Saturday, December 6, 2014

The BNCC: The courage of common sense!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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