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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Prepare, the Ingrahamites are near!

Ever since the opposition party, The Free National Movement, elected their leader, Dr. Hubert Minnis, in a snap mini-convention and with Dr. Minnis having staved off and cut off a surging challenge from his fellow opposition member of parliament colleague, Mrs. Loretta Butler-Turner, his leadership has been met with fierce criticism from persons within his own party. Most of which are from a small, but yet powerful faction of persons loyal to their former leader and former prime minister of The Bahamas, The Right Honourable Hubert Ingraham.




None more prominent in the cacophony of discontent within The Free National Movement with their leadership is that of the former deputy prime minister under Mr. Ingraham, Frank Watson.




Mr. Watson has said that the current leader of the FNM is tone-deaf to his, and other's, suggestions on how the party should proceed. He also said that the party is in serious problems if Dr. Minnis's current style of management continues. He was directly quoted as saying that the current Chairman of the FNM is "talking nonsense" and that the Chairman is "out of the loop" with the real players in the party. And that was just last week!




Without a doubt Mr. Ingraham has left an indelible mark on Bahamian politics. The first prime minister in the era post the near invincible Sir Lynden Pindling, and having served three terms to boot. Quite a feat in a modern and fair democratic government process for anyone from anywhere in the world to have served as leader for more than ten years, whether consecutively or non-consecutively.




Of course, this means that there are a lot of people that are very, very loyal to Mr. Ingraham. No doubt, he has in fact helped a great deal of people. He also had an uncanny knack for placing people in strategic positions in the public and private sector, persons who have been able to maintain and make valuable contributions to our country.




However, as with many a leader in democratic, and not-so-democratic fashion, the love affair between them and the people often go sour after it becomes stale and methods become ineffective. Good enough for us that his departure from front line politics was met with peaceful transition, and not with a coup or some form of violence. I am proud to be a Bahamian on that score. Truly.




Mr. Ingraham was beaten by his immediate predecessor and his successor to his first term in office. To be succinct: The current prime minister, The Right Honourable Perry Christie, had a one term stint in between Mr. Ingraham's terms of service. Mr. Christie won in 2002, lost in 2007 and then won again in 2012.




What's also a pretty well known fact is that Mr. Christie and Mr. Ingraham share a very funny distinction: They were both fired as cabinet ministers at the same time on the same day under the same circumstances under the Sir Lynden Pindling government.




Without labouring through the often times murky and gossipy reasons as to why they were fired, to cut a long story short: Mr. Christie and Mr. Ingraham ran as independents in that subsequent election that the governing party, The Progressive Liberal Party, won, with Mr. Christie opting to go back to the PLP and Mr. Ingraham opting to go with the FNM and then becoming prime minister in 1992.




Sure enough, along with that distinction, they also, as reports claim, share a close bond and friendship. They were former law partners in addition to standing as God parents for each other's children. They also share the same, small group of friends and associates.




Leading anyone who does not fall into the spell of the occult-like style of politics in The Bahamas: We have essentially been ruled and governed by the same small group of people for over the last 20 plus years.




Regardless of what anyone tells you, even with a strong man like Mr. Ingraham: No one runs a country by themselves. All strong leaders, and more so with not-so-strong leaders, have supporters, cronies, lackeys, bag men, go to guys, key writers, image makers, covert operatives and public relations gurus that all play a part in making them look on the ball, as well as their relational associates and family ties that hold them down, at all times.




To go even further with this relationship that both men share, during the 2007 campaign and at a campaign rally when Mr. Ingraham won that election year, Mr. Ingraham remarked in a quite jovial, but yet sneering and mocking manner, at a point where then sitting prime minister Christie, during a time where he had fallen ill and had to take an indeterminate time of leave, had asked him to "run" the cabinet and the country until he had time to convalesce and get back on his game. By-passing his then deputy, Cynthia "Mother" Pratt and the rest of his cabinet ministers in the PLP.




So, essentially the "Ingrahamites" aren't just near, they probably never left. Which is quite important for our country, because as mentioned previously: Ideas, ways of doing business, methods, people and their minds become stale and ineffective. While continuity is important, quite frankly, when you look at our daunting issues: Who wishes that?




When you sit in one spot for too long you become immune and blind to what's around you. You don't see "the problems", you just continue with your solutions which you feel worked 20 years ago and so they must work today. This is even worse for those that are eating their fair-square 3 meals a day and have no worries about those meals tomorrow.




This clearly suggests, at least over the last 10 years, the same solutions have not been productive or user friendly. To say the very least.




With all of that being said however, I think this is a perfect time to hear from former prime minister Ingraham.




The way he left after the 2012 election was, to put it quite mildly, abrupt, seemingly callous and a little selfish. It was like the Bahamian taxpayers wasn't allowing him a salary and leeway to do what it is he was charged to do. This was a lot worse than the first time he left the scene, more or less, at the height of a mild recession after he had lost in 2002. The state of affairs then was not "this bad".




The country has not fully recovered since the 2008 global recession. Unemployment is still stubbornly up; the ease of doing business rankings are slipping; investment, both local and foreign, is not vibrant and with the latter we need less of and more of the former; crime is still miles high; public services are still reeling from the ravages of the recession and morale is low because more burdens were placed on them;  and the overall sentiment from Bahamians is one of hopelessness amidst waves and waves of missteps and oversights that turned into full-blown fiascos under the current administration, all at a time when we need concerned and concerted consistency and clarity on all fronts.




I mentioned to one of my colleagues just recently that I would like to hear from Mr. Ingraham about all and sundry, regardless of how it looks now: From the current state of the economy, the way we look internationally, how he feels businesses can be better served, how the small and not-so-small can better integrate themselves into the process he left behind and his overall outlook on his party, the FNM and the fighting that is looking very, very nasty.




To be fair, he did not give us our just due as citizens in giving a full account of his tenure. A de-briefing, of sorts.




Even a very prominent businessman, Franklyn Wilson of Arawak Homes, feels the same way as I do. He too also wants to know, and in particular, why did Mr. Ingraham leave South Eleuthera at such a disadvantage as Mr. Wilson has lamented in one of his recent discussions with reporters.




Some have suggested, and this is probably why persons like Mr. Ingraham's former deputy Frank Watson and a few others have been getting antsy and vocal as of late, that Mr. Ingraham is planning a comeback. Stronger than when many feel he usurped power of the FNM from leader elect Tommy Turnquest and put his name in the hat at the FNM's convention leading up to the 2007 general election.




I can only laugh, especially considering all we know now and all we read in only this submission. Laugh because Mr. Ingraham, Mr. Watson and the others loyal to the Ingrahamite cause, if this is the case, may as well come out as full, card carrying members of the governing PLP. That ought to make this into the full scale spectacle that those and sundry want us to be embroiled in and one that it appears to be.




One of my colleagues, a very seasoned man and one who was in the mix back in the day and knows both Mr. Christie and Mr. Ingraham very well, assured me that both men speak to each other on a regular basis on governing The Bahamas and that Mr. Ingraham's input is seen and felt every day. I can believe that! **sips tea**

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Terrorism on the shores of The Caribbean!

The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism's website was hacked last week. Apparently, a group out of Tunisia calling themselves the "Fallaga Team" is responsible for the attack. They took over the servers that hosted the websites and posted a few items, as it is reported, and tried to do much more probing once inside an official government site.


Just earlier this month the website and subsequent government domain name of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines was hacked by a group calling themselves "The Moroccanwolf- Islamic State".


Both websites were immediately cleaned up as a matter of priority. The Bahamian government had to end parliament early that day and hold a special cabinet meeting to address the matter. It goes to show how much cyber security and electronic information takes precedent in today's modern world.


This raises, in an odd sense, the matter of Islamic terrorism in the region. Who would have thought that Islamic hard-liners would have their eyes focused on The Bahamas? Or any small, nation state in the Caribbean? Not me, for one. But apparently they do.


First and foremost, I reject the radical fundamentalists that parade around behind their religion to hurt, main and attack other people who do not agree. The cyber-attack is just another episode in the perversions of some of those radical Muslims hell bent on starting their One World Caliphate. It won't happen!


With respect to the Caribbean: It was widely known that there were Caribbean nationals that went on the front line to fight with the new terror group in the Middle East, ISIS, also known as "The Islamic State and the Levant". A group fighting in the border lands between Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan, with those five countries (and a little more if we take into account the island of Cyprus and a small portion of Western Iraq) comprising what scholars and historians call "The Levant".


ISIS is responsible for shocking atrocities in the Middle East. From beheadings, to public burnings, to tossing those not of their views off of buildings, and much, much more. Quite a nasty group of individuals. The perverted nature of their atrocities are quite stunning. It's like they make new ways to kill, maim and torture people.


The ISIS PR machine is also strikingly different from any other terror group. For starters, the videos of their atrocities and barbarism appear to be very well produced. If you dare to watch anything from them, which I have out of sheer curiosity, you would see the intense attention to cinematic effect and detail. Music production, panning in when death is near, various angles for the method of torture and murder, and quite verbose (and intelligently written) speeches before and after their sickening acts.


The top man in ISIS is a British national born in Kuwait. He goes by the nickname (given to him by those he captured and later evolved into something more comic-book like by the press), Jihadi John. His real name is Mohammed Emwazi.


Now, before you scream "irony" and say that the country where Jihadi John was born, Kuwait, was the small, Middle Eastern state that was liberated from Saddam Hussein's Iraq during the first Gulf War by America, in addition to Jihadi John becoming a British citizen, the second largest coalition member in both Gulf Wars, let me ask you to tamper down a little bit of that self-joy and understand the problem it now presents.


Without a doubt people are radicalized in the Islamic faith. That's patently obvious. It's also obvious that persons were radicalized into the Islamic faith from its inception and no one act done by America or the rest of the Western World made them so.


Having read The Quran, the Islamic holy book, I would have to say that it's not primarily a book about peace. To be quite frank about it.


I would encourage the reader to actually read The Quran for one’s self. Not that one is any less wrong in being opposed to them based on the violent acts perpetrated around the world based on Islam. But at least to understand more fundamentally what really fuels this anti-Western, anti-Christian and anti-anything opposed to the prophet Muhammad and The Holy Quran.


I say that because there is this Orwellian "Newspeak" styled euphemism floating around about Islam being a religion of peace. It's almost as insulting as calling the military and agency for "Peace and Reconciliation"; calling America's overhanded, direct, covert and/or subversive international tactics it uses with its partners "US foreign policy and diplomacy"; or calling poor people "economically unintegrated urbanites". Just a patent insult to any right thinking individual that reads more than 5 chapters of The Quran.


Well, you can also say that if the Western media has gotten away with that type of wicked-language for the better half of the last 200 years, then it really is par for the course if modernized Muslims use it and try to get away with it as well. As they say: Turnabout is fair play.


What The Quran does speak about with regard to peace particularly, and primarily, is meant for persons that think along the lines of The Quran itself. The only other time it mentions being at peace with anyone else, or any other group of people for that matter, is only when they are allowing for mercy to the subjected persons within their realm. Of course, this tolerance has a shelf life and is left to the time and moment that Sharia (Islamic law based on The Quran) is to be interpreted on the matter of the offense of the subjected class of people. Even those included in the Abrahamic, mono-theistic religions of Judaism and Christianity born out of the same region.


So, do we have a problem on our hands in the Caribbean? The Tunisian and Moroccan cyber-terror nitwits are possibly idle teenagers looking to get their kicks. They are no better or worse than the locals spying on each other, however. No worse than teenage gamers based in Paris, California or London trying out their new cyber-worm programme; no worse than any other notable cyber terror or hacker groups like the PirateBay or Anonymous; and certainly no worse than America's National Security Agency, who reports have it have been running several surveillance operations around the world with regard to cellular phone taps, and done primarily in The Bahamas under an operation called SOMALGET.


The main, and more serious problem, is in our immigration policy. Essentially, who we allow in to our country, and for that matter, who we allow to return to our respective countries, based on the reports of Caribbean fighters joining the Jihad and Jihadi John in Syria and the Levant, is vitally important.


The second, most fundamental problem, particularly with offshore banking, is are we allowing for terrorist financing from these operations.


To that regard, a great deal of cooperation between the G-8 countries and the offshore banking jurisdictions were done post September 11 attacks.


Surely no one can solve this Islamic World vs. The Western World problem in my lifetime, although I would hope that it does get solved. The only thing small countries like us can do is wait and try to make sure we watch our borders, and watch what money is transacted from within our borders with institutions domiciled. That's the only way we can fight terror!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

You get swing! The lingering matter of fraud!

Have you ever given someone that was taking a trip to America or Canada money in hopes that they would "bring back" a few items for you, but they never returned with the items or the money? Particularly for automobiles and consumer related items? Or, have you ever heard of a case where an employee was hired for a particular position, but the benefits, scope of work or work environment was not what was told on the interview? I think we all can say that there is a fair amount of that happening not just in The Bahamas, but throughout the world.

In The Bahamas we have a saying: You get swing! A song, produced and sung by one of our local artists, Geno D., describes what it means and what it is to get "swing". But, even in his light-hearted approach to the matter, it really is no laughing matter.

The seemingly national art-form of "swinging" must be condemned, at all costs. But it is something so engrained in our psyche, so inherently and distinctive to Bahamian living, one just simply can't waive a magic wand and say the magic words and Voila!, we all started practicing decency like we are indeed a Christian nation with a strong understanding of giving a fair weight and just balances to those you do business with: Something the prosperity gospel in particular misses out on, as well as the fire and brimstone, holy-rolling brand of Christianity misses as well.

It has gotten to such an extent that people and companies by extension, can get away with massive fraud and rip-offs, relatively speaking for the size and position of the Bahamian economy, where it has even been noticed by the American Embassy in The Bahamas where they issued a warning to American citizens looking to buy property in The Bahamas.

Apparently, Americans were coming to The Bahamas to buy land from less than reputable companies, and in many instances buying directly from locals, which of course they were summarily cheated and ripped off.

Some would say that it served them right for trying to buy land through a "hook up", or through a "sweetheart deal", by-passing established real estate companies with a track record and history of doing business fair and transparently. In any case, the image of our piracy, rum-running days, being a nation for sale and the like, is still alive and well and much to our displeasure.

The amount of corporate fraud that happens in this town probably outweighs the amount of murder cases by 100 fold. The lack of proper record keeping, clean and transparent for the public to identify, is also something that lends to the overall nature of doing business in The Bahamas.

However, the last released data on white collar crime in The Bahamas was in 2012. Or at least as far back as this author could possibly find without pulling hair out or having to have a special knock, twist in the wind and incantation for the information to magically appear on my desk.

Reportedly, white collar crime totalled to over $11.5 million dollars in stolen goods, with over 400 cases.  There were 111 murders for the year, 2012, just for your information.

Of course, as we can imagine, white collar crimes were underreported. That's a given. But a significant amount was reported.

To go even further, the compilation of white collar crimes based on their focus- which seems to boil down to petty theft and petty fraud directed through or towards businesses- is just a small tip of the iceberg. In fact, the limited focus on white collar crime only speaks to one demographic, as if employers and institutions are faultless at committing fraud. This is clearly not the case.

Just to give some context, corporate crime is a well defined parameter in law. To sum that up, any crime committed by a company or business that promotes itself for one interest but is working against the very same interest it has gone on record stating that they are supposed to be promoting or protecting.

Essentially, this understanding carries under it a whole host of criminal behaviour, from accounting scandals like what happened with the American energy corporate Enron, where they hid massive losses from their shareholders from various projects; the accounting firm Arthur Anderson, also in America, where the company knowingly shredded and destroyed documents relating to the Enron scandal; and the mining company, Bre-X in Canada, which fraudulently claimed that it had found gold deposits in Indonesia that caused investors to be prompted to buy shares in the company.

In The Bahamas, one can add to that the overwhelming amount of fraud committed by businesses on the public. Some of them flatly promote products and services knowing full well they do not have the capacity to do what it is they promote.

In addition to fraudulent promotion or services committed by businesses on the public, there are countless cases of fraud committed by businesses and persons on the state and from persons within the state machinery that also go underreported and are not reflected in the overall white-collar matrix of criminal behaviour.

Often times cases that happen within the state can easily be brushed aside and made whole again, making crime or the criminal act a "new" (but make no mistake about it being sometimes arbitrary) policy, regardless if the new policy is set in stone or in fact ethical.

To go even further, and this is the main focus of this submission, is that employer to employee theft and business to business fraud happens far too frequently.

As a small business owner, the amount of times entities and individuals "tried" to get work done for free is abysmally saddening. It makes one wonder if the same persons wanting freebies from me, would try the same in America, or even against one of the larger institutions or businesses and get things off the top without paying for what it is they requested.

Countless cases of employees left without pay-checks during the weekend, for work they have done and submitted; cases of employees being dismissed without their proper severance; or just cases of one side not even having the slightest inclination of honouring their side of the agreement, should not be a part of life in The Bahamas as a "regular", run of the mil practice that one can do nothing about.

This type of anti-social depravity does not happen to that extent anywhere in the civilized and developed world, and it is not something that should be glorified or made light of with seemingly no recourse or remedy to alleviate some of the social implications from such depraved and anti-social behaviour. I would go as far as to say that it borders on a regulated system of indentured servitude, with regulators being non-intervening celestial bodies that make it a practice of non-interventionism in mortal affairs.

Along with the criminality and unethical behaviour, I find the approach to these matters, no matter how small it is, to be somewhat appalling and very telling for our society.

What must be done? Certainly there needs to be a review of the agencies and legislation that monitors white-collar crime; fraud; employer malfeasance; and employee fraud as well.

Asking the government to "tighten up" on some of their own practices seems to be a cheap way of letting off some steam for the anarchist in us, but a call we must make in the spirit and totality of what it is we are faced with.

Ultimately, you cannot have a vibrant, growing and dynamic economy for all and sundry, if contracts are not being enforced, property rights are infringed upon and disregarded, and fraud seems to be the order of the day. One simply just cannot have that!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Bahamas in the future: A look at politics.

I felt the need to continue on the trend I haphazardly started with last week with regard to The Bahamas and what the future may look like for the Church in our daily lives. I also prefaced that submission with the understanding that we can't look into the future in a linear fashion: In that, I mean to say is that we can't think about the future and say with any broad stroke that "this" is where The Bahamas would be in general or overall, but rather where we would be and what we would look like on several fronts.

As said, last week was about the role of the Church. Politics, in this vein, is no different in terms of evolution, even though how it impacts the general population and what it means for the majority of us matters significantly different than that of the Church.

What's really trending in Bahamian Politics? The short hand is that the major parties are fracturing. Not quite unexpected, because as the population grows, the larger organizations will find it challenging to serve all of the people under their tent.

This is not to say that the larger parties are unorganized and can't muster up enough coordination to serve all of the people under it's tent, but the fact of the matter is we're dealing with people. People and by extension organizations and the society at large, have hierarchies. Totem Poles. A pecking order. So, often times, gifts and hand-outs start from the top and filter down to the bottom.

As you can imagine, the people at the top got there because of their selfishness, aggression and to some extent greed. The higher up and more distant they become, the more likelihood of them becoming disengaged from the average citizen. It's easier for a camel to enter into the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

I'm not excusing the disengagement at all. I find it deplorable, particularly for a still, relatively, small and intimate country like The Bahamas. But, to some extent, the people in charge must look like the people in charge: If that means subjugating, creating distance, and subordinating the so called "lesser-folk", then so be it. If only by the sheer nature of the job. As they say, it's lonely at the top.

The Bahamas has a unique problem within that matrix: The baby-boomer leadership is deeply conservative with an ever increasingly liberal youth demographic (Generation Y and beyond), mixed in with a frustrated Generation X that feels stifled and cheated because of the baby-boomer generation's staying power and cling to power. For whatever reason. .

Seriously however, not only the age group differences pose a direct challenge, the baby-boomer generation has had a significant amount of staying power. Something that should be commended, but also be concerning because as they hold on to power, their ideas become stale, their way of thinking about doing business is outdated, in addition to their incestuously uncanny ability to select people of "like mind"; i.e., people within their own age grouping and also persons from younger generations who, even if only, feign interest in whatever programme that comes out of that baby-boomer think-tank.

Without a doubt there will be a conflict of ideas coming out of the age-group differences as we move forward. As we are seeing more and more intently now, the younger generations have too much information at their finger-tips to be given the same story of the same issues that have not worked. One only has to read Facebook for 30 minutes to find out how much they know, where did they know it from, how it was confirmed and who is being straight up and honest about it.

What we are currently seeing develop is an era of duplicity in politics. One in which is as seedy as much as it is unpredictable.

We have often times heard terms used, particularly within the last 10 to 15 years: "PLP's for (insert name of leader of the FNM), or "FMM's for (insert name of the leader of the PLP). In fact, the 2007 election was centred around such duplicitous, cloak and dagger gimmickry that one may liken to a Pink Panther movie, just with real life effects and consequences. The 2012 election was no different either, but less pronounced with more action post election by the then governing party.

The era of duplicity is also going to be very challenging, due to the fact that the chain that binds the generations has a rusted and shop-worn link: That is the flow of information that Generation Y (Millennials) has at their fingertips right now that the preceding Generation X did not have enough of to make their assessments. We can't overlook that, at all. And as equally important, the knowledge of the tools and templates to use in their assessments.

Along with the oncoming era of duplicity and one can also say a lack blind loyalty, we also have now a developed culture of distrust, chugging it's fuel from the years and years of obeisance under a "Dark" Bahamas. We have a Generation Y that has a greater chance and opportunity to review the ideas and issues form the past, juxtaposed with current affairs, and how it has shaped us to where we are today. All at the same time, the perceived source of much ire, the baby-boomer generation, is still in control if only psychologically, yet again adding to the frustration and sentiments of being cheated by Generation X while being simultaneously being greeted with disgusted sneers and sarcastic grunts from Generation Y.

Within the next 25 years, at least, as the baby-boomers are taken to their eternal glory at the very least, we will have a little challenge reconciling the following generations: Generation X will want to reclaim what they feel was stolen from them by the baby-boomer generation, and Generation Y will begin to say that you can't steal from me so easily and so openly as your predecessors did to you. This is going to create conflict. Even though there is a lot for all, the fact of the matter is we can't ever quantify feelings and sentiments: Being cheated and lied to on the one hand, and pervasive false need that borders on extreme avarice on the other.

All within the same time the political process will become more fractured, distrust will build and build in thee most acrimonious ways. It will take tremendous acts of courage to mend the fences and provide equal opportunity for all. Regardless of where you started from, or where you are now.

This is not to say all is shot to hell right now as we speak, but I think everyone with an ounce of intelligence can see quite clearly that the policies of 50 years ago have not worked in the last 15 years, at the very least; it's obvious that the proceeding generations' time is being eaten up by a generation, the baby-boomers, that have simply exhausted their usefulness (quite respectfully speaking); the cannibalization and lack of security for the future is based on old ideas that are not working and at best deleterious to the future development of The Bahamas, long after the baby boomers would have finally exited the stage; and the current carry-over of failed concepts of managing country-wide problems is not going over smoothly, and will become more problematic for anyone coming afterwards trying to implement the baby-boomer's methodology of doing things.
The era of distrust and duplicity is upon us. As with all countries, from large empires to small fiefdoms, there have always been successive years of "challenge periods". The Bahamas is right up next to our very own, made worse by the global financial collapse in, 2008 and prior to which was taken strong note of as a result of the September 11 Attacks and what many analyst claim precipitated the attacks which was, essentially, stinking thinking!

This is not to prophecy of things to be, but a warning of what may happen if we do not summon the courage, intelligence, decency and tact to handle this matter in a judicious manner. But first we must understand the problem. To which I humbly rest my submission on the matter on the table for perusal.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Bahamas in the future: A look at the Church!

So many times we have people complaining about the now, while often times dismissing the future with regard to the cause and effect years later. What typically happens is that many times fantasizing about the future based on our current behaviour is unforgivably taken for granted, and we seldom take the opportunity to allow things to reduce themselves to their core essence of what may be likely events taking place somewhere down the line.

I for one can assure you that no one can accurately predict the future, even though on many times I have been right more often than not. Rest assured from my own humble testimony that it's 95% of the time I'm right. So, far be it from me to stand in the way of telling you or anyone the great seer that is I, basking in my glorious rightness and prophetic wisdom, only to be outshone by my radiant halo of knowledge and infinite enlightenment.

Surely of course I jest, seriously. However, ruminating over the factors that can shape, and are in fact shaping our country, is what many people, particularly in politics, both active participants and their operatives, whether from the base community level or to the pulpit, try to convey to us on a daily basis.

Thinking about the future and how it would look like in The Bahamas, twenty, thirty, and even fifty years down the line, has to be broken down in several concepts and ideas that all weave into the landscape one may envision. Too lengthy to give justice to one concept, let alone several. Thusly, we will stick with one concept or social construct: The Christian Church.

One of the most fundamental pillars of our society is the Church. Or as we have been seeing it increasingly being referred to as persons of the faith.

The Church in The Bahamas has gone through, and is currently going through, several challenging periods, grappling with modernity and coming to grips with the notion that the State, the citizenry and how it all interacts while all are increasingly becoming divergent in their opinions on what is right, fair and just.

In fact, one only has to look at the phenomenon of smaller, non-denominational churches springing up out of, and in the face of, established faith-based organizations like The Catholic Church, The Anglican Church, which is the State recognized Church of The Bahamas, The Baptist Church and so on and so forth.

Moreover, members of the "faith" have sought refuge in the solace of smaller, non-denominational sects and what can be titled in a politically correct form as "worship centres", with persons looking for a slightly more intimacy with God their creator as well as sharing in the congregation of other members already dissatisfied and disaffected with the traditional and established organizations.

This should come as no surprise, because the early Roman Catholic Church had many dissidents and persons having difficulty in appreciating the management and tenor of their overbearing theocratic behaviour.

For example, Lutheranism broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, as did Calvinism, while both sharing different ideas on faith and worship and remained distinctively different during a period of the late 15th century into the early to middle 16th century and beyond.

To go even further, the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church, broke away from the Roman Catholic Church during this period and accepted the teachings of Lutheranism into the English society.

All of this to say that having understood that the spread of Christian based "worship centres" and enclaves in The Bahamas that allow for separate thought and understanding on Christian principles is nothing new that never happened anywhere else in the world. In fact, it was what the spread of Christianity relied upon.

No doubt this trend will continue on well into the future, with persons opting for what many would brand as cults, wayward sects and apostate ministries, thankfully without anyone having a care in the world because the culture of the Christian movement within itself has historically been about such evolution and reformation in thought, practice and pattern.

Where does that leave established Churches in The Bahamas? Well, this continual shift will not leave established church and their organizations any more or less off. Established Churches have not served their usefulness, in fact they are well organized gatherings of persons that need that outward appearances and displays of Christian sanctimony and piety.

What has been trending is that the "Church", as it is also designed for from it's core, is a collection of people that share similar beliefs and understandings. This too goes both ways. Both ways in the rationalizing of their particular brand of beliefs with regard to faith, but their understandings of the world around them, from their professional life and interactions in politics and government.

We have to remember that the Church is not primarily a place where persons that share in their beliefs and understanding of faith-based principles, but for persons that gravitate towards others of similar cultural and economic backgrounds, as well as with persons wanting to meet and greet persons of that ilk, calibre and culture in an attempt to reach a different plateau of the social strata that the established Church organizations lend themselves to and represent themselves as.

Of course the established Church based organizations will not be outdone by smaller, more nimble and spiritually responsive Churches. Of course not!

They have, in turn, approached this Bahamian-centric Reformation the way they have learned to do it over the years being the only games in town: Controlling thought on what is acceptable doctrine of the Church, albeit from the same established faith-based frames of references that is causing the schism to begin with. Entrenching themselves in their principles, marketing that as their beacon to accept Christ as your Lord and Saviour.

These opulent displays on Christendom and "who is" faith-based and principled are clever and to some extent effective marketing strategies for their target audience. In fact, you see it every Sunday morning: The who's who, decked in their finest, taking photo-op's with the other "who's who" in a glorious display of the righteous gathering in Christ. How fine indeed.

Of course, this is not to be tongue in cheek, or gratuitously dismissive of organized religion of the established and conservative mode and model. I too am a fairly recent member of the Anglican Church, having being fully confirmed after years of just attending the worship ceremonies.

My thoughts rather should not be taken in the context of abject mockery, condemnation or the showmanship of either/or particular branch or sect of the Christian Church. It just simply is what I would term as testament to what I see happening now, and how that may change within the next few years as more and more of these separate organisms, both great and small, play out in the "Church" and by extension the wider population.

What is important through this all is that one cannot extrapolate any of the characteristics of any of the methods of worship because it is what was meant to happen based on the historical concept of what the Christian Church means, how it developed over the years and how it initially started.

This is also not to say one cannot find Christ or salvation in any or either over the other, whether it is a small non-denominational, medium sized, offshoot affiliate Churches, satellite Churches or one of the larger organized groupings, what we cannot mistake is the interaction that those opportunities offer and what they represent for us now and for the future. Just that, yet again, this is what it is and will continue during this period of Bahamian-centric Reformation.

This changing of attitudes and beliefs of Christian thinking also is ushering in differences of fundamental opinions on social behaviour and interaction as much as it is being influenced by it.

This symbiotic relationship is evidenced in the varying differences in opinion on politics, social living, professional habits, child rearing, parenthood, health and wellness and the like. The divergences is startling and also telling.

Based on what we see, it would not be difficult to presume that the Church will continue to diverge and separate from one another, both internally and externally.

These separations will continue to shape average, every day thought on a wide array of areas. Thoughts that would have once be deemed heretic even 30 years ago, but thoughts that are happening and quite clearly challenging the notions of what The Bahamas is and what it may look like, and quite frankly, what it needs to be and look like.

Needless to smaller enclaves will continue to develop. While in the short term they will not outstrip the larger, more organized Church agencies, they too will have their place. Filled with heretics, dissidents and persons not feeling the rigour of what established Church represents.

While the larger, more established and organized Churches continue their marketing strategies to attract those looking for the outward displays of Christendom, their too will be a consolidation of classes that will be influenced and look to influence what thoughts shape our nation.

Confusions will continually abound as all sides will try to consolidate "what's right" in their eyes. Blames will be cast, and aspersions will be enough to share for everyone. But, I must caution you, these blames this will not happen via Church vs. Church, small vs. large, within itself. However, the individual memberships will take what they now know to their places away from their Church, then come back with what they have heard or experienced outside of their Church, only to be then re-affirmed with their "right" of knowledge, or alternatively find difficulties with what they see going on.

We will continue to see this play out, year after year, decade after decade, until the idea of Christendom, and being faith based, is so totally far and set apart from what we once knew it to be, even here in our own country, but from what it means and represents world-wide.

This is not to cast doom and gloom, or put one on the edge of one's seat with titillating notions of the glory days that are head of Christendom here in The Bahamas, just to let us know what is to be expected is what is meant to take place. How we take it for the good or the bad is based on how we perceive the stimulus and how it affects our ethos.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The leaks that rocked the nation!

I think it's safe to say that the current government of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas has more holes in it than a colander. Never in my short lifespan watching politics and government's come and go in The Bahamas have I seen so many leaked documents and information being thrown out to the voracious media with an insatiable appetite for the scandalous.

To put it bluntly: The government has a "Deep Throat" in their midst. An informant, or informants, that have direct access to, or can have access to, sensitive files and documents of things the government is currently working on and ones that are very contentious and sensitive in nature.

No doubt, these leaks have rocked the country. Better yet, the leaks are sinking the government.

The government is shaken to the very core, to the point where many instances they are immobilized by the stunning nature of what happened, what to do about the leaked information, how to address it, contain it and what should they do with regard to plugging the leak?

Take for example the "leaked" Public Hospital Authority (PHA) audit back in 2012. The first of the two leaked audit reports on the PHA, with the second one being leaked to the public some time in 2014.

The leak first appeared on an on-line tabloid for weeks before it hit the national media. The leak indicated several financial and administrative deficiencies that happened over the last several years, the most of which was the lack of proper accounting and record keeping with regard to the medicine stockpile.

To this date, no one "knows" who leaked the information, how did it get into the hands of an on-line tabloid, and why did they feel the need to leak an non-vetted document to the press. Most startlingly was that most of the deficiencies were said to have taken place under the last administration, so why was there such a veil of secrecy on issues related to your political opponent? By far the most confusing and puzzling scenario in that entire affair.

A second leak happened with regard to the management of the Bank of The Bahamas. Issues surrounding the bank and it's financial problems surfaced in the local media, particularly with an established tabloid known for salacious gossip, and was circulating for months before the Governor of The Central Bank began to weigh in on the matter and confirmed what most of the world already knew: The bank was having significant challenges and something must be done.

A reported "leaker" was first dealt with, put on administrative leave, and then after some investigations took place, was found that it was not the person in question and since then that person went back to their job at the bank.

Another leak happened with the audit documents and financial position with the National Insurance Board slightly before and directly after the 2012 general election. This was the first in a series of serious and damning bits of information leaked out to the press about the management and financial prudence of a major revenue generating agency in the public sector.

The leaked information prompted an internal audit of the NIB fund, and as a result ended up with dismissals of key people from their position within the fund. A matter that had lawsuits and the threats of lawsuits thrown into the mix.

There were several other leaks of a semi-financial nature as well. Most notably was the leaked information of the Value Added Tax Coordinator's tax status with the government. It was found that the main proponent for the implementation of the VAT had not paid his real property taxes in years on two major pieces of property that he either owned outright, or had fiduciary responsibility over.

There was the leak of the Chairman of the state owned Bahamas Electricity Corporation's electricity bill to the public, with the public having knowledge of his electricity bill right down to the exact amount owed to the date and to the penny.

There was the leak of the Value Added Tax Draft Bill; the National Health Insurance Draft Bill and report done for the government; the leak of the Letter of Intent for an energy study to be conducted that caused a parliamentary secretary to lose his post after a very lengthy public debate ensued on the matter; and now the leak of the Auditor General's report on the alleged mismanagement of the Urban Renewal Housing programme, a document that had not been vetted by the authorities in charge of the programme, the cabinet minister responsible for the programme or the house of parliament, where the Speaker of The House and the Public Accounts Committee in the House has oversight and jurisdiction.

What's also odd with these leaks is not the nature of the leaks, but also what was not leaked. Oddly enough, questions surrounding the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Sciences (BAMSI) contracts and insurance documentation that caused, and still is causing, tremendous scandal for the government have not been leaked to date; neither have the details of the mortgage relief plan not been leaked.

Both of those non-leaked issues are extremely important to the governance and economic livelihood of Bahamians depending on their success. The persons in the media would have gauged the sentiments of the Bahamian people on both of these matters, but strangely enough, for as highly scrutinized and as much as both of those issues were debated vigorously in the public, we have yet to have anything in the media affirming any claim pro or con.

Which leads me to suggest that persons in the media have the information and are holding back for whatever reason, or the person leaking the information is tied directly to both issues and leaking it would surely cause problems for them, to say the very least.

Needless to say: The government has a problem. That means we as the citizenry have a problem. I am not going to gloss over the fact that very few, if any of the people alleged to have leaked information, faced stiff penalties for leaking sensitive government documents to the public for whatever reason. But it's just that most of the leaks, if not all, have a particular theme: The are all financial in nature, which means that there is a strong likelihood of them coming out of the Ministry of Finance, the government agency headed by the prime minister. That's just where that is.

As in the case of the United States of America, a media in hyper-drive to the point where their insatiable appetite for eye-grabbing headlines and stories seems unquenchable, staying silent on the leaks will not make this situation any better in the long haul. Especially if the relationship with the media, and now social media, becomes more adversarial than it is useful.

Just to be on the record: I am one in favour of information becoming more free to the public, but not necessarily advocating for a "Freedom of Information Act" to be enacted right now to any large extent. Even though I can appreciate that sooner or later the latter has to happen.

I think there are a few things the government can do with regard to making more information available to the general public, while simultaneously becoming more transparent, and a little more clearer on the rules of engagement on matters pertaining to the way the country is ran.

For example, applications for employment, or licensing requests from the government and things of that nature, can be easily made more free, clear and transparent by: 1. Providing each application or requestor with a checklist (the government uses checklists now in some areas) and a proposed timeline for when they are supposed to receive a response from the government; and 2. Using electronic databases for applications and using time-stamps or application/processing way points that are to be updated electronically when positions change with that application or request so folks can see exactly what the status is.

Another issue, and it can also be put forward for consideration, is that when judgements or decisions are made, the officer that signed off on either the approval or denial should state clearly through a document management system that this is the person that made the decision; this is the judgement or ruling on this particular matter; and this is how we think/feel one should proceed in the future. That would certainly make things more open and transparent where folks can hold their government to account for the decisions they make.

A document management system can work well for the general public wanting satisfaction, and for public servants that have for years complained about the litany of what they would call "bogus and false" reports on their character, assaults that may hinder them from getting increments and other salary increases and promotions.

While these recommendations may not stop the leaks outright, they would start the necessary paper trails in official and clearly transparent details which would make leaking information mundane in the grand scheme of things, because more relevant things to the average citizen's lives are free for their perusal. It may also blunt scandal while putting the government at less risk of hiding more and more documents; i.e., the more documents in private, the more paper work you have to manage and keep track of. 

While we have no idea who or what prompted the leaks, the fact of the matter is that we have a leaker. One which needs to be dealt with before something comes out that really should not come out. Not saying that our public officials should hide information, but some things are best kept out of the public domain until they have been thoroughly vetted and chunked down to palatable bits that the Bahamian people can digest and not placed in unnecessary panic mode about something that may not be an avenue the government wishes to travel.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Walter Scott shooting: Driving while Black?

The shooting death of a middle aged Black man, Walter Scott, at the hands of a South Carolina police officer, Michael Slager, after a routine traffic stop for a broken tail light, has yet again added another shocking ripple into the debate about excessive force used by police officers in America.

This case is particularly stark because it was all caught on film by a young man by the name of Feidin Santana, and showed Mr. Scott apparently running away from the officer and instead of  the officer giving chase, he instead emptied 8 bullets into Mr. Scott, killing him within seconds.

Of course you know that police profiling, police brutality and police shootings of Black men in the United States is a very controversial and dark side of America. One area in which America just seemingly can't turn the corner on the racial divide.

What was also strange about the video was that it's alleged that officer Slager filed a false police report on the matter, stating that Scott was reaching for his Taser, a struggle ensued and that he had to use deadly force. A report he filed before video evidence of the incident went viral on social media.

Upon review of the video, nothing of the sort happened the way officer Slager had stated. In fact, it appears as if the victim had no Taser in his hand, was not in a life and death struggle with officer Slager and appeared to have been running for his life as if it were in imminent danger.

There is also a second video that emerged as a result of the initial shooting video, this time of dash-cam footage of officer Slager in the initial traffic stop and the subsequent first attempt to flee by Scott.

Persons close to Mr. Scott claims that Scott feared going back to jail on child support issues, as he had a warrant out for his arrest from his children's mother.

In addition, the initial viral-murder-video indicates that officer Slager after having shot and killed Scott, went back to the spot where Scott ran from him the second time, picked up something in his hand and dropped it near the body of Scott, which investigators are now alleging to be the Taser officer Slager said in his report that Scott had wrestled from him during the scuffle, a scuffle that did not happen.

What's surprising is that Mr. Scott was 50 years old and officer Slager was 33. Scott also appeared to be a shop-worn 50 year old with officer Slager as an in-shape 33 year old. The questions must be asked: How much of a struggle could it have been for officer Slager to use deadly force on a man running away from him? Also, why was it so hard for officer Slager to give chase on a man, who appears, to be barely able to get out of the way fast enough for his own life let alone break out into a Usain Bolt-esque 100 meter dash?

All of this it appears to be "proof" of what persons in the Black community have been saying all along: Police officers are hunting down Black men for sport. And, if it was not as a result of the video by Mr. Santana that incontrovertibly shows a middle aged man running away from a fairly young police officer and being shot in the back 8 times as a result, officer Slager would have been able to plant evidence and get away with filing false reports on what actually happened during that fatal afternoon.

This recent shooting is on the back of another controversial police shooting in Ferguson Missouri, of a black teenager, Michael Brown back in August of 2014. The shooting and subsequent verdict in the case sent shockwaves through the world, as Ferguson Missouri was torn up as persons rioted and clashed with state and local police in very intense protest stand-offs. Police stand-offs complete with riot squads, the National Guard, mini tanks and military style SUV's and Hummers.

The Michael Brown incident was not like the Walter Scott incident however. Brown was a teenager (which seems to fit the narrative of police officers killing black teens and statistics will show this quite definitively), the shooting was not caught on film, Brown was a pedestrian walking down the street with a friend of his that testified at the trial of the officer charged with the killing.

Of course, police advocates claim that there is no distinction with who they profile, stop, arrest or kill.

To give some obvious evidence of this was the lesser reported case of police using deadly force back in April, 2014 with the shooting death of a White-Hispanic male, Richard Ramirez, also during a routine traffic stop.

Ramirez was shot while sitting in the back seat of a car. Not known at the time of the shooting was that Ramirez was high on Crystal Meth, and was unable to coherently respond to the officers request, prompting fear from the officer of Ramirez and the other passengers in the car that resulted in Ramirez being fatally shot three times.

As a result of the Brown case in particular however, which ignited the already smouldering sentiments from within the African-American community about the White establishment's treatment of their race, which also can be traced back to the brutal beating of Rodney King and the subsequent riots that followed the case and with the acquittals of the officers involved, slogans started popping up like "Hands up. Don't Shoot!", "Stop the Police!" and "Black Lives Matter!".

Yes, Black lives do matter. Having a brother die in police custody in the United States, who was known to have a medical condition and was in the cell for about 6 hours before any medical attention was brought to him after his initial request for treatment, which looking back at it seems very suspicious, Black lives must matter!

Regardless of the under-supported narrative on police killings and how they claim not to target Black men and Black people in general, in that they are no more profiling Black men as they are just doing regular police work, the fatal statistics are somewhat telling.

Reported by Propublica.org, young Black men were shown to be 21 times more likely to be killed by a police officer between 2010 and 2012 than Whites. Also more startling was that between 1980 and 2012, there were 41 teens that were 14 years or younger reported to have been killed by police: 27 of them were black; 8 were white; 4 were Hispanic; and 1 was Asian.

The numbers are startling. While police advocates state that Black on Black crime is the real killer in African-American cities, with the same can be said for Caribbean countries as well and it is a legitimate fact, but it is an inconsequential fact because what we're talking about here is police killings of Black men and not Black on Black crime.

I, myself, have had my run in with law enforcement in America as well. During my brief two and a half year study period, I was stopped a total of 5 times and booked on two separate occasions. Both for traffic violations. Oddly enough, one stop was for a broken tail light. The other was for speeding, just a "little" over 30 in a Residential area. Seriously, it was just a little!

With the broken tail light incident, what happened afterwards was startling: It started off with the one initial female police officer that stopped me and asked me to come out of the car, and within 3 minutes I was surrounded by 6 other police officers; two additional squad cars behind me; one to my passenger side with two officers; one head on; one squad car adjacent; and another catawampus, all just apparently stopping in to observe the proceedings. All were White and White-Hispanic. All of this just for a tail light I did not even know was broken, and also with me being five minutes away from home.

Looking back now and seeing what does take place with Blacks in America, it is not a difficult thing to say that I was extremely lucky.

Needless to say it ended without an incident that would have garnered national and international attention. The booking officer was so polite afterwards that she helped me to push my car across the street because it has stalled. Yes, even my little Nissan Sentra was shaken into stalling.

Another "alarming" incident happened on the way back to my dorm room from a party, and it has some relevance to the situation that Walter Scott faced.

That night an officer rolled up quite silently behind me, turned on his sirens and asked me to pull over. Then, with his blow-horn, asked me to turn off the car engine. I promptly complied. I then proceeded to hop out of the car as if it was "the norm", having being asked to do so on two prior occasions, one in which was the broken tail light incident.

He then retorted to me with shock and alarm in his voice, and then briskly asked me to get back into the car. After about 2 minutes of him ruffling around in his squad car, he came up to my window and asked me a few questions: Did I know where I was, where was I going, do I have any documentation to prove who I was, etc? I promptly complied, showed him my student identification, where I was coming from and where I was going, and he then said quite calmly to continue on after he ran another check on my status.

The officer also asked me why did I get out of the car? I told him, quite calmly: "Isn't that the normal procedure?"

Looking back at that incident now, I felt a little more in danger considering what getting out of the car can represent to a police officer if you are Black and it being in the middle of the night and was not asked to do so.

Even though I was not ticketed for that stop, what was odd was that the other ticketed offense with the broken tail light happened at night as well, but the procedure was different. Totally different!

With all that being said, from the unfortunate death of Walter Scott, to the Michael Brown incident, to the Rodney King beating, to the overwhelming crime statistics that show, quite clearly, that while blacks are a mere 13% of America's population they are 21 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than whites, to my own issues while living in America while Black, America has a long way to go with regard to sorting this problem. And it is an "American problem"! Because myself having lived in London for just about the same amount of time as I did in America, I note that I was not stopped or questioned at any time by the police or district constables. Not one time.

One thing seems to be important to this entire phenomenon however: Running away from the problem only raises the level of seriousness, no pun intended.

***Officer Michael Slager has been fired by the Charleston South Carolina Police Department and is facing murder charges for the killing of Walter Scott.****