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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sex, lies and videotape: Going viral and the consequences!

I typically don't make a habit of posting social commentary unless it has something of value that I can spin off of from a social study or into one. Particularly when Rome is burning, commenting on the lack of water for the plants seems to be inconsequential and putting other more substantive matters on the backburner seems unprofitable. But, this is one of those rare occasions where it seems as if, in this case, our young flowers are being put on display via the internet in any manner of sexually explicit, violent and morally corrupt situations.

A few days ago I was made aware through social media that the sexual prowess of a police officer of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, Constable Edmund Lewis Jr., was on display as he filmed a threesome, apparently unbeknownst to the other participants. This police officer also has several other videos of his sex-romps, and one reportedly with an under-aged girl. Officer Lewis has since been arrested and is now currently on remand until March, 2015 when his case is expected to be heard. He was also fired from the police force. Quite an unfortunate situation for all of those involved.

At first thought, one would think that it was an isolated incident of one particular sex-romp and that the contents were stolen from the owner, and somehow it got into the hands of someone that was more than willing to share this private moment with as many persons as possible. But, as we are now led to understand by the charges levied against officer Lewis, he apparently has several videotapes of his sexual exploits with various women, one of them alleged to have been under-aged at the time.

As it turned out, the female participants were extremely angry. To such an extent that there surfaced yet again another video, this time recorded from a cell phone, of one of the female participants and a few of her friends and family members beating the living daylights out of Lewis for filming her with out her knowledge and then sharing it with friends. Of course, this too is a crime. Crimes ranging from assault, kidnapping and perhaps attempted murder if we want to really be harsh.

You see? This is how far it has gotten with the introduction the world wide web. Of course, this phenomenon isn't something brand-new and most certainly something that was going on around the developed countries in large numbers from the early 2000's, particularly with the introduction of social media websites like MySpace and Hi-5. However, it has gotten even more wild and voluminous with the advent of Facebook, Twitter and now Instagram and Whatsapp. Yes, what you do and say can go around the globe 100 times in 10 minutes with just a click of a button.

But, to what extent do we understand that this new form of media and ways to connect with people should be used with responsibility? To what extent to we tell people that we need to understand the value of using social media, and the double edged sword that it is in many respects?

So, as we have seen current, and I am most certain have seen countless other incidences, people going well and beyond the call of duty to share their most private moments with people. People that may or may not have their best interest at heart, but in these incidences, people that surely have no issue with sharing your private moments for their benefit if they have the chance.

But, the issue of social media sharing in such negative ways does not end there. In fact, one can also be a victim without being a participant at all, but by just being there for someone to harass and be privy to things you wish not to be privy to.

I too was a victim of a exhibitionist. A male, who represented himself to me as a Bahamian living abroad, added me as a friend to my Facebook account a few months back. He claimed to have read my articles via the various on-line media sources like the Caribbean News Now, The Bahamas Weekly and the Nassau Guardian.

What then started as innocent chatter between countrymen from the Bahamas but living in separate countries, and for him someone that was living abroad and that claimed to want first hand information of what was going on on the ground, shockingly and without warning ended with him sharing with me a picture of his genitals.

Of course, I went ballistic! Not for the fact that he may be homosexual, or an unashamed voyeur, at the very least, looking to get his rocks off on the shock and awe of his invasion into my inbox with his penis pictures. But it was for the mere fact that he would do something like that, with no warning, and with no solicitation and just would up and send a picture of his private parts to a total stranger. A strange man that he was not sure of who I really was, if I was someone that would appreciate that, or just someone that would take that and make a public spectacle out of it and him, and at the very least share it with the authorities and report it as a case of assault.

In my moment of anger, I did something rash: I shared the picture with his name attached for the world to see. I exposed him, reported the picture and his profile to Facebook and then proceeded to exact my revenge for this invasion of my privacy and conscience.

As you can imagine, the issue of me sharing and exposing the pervert caused some stir. I got it from all sides, from ridicule, to shock, to persons asking me what did I do or say that caused him to want to share his penis picture with me? I assured them that I did nothing aside from talk about the issues in The Bahamas and Caribbean, and from that it may have given him the courage in his deepest and most erogenous spots to do what it is that he did. (Now I know how rape victims feel when no one believes them, or when folks say that it was "their" fault for the rape in some way, shape or form.)

But, as with my moment of anger, who is to say what went through the minds of the persons that share private and sexual videos, and that these expositions don't have a twinge of anger at the root of it all? Or, even worst: A moment of jealousy where you sought to tear down the image of another?

Of course, all three cases are totally separate, but they share the same common thread: In the days of social media, be careful what you share and who you share it with and make it a matter of a priority that you discern this. 

General rules of thumb must be observed:
  1. Do not take off your clothes for anyone other than your committed lover or spouse for anything else other than it being for commercial use, especially for it to be transmitted live via the internet. In some places pornography and the proliferation of pornography is illegal, but there is some leeway for tasteful nudity and shared private art between friends and colleagues.
  2. Do not share "all" of even any of your personal data and/or information on social media unless it is something innocuous or standardized like pictures of your family, your spouse or the schools you have attended and professional affiliations.
  3. Sending lewd or suggestive pictures via your cellular phone, especially one that bears your face or something that can be traced back to you personally, or racy texts to people without their asking, or without them knowing you personally can also lead you into serious trouble.
  4. Filming a crime in progress, especially when you are the perpetrator, is a crime within itself on top of the crime you are committing. Also, withholding evidence from the authorities is also a criminal act and one can face time in prison.
The overarching theme and message here is that you don't know who's out there, what type of security they have on their side of the transmission or how they truly feel about you now, and what they may feel about you in the future.

Secondly, and almost as important as the former, be mindful of what it is you are doing out here in the first place: Be mindful of the laws in place, in particular when you feel something isn't right, or at the very least makes you uncomfortable knowing what you are doing is taboo, socially awkward or just plain wrong!

Be safe. Be smart. Use this wonderful tool of social media wisely. It can be used for our benefit if used properly. But some discretion and common sense must be practiced.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The oil is falling, the oil is falling!

Oil prices are dropping dramatically. Something that consumers have been waiting on: Lower prices at the pump in addition to lower energy costs.

But, the recent drop in oil prices has been met with fears and concerns by financial and economic pundits, crying that the end is near and the world is on the brink of another economic collapse as a result.

Some have argued that drops in oil prices causes economic collapse. There may be some merit in that to a certain extent, but only because of the matter that economic turbulence had already started, which prompted analysts to move into a position of sifting through historical clues and evidence to see where these problems first occurred.

To the average person on the street that just wants cheaper gas at the pumps, these concerns seems somewhat strange that persons would be scared to death over falling oil prices in addition to the average consumer not giving much of a care on how it started. But, under closer examinations, some fears may be warranted, and more importantly, who will lower oil prices negatively effect?

Let's take a look at historic oil prices, provided by the good people at Macrotrends.net: As of today, oil is down to under $50 per barrel. This is a stark difference from it's peak of over $135 back in May, 2008.

What happened, you ask? Well, several things happened. Some may say unfortunately, some may say fortunately. But happened things did.

For starters, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was knowingly over producing for quite some time. In fact, they have no intention of cutting production anytime soon either as the cartel said in a statement at the end of November, 2014 that members had agreed to roll over the ceiling of 30 million barrels per day, at least 1 million above OPEC's own estimates of demand for its oil next year, 2015.

Part of the reason for the over-production was because China's economy was red hot and needed more oil to fuel that economy. While it could be said that China needed a significant amount of oil to maintain growth, the effect was that other larger economies started to change their oil-security policies and practices; i.e., hoarding oil supplies, increasing domestic supplies and reserves and as an extension, financial markets capitalized by increasing the futures' margin month-on-month end.

videoSecondly, the futures market for oil, and the "irrational exuberance" around oil-spot-prices, made it problematic in predicting what the true price of oil would be. The market was trading oil at about 30% higher than what some analysts comfortably estimated it should have been at any given point and time in recent history prior to the sudden drops.

The reason why no one said anything with regard to the astronomical cost of fuel was because they had a plausible excuse in China, and also because it was profitable to keep oil prices artificially high and rising.

As a consequence, the financial markets, via investment banks, just kept adding additional trading fees and raising the futures' prices based on their own reasoning of what oil prices should be, while selling the public a distorted view of what oil prices were, which was not based on what the actual demand for global production truly called for.

This has caused a significant problem, because oil producing countries, particularly vulnerable oil producing countries like Trinidad, Venezuela, the Ukraine and to some extent Russia, had budget forecasts based on a $100 (USD) and higher oil price. That has obviously changed, as Venezuela has been selling oil way below their breakeven point and are now faced with serious decisions on what their fiscal year may look like.

Thirdly, and most importantly, US President Barack Obama has made tremendous strides in picking the US economy back up off of the ground from the 2008 recession, and has not only increased domestic jobs, but has also increased manufacturing by significant margins over the course of the last 2 years.

US manufacturing grew by over 4% in 2014, and is showing immediate no signs of slowing up in 2015. Thanks to president Obama and his policies on increasing manufacturing jobs in America by reducing tax-cuts to companies that offshore jobs, in addition to enhancing the enabling environments for manufacturing plants and entrepreneurs by first creating a steering committee in 2011 called the "Advanced Manufacturing Partnership 2.0", his administration has worked diligently with regard to boosting production in America and the fruits are telling.

Of course, these manufacturing increases may be blips on the radar screen if not seen in the global perspective. But as we have seen China cut back tremendously on manufacturing growth, and is projected to cut by another 1% in 2015, cut domestic spending in addition to reigning in some of their expansion projects inland, US manufacturing may possibly continue to rise in 2015 if things remain constant.

With respect to oil prices, what it additionally means is that as manufacturing shifts back to the USA from China, greater efficiencies in technological practices should be taken into consideration in the USA that the Chinese simply do not have.

Contextually, while US manufacturing had a modest rebound in 2014, it is no where near back to pre-2000 levels when since that time, up to now, over 1 million manufacturing jobs were lost. This lends to the notion that US manufacturing may be on a continual rise based on increased technological advances that China must now try to keep pace with, which may take 3 to 5 years to truly be on par, job for job.

All of this coinciding with an increase in domestic oil production in the USA, coupled with even a modest decline in US oil consumption, we are probably going to experience relatively low oil prices in the near to medium term at the very least in 2015 if all things remain constant.

So, here we have it: Oil prices at a considerable low, the average consumer is seeing cheaper gasoline at the pump, but with small and vulnerable oil producing countries in fear, coupled with market jitters as a result of the shift and modest decrease in oil demand which has significantly affected market valuations on the price of oil globally, we have what we have today and may be sustained well into the middle of 2015 barring some catastrophic event or human action.

Who's problem is it and should we all be worried? You tell me and you make the call!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Homosexuals are coming!

This January the State of Florida legalized same sex marriage. Quite an accomplishment for such a very conservative leaning state in the South, barring South Florida (Miami-Dade and Broward) being a very liberal territory.

It's no secret that South Florida is a melting pot of Caribbean, and Latin American people via extension of the Cuban migrants. Caribbean people and Latin American's are somewhat socially conservative, holding on vigorously to their religion with most of their inner fibre. This is what makes the embrace of the homosexual movement, in South Florida in particular, so incredibly fascinating and interesting as it relates to Caribbean and Latin American people.

What does all of this mean for Caribbean countries looking at the same homosexual rights issue? I'm not sure we can say with any significance that it would mean a great deal for Caribbean people in the Caribbean territories. Even though if you were to throw a rock in a crowded room in any Caribbean country, you would hit someone that has either visited South Florida, has a close relative that lives in South Florida, or has dual citizenship with strong ties in South Florida.

So South Floridian ties and respect for and with the people of the Caribbean is clear. Clear on both sides. We love our Miami. We identify with American and share values with our brothers and sisters in South Florida. Yes, we do. In fact, we have a saying in The Bahamas: "Bahamians have an inalienable right to learn how to read, write and visit Miami twice a year." It is our "right"!

Be that as it may: How soon would places in the Caribbean begin to embrace homosexuality and same sex marriage? This is a very good question.

A snapshot of what issues surrounding even the mere notion of providing any Launchpad for homosexual marriage has and is taking place in The Bahamas. To be quite frank: The initiative of homosexual marriage, at this time, would probably sink faster than a one hundred pound bucket of cement in shallow water.

The issue of homosexual marriage came out as a result of a proposed Referendum that initially had nothing to do about homosexual marriage, at all. But because it was perceived to be paving the way for the introduction of homosexual marriage at a later date, it torpedoed all of the other merits that was presented in that Referendum. Here are the proposed Bills:
Bill # 1 seeks to give a child born outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian-born mother and non-Bahamian father the same automatic right to Bahamian citizenship.
Bill #2 also seeks to achieve gender equality in another respect under the Constitution: It seeks to enable a Bahamian woman who marries a foreign man to secure for him the same access to Bahamian citizenship.
 
Bill #3 seeks to make provisions for an unwed Bahamian father to pass his citizenship to a child born to a foreign woman.
 
 Bill #4 seeks to end discrimination based on sex. This involves the insertion of the word “sex” in Article 26 of the Constitution so as to make it unconstitutional to discriminate based on whether someone is male or female.
video
From first glance these Bills represent all that is fair and just for a first world country, or one boasting to be a first world country, and one that a country should strive for to enshrine in laws by virtue of it's most sacred legal document: The Constitution. Everything seems fine, from first presentation.

Even a remotely controversial Bill #2, which sought to smooth immigration issues for foreign born males married to Bahamian women, was met with some resistance, but a small majority of people came to the understanding in due time that in reality it did not extend to making naturalized citizens of foreign born males in perpetuity. Or so what we were led that it would not be.

More startlingly however, what transpired with regard to the promotion and public education on these bills was something fierce at its midway point. Something utterly shameful and embarrassing on many levels.

Bill #4, instead of being seen as a general application of the removal of gender discrimination, turned into a proxy war on gay marriage and thus devolved into an assault on homosexuals in general.

Homosexual-equality proponents initially championed Bill#4 as the beginning of removing the legal constructs that bound them from being honest citizens in The Bahamas, and thus paving the way for equal and fair treatment and the enabling of rights with regard to social justice and marriage. From the moment their lobby made mere mention that it helped their cause, persons became livid.

The Church went on high alert! Condemning the constitutional commission responsible for drafting the Bills along with the players in the background for this backdoor gay-marriage push in to our social living and consciousness.

Those not "Churched" and simply opposed to homosexuals on any and every level took it to the tenth level and used it as a platform to spew their homophobic rants and hatred towards gays. It was quite troubling to see so many well respected, and seemingly level headed people, just turn hot-red with anger, vitriol, hate and spite.

The opposition political party needed to do nothing at all. That's how bad it was.

Personally, I don't care if gays were to all jump up and get married today, or never marry ever again, ever, ever, ever. I'm aware of the social issues and religious underpinnings that we have as a society in The Bahamas, and won't drag myself into a religious or moral debate on the matter because we all have our views on how we interpret Christian principles. However, I'm not a homophobe either. Because the reality is that discrimination based on gender, gender appearance, sex and sexual preference, is what it is: Discrimination.

I always ask persons spewing the usual homophobic rhetoric: Are you aware of how many homosexuals are in your midst? Can you be certain of how many people in your own family and friendship circles are heterosexual? How many gays cut, you your family members and your friends cheques? How many gays run successful businesses? How many homosexuals you watch on television and enjoy their art forms, whether film or music? How many persons in the public service, from politicians to team-leaders that are living homosexual lifestyles? The real answers to all of these questions would stagger you.

So, for The Bahamas at least, an extension of rights or even the expansion of the tolerance of homosexuality, is not something we would see any time soon based on these recent events. A political party, at this time, would introduce it at their own risk.

Even though homosexual activity was legalized for persons practicing in private quarters as per the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act., 1991, with the age of consent for homosexual activity being 18 years of age, taking the next steps won't be anytime soon.

In a nutshell: The homosexuals are coming. Coming hard too, particularly in American and European countries. How far they get in the Caribbean territories, and not trying to speak for all Caribbean countries, is something else all together.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

End of 2014 wrap up! What happened this year?

Well, as we end the year 2014, the obligatory wrap up of this year's events must be conducted.

First of all, I thank everyone for reading my submissions and sending me feedback. I thank all of you, from the bottom of my heart. It's not often the average citizen, like myself, gets a chance to communicate his thoughts, ideas and feelings with a broader audience, regardless if people care about my topic or not. But, I truly do appreciate it and I thank you for being a part.

Well, this 2014 has been a relatively mundane year. Perhaps it's me that's getting older, and the regular things that used to titillate and excite me just doesn't anymore? But, in all honesty, this year seems like a continuation of the regular. Sad, I know.

The first thing that comes to mind is the upheaval in the Ukraine and the standoff between that country and their former colonizer, Russia when under the former communist bloc, the USSR pre-1991.

The upheaval was bloody, unnecessary and very much avoidable. The situation was also embarrassing for the United States, and particularly to president Barack Obama leading NATO during the crisis.

President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, flipped the entire Western world the bird and said that as a result of this crisis, he will annex Crimea- a territory within the Ukrainian border- and no one would be able to do a blessed thing about it.
Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

For those thinking that president Putin was "punking out" president Obama, forgot that Putin did something more egregious back in 2008 to former US president GW. Bush. Not only did Putin induce a war in the sovereign state of Georgia, but simply took massive tracts of land on the North Eastern border of Georgia. That time his intentions were more clear and decisive than in the case of Crimea, because it was a direct response to US defence systems being placed in Georgia as installations of first response in the event Russia and America were to ever go to war.

Another thing that has happened, and still happening, is the revelation and current scandal that comedian Bill Cosby is embroiled in as it pertains to his years and years of alleged rapes of Hollywood starlets.

Over 20 women have come forward and stated that Bill Cosby raped them. What was so startling and shocking about this entire affair is the length and time some of these rapes took place. Some women claim to have been assaulted as far back as the late 1970's.

Bill Cosby, loving the pudding pops.
Further concerning about his entire affair is that almost all of the women have the same story: They were invited to Cosby's home, given drink and in some instances narcotics, drugged to sleep and then woke up and found themselves in compromising positions, with a taxi-cab waiting on them outside and told to get out.

Also, and it seems to feed the stereotype of the ravenous, sex-starved black man, who is only hungry for the poor and defenceless white woman, most of Cosby's accusers are Caucasian.

Whatever ends up as a result of all of this, it appears as if Bill Cosby is not "Dr. Cliff Huxtable", the beloved character and father figure he portrayed on his hit television show of the 1980's. We wish him all the best during his time of trial.

Another major event, albeit very subtle, was the current position of the Catholic Pope Francis. He has taken some very interesting positions that were once anti-religious and anti-Catholic: He has become more and more vocal in his warmth and understanding towards homosexuals and their lifestyle. Something that has angered Bishops within his own ranks, and also provided tremendous criticisms world wide, both pro-gay and anti-gay.
Catholic Pope Francis
Whatever the end game Pope Francis has in mind, his pronouncements are taken very, very seriously. He has a following worldwide and influences not just Catholics and Christians, but people that look to him as a guiding light of morality and voice of reason.

Something also very, very important happened this year, and globally dangerous issue for us as peace loving citizens, and for my case, as a follower of Christ, and that is the emergence of the radical Islamic terrorist group, ISIS.

This group of radicalized Islamic terrorist are responsible for the murder of hundreds of Christians and non-Muslims within the Middle East. They have displaced thousands of people inside Iraq and Syria, and sent them on the road to no-man's land and to their slow death of starvation and elements.

Who or whatever started this group is unimportant at this time. I condemn their actions, and so too should you. I condemn their radical form of Islam. And anyone that stands with them are too condemned and should be rooted out, eradicated.

I say that because, oddly enough, there were not only American citizen that went to fight with ISIS, but there were European men and women in addition to, and most puzzling, Caribbean nationals that were reported to have joined ISIS in their Jihad. This puts the peace and conscience of Caribbean people on edge, as we do not have the security or response measures to combat a major terrorist attack on our soil.

Baroness, Patricia Scotland
of Asthal
Further with regard to the Caribbean, there were a host of issues that resonated with me region-wide. The kerfluffle with the Dominican appointee to head the Commonwealth Secretariat, Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal, sparked major controversy. An appointee that was a British parliamentarian, which was the primary reason persons around the Caribbean cried foul. Foul because how can you have a British parliamentarian, sit on meetings for the Caribbean nations and other former colonized nations, and at worst be the head of such a grouping with Britain, where her current allegiance lies, as the former colonizer of all of the English speaking Caribbean- the predominant Caribbean nations.

Folks in these meetings, meetings that are very important because they are few and far between, for obvious reasons, like and need to talk shop. Talking shop means issues sensitive to our former colonizers. Not that anything damaging would be discussed, but some things we just don't want the British government to know.

Speaking of politicians, former premier of the Turks and Caicos, Michael Misick, was given bail for his corruption charges and is walking around to many a warm reception by his people in the TCI. For whatever that's worth. We wish him all the best.

Also, and this takes me back to my opening salvo that 2014 seems to be a year filled of more of the same, the current upheaval in Haiti. The prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, has been forced to resign amidst allegations of corruption that spurred these protests.

Former Haitian Prime Minister
Laurent Lamothe
Several other ministers have resigned with him. This has put the spotlight back on president Martelly, as he is now the only other person Haitians can blame because things aren't going right. To me, he was doing a fairly decent job as president of Haiti, barring his lack of formal skills and training.

Whatever has Haiti bound by this spirit of upheaval and chaos, I pray that one day, and one day soon, it all will be solved. For their sakes.

With that, let's look to the new year, 2015 with vigour, new resolve and committed spirit to do better.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year. Thank you for reading, God bless you all and I wish to see you again soon.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The World Trade Organisation and The Bahamas!

The Minister responsible for Financial Services and Trade, The Honourable Ryan Pinder, resigned his post as Minister to take up a private post. This leaves his Ministry without a Minister. In addition, just previously to his resignation, the Director of his Ministry, was selected to head up the secretariat charged with producing a national development plan for The Bahamas. Without a doubt, international trade and integration for The Bahamas has been put under a very serious test: With or without the understanding that the ministry of finance has dual carriage for trade matters.

Over the last 15 years The Bahamas has been making greater steps towards becoming a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This is an important step in the development for any country that wishes to become a member of this grouping. So far, the Bahamas is among a particularly awkward group of countries that are currently not members: Iran and Iraq are some other notable countries, with Russia officially joining in 2012.

Just for background information, the WTO has been around since the end of the Second World War. It was formerly called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), before the conclusion of the 1996 Uruguay Round of world trade talks which then established a universal name for the grouping and tighter rules on goods and services. Before 1996 it was promoted as a post-war economic integration mechanism for European and North American countries and since then, it has been promoted even more so, but with more countries included along with their contentions and complexities.

The WTO is currently in the middle of a seemingly endless round of trade talks, which started in Doha Qatar in 2002. Having a round of talks in the Middle East, post 9-11 attacks and the US Middle Eastern invasion, was supposed to be the olive branch extended to the Middle Eastern world by Western powers (well, let's just say by the USA) as a way to show them "peace through trade”. Sort of like the US's Iraq invasion strategy of bombs and bread, with trade added to it.

More importantly, however, the idea that the WTO is a complex organisation is true to a great extent. Its rules based arrangements are designed purposefully to be intrusive on sovereign authority and sovereign economic policy making.

This international rules based mechanism, makes the interconnection and coordination of multi-national protocols and standards, based on traditions and customs as well as sovereign protection on industries deemed as sacred, difficult, when this system has to cater to the needs, the flexibilities and sometimes inflexibility of its members.

The position the Bahamas finds itself in at this stage by not being a member, can be good, or bad, depending on the premium placed on the economic position of the Bahamas and what Bahamians feel as their best interests for the future.

For one, not being a member makes you a pariah. Even though the Bahamas is a member of a lot of other international bodies and agreements and has a good political and economic track record, not being a member of this standard bearing group looks a little dubious. Along with being a pariah, doing business with international firms that expect a transparent system for them to invest, becomes problematic if national standards aren't, at least, at baseline international standards and compliance benchmarks.

The second thing is with regard to tax reform and the need for The Bahamas for taxation reform. Tax reform has never just been a trivial matter in any country, let alone for a country that has no other forms of taxation other than from import tariffs and public service charges and some minor, real property taxes- with the latter not taken very seriously. But, the matter of proper taxation is critical to being successful at world trade level and at the same time, protecting domestic interests.

One thing is clear with WTO economic principles: Reducing tariffs on import competing products is at the essential core of the WTO. In fact, two foremost policies are: 1. The non-Discrimination of goods and services and 2. The reciprocity of that trade openness, between countries, either by direct tariff cuts or through modality approach- that being, phased in over a period of time.

A country, like The Bahamas, which is heavily dependent on tariffs/customs duties for government revenue, once the phasing in of WTO standards and honouring commitments to other members on reducing customs duties on certain items, indicates very bluntly that the Bahamas will have to find other sources of revenue, as it is poised to implement Value Added Tax by January 1st, 2015.

Everything from tax reform, to increasing the transparency in public and private investments, to even proper record keeping, speaks to a larger issue of broader public sector reform and also to the cultural way we tend to do business. Not only broader private and public sector reform, but having the capacity to commit to contracts and agreements over the time period in which you said you were going to do exactly that.

Cutting this point short: The entire way we do business has to change. A colleague of mine from Trinidad, who worked in the Bahamas for a short time stated to a group he was presenting to; "Do you remember when your mother used to bake that sweet bread every Sunday? (YEA!) And the neighbour used to fix her door or cabinets for her in exchange for that baked bread? (YEA!) Well, those days are long gone! (OOOOOOHHHH!!!)"

The changes needed in the way we do business do not have to be drastic and done overnight. It can be done bit by bit to suit our needs, or, actually- “GASP”- structurally planned! The issue of whether or not what change comes first; to what extent should certain institutions- whether they are public or private- should change; and how to sensitively change what we know needs to change without public insurrection, is where the discussion on WTO accession should be. But it isn't.

The reason why the discussion isn't where it ought to be is because the broader public, on average, tend to become frustrated when we speak about large macro-economic and macro-financial jargon and concepts. It's like, for example, an accountant trying to understand quantum physics. They would be no better off than a person who has the reading capability of a second year college student- or perhaps even a first year college student.

The other reason why the discussion isn't where it ought to be- and that being on the institutional and the economic way of how we do business- is because no one has been able to break down the large concepts and ideas, into bite sized nuggets for the citizens to digest.

For the most part in The Bahamas, the public discussion comes in after the fact. In fact, not only does public discussion come in after the fact, it sometimes isn’t very fruitful to the issue at all. The reason being that the persons explaining the issues, become frustrated at times at the lack of, seemingly, intellectual depth by the broader public on the matter (like the average Joe understands stochastic measurements and the difference between the HO model and the Laffer curve).

In addition, the broader public become angry at the persons making these decisions and making them without their input and apparently always in secret- a very open secret I may add. So, the cycle of confusion and obfuscation continues.

All of this uncovers another problem (well, not really another problem uncovered, because anyone who has ever done anything in The Bahamas understands this by now), and that is the lack of information that is readily available for the general public to digest. Not just transparency in the public sector, or private sector for that matter, but, the transparently coherent of initiatives for the broader public.

My sentiment is that: You can't blow my mind if I don't understand what it is you are blowing my mind with. This goes a very long way in educating the public on the importance, for them, of what trade agreements and in particular, what the WTO means.

The issue of knowing what to expect is critical to putting in place the safety mechanisms in order to protect the state revenue and the public interest with regard to consumer protection, commercial protectionism and cultural influx.

What should happen with labour and unions? What should happen with tax reform and state revenue? What would happen when legal immigration and immigration become larger problems? What would happen to sovereign rights? What should happen to infant industries? What should happen to the inflow of capital becomes too much or too little? What should happen to import competing companies? What should happen with regard to exports and export support? What should happen to the lives that depend on the decisions made upon all of these?

There's no cookie cutter solution for these problems. This WTO accession approach simply needs a touch of policy flexibility, imagination and creativity, put into realistic institutions that don't harm the domestic economy or be damaging to global competitors and the clout they carry.

The proper discussions need to take place. Not discussions on what people have done after the fact. But, what should we do and why it affects you. There is no easier other way!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The BNCC: The courage of common sense!

The Bahamas National Citizens Coalition (BNCC)  published in one of the local dailies a 25 year development plan for The Bahamas. This plan was published, almost simultaneously, with the national development plan launched by the government of The Bahamas a few weeks back.

As we discussed at length in a previous article, "A National Development Plan: What should be expected?", we tried to make the case of the importance of long term planning for The Bahamas, and highlighted some of the merits, challenges the planning committee may face in addition to addressing some of the bottlenecks that may occur. We wish to afford the BNCC the same level of respect that their courage to publish their views on planning deserves.

Through speaking to one of the progenitors of the BNCC's plan, they have assured me that a fair amount of research went into their statement and that one can conclude that it was not prepared in a peloton.

A statement of intentions is more in line with what was published, to be quite frank. One can't really fathom how lengthy the back notes, white papers, green papers, policy notes, analysis and impact assessments went in to their published product. But we should take the team at their word that work was done.

Without rehashing what was written earlier with regard to the plan launched by the government of The Bahamas, I wish to give a little more context into the thinking behind the BNCC in an attempt to grasp the spirit of what was produced and why it seemed so important to bring it to the public at this particular point and time.

The tenor of the BNCC's plan was harmonized around one particular theme: The Stafford Sands Economic model of Tourism (in that of the Promotion of Tourism Act,. 1965) and Financial Services (in the Bank and Trust Regulations Act., 1964), and the schemes born out of it that has retarded growth in the BNCC's estimation. 

I would like to add that the reliance on the Holy Grail of Economic models in The Bahamas, in that of the Sir Stafford Sands model, has in fact served it's usefulness, and perhaps is retarding growth if more than a healthy share of people fail to see any way past it.

There was an interesting report given at the Bahamas Economic Outlook, 2011 by Dr. Olivia Saunders from the College of the Bahamas. At this forum, she had challenged the understanding of the Sir Stafford Sands model for economic development in the Bahamas.

She had asserted that it really should not be credited to him to any great extent. She further claims that the Sir Stafford Sands model, is based solely on economic activity that was already present in the Bahamas from the 19th century. I could not have agreed more. In fact, I think the insipid repetition of the "model" is not only mystifying, but also borders on cult-like rabidity, which lends itself to mental images of faithful and loyal clansmen, dressed in their dark hooded robes gather in their covens surrounded by a pentagram neatly drawn in white chalk, kneeling in front of an altar with a sacrificial Potcake atop, with a menagerie of warmly lit blue candles smattered about while the chants of the name of Sir Stafford Sands with selected quotes from speeches echoing through the room, interrupted only by short outbursts of orgasmic like screams of glory, while pictures of Sir Stafford flicker in the dim mist.

Just to add some clarity on what the Sir Stafford Sands model is; it is a model for economic development of the Bahamas, using the pillars of financial services and tourism as the primary base for economic activity.

Without fear of sounding as if I am bashing the efforts of a deceased former cabinet minister, the ballyhoo over the "economic model" of Sir Sands is overplayed to a great extent. The brilliance of Sir Sands relied not in some grand mental faculty that was overlooked by mere mortals, but in fact the genius of it rested in basic common sense.

Tourists were coming to The Bahamas from the 1700's. In fact, The Bahamas, as were colonies like Jamaica, Barbados and the Caymans and Bermuda, were all vacation hideaways for the rich and the famous in Britain that extended to wealthy American and Canadian elites.

We had what every other Caribbean country had- sun, sand and sea with a more than amenable government structure that was kind to European visitors and controlled the masses as if they were cattle.

We also inherited our financial services model from the British. In fact, almost, if not all of the former and current British colonies have large offshore banking sectors. This was not something Sir Sands created, but facilitated because it was happening already.

The Banking Act. of 65' was repealed in 2000 due to OECD anti-money laundering strictures and replaced with another, which directly means that at least half of the Sands model was either washed or neutered; and the Tourism Act., 64' had minor changes to include taxation provisions in 1970, etc, etc. but too has been rendered antiquated and under constant threat from crime, other rival destinations in the region and the threat of the opening up of Cuba.

All of this indicates that the obsession with a Sir Stafford Sands model that never really was, is now proving injurious to the growth and development of The Bahamas as it chokes out anyone and any thing that merely mentions ideas challenging its genesis, usefulness then and now and practicality on any level.

This makes calls for things to be new, like the BNCC has provided for us, a breath of fresh air, even though some of the ideas, concepts and features should be fleshed out in detail.

For example, we all can agree that a Sovereign Wealth Fund for The Bahamas is perfect common sense. There is no empirical reason why we can't and shouldn't have one, with the capitalization of such an institution taken into consideration.

More importantly, the opening up of our natural resources to Bahamian, which shifts away from the current practice of open secrets on it's viability, the persons currently engaged in mining our natural resources and seeking to mine our natural assets, also makes perfect common sense.

It has been noted that Caribbean countries that use their natural resources for their benefit can and in fact are able to control economic cycle dynamics for the better, and hence control the growth of their respective economies.

Some of the other portions of the BNCC's statement are also ideals we should strive for and finds ways and means to doing so: From the elimination of the pre-requisite of grossly unneeded concessions for foreign direct investment; public service transformation to one that is more accountable and efficient; and the goal of creating 1,500 new millionaires over the first five years.

A lot of the BNCC's plan hinges on the exploitation of natural resources as a key pillar of economic development, but a lot of it hinges on the participation and the willingness for citizens to see the fundamental core of some of our problems and seek new and meaningful ways of correcting them.

While the BNCC's statement is not clear on the "how much", the "where do we start" and "the mechanics of getting all of this done", but common sense is what many of their proposals are, even before we begin to discuss the realistic mechanics of some of their proposals. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The wild world of Consultancy.

Ever worked for an organisation, where consultants walk in and out like a revolving door? As one of those persons that had the door greet me and hit me on the way out, you tend to smile at the nature of the work.

As a management consultant, I have been both whipping boy and saviour to both the same and different organizations. But in all times I left a place better than where I met it, or at least I'd like to think so!

Bahamians tend to rag on "Consultants", in particular Bahamian consultants that align themselves with political parties. Bahamians typically see them as cronies, hustlers, gravy train riders and just all out vermin. We often refer to them as the special group of "friends, family and lovers!".

As someone on the hustle myself, you tend to take the ribs, jibes and abuse with a grain of salt. Not because I'm either of the friend, family or lover persuasion. But because you have to take that burden into a game where it has been sullied and made mockery by people with legitimate reasons to do so.

Plus, when you factor in how really insulting and derogatory that particular friend, family and lover statement means, particularly when you see the same old "consultants" awarded numerous government contracts, from any standpoint (because it does not take a Nobel Laureate to appreciate if something is useful, working or not), one really has to be relaxed and calm amidst the regular jostling for prominence in this very broad field of consultancy in The Bahamas.
But, it does raise a particular concern about: What exactly does a consultant do? Better yet, what are consultants supposed to be doing?

In short: We can only do what you want us to do. We can't undo anything unless instructed to do so either. And in your organization, we are only bound by the rules of engagement you set for us.

Especially contractually obligated agreements, most consultants in the field for more than 5 years tend to appreciate sticking with the original agreement unless otherwise formally changed and understood by both parties. This stems the flow of corruption, theft, abuse, malfeasance, lowers the risk of failure and keeps both sides of the agreement satisfied.

Trust me when I say this: We don't want to lose your money if we can help it. Neither do we want a dissatisfied client spreading negativities about our brand that can be avoided. Also, neither should you want to waste time dissatisfying a consultant that, even within a few short days, understands your business model, what you are doing, how you are doing it and even if they don't tell you, know enough of what the acute and problematic details and intricacies of how even you yourself are bringing more harm to your company.

Just a few short months back a colleague of mine sent an email to all of the Bahamian based consultants that he knew, asking them to form a coalition of sorts. Which is a good, first step because we don't have a recognizable body that represents our industry in the Bahamas.

I took the opportunity to research some of the names copied in the email and was quite surprised that many of them were under the age of 50, including myself. Their fields of expertise ranged from small business services, to information technology, to legal services and accountancy and international trade and market research. It was a very diverse group of individuals.

While noticing that their skills and areas of expertise ranged, it led me to the first notion about the aura of a consultant: There is no one, short cut consultant and cookie cutter style of doing things.

videoSome persons have this perception that a consultant is supposed to be all knowing and all versed in all sectors of the universe. Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, consultants in very many respects know very little of the particular business model utilized by a government, civic organization or company. They may have sector specific expertise, but specific organizational knowledge cannot be ascertained until you actually engage a consultant.

So, disabuse yourself of this perilous notion that a consultant is supposed to solve all of your problems with a flick of a switch. It can't happen. It does not happen. It is not supposed to happen, and you would let yourself down at every turn when you hear of one, see one or watch one operate in your respective workplace.

A second most perilous notion, which almost seems paradoxical to the aforementioned, is that some folks confuse the scope of a consultant.

Sometimes, and this is not just from my experience but colleagues express the same thing to me, is that consultants have been hired to conduct work in other areas not of their initial expertise. For example, a financial consultant with his expertise in banking being brought in to help an NGO re-organize their books, is quite different from a market research consultant being brought in to negotiate cross-border agreements with your supplier.

The unwritten rule of thumb is that you never tell a potential client no. You have to work with what the market gives you at times. But this is both dangerous as much as it is an enlightening experience to broaden your scope and learn more about what these folks are doing out here these days.

The burden in this case is equally placed on both parties to explain the parameters of what is expected for any particular project, initiative or engagement. But more-so the consultant has to have the professional integrity to be up front and honest and say: Hey, I see that you need this done, but it really is not my area of expertise; may I refer you to someone else?

The services sector is also changing rapidly, and some say for the worse when we factor in mass layoffs and low job creation.

The days of going into an office and speaking to your accountant or lawyer is long gone. If you don't catch him or her on the way out of a luncheon or seminar or at the airport, you probably would be wasting your time trying to set up a formal meeting at their offices. So, quite frankly, any and everyone with a college degree that has minimal work experience is a consultant or can be one because he has the time, hunger and reason to take on such a profile.

The same goes for consultants in the management and technical related fields, especially those that manage several different projects that deserve immediate attention in several different places.

For KEMP GLOBAL and our associate sub-contractors, I encourage them to go out and meet the people at their place and at their time. I take my show on the road as well, because I have to and it gives my firm a personal charm. I will come to you, on your time and your convenience.

It not only makes it easier for us where we don't have to spend much on accommodations, hence we can save on utility fees, but it also is a chance to go out and see the problem our clients have, right then and right now without second hand information and without having X-Ray vision through the telephone or getting a "feel" of a conversation of our client at our offices. This is important to us, because we really want to and need to see what it is you are doing.

Thirty, or maybe even twenty years ago, one would also have to wait to see their service provider via setting up formal meetings. Nowadays, due to technology and the fast paced world where results oriented practices is the fashion as opposed to the older days where establishment and name recognition really mattered, if you are not in place to deal with a problem as it arises, it is highly unlikely you will be kept on for any project. So, the more we are out there, the better.

In a nutshell, we have to be out there. Out there with a good name and a hard working spirit to boot. We prefer it that way too!