peeved that because Bernie Sanders did not win the Democratic Party nomination they were not going to vote; and various other sophomoric reasons for abstaining from voting or spoiling the ballot as a form of protest.
A familiar refrain from Obama pleading with his fellow-citizens: "Don't boo, vote!" Obama understands the hard work of politics, that we are often faced with tough choices and that protest should help to build rather than harm or tear down democracy.
His response has always been to play a long game and to remain committed to the democratic process no matter how tough it gets. He would never advocate foolish responses like a mass group of voters engaging in a juvenile campaign of purposefully spoiling their ballots.
Many did not like the choice between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. Driven by a noxious concoction of a false equivalence and a pox on the mentality of both houses, millions of voters decided to stay home.
Had complacent voters in key states voted, the nightmare that is Donald Trump would not now be visited on the United States of America and the global commons. His assault on liberal pluralism in America and a more stable international order could have been prevented.
Those aghast at the gross behavior of this egomaniac, who is now the most powerful individual on the planet, but who did not vote or who spoilt their ballots, bear responsibility for his accession to power.
Those who did not vote, but are now protesting Trump, need to examine their heretofore unreflective consciences and shallow reasoning for not voting.
Tribune Chief Reporter Ava Turnquest reported last week, "An activist and two scholars are campaigning for eligible, but decidedly unregistered Bahamian voters to spoil their election ballots as a form of protest..." The "scholars" are professors at The University of The Bahamas.

Lamented
A senior Bahamian and statesman involved in the struggle for majority rule and equal access to voting, regardless of race, gender and class, lamented what he views as a reckless and profoundly immature response to our current political situation. He noted, "In 1962 after years of valiant struggle and much sacrifice on the part of men and women of my generation who valued the right to vote, universal adult suffrage was achieved with every adult citizen having the right to cast a ballot in general elections.
"It is distressing and disappointing that more than half a century later, younger, educated Bahamians can seriously encourage citizens to throw away their ballots.
That the descendants of slaves and women would advocate spoiling the ballot is profoundly sad, and an insult to the legacy of those who fought for the right to vote around the world, including those who died in such struggles."
One cannot imagine Dr. Doris Johnson, Georgiana Symonette, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or U.S. civil rights champion John Lewis, advocating or endorsing mass ballot spoiling as a productive or creative response to disenchantment with the politics of the day.
One cannot imagine serious-minded professors and lecturers at UWI, universities in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., suggesting ballot spoiling as an intelligent way of responding to the challenges of the day in the democratic commons.
The brave citizens of The Gambia, who courageously ousted at the ballot box the former dictator who remained in office for two decades, would find it difficult to understand why those who enjoy the right to vote would spoil their ballots.
Here are some of the arguments of those at home advocating that we spoil our ballots.
In a blog, one of the professors, according to The Tribune story, underscored that the country was facing an 'unmistakable crisis of representation'. He called for the return of credibility to public affairs, and urged ordinary citizens to realize their political power.
"Spoiling the ballot sends the nation and the watching world a clear, unmistakable message that a sizable portion of the country demands better representation and will not settle," the professor noted.

Arrogance
There is an arrogance here. It is the presumption that those who do vote are settling. Most Bahamians want better representation. But most likely do not view spoiling their ballots as a reasonable or intelligent response to the need for better representation.
The professor further stated, "Once the election has passed and the smoke has cleared, then it will be time to plan, organize and agitate forcefully and methodically for the electoral changes we want to see. We have nothing to lose."
Why didn't this individual lead a more forceful campaign for electoral reform over the past five years?
Why didn't he "agitate forcefully and methodically" since the last general election, all of which would have been more responsible than advocating a mass spoiling of the ballot?
Another professor, according to the story, "framed the exercise as 'seeding the revolution', suggesting that spoilt ballots could engender greater accountability in governance and future electoral reform".
This is the same professor who, at the last general election, claimed, falsely, that she heard nothing of substance at political rallies about policies and ideas for the country. Had she bothered to disengage her myopic bias and scotosis, and engage with the reality on the ground, she would not have been so blindingly incorrect, oblivious and ignorant - not enviable traits in a "scholar".
She still has the same false equivalence mentality. Not only has she not matured or grown in her thinking, she has regressed, and now advocates a mass spoiling of the ballot.
The female professor opined, according to The Tribune story, "The less involved in the democratic process the population becomes, the less accountable officials and politicians have to be. And as of this moment, no matter what the turnout, the next government will be elected by a minority of Bahamian citizens. Minority rule, welcome back home".
She continued, "You won't change the outcome of this election if you register and spoil the ballot instead of sitting this one out. But you will send a message to whichever minority government is elected in May. And it's this: We are watching, we will hold you accountable. We reject the bad choices you gave us. Do better".

Ignorance
Her illogic and historical and governmental ignorance is breathtaking. She does not understand the most rudimentary elements of our democratic system, despite holding an earned doctorate.
Her unfamiliarity with such basic information suggests that she cannot be taken seriously when discussing certain topics. Her ignorance about parliamentary democracy is alarming.
Not only is our democracy going through a rough patch, but our national dialogue is weakened when purported public intellectuals blather nonsense.
What does she mean by minority government? In our parliamentary system the party with the most seats forms the government regardless of the popular vote. The PLP is not a minority government, despite not winning the majority of the popular vote.
This is a circumstance that has occurred in many democracies with our system of government. A minority government is one that does not have the majority of the seats in the lower chamber, but that can still form a government.
How can she be so ignorant of such a basic fact? And she expects us to take her seriously?
This professor offered her political analysis: "Voter apathy will send the message that Bahamians don't care what they do. But a spoiled ballot, even if the counts are not released to the public, will tell a very different tale."
This is more than wishful thinking. It is belligerently naive!
If a party wins despite numerous spoiled ballots, they will likely care little about those voters. Political parties would love to appeal only to their base while ignoring independent voters who spoiled their ballots.
And if the number of spoiled ballots is not made public, what would have been the point of the campaign to spoil the ballots?
It would amount to one massive anger fest of arrogance, a temper tantrum, making the campaigners feel good about themselves, but doing little to achieve their stated goals.
The entire exercise would have been like what a friend who used to dive describes as a temporary feel good moment when he is in cold waters in the middle of the ocean; he sometimes relieves himself in his wet suit. He gets a warm tingling sensation. But it quickly passes and he is still in the same predicament as before, except that his wet suit is a great deal messier.
Next week's column will cover more of this topic and offer some ideas for democratic engagement, as opposed to vandalizing the ballot and democracy with sophomoric responses, the kind of maturity and wisdom that Obama, a dedicated student of democracy and political change, advocated both as an activist and as an office-holder.

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

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Where did the VAT money go

February 08, 2017

Minister Michael Halkitis got himself into quite a pickle trying to explain where the more than $1 billion in value-added tax (VAT) revenue the government collected over the last two years went. Truth be told, the answer to where the money went is very simple. First, it went into the Consolidated Fund, as it must. Second, it went to pay the ordinary expenses of the government of The Bahamas, as Parliament directed. It did not go to pay down the country's national debt. It also was not earmarked to fund exclusively any special projects, and it did not.
Our constitution requires there to be a single "Consolidated Fund" into which the government must place "all" revenue it collects. This means that customs duty, departure tax, license fees, VAT and every other revenue must be put into the Consolidated Fund. The constitution then authorizes the minister of finance to make payments from that Consolidated Fund, using the expenditure limits the Parliament approves during the budget process. The Financial Administration and Audit Act, in compliance with the constitution, directs all "accounting officers" of government departments to pay all gross sums of monies collected into the Consolidated Fund, and to spend that money in accordance with the limits set by Parliament.
This being so, all VAT monies had to go into the Consolidated Fund; in fact, Halkitis said as much in his now infamous grilling by Candia Dames on Juan McCartney's show, The Revolution. If all VAT monies went into the Consolidated Fund, co-mingled with all other government revenue, then it, like all the other monies, went to pay the various expenses of the government over the last two years. What, then, is the accounting for the VAT money? Look at the expenditure outturns in 2015/2016 and the 2016/17 budget documents. They will show how VAT and other revenue defrayed the ordinary expenses of the government. Even the prime minister's promised accounting could only show a list of expenditure that would include salaries and personal emoluments; rents and other charges; capital expenses for this project or that project; debt redemption; loan interest payments; subventions to government entities such as Bahamasair, BAIC, Water and Sewerage Corporation; etc. The treasurer of The Bahamas can provide that accounting easily.
Do not look for any extraordinary payment on the debt, resulting in its lowering beyond normal limits. There is none to be found. In fact, the national debt grew over the period since the implementation of VAT. Why? Because as the government collected over a billion dollars in new revenue from VAT, it also increased expenditure over the period by more than that amount.
Where did the VAT money go? The only place it could go, into the Consolidated Fund. How was it used? Just like the customs duty, departure tax, business license fees and every other revenue of the government - to defray the expenses of the government, be it civil servants' salaries, loan payments, social services food cards or vouchers, or contracts for road works.
The real problem that the government has is not accounting for the VAT funds, but explaining why, given the revenue gains from it, the country's fiscal situation has not improved, as the debt to GDP ratio continues on an upward trajectory; thus the national debt itself continues to rise. Yes, the government's annual deficit has decreased since it took office, but the same was bound to do so, since the heavy capital spending, in particular, done during the Great Recession would be curtailed in line with improvements in the economy. Many Bahamians believed, as the Christie administration suggested leading up to the last election, that VAT would largely be used to improve the country's fiscal situation, leading to a reduction in the national debt. So for the most part, the question isn't where did the VAT money go, but rather, why didn't it go where the public believed it would? The answer to that question would be welcomed, I am sure.

o Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.

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It's still a matter of trust

February 06, 2017

"I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
- Robert McCloskey

There is no question about it: We are getting deeper and deeper into the "silly season" that leads eventually to another general election. Candidate nominations, party conventions, the long-awaited boundary report, the signs are incontrovertible that both the established parties and the newcomers are readying themselves for battle.
There is, however, a very different element in the political fray this time around: the recent fracture of the FNM in the House of Assembly. Therefore, this week we are going to Consider This... Exactly what does that fracture tell the voter about the FNM and its leader that are seeking to be the government and the next prime minister of The Bahamas?

Knowing the candidates
Like any political campaign, the majority of the voters really don't have a chance to meet, much less get to know, the candidates who are asking for their support. The voters are being given reasons, pros and cons, to cast their votes in a certain way and asked to believe that one particular candidate and that person's party have the solutions to all of our problems and are capable of implementing those ideas efficiently and effectively.
We will be exposed to rallies, speeches, commercials and slick publications that seek to introduce the candidates, magnify their good points, convince us that they will work to make all our dreams come true and emphasize how they are so much more qualified to do the job than anyone running against them.
We are also supposed to be impressed by those candidates who have already served in Parliament, as well as those who have spent time as a minister and believe that this kind of experience makes them well suited to be the best representative we could find.
We will be subjected to the testimony of pleased constituents who swear for the representation the incumbents have provided. We will be bombarded by character endorsements for the newcomers who seek our vote beguiled on all sides by promises of solid representation and solicitous care for our collective well-being.
But how well do we know these men and women who offer themselves for election? Do we really know them, or do we just wind up being influenced by what they say and what is being said about them?
Unfortunately, to demonstrate the power of the latter, we all watched as the candidates in the recent American presidential election were demolished by the unflattering and downright nasty nicknames given them by now-President Donald Trump: Little Marco, Low Energy Jeb, Lyin' Ted and Crooked Hillary.
So how do we get to know these people so we can make an informed choice that will be the best for us and our country? In our small nation, many of us have had some kind of interaction, whether social, professional or personal, with some of the candidates. But how well do those casual exchanges reveal the true characters of those who want to make decisions on our behalf for the next five years?
However, this election season, we are fortunate because, through an historic set of circumstances, there is one very obvious and valuable way that we can evaluate the leadership qualities of one person who would very much like to lead not only his party but our nation as well.
There is an old saying that you don't know someone until you work with them. In the Free National Movement's parliamentary group, we have a perfect example of a collection of men and women who have worked together, both in government and opposition, for many years. They have experienced the pressures of governance and the stresses of opposition. They have weathered crises and enjoyed triumphs, shoulder to shoulder. Clearly, they know each other and they have an intimate knowledge of how they function under strain. They are able to judge the leadership values of each other better than anyone.
So, when the voter sees that 70 percent of those members of Parliament do not have any faith or trust in the judgment or ability of the person who is supposed to be leading them, what does that say to those of us who are on the outside? They who know this person in his capacity as leader are saying by their bold and dramatic actions that he is not fit to lead them, much less the country.
As another saying goes, actions do speak louder than words and the actions of these seven MPs should open the eyes of the voter to the fact that this leader is not what he, and all the campaign rhetoric we are hearing and will continue to hear, says he is. If those who work closest with him and for him are saying they do not trust him to lead them, how can he hope to convince the voters that he should be the leader of a full slate of MPs and, more importantly, of our nation?
As Prime Minister Perry Christie put it recently, "Minnis has lost the position as leader of the opposition. Minnis has lost the [FNM] membership in the House of Assembly. He is a minor player in the House of Assembly... He should try his best to keep quiet so that we do not highlight the levels of inadequacy and ineffectiveness that is plaguing him."

Evaluating our options
We, the voters, need to take a long hard look at this historic split of the FNM with its leader in the House. We, the voters, need to evaluate exactly what this split says about this leader. We, the voters, need to assess the competence of someone who cannot even lead those closest to him.
We have a lot of decisions to make when we go to the polls. We don't have to depend upon fiery words and campaign speeches. We don't have to rely on what we are being told about the accomplishments of the various candidates.
This time, we have, right in front of us, actual evidence provided by those who are the closest to him of the leadership qualities of one of the major candidates with which to formulate our evaluation. This time, our decision should be much easier.

Conclusion
As we approach the election campaign season, it is essential that we not only assess the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates who ask us to trust them to lead us for the next five years. We must carefully listen to what each of the leaders say they will do if elected. More importantly, we must watch how the leaders interact with their colleagues.
When listening to the pronouncements of those who seek to hold the highest executive office in the land, we must remember Robert McCloskey's admonition: "I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
In the final analysis, we must be able to conclusively determine whether our wannabe leaders can provide effective leadership, inspire trust and, most importantly, whether they command the respect and support of those whom they seek to lead. Failure to accomplish this will prove to be disastrous to themselves, their party and the nation. Because at the end of the day, it's still a matter of trust.

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

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The brain drain of the Caribbean-trained nurses

February 03, 2017

Our quiet need
The role of a nurse is equally important as a good doctor, education, clean criminal record and a productive safe community.
These caretakers and medicine-givers are eyes and ears of doctors, from preparing a clean bed to escorting sick and helpless patients, even ones with mental health issues, AIDS to Zika, while providing comfort to families during times of need.
During an emergency hospital stay at a medical center, their presence often allows families to head back to work, or simply get an extra night off from staying overnight on a hard chair.
Despite historians' early account that they were taught Christian values to become good servants, they serve everyone regardless of religious, political or social ideology or values.
Today they are one of society's inseparable communities, hidden treasures from wars to human or natural disasters for centuries.
This function cannot be quantified, but certainly a nation's health, medical system, trust and upward mobility will diminish when they migrate that talent; sadly, especially in the poor and developing countries, and some of the dominant Caribbean countries such as, Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana, where prolonged economic symptoms have crippled major public medical facilities for decades.
Many reports have voiced concerns over the lack of funds, critical new technology, supplies and other equipment to save lives.
These facilities jeopardize both nurses and patients' lives by putting them at a higher risk of an infectious disease.
It also seems that the more nurses speak out they are becoming more powerless under strenuous employment conditions from what appears to be silence of accountability.
Over the next 25-50 years, the aging population will increase over 100 percent in both hospitals and home-based care, according to healthcare professionals and scholars. This field will become more critical to meet the demands.

A troubled ward
One in 25 patients is infected in a medical center, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
Pneumonia is one of the common issues found in surgical sites, the studies have shown. I have also lost a few friends who have had other health issues and died shortly after they contracted pneumonia and other infectious bacteria while being hospitalized. However, this migration is not about pneumonia.
As many scholars have noted, such as Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson, "Jamaica for decades has developed a good public health system that has been successful against malaria, tuberculosis and various gastrointestinal diseases."
Later reports have shown that the death rate of children has fallen, according to the World Bank, in the region from birth to age two per 1,000.
However, I believe the region still lacks critical data to systematically monitor home-birthed babies, medical issues and others who self-medicate from cultural beliefs, and other socio-economic and geographic factors that still affect access to healthcare.
Sure, the region has come a long way; however, it seems that the health system has taken a step back, especially in the publicly operated centers.
Recently, as reported in Jamaica, about 18 babies died from klebsiella and serratia, or pseudomonas that have been on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These bacteria and other poor health issues are not new. Today, countless family plots and cemeteries along these shores are still searching for an answer.
Many first line responders remain vulnerable and worried that inadequate supplies and lack of critical tools continue to place them at higher risk of becoming infected.
It seems that customer service continues to decline, and access to a doctor is dictated on one's ability to pay upfront without a diagnosis.
Without the media, those babies would have been just another premature death. This epidemic has forced health officials to admit publicly that something is wrong.
Government leadership seems to have a "pre-existing condition" that is defensive to address poor and unhealthy medical operations.
Telling people not to panic is not a solution. Where is the independent oversight?
If these health ministers have the public's interests, they must speak up for funding, and refrain from the politics and be on the side of supporting all, especially the disadvantaged.
What if these leaders' own families were to be admitted to these poor facilities, or depending on some form of social welfare?
These medical clouds stretch beyond a broken window at a ward, but a broader issue on helping people find jobs, fighting crime and becoming part of a solution.

The next flight
Nursing careers will command excellent salaries, such as one in math, finance, science, or a career in petroleum, especially one in home care, according to several business reports.
Today, these nurses are leaving not because of gender equality, crime or the lack of education; several have enormous student loans. These flights are not an abandonment of their nationality; it is an incremental move for economic opportunities.
Countries such as Bermuda, Cayman, U.S., U.K., Canada and many other developed nations are poised to gain from this flight.
Going back to school to become a nurse, one would hope their service would upgrade the local economy's living standards, but now it seems like a one-way ticket out.
These well-sought-after visas serve rural areas in the U.S., Canada and other places, even if the salaries are lower than the countries' national average. However, it will be better than the local system they are leaving.
Additionally, there is the constant fear of losing their jobs, combined with helplessness of disproportionately seeing poor people waiting on benches for days after an emergency to be admitted, then to be told to return due to lack bed space, or because of the inability to pay upfront.
These nurses' good intention and values sometimes collide with their moral compass, where life and death could be added off-the-record payments to keep a patient alive in making sure that certain basic needs are met while hospitalized.
Medical insecurities seriously undermine ethics in medicine and the integration between the relations with their patients.
Others being over worked and underpaid with little support system to alleviate emotional scars. Vacations are being missed from the fear of losing employment, and that could reset current salary after years of solid service.
"Also, I am not naive of patients being passed through system to incur unnecessary bills because of one's ability to pay."
These migrations also help consultants who reap benefits from the trade as if they are farm workers in the agricultural fields. Decision-making seems to only satisfy the media's concern while the ability to develop a road map for upward mobility and to stymie these migrations, and build trust in the health centers, remains an uphill syndrome.
Beneath these outfits, there is a mom, daughter, sister, son, brother and a father.
Sure, some would love to stay and others have along these warm and beautiful shores and not bracing brutal winters?

Reducing the boarding pass
There are excellent doctors in the region, but most can only be found in private facilities.
Patriotism is not only the love of country when they shine, but making sure that needs are met off camera.
The region has to develop incentives for others to come back who have left to study medicine in countries like Germany, Cuba, the U.S. and other places.
I hope leaders will take some time to visit other medical centers globally and learn something such as when they visit a major sporting events like the 2016 Olympics in Brazil as patriots.
Many of these leaders have access to the best healthcare. They often travel abroad to seek treatment, while avoiding the same centers being dominated by insects from the lack of resources.
The manipulation of the less informed by candidates for higher office, based on likes on Facebook, or because one stops by a local shop the night before an election to play a few dominoes; others hand out a few dollars, sacrifice a pig or a goat, then sell a false sense of community only to be missing until the next election cycle has to stop.
The less-fortunate person has to become as important as the next election, carnival or world sporting event.
Asking for accountability is not attacking the medical industry or its leaders. It is instrumental for a healthier society; but more needs to be done for nurses.
While millions are being spent into selling relaxation on beautiful beaches, when a local person who serves these visitors becomes sick, hopefully, they can return to work from a good healthcare without discrimination from being sick.
Maybe that disgruntled nurse on the ward is not irritated from an overnight long shift, or a patient's vomit, but a cry for better working conditions and wages.
Selling the argument of free healthcare at these public medical facilities should not be a place where one goes to die.
The economic strength of a nation is dependent on how healthy that society is.

o Derrick Miller holds a BS degree in economics and finance, an MBA in global management and a MS in criminal justice leadership and management. He has worked in the U.S. public safety and criminal justice field for over 14 years. He can be contacted at http://www.crijc.org/. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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The many dangers to the region of Secretary Tillerson

February 02, 2017

With the confirmation of former CEO of ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson to the office of secretary of state, the Trump administration is poised to relive the mistakes of the Reagan era foreign policy toward the Caribbean and Latin America in a way that may fundamentally destabilize the region for decades to come.
From the earliest days on the campaign trail, there has been one clear message espoused by Trump that defined how the United States would begin to approach international affairs: "America First." Now, formalized in his first address as president of the United States, "America First" is set to define a new global order that will challenge pre-existing alliances and long-held norms.
Far from reassuring, the confirmation hearing of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state has finally brought into public discourse the Trump administration's full intention to strong arm the region into getting what it wants, a strategy that has failed U.S. presidents for decades.
In his opening statement to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Tillerson spoke to the new role of the United States as it departs from the Obama administration's foreign policy of promoting cooperation through bilateral and transnational institutions and organizations.
In brief, this position can be summarized by the following declaration that: "To achieve the stability that is fundamental to peace and security in the 21st century, Washington's leadership must not only be renewed, it must be asserted."
From this, Tillerson has effectively espoused a new doctrine of foreign policy that resumes the Reagan Doctrine's acceptance of active interference in the domestic affairs of nations reconstituted under the banner of self-interest, rather than a genuine desire to promote a liberal democratic world order.
To demonstrate this, one only needs to look at the remarks that Tillerson has made with respect to Cuba and Venezuela, and how closely he toes the rhetorical line between regime change and promoting democratization.

Cuba
In the waning days of his second term, President Barack Obama made substantive efforts to redefine the U.S.-Cuba paradigm through the renormalization of diplomatic ties in hopes that gradual exposure to the population of the United States would bring about a measured transition to a truly democratic civic society.
To accomplish this goal, the Obama administration undertook three forceful actions: the opening of travel to Cuba; the reopening of embassies between the nations; and the ending of the Clinton-era "wet foot, dry foot" policy toward Cuban refugees.
With respect to the opening of diplomatic ties, the resumption of embassy functions in Havana and Washington marked the first formal diplomatic links between the two nations since 1961 when President Eisenhower ended formal connections between the two nations during the heightened tensions of the Cold War. Although heavily criticized by some Republicans and Miami-based Cuban-Americans as well as several prominent Democrats, his actions have been widely welcomed by almost all of Latin America, who stood in solidarity with Havana at the 2012 Summit of the Americas which called for an end to this outdated U.S. foreign policy.
The ending of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy also marked a substantive shift toward opening. With this executive action, Obama removed a special exemption to U.S. immigration policy that allowed any Cuban national who made it to the United States to obtain legal permanent resident status along with all its perks.
This long-standing policy has been widely criticized by those in the U.S. for its lack of application to migrants from other Latin American nations who flee from their country due to lack of economic opportunity, large-scale violence and its status in for the political status quo in the region.
To date, Tillerson has offered only pallid generalities when speaking about how he would advise Trump in order to deal with fast-moving events in Cuba. With a clear vision that he does not support the liberalization or the normalization process begun by Obama, instead preferring a resumption of the traditional heavy-handed approach.
More than just reversing many of the executive orders issued by Obama in his opening statement, Tillerson remarked that he believes the actions of Obama "[served] neither the interest of Cubans or Americans". He has also remarked that he "will press Cuba to meet its pledge to become more democratic and consider the resumption of more generous trade conditions on trade and travel policies to motivate the release of political prisoners".
This method of attempting to force policy reforms, as emblemized by the long-standing U.S. trade and travel embargo against Cuba, has been largely ineffective and has been repeatedly condemned by most nations. That is not to say Tillerson is wrong to suggest that the United States needs to continue to work toward the active promotion of human rights and democracy in Cuba, but his rhetoric suggests an active process that would radically interfere without clear limits as to what would be appropriate conduct in dealing with equally sovereign nations.

Venezuela
With respect to Venezuela, Tillerson has been far more explicit in his denouncement of the Maduro administration and his desire for the United States to play a much more active role in litigating the domestic affairs of the nation. In response to a series of questions posed by Latin America Goes Global, Tillerson wavered between the role foreign actors should play in resolving the ongoing dispute between President Maduro and the National Assembly.
At one point, Tillerson remarked, "The U.S. should continue to support legitimate dialogue to resolve the political crisis between the Maduro government and the opposition that now controls the National Assembly." At another point he asserted, "We will continue to strongly support the efforts of OAS Secretary General Almagro in invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter to promote the normalization of the situation in Venezuela and restore democratic institutions."
The Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC) has long been controversial within Latin America since its establishment on September 11, 2001, as seen through the ongoing debate about whether or not the IADC is tantamount to interventionism and a violation of the Organization of American States' (OAS) principle of national sovereignty.
The IADC authorizes the suspension of membership of the OAS as well as the implementation of sanctions against countries whose democracies have been compromised, for which there is no agreed upon definition.
Additionally, as former CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson has a storied history with Venezuela, which may impact how he approaches diplomatic relations with the Maduro administration. When Maduro's predecessor, President Hugo Chavez, elected to renationalize the oil industry in 2007, it was Tillerson who led ExxonMobil through the ongoing legal battle over fair compensation for the loss of its assets.
Needless to say, in attempting to address ongoing issues within Venezuela such as human rights abuses, the promotion of democracy, an economic crisis and a migrant crisis, Tillerson is uniquely challenged in his attempt to play an active role in these conversations.
That is not to say he does not recognize where problems exist or he lacks serviceable solutions to some of them, but watchdogs should be actively monitoring his Department of State and how his refusal to completely abstain from decisions concerning ExxonMobil after statutory obligations expire should impact his foreign policy priorities.

Conclusion
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs has a longstanding commitment to advocate for the respect of human rights, the promotion of democratic governments and the promotion of rational U.S. foreign policy initiatives toward Latin America. Despite his rhetoric, it is clear that it is the intention of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state to put these values in jeopardy through an active intervention in the domestic affairs of a nation when it is in the best interest of the United States.
The regression back to this historically present conservative foreign policy toward Latin America that views nations not as partners in regional affairs but as liabilities for the United States has every potential to destabilize the region as it did time and time again from President Ronald Reagan to President George W. Bush.
It is imperative to recall that Trump remarked to CIA officers the day following his inauguration, "I am so behind you. I know maybe sometimes you haven't gotten the backing that you've wanted and you're going to get so much backing."
As such, although Tillerson's policy prescriptions have not been blatantly aggressive to date, taken in this context, the liberal democratic order should be constantly concerned about being undermined by both the overt and subversive actions of the current administration with the active consent of Tillerson as the new secretary of state.

o Brandon Capece is a research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers". For more information visit www.coha.org or email coha@coha.org. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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The restraint of power and good judgment

February 02, 2017

"O, it is excellent
To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant." - William Shakespeare, "Measure for Measure"

The Crown", the award-winning Netflix series, is a historical drama about the life and times of Queen Elizabeth II. It will reportedly cover six decades and span over six seasons.
Because the drama is so enticing, many Bahamians have binged on the series. Many are quite familiar with the seminal events of the reign of Elizabeth II, and will find many of the details of the mostly historically accurate storyline fascinating.
The well acted and written series, created and written by Peter Morgan, features Claire Foy as the young Elizabeth and John Lithgow as the aging Winston Churchill, the avid and unreconstructed imperialist, who helped to defeat Hitler.
The drama explores power, its reaches, limits and abuses. The young monarch is schooled in the restraint of power by her grandmother, Queen Mary, by Churchill and by her private secretary, a stickler for the ways of the establishment and centuries of convention.
Elizabeth realizes early that because of her constitutional role as head of state, and her role as head of the Church of England, she has to abide by various traditions, conventions, strictures and norms.
She does not simply get to do what she wants to do. One of the greatest lessons she quickly grasps is the restraint of power. Queen Mary famously instructs her granddaughter that doing nothing in a given situation is quite hard and requires discipline.
Elizabeth surrounds herself with advisors and wise counsel who will tell her what she may not want to hear, the proverbial speaking truth to power.
She does not sideline or lock out advice contrary to her own desires or thinking. She learns not to make monumental decisions amidst high emotions, especially anger and unrestrained exuberance.

Difference
She understands the difference between impetuousness and foolhardiness on the one hand, and genuine courage on the other. Churchill schools Elizabeth in the realities and restraints of politics.
The first season of The Crown forecasts an Elizabeth who becomes more comfortable with power. She upbraids Churchill and others for not informing her of the true nature of the prime minister's poor health.
Elizabeth learns that the adept use of power and authority comes only after one has learned and practised the restraint of power, much as an artist, dancer or jazz player learns how to innovate only after mastering the basics of their craft.
Those who fail to learn the rules and subtleties of the ancient art of politics soon succumb to the physics of politics, including the force of gravity, which can quickly tumble a politician from a high perch and political favor.
Former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher enjoyed fine political instincts. She took the Conservative Party to three victories and weathered many storms. But her arrogance doomed her and her instincts failed her, catastrophically, when she refused to listen to the advice of her ministers and to the public outcry over a poll tax. The once Iron Lady melted because she became isolated and refused to listen.
U.S. President Donald Trump, an extreme narcissist and egomaniac, is headed down his own path of destruction, which will likely come in ways that even he does not expect.
Trump and his White House enablers are drunk with power. The ban on Muslims from certain countries is just the beginning of an unrestrained president, who has little sense of history and of the tragedies of human nature and politics chronicled by William Shakespeare and the Greek masters.
Trump may believe that he can defy political gravity. But he will be brought low by events of his own making. Hubris plants the seeds and fells the tree grown of its own unrestrained arrogance.
Not only does the gauche and gaudy Trump lack restraint and discipline. Many of his closest advisors have little respect for the U.S. constitution, the separation of powers, the necessary checks on presidential power, domestic and international law and various norms of decency and civility.

Antithesis
Donald Trump is the antithesis of former President Barack Obama, who by instinct of character, by deep reflection and reading, and by experience in the presidency, exercised restraint of power and prudential judgment.
Trump could learn about restraint from a number of U.S. presidents, including John. F. Kennedy Jr.
Kennedy was famously surrounded by a brain trust, including the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and counsellor and wordsmith Ted Sorenson, who lent an economy and discipline of expression to Kennedy's sonorous cadence and fertile imagination.
Whether one considers that JFK's mystique is hyped or romanticized, few doubt that Kennedy's raw political talent and extraordinary charisma helped catapult him to the Oval Office as his country's then youngest elected president.
In his first year in office in the Bay of Pigs Invasion debacle, the successful candidate failed miserably.
He failed in large measure because of the groupthink of his advisors, a closed group with little external input, and driven by hubris and high emotion.
Despite his stellar talent, his brain trust, his coaching and his rapier intellect, Kennedy came to understand that this was a spectacular failure of judgment on his part.
It was a failure that he owned. To dissect his misjudgment, the youthful president invited his predecessor Republican Dwight Eisenhower to Camp David to help him unravel what went wrong.
Kennedy spent much of the 1960 campaign criticizing the outgoing Eisenhower administration. Now he was seeking insight from Ike, in his 70s, the then oldest man to demit the U.S. presidency.
Eisenhower asked Kennedy a basic question about the latter's decision-making process leading up to the Bay of Pigs: Did he make his fateful decisions surrounded by a small group of advisers or with a larger group that might have afforded him greater perspective?

Experience
Kennedy, to his peril, had chosen the former. With his vast military experience, Eisenhower was charier of supposedly expert advice from the armed forces and the intelligence services.
The following year during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy confronted an even greater test of his mettle and his judgment. He was determined not to replay similar mistakes.
He consulted more broadly, utilizing back channels and outside advice, studying a considerable amount of briefing material, weighing the recommendations of experts and competing options with his own prudential and informed judgment, tempering strident voices with those he considered more prudent.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was Kennedy's judgment which proved pivotal, helping to avert a possible nuclear nightmare.
The current PBS series "Victoria", on the life of Queen Victoria, tells the story of a young monarch coming of age and coming to understand the use of power.
Victoria is at first giddy with her new home at Buckingham Palace, the roar of the crowd and the pleasures and delights of being queen of the then most powerful country on Earth. At times her ego consumes her judgment.
But after a terrible misjudgment Victoria is necessarily rebuked by a dying female courtier who reminds her that the monarchy is not a plaything, that her office is bigger than the person temporarily occupying the throne.
Queen Victoria is reminded that it is an awesome responsibility like all high office, requiring responsible action, seasoned advice, prudential judgment - and restraint.

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

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Hope and the ballot

February 01, 2017

There is a lot more at stake in this upcoming election than the winning of the parliamentary seats of those who now hold them; and the hopes of those desiring to hold them. Rather, the very belief in the efficacy of government itself is at stake. In other words, confidence in our politics may be on the ballot this election.
You see, for at least three generations of Bahamians, life has never seemed more harsh. Grandparents, parents and their millennial children commonly say these days that things have never been worse. Be it the economy, public order or prospects for the future, Bahamians are despondent. It doesn't matter who one blames for this situation; the fact is that the situation prevails, and thousands of Bahamians are looking for it to change for the better.
In the lead-up to the last election, many big promises were made about making the country better. At that time, the economy was sluggish, the murder rate was high and people were restless about the future. Bahamians voted for change, and change they got - the Christie administration replaced the Ingraham administration. Five years later, not much has improved, many would say, and, in fact, things have gotten worse, others would say.
The big political change of 2012 did not live up to its billing. In the lead-up to the elections of 2007, a great deal was promised then to Bahamian voters. At the time, the economy was anaemic, crime was rising, and voters were feeling frustrated about what they thought was an unproductive administration. Bahamians voted for change, and change they got; the Ingraham administration replaced the Christie administration. Five years later, they were ready to make a change again, and change they did.
For 15 years now, Bahamian voters have been electing and firing administrations following one term in office. Their experiment in change for the better appears to have failed. The ballot has been impotent in yielding the returns for which they have looked over the past decade and a half. Frustrated with their failed experiment, voters seem discouraged. Thousands have decided not to register to vote, even. In other words, for the first time in its history, Bahamians seem prepared to join people around the globe in having huge segments of the population abandon any hope that the ballot could make a positive difference in their lives.
Low voter turnout rates around the world include the following: Egypt (28 percent), Romania (42 percent), United States (53 percent), Japan (55 percent), the UK (66 percent) and Canada (68 percent). Voter registration at home now hovers around 52 percent, a historic low for a country whose ordinary voter participation rate exceeds 90 percent. Such a high level of discouragement is not good for our democracy, as it threatens to put critical decisions about who should lead the country in the hands of a smaller segment of the population than is desirable to achieve the best results for our nation.
Extraordinarily high voter turnout has been a hallmark of elections in The Bahamas, and exemplary of democracy, as well as a reason that we have been able to achieve changes in government at critical times to move us forward. The changes in 1967, 1968 and 1992 are all examples of this.
Bahamians' motivation to vote in the past has been tied significantly to their confidence in the leadership of the parties for whom they voted. The late Sir Lynden Pindling was for many years the inspiration that drove thousands upon thousands of Bahamian voters to the polls. His eloquence, charisma, aspirational promises, people skills and general political craft drove voters to the polls to support him and his party. Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham emerged as a new force in the nation's politics and his compelling political skills, bravado in the face of the political juggernaut, Sir Lynden, and practical and pragmatic plan for the country compelled tens of thousands to go to the polls to support him and his party. Perry Christie, following his ascendancy to the leadership of the PLP, seized upon the mood of the country in 2002, and with his people skills and affability moved thousands of voters to go to the polls to vote for him.
Yes, these leaders had the benefit of entrenched political parties with sizable stable support bases, but their particular abilities as politicians did much to keep their supporters motivated and to encourage others to support the cause.
Leadership matters. It matters to the confidence of voters to expend the necessary energy and focus to go to the polls to vote during an election. In the upcoming elections, leadership will matter again. In fact, the lack of enthusiasm among voters might suggest that they are unsure about the ability of the leadership of the various parties to make a difference in their lives. It stands to reason that if the voters of this nation, in the great majority, felt that voting for one or more of these leaders would mean better for them, they would run to the parliamentary registrar to sign up. They are not, and this speaks volumes about what they believe.
This is sad, but it would be sadder still if they finally mustered up the interest to go and register, only to find that, over the five years following the election, life for them would be no better, or even worse. Under such a circumstance, be sure, not only would they be pissed, but low voter turnout might become a staple of the political profile of our nation. That would be truly troubling for our democracy. Perhaps there is a leader or group of leaders who can step up and change this possibility. We shall see.

o Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.

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Values, growth and economic globalization

January 31, 2017

In the coming months, it is likely that the way in which governments think about international trade and their fundamental values will evolve rapidly, as the promises and threats that President Donald Trump made on the campaign trail become U.S. policy.
To understand the likely nature of what happens next, contrast the sophisticated and measured remarks made by China's President Xi Jinping at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, with Trump's blunt generalities about "America first".
In Davos, Xi made clear that he believes in interdependence in trade, a view more in tune with global thinking than that of his new counterpart in Washington.
At the World Economic Forum, the Chinese leader delivered a speech of a kind that in the recent past would more likely to have been regarded as the prerogative of the U.S. president, suggesting that China intends taking the high ground on globalization, economic growth, stability and some would say rationality.
This is not to make a political point, but to observe that it is almost as if the U.S. and China have switched sides in terms of their commitment to supporting global growth, with Beijing clearly aspiring to take a position of international leadership when it comes to multilateralism and economic and environmental issues.
In his January 17 speech, the Chinese president made clear that many of the problems troubling the world are not caused by economic globalization.
"Just blaming economic globalization for the world's problems is inconsistent with reality, and it will not help solve the problems", Xi said. "Rather, we should adapt to and guide economic globalization, cushion its negative impact, and deliver its benefits to all countries and all nations."
Xi went on to argue that any attempt to cut off the flow of capital, technologies, products, industries and people between economies is simply not possible, and runs counter to the historical trend.
While his eight-page speech deserves a full reading, the Chinese president made clear that he believed that a fundamental structural reform in the global economy has begun; that new technologies will be the drivers of growth; there is a need for more fair global economic governance; and the benefits of development need to be more equitable.
To address this, he said, there needed to be an innovation-driven growth model that recognizes that the fourth industrial revolution is unfolding at an exponential rather than linear pace; a new development philosophy should emerge that creates employment and restores confidence; and it needs to be recognized when it comes to decision making that countries are mutually dependent, and all nations should be considered equal.
In language almost certainly directed at the U.S., he said that China remained committed to developing global free trade and investment. "Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, that dark room will also block light and air. No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war," he observed.
Xi's comments stand in stark contrast to the executive actions, remarks and interviews given by the new U.S. president in his first week in office. Trump, it appears, sees trade as a zero-sum game that must only bring benefit to the U.S., appearing to relish the opportunity for a trade war.
In his first few days as president, he has made clear he would proceed with his uncompromising "America First" approach; has withdrawn the U.S. from the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement; said that he will renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico; has threatened the Mexican government by tweet; confirmed his intention to introduce swingeing tariffs on certain imports; and said that he intends to develop policies that will re-shore U.S. manufacturing, employment and capital.
It is an isolationist policy that seems set to alienate Washington's friends, consolidate China's economic role not just in its own region but globally, and drain America of the soft power advantages it has enjoyed for decades. It is an approach that fails to recognize the economic interdependence that the U.S. has created globally to buttress its own security, not least in relation to much of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Moreover, the new U.S. approach ignores the way in which modern supply chains work, and if U.S. companies are forced to re-shore to a high labor cost environment, seems likely to cause a leap to robotics; an approach that will result in jobless growth, and continuing income inequality for those U.S. workers with low or no skills.
At the heart of what is now happening is a growing tension between national and universal values, trade as a proxy and the unstoppable impact of globalization.
It is having the effect of causing allies to think carefully about how to relate their thinking to each other.
For example, Britain's prime minister, Theresa May, speaking in Philadelphia to members of the Republican Party, while seeking to retain a "special relationship", made clear, that like Xi, she has an inclusive vision when it comes to economic globalization and values.
In the context of Brexit, she spoke about a future that at times seemed significantly at odds with the approach being taken by Trump. Britain, she said, would "step up with confidence to a new, even more internationalist role, where we meet our responsibilities to our friends and allies, champion the international cooperation and partnerships that project our values around the world, and continue to act as one of the strongest and most forceful advocates for business, free markets and free trade anywhere around the globe".
Although the dark transactional picture of relationships that Trump wants to evince may be ameliorated by wiser minds in the U.S. Congress, these are all developments that the nations of the region cannot escape from.
The implication is that the time has come for the countries of the Caribbean, as fragmented as they are, to consider jointly and individually, how, in what way, and on what issues they like Xi and May make clear their values and principles.

o David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at david.jessop@caribbean-council.org. Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Downgrading The Bahamas, pt. 3

January 30, 2017

"Progressive economic policies lead to a sustainable economy." - Keith Ellison

Two weeks ago, in part one of this series, we noted that in December 2016 Standard & Poor's Global Ratings (S&P) revised the outlook on its long-term rating on The Commonwealth of The Bahamas to BB+ (speculative or "junk" grade) from BBB- (investment grade). In that article, we examined the major ratings agencies, how sovereign credit ratings are calculated, what Standard & Poor's said about The Bahamas' rating and what the downgrade means for The Bahamas.
This is the first time that The Bahamas has received "junk status" rating from an internationally recognized ratings agency.
Last week, in part two, we reviewed the government's response to the S&P downgrade.
This week, in our final installment of this series, we would like to Consider this... What proactive measures can be taken to reverse the factors that got us to this point? There are several definitive steps that can be taken to accomplish a reversal.

1. Reduce the fiscal deficit
There are three ways to reduce the fiscal deficit. We can increase government revenue, reduce government spending and expand our gross domestic product. Either one of these measures would manifest positive results. Two of them should eliminate the recurrent deficit. If we can accomplish all three simultaneously, we would significantly reduce the national debt.
In the case of government revenue, there are several proactive steps that government can take. First, we need to plug revenue seepage that results from individuals and companies who either under-report or deliberately falsify their import declarations at the border.
Secondly, the state should aggressively prosecute corrupt officials who undermine tax collection by receiving "patronage" from persons and companies that under-report or falsify their import declarations. Furthermore, individuals who intentionally defraud the government should be aggressively prosecuted and severely fined for their nefarious deeds. These actions require resolute political will, which is difficult to achieve where a deeply rooted culture of corruption persists.
Third, there is an urgent need for better and more methodical tax collection administration. For example, there is considerable revenue seepage in the collection of real property tax. Many millions go uncollected annually from this revenue source.
There are also many persons and businesses who do not pay their fair share of business license fees. This is particularly rampant among second homeowners who regularly rent their high-value properties online, but never pay what they should into the public coffers. Some of these same second homeowners also rent cars to persons who rent their homes online. Such persons are not licensed to rent their homes or cars and the public coffers consequently suffer.
Then there are many entrepreneurs who sell new and pre-owned cars without a business licence to do so, thereby robbing the government of legitimate revenues, both in customs duties and value-added taxes.
On the expenditure side of the equation, there is a painful propensity and conclusive correlation between increased public sector spending and commensurate increases in public sector revenue collection.

2. Reduce the national debt
Successive governments have significantly increased the national debt because of government's insatiable inclination to deliver public sector services and provide infrastructural improvements that are necessitated by the archipelagic nature of our nation.
Our commonwealth is spread out over 100,000 square miles, with two dozen largely inhabited islands; therefore, government must expend public funds to construct and maintain roads, bridges, airports, ports and docks, hospitals and clinics, schools and government offices that provide urgently needed public sector services.
One of the most effective methods of reducing the national debt can be achieved by expanding our gross domestic product (GDP), the overall macroeconomic output in the value of goods and services. The greater our GDP, the larger the tax base and hence incremental increase in government revenue which reduces the need for government borrowing.
Another approach to mitigating the need for public sector expenditure is a deliberate, focused sharing of these expenditures by promoting more public-private partnerships.

3. Public-private partnerships
Considerable savings can be achieved if government adopts a progressive policy for public-private partnerships where the cost of infrastructural development is borne by the private sector as an integral part of heads of agreements that are executed by investors seeking development opportunities here.
Whenever concessions are granted to foreign investors, such investors should be required to contribute to the development of the infrastructure that is required to build-out their investments.

4. Council of economic advisors
Government should seriously consider appointing a council of economic advisors whose primary objective is to formulate economic policies that promote a sustainable and progressive economic agenda. The council would provide the government with objective economic analysis and advice on the development and implementation of a wide range of domestic and international economic policy issues.
The council would provide technical advice on policymaking, with a view to replacing our "cyclical model" of the economy with a "growth model". The council would also be charged with setting quantitative targets for the economy, including recognition of the need for greater flexibility and equity in taxation, methods to minimize fiscal drag, reducing the national debt and encouraging full employment.
The council should also be mandated to address the development of a sustainable energy policy, ways and means of increasing public and private sector efficiency and productivity, more sustainable entrepreneurial development and issues related to increasing import substitutes.
Conceptually, the council would consist of a chairman and other members, including an economist, a statistician, bipartisan businessmen, a representative from The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and an academician. We believe that the government would be well served and significantly benefit from the real-world experiences of council members.
Finally, by more fully engaging a council of economic advisors on issues of economic policy, we believe that the council could assist the government by proffering practicable policy proposals, ultimately improving our prospects for addressing the systemic challenges that have contributed to the S&P downgrade.

Conclusion
As we noted earlier, the real test for addressing the downgrade will be the resolve of the political directorate to postpone its propensity for short-term, politically expedient gains. It must also enhance the institutions that inform public sector economic policy and, like the ratings agencies, look at the future and make crucial decisions in the interest of long-term, considered and sustained benefits to our nation and for our way of life.

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

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Is a culture of democracy lacking in the Caribbean

January 26, 2017

In the Caribbean, we tend to think that democracy came with universal adult suffrage. And we have been exercising this with varying levels of participation. Voting at elections has not only become a tradition, but an expectation, part of our civic duty. But is voting alone reflective of democratic practice? Is democracy more than just showing up at the polls?
Some say it involves participation in civic affairs, and expanding democratic institutions making democracy stronger. Since these actions are infrequent and not sustained, and because many see voting as pointless, since their condition hardly improves, can we say with assurance that the Caribbean lacks a culture of democracy?
A democratic culture implies commitment to the process. It is embedded in our socialization and means respect for our constitution, the established institutions of society and the symbols attached to them. A culture of democracy further implies the capacity to influence policies and have them implemented. It gives the concept of democracy meaning and purpose, and it works on behalf of citizens so that they experience its transformational effects in their lives.
A culture of democracy also presupposes a willingness to make it work, and implementing reforms to enhance its effectiveness. It consists of routine practices which have become infused in the society and its citizens, directing affairs a certain way, and is a way of thinking and acting, enriching the political process.
An editorial in the U.K. "Guardian" titled "The Guardian view on democracy: An uncertain year (2016)", mentioned certain developments in democratic practice in many countries, and stated in part that Professor Paul Cartledge, author of "Democracy a Life", points out that democracy was a way of life in fifth century Athens. It was not something that others got on with, while the rest attended to their own business, but was Athenian culture as much as it was its system of government.
Can the Caribbean be said to have this concept of a democratic culture? Has democracy ever been a way of life in our region, or is it something left to politicians while the rest of us go about our business? Has democracy in the Caribbean ever been reflective of its culture, representing a way of life, in addition to being a system of governance? Has the Caribbean ever developed the political acumen, and moral and political consciousness enabling it to solidify an incoherent and acquired political culture, not based on its own experiences, into a sophisticated way of being in the world that is respected?
The editorial proceeded to note that a properly functioning everyday democracy is one where people have the choice to participate in shaping public life, and who take the opportunity to do so. To me this represents the core of a democratic culture. What the Caribbean needs is an everyday democracy that works for all, and is not intermittent. And we must exercise the choice to become involved in shaping important aspects of public life, and use the opportunity presented to do so as a fundamental right.
Many of us are politically lethargic, and feel others should do what we ourselves are capable of. We need to own a political culture where we act positively in our own interest. If not, we will undermine our own attempts to foster one that is robust.
Choice making in a democracy ensures the recognition of partners, irrespective of social class. It changes things for the better, and bestows legitimacy on the outputs resulting from it. Choice, as an aspect of democratic culture also recognizes the personhood of individuals. And participation ennobles it. But we must make the effort to operationalize our democratic culture, so that it is always alive and not subject to spurts.
A really holistic culture of democracy in the Caribbean has indeed been lacking, although elements that could comprise it exist in various forms. To resurrect what exists so that it is operational, and to add new aspects which occur through time, a few considerations are necessary. This means Caribbean society needs to shed its lethargy and become more assertive in contesting issues. Knowledge of what further constitutes a democratic culture should be encouraged and shared with society as a whole. Refinement of what already exists should be undertaken to enable the political culture to be more effective in realizing public aspirations.
Furthermore various democratic practices could be revitalized or adopted, such as town hall meetings, referenda on issues, the factor of recall in our constitutions when elected members do not perform and teach-ins to raise awareness of issues, as well as having debates by civic groups on issues that impact citizens. Some of these occur, but are often one-off events. They need to be sustained. And social groups should have the political clout to bring critical issues to the forefront to exert pressure on the political directorate, so that transformations take place immediately to spare society from certain political ills.
Caribbean society will then have a democratic culture that works, because democracy then becomes a way of life, interconnected with governance.

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

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Perry Christie's tragic and undemocratic legacy

January 25, 2017

Perry Christie is not much of a democrat. He has been bad for Bahamian democracy, both in terms of party politics and our system of government.
During his years in office he has become more undemocratic, his lust for power growing by leaps and bounds. He remains delusional about his accomplishments, and his standing with the Bahamian people which, in reality, is at an all-time low.
He loves the attention, being saluted by police and defense force officers, his photo adorning government offices, the crowds waiting to hear him perform and prattle.
He is the big man, boasting of his gladiatorial prowess and skills, who wanted a standard designed for his office.
Just as in his last term, he boasts of the number of jobs created on his watch, numbers which do not comport with unemployment statistics.
He boasts about billions in possible foreign investments even as the country is downgraded, unemployment is at a record high, there is scant GDP and economic growth, and the country is in economic freefall.
Christie's self-absorption and egomania are boundless. He once insisted: "I said to the minister of national security, I'm not prepared to have my own legacy, my own reputation, be tied to a total reliance on the Royal Bahamas Police Force and to the leadership of that force."
With crime and violence gripping the country, he is obsessed with how he is perceived.
At a Chamber of Commerce conference he referred to himself as "I, the country". He has referred to himself as a gladiator.
He asked people at an event in Bimini to look at him: "They are wondering about how old I am. Tell them how I look. They are concerned about whether I have energy. Tell them to challenge me."
The septuagenarian prime minister dances and prances in order to show people how full of vim and vigor he is.

Intoxicated
Christie is so intoxicated with power that he believes it traitorous for anyone in the PLP to run against him for leader.
He has assimilated and reinforced a hidebound culture in the PLP, which has resulted in the party only having two leaders since 1956, when Sir Lynden Pindling was elected as party leader. Over the course of 61 years the Progressive Liberal Party has had only two leaders!
The manner in which Christie sought to crush Alfred Sears in the party's leadership contest is reminiscent of dictatorships in other countries.
Christie and his court were never going to allow anyone to have a fair run for the leadership. Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis appears to have been intimidated into not running.
There are reports that Christie promised Davis some time ago that he would, at some point, step aside and make room for his deputy: "A promise is a comfort to ..."
Like politburos or political parties in one-party states, Christie stacked the election process in the PLP, which has become highly undemocratic and a mockery of our party political system.
The PLP is a classic oligarchy, with an elite high command, which long ago abandoned its progressive roots but employs its history to mesmerize many into thinking that it is still the party of the poor and of black Bahamians.
The PLP is mostly a business with a political arm, with Christie as chief executive officer. The highly class-conscious elite in the PLP is never going to allow certain PLPs from certain backgrounds to become party leader.
Christie brags and thumps his chest about how long he has been in frontline politics. If elected to another term in the House of Assembly at the next election, he would surpass the number of years Sir Lynden Pindling served in the lower chamber.
But despite the time he has served in Parliament, including in the Senate, he has assimilated little about the ideals and the conventions of parliamentary democracy.

Convention
After Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis misled the House, he should have been fired. But Christie was not prepared to follow the parliamentary convention and remove him.
After decades in Cabinet and two terms as prime minister he has assimilated little about Cabinet government and collective responsibility. His Cabinet ministers regularly flaunt the principle of collective responsibility with no reprove or discipline by the prime minister.
Many, including in the PLP, disapproved on principled grounds the selection of the current governor general. But to secure his position Christie advised the appointment of a highly controversial choice.
Christie has contempt for many of the principles, the spirit and the conventions of our constitution, parliamentary system and Cabinet government when they conflict with his self-absorbed political needs.
And he has contempt for internal democracy within the PLP.
Christie talks a good game, telling people what they want to hear. But he is a poser when it comes to deepening democracy. At an April 2002 rally when he was first seeking to become prime minister, Christie exhorted: "It doesn't matter to me whether you are young or old, man or woman, black or white, Baptist or Catholic, well-off or not so well-off, city-dweller or Family Islander, PLP or FNM, we are all bound together as brothers and sisters in the Great Bahamian Family and we must never again allow petty prejudices and hatreds to lead us into the temptation to divide or to victimize.
"I will never allow that kind of primitive ideology to cheapen and debase the ideals that I have set for the next government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. This is not about settling old scores."

Pettiness
These are the words of the same man whose pettiness seemed to know few bounds as he railed to others about Brave Davis and Alfred Sears for even thinking of running against him, reportedly fuming that these men should not be running against their king, i.e., Christie as head of the PLP.
Christie exclaimed at that 2002 Clifford Park rally: "There will be no 'payback' time under my administration. I am going to treat all Bahamians like family. There will be no victimization of anyone. I am a democrat, not a tyrant. I will be too busy helping people to have any time for hurting people. And it's just not in my nature to do it anyway.
"And when I speak about this, I speak on behalf of the entire government I will lead. If I hear about any minister of mine trying to practice any victimization on anybody, the next time he hears from me, it will be to tell him to clean out his desk and head for the door.
"Victimization is an evil I put on par with corruption in high places. Neither will be tolerated under an administration headed by Perry Christie. Of that you can be assured.
"Believe me, then, when I say how resolutely determined I am to lead the way in creating a new PLP for our times. And we must lead by example.
"We must conduct ourselves in government according to an uncompromising code of complete integrity and transparency. If we set the right example at the top, it will filter all the way down to the bottom, both in the public sector and in the wider society."
Given the ideals Christie espoused and the opportunity he had to reform the PLP, he is more than a disappointing figure. He has not set "the right example at the top".
Perry Gladstone Christie is a tragic and undemocratic figure, who allowed his lust for power and his egomania and narcissism to outstrip his potential to make his party and his country more democratic.
And he has precious few accomplishments after 40 years in the House and after 10 years as prime minister. His years in office can be termed, to paraphrase another, "Chronicles of Wasted Time".

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

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'I knew a man once'

January 25, 2017

The world is full of males, but short on men. What's a male? A male, at least to my mind, is a human being with a Y chromosome in his genetic makeup and usually born with that peculiar baby-making organ by which so many falsely define manhood.
As distinct from a male, what then is a man? Simply put, for me, a man is a male possessed of purpose, industry and genuine leadership. Rudyard Kipling, that distinguished poet, also provides a wonderful definition of a man in his poem "If", in which he says:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a man, my son!

If Rudyard Kipling is right, and I surely believe he is, then I once knew a man. His name was Rev. Wilbur Outten. He was, up to his recent passing, the pastor of Freeport Bible Church and the superintendent of the Independent Association of Bible Churches in The Bahamas. He was the husband of one dutiful wife, and the father of two wonderful children. He was an advisor to politicians, pastors and professionals all. To countless others, he was a counsellor. He was as true a friend as a friend could be; a friend in need, and in deed.
If The Bahamas was a church pastored by the late Wilbur Outten, it would be a country with clear vision, given to excellent planning and having a strategic plan, committed to organization and order, professional and productive. It would be a practical country, giving, progressive and proud. It would enjoy steady and impressive growth. Its people would feel loved and would love. In good and bad times, everyone would have a sense of direction and hope of better to come.
On Sunday, January 15, 2017, Pastor Wilbur Outten journeyed home to God, his father. On Saturday, January 21, 2017, he was laid to rest. Many truly adoring and admiring people attended his funeral, and his memorial the Thursday before. Many people did not know him, but for those of us who did, what a man we knew. He was a pastor and a patriot. He loved God and he loved his country. He was true to both. He served both. Even in illness, his was a dignity that was a wonder to behold. Even in his final hours, his thoughts were of family, church and country.
Pastor Reverend Wilbur Outten was my friend. He was my counsellor. He was my confidant. But not only mine, many others. He was the best man I ever knew, and I know even myself. Yes, I knew a man, and Wilbur Outten was that man. No doubt, were he alive, he would be reading this column and he would be absolutely embarrassed to have so public a showing of himself. Profiling and public elevation was not his way. He never sought the limelight. He even felt taken aback to be honored by the Queen. But I pray that such men can be lifted up to our nation, for given our challenges of today we need to know and see that they do exist.
Yes, I knew a man once. Wilbur Outten was that man, and I thank God for giving me the benefit of his friendship and counsel; and to all who knew him, the benefit of his love. I shall forever honor him, and always remember this man.

o Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.

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Majority Rule Day

January 23, 2017



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Downgrading The Bahamas, pt. 2

January 23, 2017

Last week, in part one of this series, we noted that in December 2016 Standard and Poor's Global Ratings (S&P) revised the outlook on its long-term rating on the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to BB+ (speculative or "junk" grade) from BBB- (investment grade). In that article, we examined the major ratings agencies, how sovereign ratings are calculated, what Standard & Poor's said about The Bahamas' rating and what the downgrade means for The Bahamas.
This is the first time that The Bahamas "achieved" a junk status rating from an internationally recognized rating agency.
This week, in part two of this series, we would like to Consider This... What was the government's response to the S&P downgrade?

The government's response
The government rapidly responded to the downgrade with the following statements: "The government is disappointed in this development, and is of the view that S&P's decision does not give appropriate weight to important developments on the ground, nor The Bahamas' strong commitment to address its economic and fiscal challenges."
The statement continued: "The government remains focused on its plans to grow the economy, through responsible, balanced and sustainable policy initiatives and measures.
"The Bahamas' short to medium-term prospects for placing the economy on a stronger growth trajectory are more encouraging than they have been since the recent economic and financial crisis, and it is most unfortunate that S&P did not seem to fully consider the impact of the many growth generating initiatives underway.
"There is now no uncertainty regarding the restart and completion of the Baha Mar project which, alongside the other foreign investment-related projects underway, will help to ignite growth, boost employment, improve business and consumer confidence and contribute to government revenue.
"The government's approach to placing the public finances on a stronger footing continues to be a balanced and prudent one. VAT remains the centerpiece revenue source, supported by aggressive tax administration and compliance measures. A strategic program was recently launched to bring revenue administration processes, tools and techniques in line with international best practices, to safeguard the revenue base. These optimizing initiatives, in the areas of real property taxes, business license, VAT and customs administration, are targeted to generate sizeable additional revenue during the upcoming six to 12-month period.
"On the expenditure side, measures have been taken to rationalize spending through initiatives such as centralized procurement of goods and services and public-private partnerships.
"The government is committed to achieving a fiscal balance compatible with an affordable level of debt and one that eventually will support a rebuilding of fiscal buffers to deal with unforeseen circumstances.
"While events such as the two recent hurricanes, Joaquin and Matthew, have placed additional strain on the government's resources and added to the debt stock, the government is confident that the prospective near-term improvement in economic performance will help to move the country back on track with its medium-term fiscal sustainability objectives. The debt strategy, while focusing on containing the growth in the debt stock, also includes ensuring that state-owned enterprises are more accountable.
"On the financial front, important steps have been taken by the various regulatory authorities to safeguard and strengthen financial sector stability. The government's Mortgage Relief Programme, together with other private sector measures to support home ownership, will contribute to the resilience of the financial sector and the resumption in bank lending.
"Reducing structural impediments to private sector growth and enhancing the external competitiveness of the Bahamian economy remain key priorities of the government. Through the soon-to-be-released National Development Plan, the government is determined to pursue, with urgency, sustainable economic reforms and responsible policy initiatives to further unlock The Bahamas' growth potential - by way of continued investment in economic infrastructure, and reforms to improve the business environment and energy sector.
"It is the government's view that The Bahamas' short to medium-term prospects are positive, and the immediate focus of policy makers is on ensuring that the many growth promoting initiatives underway take root and yield the expected dividends. The facts are compelling that The Bahamas remains an attractive jurisdiction for foreign investments. As S&P monitors the impact of these various macroeconomic and fiscal measures and projects over the next six to 12 months, the government is confident that The Bahamas will be able to secure an improved rating outcome."
This was all very nicely crafted, politically correct and mesmerizingly soothing rhetoric, which in effect says little about what specific, workable steps will be taken to remove us from junk status. It was much more akin to the Shakespearian observation, "full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing".
Simply speaking, these noble objectives will not transform them into reality or workable and sustainable solutions. Much more is needed.
It will take a single-minded, laser-focused approach to ameliorate the systemic challenges that the government faces. They just cannot be talked away. It is too late for simplistic approaches to complex challenges.
There is similarly no scintilla of a sensible solution springing from the Official Opposition, except for the critical lamentations by Loretta Butler-Turner, the Official Opposition's leader, in the House of Assembly, who responded: "Oh, my God, this is not a good Christmas. We've obviously gone over that precipice that I've been talking about for some time."
Not a good Christmas? What she really meant is that, in addition to being a poor Christmas, it will in all likelihood be an extraordinarily challenging year or two, or even longer, before we emerge from this economic abyss. I was recently reminded, "It's not possible to dig yourself out of a hole. The more you dig, the deeper the hole becomes."
The Official Opposition does not possess one single, creative, insightful idea of how we can effectively address the S&P downgrade. The same no-solution blame game was manifested by the other major political party: the flailing, flapping FNM that is floundering in its incessant infighting.

Conclusion
In the final installment of this series, we will discuss what proactive measures could be implemented to address the critical challenges that lie ahead, to ameliorate our systemic weaknesses and reverse the factors that got us to this perilous and precarious point.

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

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There is no 'other'

January 20, 2017

It was painfully disheartening to read about Jimmy Palacious' shameful pronouncement that black people "breed too much". It was all too reminiscent of Richard Lightbourn's equally disrespectful and demeaning comments, demonstrating a total lack of empathy and understanding of a system of miseducation and oppression that continues to keep our communities disempowered.
Instead of disassociating ourselves from the social problems we see in society and casting blame on others, often times the most vulnerable, we need to examine the systems of which we are all a part of and advocate for fundamental change to these systems.
It must begin with empathy, and an understanding that "but for the grace of God". Empathy is "the experiencing of another person's condition from their perspective", placing yourself in their shoes and feeling what they feel.
When we experience ourselves as separate, we suffer "a kind of optional delusion of consciousness". It is a metaphorical prison that confines us "to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons" nearest to us. This is a lesson on the universe from Einstein: "Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
It is easy to condemn, belittle or demean others, especially when you lack empathy or respect. It takes more courage and thoughtfulness to cast judgment on a system that robs our communities of structure and support; a system that offers only contempt in the form of negative messages; a system that breeds impoverishment, inequality and hopelessness.
When it comes specifically to women, it seems as though we can't get a break in this country when our very humanity is constantly under attack. It is exhausting as a Bahamian woman keeping up with all of the narrow-mindedness, misogyny and self-loathing that is constantly on public display: questions about how we should act; who we should serve; who we should marry; what our citizenship means; how we should or should not "breed"; what the meaning of our womanhood is; how we should dress; how we should dance; what is proper; who we are. These questions always seem to challenge and undermine our sense of dignity, our personal autonomy and equal treatment.
The lack of empathy in our society for these injustices is a national disgrace; in this respect the struggle for gender equality, racial equality, social and economic justice should be equally understood.
When it comes to issues of sexual health, our hypocrisy is scandalous; and don't think for a minute it is going unseen by our children. The only script we give them is "no sex until marriage". And yet, the message they actually receive could not be further removed. This is a failed campaign because adults, who are influencing the young people, are proving this script to be false. Added to this, we teach our girls and women the harmful script that women do not have ownership of, or power over, their own bodies.
As advocates we have been pushing to change this for years. One way is with comprehensive sexual health education that would teach children, age appropriately, from primary to tertiary level, about healthy relationships and the full gamut of sexual and reproductive health. If Jimmy Palacious was serious, he would have words for the Ministry of Education, for the church and for other institutions of society (of which parenting is one) about their failure to provide proper support and guidance to our children, to empower them with knowledge and discernment.
In order to manifest change and to create wellness in our society, strong and relevant systems have to be a part of the new way forward.
Education, positive reinforcement, comprehensive sexual health education, skills training, ethics training, self-confidence building, community development, self-love: All of these tools need to be imparted for the self-development process.
If only we could all set an intention to abandon judgment and to embrace empathy and love to move our country forward. Maybe we could get to real solutions instead of degrading grandstanding.

o Donna Nicolls is a women's rights advocate and co-founder of Bahamas Women's Watch. Bahamas Women's Watch (BWW) is a non-profit organization promoting women's rights. BWW intends to broaden the understanding of local and global women's issues. BWW endeavors to enlighten and empower our communities in The Bahamas in order to strengthen the rights of women and to protect the interests and concerns of women and their families to achieve their highest living potential.

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Register to vote: Ambivalence, resilience and democracy

January 19, 2017

After the sudden passing of a relative a friend was asked the cause of the death. He noted that the proximate cause was a heart attack brought on by the ambivalence of his relative when it came to his health.
Life is a constant struggle for survival and abhors ambivalence. Ambivalence is also the great enemy of democracy. Ambivalence can breed indifference. Ask Hillary Clinton.
Had more of the Democratic base turned out in key states, the United States could have avoided the unfolding Donald Trump horror show, which is going to worsen.
The sluggish voter registration is not only because of our penchant of waiting for the last minute. Compared to the last election, the numbers are lower.
Bahamians are not enthusiastic about the choices before them. The main characters on the political stage have left voters unimpressed. The chaos and twists and turns in the opposition forces left many voters reeling while the PLP enjoyed the drama.
The pox on all houses has taken root in many quarters, as is the false equivalence of suggesting that all the main parties are the same.
Despite the ambivalence, there remains a deep concern about the direction of the country, particularly in the areas of crime, the economy and the preservation of Bahamian land.
Tuesday's electrical blackout for more than 12 hours in some areas was a bleak reminder that our quality of life has diminished substantially in the last five years: high unemployment, pathetic economic growth, downgrades, unkempt public spaces, pot-holed roads, depressed Family Island communities, massive waste of public resources, new murder records and other examples of a country in decline.
The deal in the making to sell off land in Andros and to grant fishing rights to certain foreign interests alarmed the country. The government's response about the deal was chaotic and disingenuous. It is clear that the whole story has yet to be told.

Disengaged
The impressive crowd at the We March event demonstrated that Bahamians have not become disengaged from national affairs. But many are worried about the state of the major parties.
There are many elements to a healthy democracy, including advocacy, activism, involvement with a political party and voting, among others. When any of these elements is less than robust our democracy suffers.
The temptation not to register or to vote this election cycle is understandable. But it is also too easy to disengage, to become ambivalent.
It is precisely when life or democracy becomes difficult, deeply disappointing and frustrating that we have to struggle with hard choices, weighing the best option, even when we wish there were other choices.
The main players in the election appear set in a contest between the PLP, the FNM and the DNA. Voters must weigh the leader of each party, the team of candidates and the platform or manifesto of the respective parties. We must weigh also the records of the major parties when in government and the prospects of the DNA.
Given the national issues and the direction of the country, not registering to vote or not voting, would help to drain some of the lifeblood from our democracy.
Former Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes noted in a speech: "Our constitution is replete with institutions and processes designed to preserve our form of government, to ensure our rights and freedoms and to protect us from arbitrary rule and its inevitable abuses."
The preservation of our democracy requires an active citizenry who use the power of the vote to help guide the direction of the country. Those who would argue vociferously about current affairs but who refuse to register or to vote cannot be taken seriously, though there is no compulsion to vote.
Democratic resilience requires engagement and participation, most especially when we are less than sanguine about our choices at a given general election.

Fundamental
Countries like Australia make voting mandatory. While this is not a law we may agree with, it indicates that countries with mandatory voting see it as a fundamental responsibility of citizenship in a democracy.
Quite a number of black and younger voters sat out the last presidential election in the United States. They said that the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, did not resonate with them. Many catalogued her weaknesses and viewed her derisively as "just another politician".
Now many of these same voters are moaning and complaining about Donald Trump. But when they had the power to elect his alternative they failed a basic test of citizenship, for themselves and for the country.
One of the goals of those who organized the We March events should be to conduct an extensive drive to get Bahamians to register to vote, without necessarily advocating for whom Bahamians should vote.
Along with its spirit of activism, the organizers should promote voting as a basic aspect of citizenship. Such a tangible effort will help to further enliven the activism of the group beyond an election cycle.
In his farewell address as U.S. president, Barack Obama spoke at length about the nature and health of American democracy.
"Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions. When voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should be making it easier, not harder, to vote."
As citizens we all have the task of reforming our democratic institutions and processes. Voting is an aspect of helping to secure and reform our democracy, helping to make it more resilient.
Unlike the U.S., there is no widespread voter suppression directed at those whose ancestors fought and died for the right to vote, a right we should not take for granted.
Our church leaders should also make a strong plea to their church members to register to vote. As citizens, we should encourage our co-workers and neighbors to register. Not voting will only help to make our current political difficulties even worse.

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

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January 18, 2017

It was painfully disheartening to read about Jimmy Palacious’ shameful pronouncement that black people “breed too much”. It was all too reminiscent of Richard Lightbourne’s equally disrespectful and demeaning comments...

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'Bitching and complaining'

January 18, 2017

Leadership is not easy. Ask Prime Minister Perry Christie. Ask former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham. Ask a pastor. Ask a boss. Ask a responsible parent. And yes, leadership is difficult at times, because the most difficult issue you face is colleagues who, as Christie put it, "bitch and complain".
According to the online Urban Dictionary, "bitching" is "Repeatedly saying something over and over, or rather whining about it, therefore destroying the point you were trying to make and making you look like a complete bitch because no one is listening to you." Is that what Christie meant his colleagues were doing? Who knows. This much is true, however: if you lead, you will face this in some form or fashion. The longer you lead, the more you will face it. Strong leaders have to deal with it, and weak leaders have to deal with it more. Capable leaders confront it; incompetent leaders confront it more. Human beings are more inclined to blame and complain than accept responsibility and forge ahead. The PM says when he hears his colleagues "bitch and complain", he asks them, "Suppose you were me?"
Well, in politics - in fact, in life - those who "bitch and complain" are not the leader. Very often, under the pressure of many complaining constituents, they want nothing more than relief and look to the leader for it. In the face of the whining followers, leaders must summon those unique qualities characteristic of sound leadership: vision, focus, resolve, principles, communication, courage, honesty and motivation. They must never themselves become whiners and complainers. They must not yield to the loudest complainers, rewarding their whining as some virtue greater than patience and self-reliance. A leader should, a leader must, listen, but listen to all. Quiet souls who work diligently for the group's cause need as much, sometimes more, attention than those loudmouth gripers who tend to get almost all the attention. Calling talk shows incessantly and complaining about everything on the planet is no virtue. There is great virtue in rolling up your sleeves, getting in the fight and producing some difference yourself.
It gives me no pleasure to say it, but it seems to me that too many Bahamians, both in positions of leadership and in the wider public, have become weak and timid. The golden years of this nation, when prosperity and abundance made us the envy of the Caribbean, have made too many of us limp, lazy and dependent. Now, in the hour of our great challenge, we "bitch and complain", looking for some grand political savior or saviors. We don't ask, "What can we do for ourselves?" Rather, we ask: "What will they do for us?" In this is the defeat of our people and the wrecking of our nation. Self-reliance is a virtue that needs reawakening among us.
In his book "Self-Reliance", Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried."
As far back as antiquities, this much is true: success has never been the reward of the sluggard, the lazy or the complainer. It belongs to the diligent, the creative and the industrious. There is no salvation to come from the political realm of our nation, even if some great push might. Government has never been and will never be the champion of prosperity for our country, even if it must help facilitate it. We, the people, individually and collectively, of this land, must gird up our loins; we must pick up our plows; we must get in the fields and do the great work necessary to turn ourselves around. Many are already doing this, and doing so under the most trying of circumstances; but too many are not. Too many are simply settling for mediocrity, preferring do what we feel is enough to get by, and discovering that what we are doing does not even do that. The hour is late and the task is great, and only greatness can answer that call. That greatness is not only in some political or religious head. It is in all of us, and if we recognize it, begin to tap into it, it will change our personal circumstances and perhaps that of our nation.

o Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.

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