Barbarians at our gate
PHILIP C. GALANIS
Published: Jul 29, 2013
Over the past few months, the print and broadcast media were inundated with stories of one foreign investor after another seeking to gain an advantage by residing or investing in The Bahamas. Lest anyone accuse us of either xenophobia or foreign investor bias, let us unequivocally assert at the outset that we believe that foreign direct investment is essential to the growth of any society, including ours. However, such activity must be undertaken in a considered and balanced approach that will not unduly or irreparably upset the delicate balance of our culture, our quality of life or our environment.
Therefore this week, we would like to Consider This…are we sufficiently attentive to ensure that the barbarians at our gates are not obtaining advantages that our own citizens are prevented from enjoying?
Who are Barbarians?
The term ‘barbarian’ is derived from the Greek word ‘barbaros’ meaning a person who is not a citizen. To the ancient Greeks and, later, the Romans, a barbarian was anyone not of their extraction or culture. The ancients used the term as they encountered scores of different foreign cultures, including the Egyptians, Persians, Medes, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and others. Because most of these ‘strangers’ regularly raided those civilizations, the term barbarian gradually evolved into a pejorative word meaning someone who was sub-human and who regularly practiced the vilest acts imaginable. Therefore, in figurative usage, a barbarian has come to refer to a brutal, cruel, warlike, insensitive person. In a broader sense however, barbarian has become a common term to refer to all foreigners and it is in this latter classical context that we have adopted the word for the purposes of this article.
Early barbarians of The Bahamas
The early barbarians at our gates were the pirates, privateers and buccaneers who ravaged ships in the high seas. And although they brought a form of brisk commerce and economic growth to the early days of The Bahamas, their threat to the well-being of law-abiding and peaceable citizens on land ultimately led to the welcome mat being withdrawn and their exploits outlawed and punished at the end of a rope on the ramparts of Fort Nassau.
New barbarians in The Bahamas
With the emergence of an independent Bahamas, in 1973 we changed our national motto from “Expulsis Piratis Restituta Commercia” (translated: pirates expelled, commerce restored) to “Forward, Upward, Onward, Together”. But have we really expelled the pirates, or in this context, the barbarians at our gates from The Bahamas since independence?
On the contrary, since Bahamian independence, we have embraced modern barbarians, that is, non-citizens, to our shores, welcoming them with the open arms of our traditionally world-renowned Bahamian hospitality. They have included infamous personalities like Robert Vesco, as well as accomplished investors like Merv Griffin, Donald Trump, Philip Ruffin, and Sol Kerzner, just to mention a few. There have also been some barbarians who have entered our gates who have been known to operate on the fringes or margins of generally accepted standards of decency. Others have conducted themselves quite admirably.
Recently, two prominent personalities, Louis Bacon and Peter Nygard, have emerged upon the national stage. Both men have resided within our gates for many years, and a personal feud has erupted between them, ostensibly over an environmental issue, although that appears to be just the tip of the iceberg.
Louis Bacon, the astute internationally renowned hedge fund manager, has been relatively subdued in the local media, artfully engaging his Bahamian surrogates to execute his highly obfuscated agenda. Meanwhile, his nemesis, Peter Nygard the flamboyant internationally successful fashion mogul, has preferred a more direct, in-your-face, hands-on approach. Therein lies the fundamental difference between these two personalities.
Many Bahamians have voiced their displeasure at the display of adulation that was recently heaped upon Nygard. For example, at a recent event to commemorate the nation’s 40th anniversary of independence, some of our citizens reportedly questioned the justification for him being so prominently profiled at that independence event which was staged to honor 40 successful young Bahamians under 40 years of age. How a non-Bahamian septuagenarian found himself at the center of an activity that was created to recognize and celebrate young Bahamians raised as many eyebrows.
That event was surpassed only by the ‘royal’ welcome he received during his recent trip to Freeport, with the accompaniment of a Junkanoo parade, along with a minister of the government and senior officers of the Grand Bahama Port Authority in tow, to welcome him for his first visit to Grand Bahama, after having lived in The Bahamas for more than 30 years. Some Freeporters reportedly thought they were witnessing the second coming. But lo and behold, it was only Peter, who mesmerized his audience with promises of investing on that island.
Such obscene obsequiousness should be recognized for what it is. As a people, we are too often and too easily impressed by barbarians who come with their wealth and their promises of creating jobs for which we are expected to be eternally grateful.
Then, of course, some barbarians want to purchase valuable Bahamian Crown land in order to enrich themselves, although the same opportunities are often denied Bahamians. While barbarians seem to have free access to the halls of power and privilege, few Bahamians seeking similar opportunities are afforded such access. Just this week, a prominent Bahamian noted that he has been trying to meet with certain high level officials for more than six months but cannot even get an appointment. He is immensely offended because some barbarians are easily able to do so, and with great alacrity.
Some of us, on both sides of the political divide, for various reasons, are too easily enthralled by the barbarians at our gates. Yes, we ought to welcome foreign investors who want to make sensible and sustainable investments in our country that, in the long term, will benefit all parties while simultaneously enhancing our sense of national pride. But we should do so only after fully vetting these barbarians, putting them through the same filtering microscope to which we frequently hear that Bahamians are subjected.
If we do otherwise, we run the risk of being embarrassed by some of these barbarians at our gate. We must be ever vigilant that we are not again accused of being a country for sale to the highest bidder with the deepest pockets; otherwise, our grandchildren will curse us for giving away our patrimony for the proverbial ‘mess of pottage’ instead of securing it for the enrichment of their future well-being.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.