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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.****

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Do US presidential elections matter to us?

The United States Presidential elections of 2016 is just over 18 months away. Which means it is still a good ways off, but some hopefuls have already come forward and others have expressed keen interest in running for the biggest most important job on the planet outside of being the Catholic Pope, the Chairman of the Republic of China or the European Union Commissioner.

In The Caribbean this apparently matters a great deal to some, even though to others the claim that it doesn't matter who the president of the USA is, American foreign policy doesn't change a great deal in favour of partnering nations unless there is some new and salient point for mutual assistance on certain matters. I lean more on the side of the latter!

Allow me to set the table for explaining the reason why I lean more towards a "bleh!" side of things: People in The Caribbean claim that US foreign policy has gotten worse over the last 15 years or so. Some of them may be too young to remember the Cold War period, or just flat out forgot what that meant. That period was a particularly tough time for smaller nation states that may have given the appearance of being Marxist or "left leaning" in their economic and political focus.

They also may be suffering from information gap to a large extent. Even ten years ago the amount of information from the media outlets and the information super-highway called the internet was not a part of the knowledge bundle. So, key dates, persons and issues were left in blind patches in history that one may have to research a little deeper on the matter, and use what was found in the context of the rational human behavioural patterns and expectations of today in order to make sense of the times back then and the trials of those who were not Western-European or North-American during the Cold War.

Be that as it may, persons are now stepping forward to become the new president of the USA and ultimately the leader of the "free world". Seems like a misnomer to use the term free world when most of us are being spied on, travel habits and plans altered since the attacks of 9-11 and that countries have clamped down on dissent in favour of more governmental intrusion. Yes, governmental intrusion: It isn't just your country!

The gauntlet has been thrown down very early in the campaign. Republican Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, has officially entered the race. He is the only elected member of the US government to come forward formally to announce his direct intentions for the office, in addition to being the most prominent name to come forward thus far.

The other persons already out of the gate are inconsequential. In fact, they either border on radical outriders or are all out radicals on the ultra looney side of the political process and are loosely affiliated, if at all, with the two major parties in the USA: The Democratic Party and The Republican Party.

For example, perennial candidate and conspiracy theorist, Jeff Boss entered into the race for the Democratic Party first. Boss is a "9-11 truther", meaning that he believes that the US government was behind the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. Yup!

But, to be fair, as we have the "truthers" on the Democratic side of the fence, we have the "birthers" on the other, conservative and Republican side. The "birthers" are the ones that believed that US President Obama was not a naturally born citizen of America and hence was ineligible to be president.

Also on the Republican side of the candidates already out of the gate and sprinting, retired engineer and once a Prohibition Party candidate and also a perennial candidate has put his name in the mix. Yes, The Prohibition Party represents a small group of individuals wanting the alcohol laws repealed all the way back to the 1920's Prohibition era. Good luck with that!

So, as it stands now, along with Senator Cruz, we have a few other oddballs that make the race interesting. All we need is former New York Gubernatorial and Senatorial candidate in 2010 from The Rent Is Too Damn High Party (yes, this is the official name of the political party), Jimmy McMillan to enter the race and we would have a full fledged early campaign special. But, with all due respect to Mr. McMillan, he received over 40 thousand votes in the 2010 New York Gubernatorial election, and he did not finish hot last either. Just thought you should know that!

Since coming out of the gate however, Senator Cruz has faced major criticisms. The first mover (so to speak) out of the gate always gets the flack. The backlash he received is nothing we should be totally worried about. He is a sitting US Senator, so he is not a nitwit, he is not a dummy and he certainly has some political savvy about him.

What we never thought would happen to Senator Cruz was that he faced, and still is facing, a lot of pressure from his own political party. Statements from sources like Fox News and online media blog The American Conservative have labelled Senator Cruz as "weak" on foreign policy, and "thin" on legislative achievements. In all fairness, that did not stop president Obama. But it is in keeping with the experience mandate of the conservative right.

Be that as it may, a strong but understanding foreign policy record is all we in The Caribbean and Latin America really "should" care about. I put the word should in quotations because we may be focusing on the wrong thing for the wrong set of reasons.

To put it very bluntly: People that have been around the block at least once don't mind or care to any large extent who is elected as the next US president. Unless we have a particular fancy for someone's handling of certain matters (particularly internal economic matters) that we may be able to glean from and incorporate into our own economic policies, it really is welcome to the world, nice to meet you and when do we get the next instalments of freebies from you. Just about!

America's international trade policy may come into play to a certain degree, but only when certain crops may be affected, which to that extent, when the USA moves in concert with the European Union, there is very little one can do in the face of that.

However, any move America makes with regard to international trade that may affect certain commodities can be equally offset by America's tremendous generosity towards affected countries. Say what you will of them, America is still, by far, the largest aid and resource donor in the world taking into consideration the entire block of the European Union that accounts for 28 nation states. $32 billion in 2013 in development and resource aid doled out by America to the European Union's $87 billion in that same year as reported by the  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These figures also do not account for the multitudinous private sector groups, NGO's, civic organizations and faith based groups that have been a hallmark of America's international good-will and generosity.

Back to the topic, to this author in particular, I have seen just about enough of American foreign policy to know that it does not matter who the president of the USA is. The policy typically remains the same, or just about, with minor alterations for persons who the current administration favours to a significant extent.

Take for example former president GW Bush's liking for our former prime minister, Hubert A. Ingraham. Former prime minister Ingraham was able to visit Washington to meet with president Bush on two formal occasions, and God knows how many other times he was allowed access to top officials or go-between's in order to achieve whatever it was he was dealing with at the time.

However, any particular favourability with regard to national objectives in The Bahamas was not really seen. We did not see looser immigration regulations for students and persons wishing to travel to the United States. We did not see the banking laws in The Bahamas change with the tacit approval of the Bush administration, or a fresh wave of openings in our financial services industry. We did not see a sharp rise in tourists under the Bush administration, and neither was the US Embassy here particularly softer on it's tone with regard to crime and other seedy little items that may arise as a result of developing nation tom-foolery.

On the same token, all of the matters we were concerned with under the Bush administration can be said to remain the same, or just about, under the current Obama administration albeit tourism arrivals have accelerated to a significant level as a result of employment growth in America.

I don't know what this represents in your neck of the Caribbean, Central American and South American parts of the bushes, but take it as it is.

To be very candid about this American foreign policy issue, there is not a lot one can do about it. It is what it is as long as they are the Super Power. There is even less we can do about American domestic economic policy as well, when primarily this affects us just as much and to some extent more than American foreign policy directed towards our grouping.

So, with regard to the other potential candidates and hopefuls looking to take the reins of the world's toughest job, to me and many others it's just the same person with just a different tone of voice.

Whether it is the presumptive female candidate Hillary Clinton for the Democrats, or her internal Democratic Party rival and female Senator Elizabeth Warren (apparently president Obama's top choice to succeed him). Or, on the Republican side with the brother of the last Republican president, GW Bush in that of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, or another presumptive front runner, retired neurologist and an African American Republican hopeful, Dr. Ben Carson, for me it's all a matter of who's next.

Our main focus should be watching now and waiting then to watch more about what America does internally with regard to it's economy. That itself is something we can do and guard against with regard to buffering our respective economies from shocks as they will emanate from our big brother to the North.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The IMF came to town, and then they left!

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) team visited The Bahamas from March 9–20 to conduct discussions for the 2015 Article IV consultations. Their press release stated several key factors about the current state of The Bahamian economy. Perfunctory duties.

Organizations like the IMF have a duty to compile data and information on the economies of all countries, particularly the financial positions of economies. Their main role is part advisory and part public relations with respect to reporting on activities of one country to their partnering countries. With that being said, it is not unusual for staff reports and consultation reports to be as diplomatic as possible, because negative reports not only affect the country being examined, but the countries that do business with the country under examination.

What is important to state after reading this latest consultation article is that it appeared to be very modest in it's approach, which may seem as if it is couched in diplomatic code, but it said nothing new or provided no special insight into key methods or tools used to bolster any claim made in their assessment.

We would have thought that after all of this time, some more fruit would have been born out by these consultative meetings and assessments. For the mere fact that there are experienced persons sent to conduct them, I'm certain that more information and in detail could have been shared if only on an experienced based factor.

Of course, no one wants to make things up that are not there. So we can only take the reports in the broad strokes they are presented in. Also, coupled with the fact that they can only make assessments on the information provided, we can only suggest that this is what it is and what is said to be getting done is in fact getting done.

Take for example an excerpt of the first notable, if not the obligatory and most repetitive note of these assessments is with regard to structural unemployment and support for SME's:
“The Bahamas faces several challenges in boosting its growth potential. First, it needs to attract sufficient tourist demand to fill the large impending increase in capacity. Second, evidence of significant structural unemployment suggests the existence of impediments to job creation and proper functioning of the labor market. Third, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) face significant impediments to the growth. Fourth, as noted by the 2015 World Bank Doing Business Indicators, general constraints to investment persist"
Of course, it sounds very sexy, alluring and provocative to suggest these things. But what is strikingly missing, and we hope is born out through another more in depth assessment note, is with regard to the policies being implemented to address these issues and how far is the government with regard to the reforms to address the issues.

The point of the matter is these open ended, blanket and glittering generalities on topics that they are on the one hand supposed to have in depth technical expertise on assessing, but furthermore are supposed to know the mechanics of the way an economy is supposed to work, both large and small is just not cutting it at this stage of the game.

To provide a solution to the SME and unemployment issues The Bahamas faces, the IMF suggested that:
“...the mission urges the authorities to finalize and implement the National Development Plan (NDP), with assistance from the IDB. The NDP would assess the country’s macroeconomic performance, institutions and governance, and propose strategies to accelerate economic, institutional, and social development over the medium term and long run. "
In entertainment terms we would classify this as canned applause. This reverse inductive reasoning from a pre-prepared premise that this would be the solution to the problem of SME underdevelopment and unemployment is a little too thin, for two main reasons.

The first reason is that a plan, within itself, does not solve a problem. What the National Development Plan would address is the initial phase of providing information on the macro-economic potential of The Bahamas, providing that this is in fact the tone and direction that the plan is following.

Thus far we have not heard much about the data and information being collected, collated and analysed that would solve any issue, let alone the structural deficiencies with SME development and unemployment that the IMF assessment report states would be as a result of the finalization of the plan.

Furthermore, the plan needs to be implemented. The execution template, format and personnel need to be in place. So, even before we have the plan completed, we have to have a notion that the plan will, in fact, solve the deficiencies as represented; the plan will have executable initiatives for the deficiencies; and be in fact implemented in an orderly and sustainable manner.

Another seemingly modest approach with regard to detailing the economy of The Bahamas presented in the IMF assessment is in their attempt to make note of the fiscal consolidation efforts underway:
"Commendably, the authorities continue to be on track in implementing their strong fiscal consolidation program to rebuild fiscal buffers eroded in the aftermath of the global crisis and reverse recent significant increases in public debt. The fiscal deficit in FY 2013/14 (July to June) is estimated to have narrowed to 3.3 percent of GDP (from 5.4 percent). The mission commends the authorities for the introduction of a broad-based VAT on January 1, 2015."

What's important to note that while the macro-statistics speak to one particular scenario, equally as important is the methods to which these goals are achieved and if they line up with recent information as presented.

For example, the estimates on the fiscal deficit as estimated are inconsistent with the trajectory of the deficit presented in the mid-term budget and the current economic factors on the ground.

The deficit, as stated in the mid term budget presented in February, 2015 actually increased over the period from the last mid-term budget. The GFS deficit for the mid-term budget presented in February, 2014 was $238 million. The current GFS deficit for the fiscal mid-budget year, 2015 is $273 million. An increase of $35 million.

The reason why highlighting the current estimate provided via the mid-term budget as opposed to using a methodology of using the revised final budget estimates of 2013/2014 and the projected final estimates of 2014/2015, is that one major issue is at play: The opening of the BahaMar Resort.

The BahaMar Resort, when fully opened, will comprise of approximately 30 to 40% of room capacity in our hotel inventory. Without BahaMar being opened, it means that tourism receipts will be weak. With tourism accounting for 60% of gross domestic product, it means that anywhere from 20 to 25% of government revenue will have to be adjusted to account for the budget shortfall as a result.

The BahaMar Resort was scheduled to open on March, 27th, 2015. But that has been delayed to May 1st, 2015 with the expectation that it may not be a full opening for the month of May.

Of course, the IMF mission would have been concluded before the announcement that the opening of BahaMar was delayed. But for them neglecting the possibility that it may be delayed and that the delay may cause significant shortfall is something we should note, very clearly.

Just as important as making provisions for economic activity on the ground to bolster the macro-statistics, the actual method of the fiscal consolidation is also important.

On the one hand, the IMF praises the government with regard to stacking up fiscal buffers. In other terms, stacking up the money in the event of a fiscal collapse brought on as a result of the economic meltdown of 2008. Which means, in short terms, the government has increased their savings efforts for a rainy day.

However, this was not reconciled with the glaring fact that the deficit increased from last year, as previously indicated. So, on the one hand, the IMF says that the deficit decreased and is set to further decrease (not) on the one hand through their projected estimates, but on the other we have made strides in our fiscal consolidation efforts by Suring up fiscal buffers. Something just does not compute.

In addition, how this was done, where the money/savings are stashed and the used methods and if methods used were optimal simply just advances the chains down the field, so to speak. I think most of the Bahamian public are way beyond accepting information based on say-so without measurable verification.

The report goes on to reiterate the same lines from previous conventional wisdoms; i.e., end state owned enterprises, and be mindful of foreign reserve buffers, etc. We can forgo further analysis based on that.

In short, I'm not saying that I like this latest IMF assessment or that I don't like it, but they need to flesh out a few more realistic details with regard to the entire Bahamian economic picture. Doing so helps us all.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Are lower oil prices causing chaos? A Latin-American and Caribbean perspective.

As most of us already know, oil prices have fallen from their triple digit highs to now just about $50 a barrel. Of course, this is great news for most of us. But for other people that depend on high oil prices for profit, not so good news.

It's not just that oil prices slowly fell over the course of 2 or 3 years, but they fell so sharply and suddenly within the last year, oil producing countries were hit with a blind-sided shot that they were not prepared for.

As you can imagine, governments were in a scramble. Not just a scramble to make up the short fall, but as oil prices fell, budgets were slashed and that would spell panic for many oil exporting countries.

Nothing spelled panic as it did with the recent protests in Brazil over the last week.

Scores of persons in Brazil gathered in major cities in protest of the government. Over 1.5 million people gathered in the national stadium in protest and the numbers are expected to grow.

The protestors have asked for President Dilma Rousseff to resign immediately amidst a corruption scandal coming out of the state run oil company, Petrobras. This isn't the first major protest Brazil had experienced, and most recently was the protests prior to the World Cup 2014- cries of wasteful spending, lack of spending on the poor and wide spread theft were the most serious allegations about the process.

This Petrobras scandal, however, has rocked the country, leaving people wondering about the state of the country's finances and the fragility of the political peace as the scandal from Petrobras has hit a nerve amidst lower oil prices.

Of course, this author knew that social instability in oil producing and oil export dependent countries would happen as a result of lower oil prices. For the mere fact for what we mentioned earlier that budgets were slashed and spending programmes cut or just simply cut out.

When countries budgeted for a certain price for oil, in the case of Brazil, over $100 dollars a barrel for oil, and then oil prices plummeted to under $50 dollars, you can imagine the public accounting nightmare and the financial collapse that would ensue- money would not be spent on social projects, capital infrastructure projects, people start to watch the pennies a little more closely and then issues such as wastage- which would have been moderately acceptable at $100 per barrel- simply would not be tolerated and excesses, regardless of how long it's been going on, will be scrutinized and blames will be bandied about.

Thus is the case in Brazil, every penny is now being watched very, very closely and people have little to no tolerance for wastage.

Venezuela is going through similar challenges as well. In fact, there were thwarted attempts to oust the current Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro Moros. Thwarted attempts for the time being. Venezuela in particular had a break-even point of $115 dollars per barrel.

Since the plummet of oil prices and calls for his resignation for his inability to handle the oil crisis, president Maduro has accused several key people of plotting to overthrow his government, including a former general in the army and several key opposition supporters.

President Maduro has, for the moment, staved off the coups and has tried to do things to inject pure hard cash into the Venezuelan economy, most importantly of which is securing a $5 billion loan from China, to heap on top of the already $50 billion loaned to Venezuela from China since, 2007.

Of course, borrowing money and being more in debt to China comes with it's own problems. The most of which is the neighbour to the North, the USA. While they too have been in debt to China to the tune of trillions of dollars, it doesn't mean that they want Chinese involvement in Latin America and the Caribbean to the point where those nations are no longer counted on as American allies in America's own backyard.

What's also more important to note is that during the Cold War, a period of time and instability where most developing nations have not fully recuperated from its ravages, particularly if the public tide leaned heavily to the left of centre of the political landscape, president Maduro is not fully out of the clear yet. Particularly where, to be totally honest with you, all eventualities should have been covered, and especially scenarios planned for in the event of a collapse in the oil market. As a side note, it is as if we have not learned from the financial and economic crisis of 2008 in that any and every thing can and will happen. Any and every thing!

Take on the other hand what Trinidad has done as a result of falling oil prices. Trinidad has set out to cut its $10.2 billion budget for this year. Trinidad is reportedly the sixth largest exporter for oil in the world.

What also happened after oil prices started to fall, and probably not correlated but worth mentioning in any event, is that president of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad Bissessar, dealt very harshly and resolutely with a scandal that rocked the core of her government.

Within the space of a month, president Bissessar sacked 6 of her cabinet ministers amidst a witness tampering scandal. Ministers as high up as the Attorney General and her Minister of National security were all given pink slips. It was so bad that I often joke that president Bissessar fired herself, as she gave up her own ministerial post as Minister of the Ministry of the People and Social Development.

Of course elections in Trinidad are in 2015, this year. Of course. President Bissessar did the right thing, and that was try to make the best out of a very bad situation. What comes out of this is how the people read into it, which if you are a good political strategist you can play it both ways.

Whatever comes as a result, with less money to play around with, with a scandal that has rocked Trinidad, for president Bissessar dealing with it resolutely, which may mean fracturing her own party, in addition to the optics of her stepping down as a cabinet minister herself, particularly the ministry of the people, election time in Trinidad is shaping up to be a very, very curious one indeed.

This oil price issue has hit hard, and the ripples are still being felt. No doubt this is not the end of it. But, lucky for us, we are on this side of the world. The Western Hemisphere. If this were Africa and the Middle East, things would not be so cool, to put it mildly.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Coup d'état possible in Brazil?

Well, as of yesterday, scores of persons in Brazil gathered in major cities in protest of the government. Over 1.5 million people gathered in the national stadium in protest and the numbers are expected to grow.

The protestors have asked for President Dilma Rousseff to resign immediately amidst a corruption scandal coming out of the state run oil company, Petrobras. This isn't the first major protest Brazil had experiences, and most recently was the protests prior to the World Cup 2014- cries of wasteful spending, lack of spending on the poor and wide spread theft were the most serious allegations about the process.

This Petrobras scandal, however, has rocked the country, leaving people wondering about the state of the country's finances and the fragility of the political peace as the scandal from Petrobras has hit a nerve amidst lower oil prices.

Of course, this author sorta know that social instability in oil producing and oil export dependent countries would happen.

When countries budgeted for a certain price for oil, in the case of Brazil, over $100 dollars a barrel for oil, and then oil prices plummeted to under $50 dollars, you can imagine the public accounting nightmare and the financial collapse that would ensue- money would not be spent on social projects, capital infrastructure projects, people start to watch the pennies a little more closely and then issues such as wastage- which would have been moderately acceptable at $100 per barrel- simply would not be tolerated and excesses, regardless of how long it's been going on, will be scrutinized and blames will be bandied about.

Venezuela is going through similar challenges as well. In fact, there were thwarted attempts to oust the current Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro Moros. Venezuela in particular had a break-even point of $115 dollars per barrel.

With all that being said, the social instability will continue. Watch out for Middle Eastern countries and other countries that produce oil.