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**