Bahamians need not apply

Thu, Mar 3rd 2016, 11:45 AM

Foreign direct investment (FDI) projects have a wonderful way of excluding those they claim to want to help. These highly sought-after projects have become the sole and exclusive means of Bahamian development. Sadly, they often exclude Bahamians, or those Bahamians who do not tend to be well-connected and somehow politically empowered, as the discussion around the recent events on social media has pointed out.

The government has often cited its use of FDI as the way to empower and employ the population of the country. Yet, the unemployment rate seems to continue to rise, as has the crime rate. The U.S. has once again said that the crime rate in The Bahamas is at critical levels. This is published and internationally accessible. There has been a great deal of discussion around the closure of Paradise Island beach to the vendors and the 'brutality' of the police towards the persons, mostly working-class, protesting the closure. This is not a flattering observation in any way, sadly, it needs to bring to the fore our need to read, talk, be more aware, engaged and educated.

Problem solving and education
In a situation of conflict the first response is to fight. The slightest offense or perceived offense evokes the desire to kick some one's backside. If we feel misunderstood, before we do anything else, we get angry and lash out at whomever has apparently offended us.

Education teaches people how to reason. It provides them with tools to think through problems and come up with different strategies to avoid getting into more trouble. The failure of the public education system has become increasingly obvious in the last few years.

The latest encounter between police and protestors is only a different example of how education is failing. We often talk about our appalling exam results, the E or G or D average and the need for better reading skills, but we blame government.
Government has set up a system where only totally engaged, highly motivated and supported students can succeed.

Many teachers are not working at their peak because they are over-taxed and some of them are products of the same system where they are reading far below the necessary level. They are also unable to teach students how to solve problems.

Our system teaches us not to think, but to regurgitate. When we cannot think and we are told not to question, we do not learn to work our way out of problems. We must ask people, what do I do now?

Violence shows how little both sides are able to move beyond the moment and into a place of non-violent disagreement
The protestors are protesting for good reason. They are being locked off their beach. This is The Bahamas and they are Bahamians and the beach is patrimony of the Bahamian public, which is held in trust by the government that is supposed to serve the population of the country.

The tragedy we have seen is the lack of problem solving skills and our inability to avoid violent conflict through alternative resolutions to disputes. Conflicts are normal. What is not normal, and shows a degree of over-empowerment and a rapid deterioration of respect, is quick use of excessive force.

Both sides were wrong in their abuse of their positions. However, our education system has encouraged those who are not served with a good education to automatically resort to violence. 'You offend me, I kill you. You look at me hard, I step on you'. And so this is the new law of the land in The Bahamas. This is also true for the politicians who perform this kind of public violence daily.

The protestors were fighting for their right to make a living and to access a beach. The police were doing their jobs -- it is sad that their job has increasingly become to slap people around. It is sad that we can only relate violently.

The sale of land
In The Bahamas, beach access has been a sacred right that most people take for granted. This right has also been squandered by governments whose job it is to protect and develop the commons. This case has demonstrated how little people pay attention to what is going on around them.

There is no proactive behavior. We, as a country, do not read. We care little for what happens to the person next to us; we only care when a problem affects us directly. This is not The Bahamas of old! This attitude has also allowed the government to win through division. It has further allowed them to sell out our patrimony.

Successive governments since the repeal of the Immovable Property Act in 1993 have tried to outdo their successor by selling more land. In many ways, they are giving away land. If a developer pays one dollar for 50 or 500 acres, what is that? The government has sold graveyards to international companies and no one has said anything about it. There was no public demonstration. Perhaps the dead do not mind being moved, and the living are too busy to care.

Where are the law and government? Easements and rights of way have been enshrined in English law for centuries and are there to make people's lives easier, to provide various types of access.

Green spaces are essential to healthy communities. Here, we bulldoze green spaces, then we ask why there is so much violence. We privatize beaches that allow people to blow off steam: they are open spaces that encourage activity, sharing and relaxation, yet we close them to the public, contrary to what is recommended in study after study, development plan after development plan.

Government pays scant attention to highly-publicized and very expensive reports that are presented to them with great fanfare and media attention and include thoroughly researched recommendations. Those are put on the shelf. Their pockets beckon instead.

We have chosen to allow government to ignore, disregard and break the law without challenging them. They chose to complete the recent sale agreement on Paradise Island that would eliminate the public beach access - or they did not understand what was in the agreement? If the population were to give them the benefit of the doubt, they missed the details, either through incompetence, lack of close attention or simple disregard for what was written.

Whichever way it is sliced, it demonstrates either corruption or incompetence. For a large sale to go through to a large foreign corporation without the details being read raises any red flags.

What is more alarming is that it got to the point of closing the beach for government to react. They claimed late last year that the matter had been resolved. People, apparently, took them at their word. However, their word was apparently bad. The beach was closed after the date originally established and even after the later date published after negotiations, but it was closed. Surely, there was fair warning that the company chose to enforce its right to develop the land it had purchased, and where the agreement apparently stated that it was allowed to do so.

This is not the kind of FDI Bahamians want, even though many remain oblivious. Bahamians need not apply to many of these jobs and that simply shows the attitude that such developers have towards developing in The Bahamas. They usurp all rights and property from the people, offer them a few low-end jobs, and claim to be promoting national development. More significantly, this is the attitude encouraged and promoted by government as more and more islands, cays and rocks are swanned away into the pockets of international corporations with little regard for a people or their way of life.

Businesses have no soul. Government has opted, either because they are corrupt or ineffective, inefficient and inutile, to allow FDI to kill local life, and, after the deal is done, claim they did not know. While many blame the greedy, slack-jowled, empty-souled politicians, civil servants and general citizens are more culpable. Many civil servants are usually too incompetent to properly read and comprehend or even challenge what is written. Many citizens are too unable to think to understand that when a company says it will do something, it will comply with its promise, except to employ Bahamians.

Tourism confusion
Our tourism product is below standard. Moreover, in a country where many workers at the Fish Fry give frighteningly bad service and steal people's change by simply not returning it, or by taking so long that they get fed up and leave, it is little wonder that any company would decide to close the beach to all of us.

This teaches us that the entire country is going to suffer for the deeds of the bully in the room, (who usually cannot read nor write, but no one would know it because s/he disrupts everyone's life). We have allowed this to happen. We have been encouraged to become a country of ill-mannered, complacent, illiterate and slow to understand persons at all levels because it benefits someone.

Let us hope that we are learning a lesson from this disaster, and that lesson is not that government needs to do better, because they will not (and probably cannot), but that we need to demand different, more, better. For the most part, Bahamians need not apply. We seem to have lost our way as a people and a nation.

o Ian Bethell-Bennett is a lecturer at The College of The Bahamas.

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