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Sunday, July 5, 2015

BahaMar, a flagging economy and more bad news!

The BahaMar Mega Resort project in The Bahamas has hit a snag. Its developer, Mr. Sarkis Izmirilian, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US state of Delaware on the 29th of June, 2015. This is what one would call the sum of all fears!


According to the declaration sent to the US Courts in Delaware made by BahaMar's CEO Tom Dunlap on behalf of its Board of Directors, state that essentially BahaMar hit a cash-flow crisis resulting from delays in opening this mega resort due to a prolonged construction phase and additionally claims of less than stellar work done by the general contractor, China State Construction and Engineering, with the project also being financed by The Export Import Bank of China.


In a nutshell: Recurring costs through incomplete construction in addition to weak revenue due to the fact that the project has not yet fully opened is really what it is.


BahaMar was scheduled to open on two separate occasions including the one now scheduled for October of 2015: Once back in May, 2015 that was put back because of construction being incomplete and back in November, 2014 for reasons unknown at the time but that we can now say was due to the construction being incomplete.


The recent Chapter 11 filing puts the new opening date of October of this year in jeopardy as well. One glaring issue is that it is already July, and the bankruptcy filing was done no more than one week ago. The bankruptcy hearing can last for up to 120 days, which may not indicate that financing cannot be secured through the Court of Delaware to complete the project within that time, but even for that financing to snake down the pipeline; engage new contractors who may or may not work out in the short term; and continue on with BahaMar's other management issues as a result of this bankruptcy filing, leaves one to question how doable the October 2015 date is as well.


We can only hope that this new date is doable and that the project hits all green lights coming down the lane in heavy, rush hour traffic. That and, even if only a short term measure, at least 50% of the Resort can be open and that the major works are fully completed with only finish-work remaining; i.e., cosmetic and aesthetically pleasing work. 


To bolster the claim made in the bankruptcy filing in The Court of Delaware against the China State Construction Company is a simultaneous writ filed by the BahaMar Group in the high court of the United Kingdom, seeking payment due to alleged damages done by the same construction company for $192 million dollars that BahaMar officials claim was as a result of shoddy workmanship and cost overruns resulting in further delays and damages.


To say that this is one huge cluster of confusion is an understatement. A huge cluster of confusion made more confusing due to the fact that the courts in Delaware granted BahaMar Group access to $30 million in financing to help with payroll due to the filing, as well as deal with a few other minor matters, The Supreme Court of The Bahamas has seen fit not to move on that ruling from the court in Delaware (at least not up to the penning of this submission) and has instead gone on record as being "minded" not to grant this to BahaMar. Under what premise exactly, we are not sure. However, as indicated by the Attorney General, it raises sovereignty issues: In that how can a court ruling in a foreign jurisdiction have any sway over the judicial system here?


Whatever the case is, I am minded to remind everyone that The Bahamas is an offshore financial centre. We deal with International Business Companies, their operations and wind-up's all the time. IBC's that conduct business in other countries but whose subsequent incorporation and supposed managerial structure is here in The Bahamas. This is not new to us, or should not be new to us.


Sovereignty concerns aside, the more important issue for us as a supposed financial and offshore jurisdiction leaves one to question why would a Bahamian company, albeit owned by a foreigner with status here in The Bahamas, feel the need to file in the court of Delaware and also have his businesses incorporated in there to boot?

A second important issue is that what should now be said, sovereignty sentiments aside, is how do we incorporate what is done in Delaware here in The Bahamas? Particularly in light of the fact that The Bahamas was promoted by the powers that be as having the potential to be an Arbitration Centre for such matters such as this Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing made by BahaMar and the subsequent writ in the British High Court to the tune of $192 million. While this is something we can and should explore, but due to length and concentration I won't at this time.

However, this speaks to a second part of my humble submission: The lack and weakness of other components within the Bahamian economy.


It's no secret the Bahamian economy is faltering. One moiety being due to us putting so much time, money and human resources trying to shepherd one mega project, BahaMar, to a successful completion and launch. The other part is due to what we have always been doing: Not taking concerted efforts and focus on diversifying established economies and trying to find out the potential of other sectors of the economy in creative and spirited ways.


Just recently, Standards and Poor's sent out an advisory about the possibility of a further downgrade of the Bahamian economy. Reasons they cite are, of course, the chaotic mess BahaMar finds itself in, and how that affects every other part of the economy due to factors we have already mentioned: Over focus on said project and lack of focus on other areas.


Just to give a little more information on how and why the S&P advisory should be taken very seriously: The Central Bank of The Bahamas, in addition to The International Monetary Fund in concert with The Ministry of Finance, have all pegged GDP growth in The Bahamas at a modest 1%. A negligible figure, for all intents and purposes. However, this 1% projected growth had factored in BahaMar being opened and operating fully.


Clearly BahaMar is not open and to make up any grounds within the next two quarters of this fiscal year- which started on July 1st, for all intents and purposes- with a very liberal date being set for BahaMar's opening in October, we have some serious steering to do.


All of this having been made worse by a newly implemented Value Added Tax in January, 2015. The projected tax-take for the last two quarters of the previous fiscal year was $150 million, albeit unconfirmed. The total yearly projected tax-take is slated at just about $300 million.


What's even more concerning as the new VAT take is added into the mix, a weaker than normal growth trend, and with ratings agencies like S&P wanting us to show more wisdom with our finances, the government has seen fit to pay the workers at BahaMar their salaries to the tune of $7.5 million and have thusly foregone some of their debt obligations for a short time. We hope!


If this were to be a prolonged trend, with VAT gains being used to support BahaMar's opening, with no idea if the resort will make what it claims it can make in this economy, with this BahaMar project already estimated at having received over $1 billion in concessions that may not be in dollar figures account to value not being placed on other areas, in addition to BahaMar having anywhere between 25% to 30% of our tourism revenue when you account for air arrivals, rooms, amenities, entertainment, employment and other related expenditures as a result of tourism activity, one cannot say that S&P is not justified in their approach to cautioning us on a downgrade at their next visit and assessment of The Bahamas.


As this author had mentioned before with regard to an IMF consultation assessment done back in February of 2015, we just could not see, outside of the IMF being diplomatic and calming through times of change and chaos, could any favourable assessment be made with the prevailing matter of BahaMar the way it was even back then, in addition to other matters highlighted and raised.

One can only hope for better for the future. But cautions being raised on the pending S&P downgrade leaves us a little dispirited and looking for solutions.


While a potential downgrade was not something expected to take place on the back of the stumbling of the BahaMar project, particularly when the budget for the project was pegged at $3.5 billion, but we hope the wizards at The Ministry of Finance could persuade the ratings agencies to look at other areas of this economy in an attempt to show more favourable prospects in both long and medium term.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Leadership: What does it mean to you?

The big "L" word is being tossed around more violently than two puppies thrashing around their favourite chew toy. For some reason, the word leadership is being uttered on just about every street corner, on every talk show, every household I visit and used in virtually every social media post. It's like, everyone just recently found this new word and thus they must use it to its fullest. However, leadership is not a cheap word to be bandied about loosely. In fact, it is a very serious word in our topic of discussion that must be given the full attention it deserves.

From time immemorial, leadership has been a fundamental issue for societies, from government, to the church, to the household and to civic partnerships.

If we only go back as far as the Christian sacred text that many of us in the Caribbean lean on for our daily bread, the bible, one can see how leadership causes either prosperity or hardship for the people that leadership serve: From Nimrod and his infamously failed attempt at building a tower to stretch to the heavens to God, which can be interpreted as a metaphorical discussion about a man's failed attempt at attaining too much knowledge for his own good and being confused by his own understandings; to King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel, who went insane due to his own pride for over seven years, after having taken the kingdom of Babylon through one of it's most extensive periods of expansion and construction; or, one of the most famous biblical leaders of them all, King David, who was claimed to be a "man after God's own heart", who's acts of leadership, heroism and at the same time having a classical taste for the arts and for which he was a chief patron, was overshadowed by his acts of lust, extreme vengeance and an uncanny knack for winning and beating the odds at all cost, even if it meant he had to use a little "extra" leverage to accomplish his goals.

What these messages about leadership, from a biblical perspective, paint, is one obvious picture: Even great leaders have flaws. They all fall short. However, history is the one that tells the true encompassing story on their accomplishments and failures. And, while they all had flaws, their accomplishments will be remembered always in the context to which they were done in their time. No one, no leader, great or small, can escape the appraisal of the ones recording their story and tenure in leadership, because it is the following generation that writes the former's legacy. Not the other way around. No matter how long you live, or how much you feel you can live forever, you must die. You will die. It's just the truth.

The focus and challenge for us in contemporary times, dealing with leaders and the issue of leadership, is how do we encourage leaders to not be on the wrong side of history before they pass away to their eternal reward, or punishment, however you feel necessary to think about where they would end up based on their current behaviour at this time.

Too often, we are dazed with the mesmerizing glare of leadership before we are suckered into the problems of that dizzying glare and all that follows. It's like a championship prize fighter sweeping his left jab across his opponent's face, an opponent just happy to be in the ring with the proclaimed best fighter in the world and most likely one of his idols. Then that champion starts moving right, then moving left, shuffling and dancing, making his opponent stand in awe at how gifted he is and his mastery of technique and skills. Then, all of a sudden, the champion comes back with another sweeping, soft left jab but only this time having it followed up by a piston-like right hand to the side of the challenger's jaw that puts the challenger flat on his back. Out cold! Stretched out on the ring mat like a dead fish on the deck of a Boston Whaler, and not having seen what hit him and probably won't feel the pain of it all until the initial shock wears off after regaining full consciousness and feeling in his face.

To put it even more succinctly: It's a great flaw to become enamoured with people that claim leadership, but who are only really just the person in charge for the day, and also to be enamoured with persons who have done, quite literally, just the bare minimum requirement of the leg work to be in their position, and have provided very little in terms of quality leadership that moves the chains down the field, so to speak, to use an American Football analogy.

Leadership is much more than just being in charge, holding the keys to the store, telling someone what you feel they should do, or holding a title that says we must "respect" you for the title you have. That's not quite how that works, even though some slip past us under the radar.

As we have seen with at least two of the three biblical examples, King David and Nimrod, not every leader, the great ones and not so great, lead for the best interest of everyone in the short term. As with the example of King David in the short term, many colleagues and associates fell unjustly at his request. Or, as with the case of Nimrod whose foolish attempts at being an everlasting ruler, ended in literal chaos and the subsequent destruction of his dynasty, at his own hands and at the expense of his people.

With this understanding now, it is up to us, the followers, however counter-intuitive it may sound, to shape what it is we want leadership to do and keep them on that straight and narrow path.

So, as the initial title of this submission and question: What does it (leadership) mean to you? Are your short term goals being met, by virtue of your leadership, providing the access and avenues for those goals? Is there any inkling of your long term goals materializing to the point that you see a permanent way out for you and your kids and their kids?

You see? I'm trying to flip the script a little on this question of leadership. Flip the script away from the monotonous discussions on short-term failures or lack of an encompassing vision on behalf of individual leaders, and placing the role of leadership squarely on us. Us as in the people that look to leadership to provide that spark, that ray of hope or that light.

If your leadership sucks, then perhaps it is you that's the one that isn't aware of what to request from leadership, or your selection criteria of leadership needs revision.

Promoting this new notion of leadership, places the power back into our hands to either change the leadership, or encourages us to ask the right questions and then point supposed leaders in the right direction to get things done. The latter sounds counter-intuitive, right? However, leadership is a two way street. One cannot lead unless they have followers, and followers have a cause they are attracted to. One cannot be a follower unless one has a leader, and leaders are the chief follower of a cause who are uncannily propelled into action by those that have fragments of the issue or cause that needs to be crystalized into one package that only a few people have the capacity, ability, intelligence and inclination to formulate and articulate. Thus, one person must lead.

Sure, there is a term called "team-leadership", but more often than not there is always one deciding voice that makes or breaks the core decision down to its workable essence. Always!

So, I ask again, after having read my take on the matter and reading what my core essence of leadership is: What does leadership mean to you now?

Before you go ahead and blame weak, oppressive, indecisive, tone-deaf, fraudulent, wicked, deceitful, flaccid, corrupt, neglectful, uncaring, intrusive, childish, churlish and spineless leadership, and any other manner of adjectives and mixture of those adjectives you can ascribe to your leadership, really ask yourself: What is it that leadership means to me? What do I wish to be led on? What do I want from this relationship? Does this person cut the mustard? Are they effective in motivating me with their grasp of the issues and causes? Are they just mimicking what it is I want to hear, regurgitating my fears word for word, without telling me anything new? Are they articulating different aspects of the issue, cause or problem to me, at the very least? Have they failed even before I am willing to give them a chance? Ask yourself! For your own good.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

How often do you say you love your country?

Times are dark. The saying goes: "Tings red!". But, while things are challenging, does it necessarily mean that everything must be complained about and one must be upset every living day of one's life? Certainly not. So, how does one shake off that miasmal thinking of ubiquitous melancholy and pervasive angst against any and all things? One word: Love.

Now, before you call me a peacenik-ing do-gooding, lovey-dovey pacifist beyond all sense and sensibilities, let me say quite clearly: There is not all things in The Bahamas I love. In fact, some things that happen in my country I abhor with a disdain so great that if my thoughts can burn holes through those partaking in the so-called debauchery and wickedness, I would do so and take the charge from the judge. Plead guilty if the judge allows the amount of time I need and require to read my version of a country manifesto for righting these disgusting wrongs!

However, it's not my world. I don't have super powers. I can't wave a magic wand and make things appear great when they may be worse than bad. I was told that I can if I really tried hard enough, but I think folks were fooling me into thinking that. Possibly! Let's just say my attempts have been fruitless up to this point, with a slim chance they may work in the future. Good? Good!

Now, let me state emphatically: I love my country! Can you say that with me? I love The Commonwealth of The Bahamas for which it stands. One people united in love and service.

Now, that wasn't so hard to do now was it? Especially out of the season of Independence celebrations, where outward displays of national affection would be considered normal, saying I love this country on a cool morning in January is just as easy as saying it on a boring day in mid-August.

I reject, wholeheartedly, this notion that in order to say you love this country, you have to show up and be front and centre at every independence celebrations, at every national event, stay draped in your flag every day of your waking life, or call in every talk-show for every day for the rest of your life and recite the pledge of allegiance in the most dramatic and passionately frothy manner as that of a grassroots Baptist preacher deep into his Sunday morning sermon about how you are all going to hell if you don't repent, making parishioners fall into the full spirit (not half spirit, but full spirit), turning the Church auditorium into a violent sea of Glory with the choir and band in the background sending them higher and higher. No!

In fact, while I appreciate those that have the time, inclination and energy to show this affection at every day of their waking life, I am not a fan of those that say that one must have this zeal on tap because they say so. I'm also not a fan of those that say: "Oh, you don't go on our little protests and marches and rallies. You are not serious about this country, because if you were, you would show up with us and show people how serious you are!" Yea, the emotional politicking and grandstanding goes very, very deep indeed. They almost make you feel guilty for not being a part of their cause of the day.

My thing is, and I speak for myself and maybe for a small-faction of intellectual dissidents that don't appreciate being "goosied" into the self-righteous indignations of the day: Don't judge me, and do not question anyone's love or heart based on what you feel it is. I love my country, and I show it in my own way when I want to. Fair? Fair!

Why do I love this country, one may ask? What's so great about this country that you love it with a burning fire deep down in your soul? Well, the obvious answer to it is: What other country was I born in, a country that is mine and that I would most likely be buried in? If you don't like where you are, or at least make the best of life where you are, then what good is life to you and this country to you? Consider it.

Also, what's not to love about it? Joblessness, crime and the political and governmental inertia aside, the people are cool people, if I may say so myself. I have no true problem with the lot of you, to be quite honest.

Bahamians are nice to a fault at times, however. Overly nice to the point where some would mistake that for foolish. Seriously. But that is not an overwhelmingly bad thing, it's just that we need to find ways to love in different ways that shows our strength and decency than just laying down, flat on our back, like a puppy looking for a doggie snack and a belly rub from their master.

I feel we owe it to ourselves to love our country a little more than what we do. That love does not mean we kiss, hug and look the other way when things are going on that affect our lives. It means the exact opposite, quite frankly.

How can one say that one loves their country and see a violation taking place, but say nary a word let alone do something about it? That doesn't mean you have to march on parliament, but every day acts of acknowledgement for the good and the bad works just as well. In fact, private rebuke, in significant times and places, works just as well as open rebuke and public shaming.

Also, there is nothing in this country that should be seen as a sacred cow. Absolutely nothing. No one person, from the Governor General to the young toddler in the inner city, deserves a pass off-top because they feel, or some feel, they deserve it this one time.

On the contrary, this forgive them now, this one time, or let's have pity on this one now because we feel he is sorry, works out to the detriment in more instances than it helps. There must be accountability at all levels. If you can't hold your brother, cousin, mother, father, wife, husband, etc... to account, then you serve us and this country no use whatsoever.

What happens is, and this is one of the faults of our overly loving and understanding people, is that when we show that blind-eye to wickedness under the rubric of being caring and loving, or show that understanding for behaviour and acts that are deleterious to the fabric of our society and small enclaves as being "just that incident", it continues more often than not. What happens is the worst of the worst amongst us, from the criminals with the handguns and knives to the other criminals with their pen and paper, from the street corner to the government to the church hall, game your emotions and get away with the most egregious forms of debauchery and wickedness because you like them and can't separate their penchant for anti-social behaviour from their person.

My call to all saints and aint's: If you love your country as you say you do, always do the right thing. Always love it from the position that if it were me, what would I want done? If it were my life, name, family, etc... on the line, then how should this be dealt with?

Show love. True love. I love The Bahamas!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Let's praise our police force!

Too often we neglect to praise our national heroes. Often times, unsung heroes do most of the work with little notice from the general public for doing their jobs. This is not something that is intentional, not by any means. But it is something, this symptom of forgetfulness, which makes us highlight the shocking and dramatic over the seemingly mundane and simple things, is something I wish to check for just one second as often times the small things that people do on a daily basis that saves lives and builds a better Commonwealth is what matters most. 

No group of heroes go unsung than the good, hard working officers of The Royal Bahamas Police Force. God bless them all. Really and truly these brave men and women deserve more honour, recognition and respect than we give them. To that, I apologize on behalf of those that don't give you enough credit and accolades, and on the other hand I wish to sing in chorus with those that do so.

What's been happening on a seemingly daily basis, when we hear of police versus civilian conflicts in America, and quite specifically police officers versus Black American civilians, is too often one of fatal consequences and more than a healthy portion of the times fatal for the civilians. Stories of police officers shooting unarmed men, some men as young as 12 years old, leaves one to wonder what in the world is going on in America and their apparently rogue police forces. It really is disheartening.
However, when you look at the police force in The Bahamas, one would be a fool to suggest that the level of distrust between the forces and the civilian population is anywhere near critical levels. Not even the use of force is as obscene and overhanded as we have seen regularly reported in the news in America. We should all be thankful.

The life of an officer must be very challenging, and stressful. Not only do they deal with gruesome scenes and horrific acts of brutality on a regular basis, they also have to deal with sensitive family and relational issues like rape, incest, child abuse and petty fraud with the latter a most vexing and upsetting matter to deal with. I say vexing because, nine times out of ten, the fraud cases are very elaborate and the perpetrator often times is someone trusted by the community or someone that has gained the trust of their victim by being the stand-up, salt of the earth citizen. In addition, more often than not, small and medium fraud cases are swept under the rug, money very rarely recovered, but lives are turned upside down and with very little the authorities and the police themselves can do about it.

Moreover, no one takes the time to consider the emotional and psychological damage done to our officers as a result of the apparent high levels of crimes and abuses taking place in The Bahamas. The level of trauma and stress related illnesses must be very significant, and in fact changes a person that has to deal with it on a regular basis.

I have known persons shocked and appalled by simple videos of humans acting at their worst. I personally have been traumatized by my first beheading video, and just as equally still as shocked and upset by a video leaked online showing an African babysitter abusing a 1 year old infant in the most inhumane, cruel and disheartening ways a human being can treat another human being, let alone an infant unable to defend itself. The images of these events, that I saw by my own free-will and nothing foisted on me, or nothing that was thrust into my circle by forces uncontrolled by me, still haunt me. Can one imagine what our officers go through on a weekly basis?

To go even further, our officers not only deal with the inhuman-humans among us, but they operate in very blighted and depressing corners of our society. Anywhere from seedy, run-down public houses, to depressed communities with even more depressed community members, to obscure and remote areas within our Family Islands where matters must be dealt with at a true community level, and many a times our officers must not only stand as peacemakers, but protectors of the greater good as they make judgement calls on what is something that can be dealt with between people, and what matters must be dealt with from a state and governmental level. The pressure of this, I can empathize, is phenomenal.

No one is asking our police officers to be super-human. No one is even asking them to be of high moral fibre, because they too have their off-days and among their ranks, a few less than human-humans. However, whatever day they decide to go to work and deal with the matters we, as civilians, can't possibly begin to deal with ourselves, is a day I am forever grateful that we pay them to do this for us.

Without a doubt, and while some persons within our community would take the cheap way and bash our officers for the work they are doing, often times bashing officers for officers calling out these very same civilian rabble-rousers for their anti-social and disruptive behaviour, bear in mind that we live in The Bahamas. Not California or Texas USA where civilian deaths at the hands of police officers are higher than the American average, by far and they are both ranked #1 and #2 respectively. Not even Iraq or Liberia, where the armed services, and in particular the local police forces are less than stellar protectors of the peace. But The Bahamas, where there is still a great chance that the police officer you meet on the street is your family member, or a friend of a friend, at the very least.

Let us all give them the common courtesy, respect and show them that we understand what they deal with on a daily basis. To those hard working police officers, a heartfelt thank you!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Democratising public institutions: Reform needed!

If Bahamians got through the implementation of Value Added Tax, they can get through anything. Thus the confidence I have in reforming our public institutions charged with monitoring the integrity of our systems.

No matter how altruistic a person may appear be, or persons, things happen. Well, politics happens! Even with persons in office that are less than worthy of being in charge of a slum village, let alone a thriving country, when they taste the power of the office and find that the processes and institutions that were once abhorred when in opposition, become very, very useful and necessary. Yes!

That's life. That's people. That's the human element. This is why advocating for strengthening public institutions and democratising to the people more institutions should be a priority.

There was an interview conducted on one of the local radio shows. The leader of The Democratic National Alliance, Branville McCartney, is advocating for the position of Attorney General to be a stand-alone elected position. He made these remarks in light of recent events on the rules and regulations of The Public Accounts Committee and a matter involving a sitting cabinet minister interfering with a judicial and administrative matter, and the consistent appearance of The Office of Attorney General being placed in situations where it may have to investigate and give rulings on matters involving their colleagues.

That indeed is a very progressive and comprehensive approach to democratising institutions, and more along this line of thinking is needed in today's Bahamas.

However, I wish to direct your attention to two other posts, both equally as important, both constitutionally mandated and both with latitude to carry out their duties on behalf of The Bahamas and the people they serve: The Office of the Auditor General and The Public Service Commission.

The Auditor General's office has the constitutional mandate to investigate public expenditures at any given point and time to check for inconsistencies and irregular spending and fiduciary issues that may be as a result of malfeasance, negligence or all out theft and fraud. The Public Service Commission has the constitutional mandate to exercise disciplinary control over public servants, in addition to give advice on promotions and increases in emoluments for public servants.

Before the recent information brought to light on the improper spending in The Public Hospital Authority and The Urban Renewal Programme, and just recently a 52 week jobs programme, very few persons had the slightest knowledge that there was such a person as an Auditor General, the person had a name and he had such a powerful agency.

Even fewer realize that we have The Public Service Commission as it is either, let alone who sits as the commissioners.

While there has been calls for the creation of an Office of The Ombudsman, the Public Service Commission has most of the framework to deal with some of the administrative and policy matters as it stands now. The only difference in this scenario is that the Commission only deals with internal public service matters, which means it does not hear external complaints on the civil service, wider corruption and criminal complaints of fraud and public service malfeasance and neither does it typically investigate past middle management.

In light of the myriad of claims of public servants abusing their position against the general public, and against their own colleagues and comrades in the service, productivity of their services, and even more so with regard to the recent issue of a senior cabinet minister allegedly interfering with a civil servant's duties as an out-island commissioner and a sitting magistrate that went all the way to the desk of the Attorney General (which it should not have, because the public service commission has the constitutional authority to discipline, and by extension the power to investigate and probe under this one perspective), the position is and can be made more important to the framework of The Bahamas than many people think it is or even care to know that it is or can be.

As it stands now, both positions of Auditor General and Public Service Commissioners are appointed by The Prime Minister, in consultation with The Leader of the Opposition and their recommendations are given to The Governor General for their approval. An approval that they will not, in most instances, withhold or reject for any reason, may it be slight or drastic.

So, with all of that constitutionally mandated power, why aren't they more effective and above all of the public scrutiny of their work? Well, let's examine the problem:
  1. They, while constitutionally mandated, are appointed positions. So, any government that has the power to appoint, has the power to disappoint.
  2. Since they are appointed, it means that their first priority is to the people that appointed them. Or, the person that has the power to revoke their appointment. Not the wider public.
  3. While they are fixed positions constitutionally, because they are appointed, means that if they wanted sensitive information to carry out their work from a government that has the power to remove them, they know how far to go with regard to their request for information to carry out their investigations.
  4. These positions do not have veto powers, reach in powers above what a sitting government allows them to reach in on, and neither do they have at their command any supplementary investigations' agency, public or private, which they can deputize to assist with information gathering aside from their own.
  5. They don't have money earmarked in the national budget to carry out their work, even if they had the manpower and all other forms of powers legally mandated to them.
These five critical points are thee most important issues with regard to the proper functioning of these agencies for the benefit of the wider public. All other problems, optical inconsistencies and administrative weaknesses, tie into these five core points.

So, how does one solve the problem that these positions of sinecure allow to exacerbate? To follow the line of the DNA's leader, elections would be a good start.

Of course, making them elected offices mean amending the constitution to stipulate that fair and due elections must take place. This almost certainly means a referendum to the people. A referendum would be fitting in such important instances such as this.

While The Bahamas has faltered on winning referenda in the past, if a referendum is what is needed to ensure such institutions are strengthened for a better democracy, then a referendum is what we must have.

Along with elections, I wish for my audience to consider some other important governmental strengthening issues that may be addressed with regard to reforming The Public Service Commission, The Auditor General's office and introducing an Office of the Ombudsman, at the very least:
  1. Earmarked money that does not go below a certain percentage threshold, and not to be manipulated by the government of the day through any means other than a direct act of parliament and no more than 2/3rd's of the vote. Not a simple majority.
  2. Allow for strict term limits for each post to run outside of the national elections. This would provide clarity during a non-election season where voters can assess the integrity of each candidate and their suitability for the position. This would also work in favour of persons not of the persuasion of the sitting government to be elected if the general population feels as if a sitting government needs more oversight.
  3. No person aside from a sitting member of parliament should be barred from running for any post. If a former member of parliament wishes to run for a post, he must be one parliamentary term removed in order to become eligible.
  4. No person should hold the post for more than two consecutive terms. In the event they wish to hold office again, they must wait one term to again become eligible.  
  5. Mandate for these offices more investigatory powers, subpoena powers and disciplinary powers in light of them giving their advice on final measures to the Governor General and the parliament.
  6. Allow for these agencies to contract and sub-contract persons or firms to assist with their duties if need be. These requests should have a time limit for their approvals and must be approved by the parliament in direct concert with the Public Accounts Committee on a 2/3rd's majority vote.
  7. Allow for the powers of prosecution for the office of the Auditor General and Ombudsman, separate and apart from the Attorney General on matters directly affecting their mandated duties.
These are not radical ideas. These are understandable ideas. In many countries, albeit not within the Commonwealth Realm, there are elections held for the Auditor General and Ombudsman.

I think that, in light of our loopholes and issues surrounding the lack of true oversight in many of our agencies, this is one time where The Crown has not grown with the culture of politics within its former colonies.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The 2015 Budget Communication. What's new?

The prime minister, and also the minister for finance, The Right Honourable Perry G. Christie, presented his 2015/2016 budget to the parliament on Wednesday, May 27th.

As expected, there were cheers for the budget, and of course also a few jeers. Some said that the persons responsible for bringing the Value Added Tax to being in January, 2015 should be Knighted. A little exuberant, but you can give them that if you wish.

Of course, some opposite asked if raising taxes was a pre-requisite for Knighthood these days? Of course the answer is no! Tax reform should be however, and we have had too little of that but a great deal more of just plain old taxes.

There are some good things to be really hopeful for if presented in truth in this year's communication, even though a great deal of it was said last year in almost the exact same manner.

The most hopeful thing in this budget was that they did raise, since January's implementation of VAT, an extra $150 million as a result of the measure.

Last year's recurrent revenue was $1.465 billion, and this year it is expected to reach $1.771 billion. A turn around of about $300 million, with VAT receipts amounting for $150 million of that total take. The total tax take from VAT was projected through a full fiscal year to be $300 million.

What's striking to note that while this would be the third consecutive year under the current administration that The Department of Customs has not completed their reformation exercise, with Customs being the top revenue agency, the government netted an extra $150 million in addition to the $150 million they added from VAT. But, if rings true, and of course the figures are subject to be revised, then it is a good achievement thus far and it is one thing we can feel comfortable on that something has been done.

Expenditure on the other hand is expected to increase on the backs of a few large initiatives proposed in the budget communication, inclusive of $60 million towards upgrading the hospital; $20 million for the Urban Renewal Programme; Increased welfare through Social Services; and a Bond issuance for the construction of 1,000 new homes.

Also, and this may affect the revenue side and the balance between revenue and expenditure in light of the additional taxes expected from VAT, tariffs on car imports in addition to exemptions for first time home owners are expected to be reduced. In addition, a ban will be placed on cars over 10 years old.

As some would know already, but just to state clearly, vehicles are thee main source of revenue through Customs. It is the largest, line item on the customs revenue side. The tariff rates are expected to be decreased from 65% to 45%. Coupled with the ban on cars over 10 years, the revenue side will look dramatically different even in light of the VAT efforts.

Nevertheless, VAT is set to offset these reductions. However, by how much will be the question. Just to give you a scenario: If all else remains the same, and less car imports are as a result, and VAT on car imports was $10 million. If car imports were to decrease by 20%, then the VAT take on car imports would also decrease. Get the drift? So, if one were to rationalize that based on the 65% rate that VAT receipts from car imports would be $10 million, if the rates are decreased, with the effect of lesser car imports, revenue enhancement measures may be thwarted.

This is also under the assumption that car imports would decrease, based on the relatively high rate of even 45% on car imports. This is also assuming that people have money to buy cars at the rate of which it is expected to receive a return from Customs and VAT receipts.

By and large, car imports may seem as a small issue compared to the overall economic trajectory of The Bahamas, even though it is important to the revenue side of our fiscal affairs.

More importantly, and in this author's estimation, efforts were missed with regard to pro-growth initiatives for the many. After the last budget communication, 2013/2014, up until the presentation of the mid-term budget in February, 2015, people have been advocating to more progressive forms of economic inducements.

Thus far the efforts for such have been limited. Notwithstanding the measure to reduce business license fees, which within itself does more for the bottom lines for individual companies during these still yet soft periods of economic activities, than it would boost growth in the main. But it is welcomed.

Issues such as trade, economic liberalisation for Bahamian citizens, the opening of services for smaller firms to participate with the government, other private sector tools to boost economic activity both locally and internationally, have been missed.

Of course, the saying is that the government does not create jobs, or spur economic activity. But it is the private sector that does that. However, when we speak in terms of regulations, allowances, contracts, corporate tools and business environment systems that the government can and has employed in the past to suit efforts, we can safely say that little to nothing has been done for the majority or in an encompassing manner that speaks to the nature of those below. Quite frankly, this is the most appalling part of the budget communication this year, and of previous years.

Particularly in light of the issues with the BahaMar Resort not being ready to open, management contracts to external firms, some of which were not articulated in last year's budget that they would be engaged, little or next to nothing is expected in the short term with regard to growth and opportunities.

We just can't all go the prime minister's office and wait for assistance, which seems to be the norm with some. We also all can't do the same thing. We certainly can't sit there and allow opportunities to slip by while those outside get the lion's share. It just won't cut it for the future.

As an aside, issues such as the ever present inflationary pressures, which can be classified as naked stagflation, coupled with financial transparency and accountability measures, we have to continue to push for a loftier goal for all and sundry. Forward, Upward, Onward, Together!

In total, with all things articulated in this submission, we must continue to push for better. We deserve it!

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.