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A modest proposal toward a truer emancipation and a truer independence pt. 2

PATRICIA GLINTON-MEICHOLAS

Published: Sep 11, 2013

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Part 2 of the address delivered by Patricia Glinton-Meicholas on the occasion of The Keva Marie Bethel Distinguished Lecture at The College of The Bahamas.

Freedom without responsibility is not freedom but license.

History, written and oral, plays a significant role in self-imaging and how we view our power.  For too long, our histories have been very much in the colonial triumphalist vein, which glorifies colonial secretaries of state, who appear as dei ex machina and miraculously solve unrest.

In contrast, Bahamian efforts are either downplayed or made to seem the misbehavior of truculent children – either white country bumpkins or “uppity blacks” who “are being goaded on by the scurrilous foreign press”.

The New York Times of September 4, 1967 attributed the latter description of black Bahamians to an Englishman in The Bahamas on a work permit in the aftermath of the Progressive Liberal Party’s electoral victory of January 10.

Furthermore, we have posited identity and wellbeing almost entirely on things material.  It’s a mindset that Scharmer and Kaeufer describe as a “mindset of maximum ‘me’ – maximum material consumption, bigger is better and special interest group-driven, decision-making that has led us into a state of organized irresponsibility, collectively creating results nobody wants” [Scharmer and Kaeufer, location 40].

Environmental stewardship

We must consider too that the possession of a homeland is fundamental to defining identity and independence.  Consequently, one would expect there to be an existential relationship between the land and its possessors and a jealous vigilance for the maintenance of that crucial connection.

Yet, to date, only a minority of Bahamians takes seriously the protection of our natural patrimony.  Too many of us do not appreciate the necessity of halting the wanton destruction of our marine environment and forests.  Neither does the relative scarcity of potable water on limestone islands seem to activate a fierce sense of stewardship for existing sources or zeal to abate pollution.

In our environmental insouciance, we pay little more than lip service to reducing our carbon footprint by using the sun’s power more and burning fossil fuels less.  No matter that such methods have become ruinously expensive and ultimately destructive.

Not only are environmental assaults occurring daily throughout the archipelago, we plan and underwrite them in the quick grab for investment.  When I hear announcements of 10,000 jobs, I can’t help wondering if the development generating that level of employment will not, in time, erase an equivalent number of species from our ecosystems.

Is it that we believe resources are infinitely renewable without human stewardship or we simply don’t care if our practices lead to exhaustion, as long as we get our share of the wealth before the treasure chest is emptied?

Our age-old economic philosophy is illustrative of the prime challenge to a truer independence.  It is a near-sighted vision posited almost exclusively on providing jobs based on the largesse of foreign investors, which can be withdrawn on a whim, when efforts to build greater economic competence by increasing Bahamian investment and ownership should be commensurate and coterminous.  It is perplexing that, 40 years after our putative independence, the majority is still dispossessed as regards the ratio of ownership of the Bahamian economy.

Periodically, administrations talk of master planning for development and, apparently, the latest iteration is on the horizon.

But what principles will drive it?  Will it promote increasing Bahamian ownership, economic diversification, greater self-reliance and productivity and resources protection?  Will it be intimately bound up in our history and heritage, geography and culture or pay attention to the readiness of the workforce?  Or, will it commit to yet another short-term, carpe diem loan bearing an intolerable interest with our future as collateral?

We have allowed agriculture and other areas of production to stagnate.  Yet, how long could we stave off hunger and chaos, if the planes and ships that link our islands to the rest of the world were to cease doing so for more than a few months?

I celebrate The College of The Bahamas’ announcement of a forthcoming Agriculture and Science Institute.  My hope is that it won’t go the way of the poultry farm or the marine and environmental science institute.  I hope further that it will conduct practical research and set up a powerful communications network to disseminate practical, comprehensible information, leading to real and positive increments of development.

Harnessing the potential

We are good at throwing the launch party, but lag in the area of follow through, a problem characterized by a lack of articulation among the necessary corollaries.  For example, we have erected the grand and most recent incarnation of the straw market.  Yet, the more culturally aware among us are still forced to call for locally produced straw goods to predominate among the goods on sale there.

It is urgent also to ask if we have investigated the health and size of our stock of the palms that produce the basic material for Bahamian straw craft or whether we have made steps towards the protection and replanting of this valuable heritage resource.

Also, what coordinated efforts have there been to harness the potential of the significant upsurge in entrepreneurship in the arts and crafts in this country?  How much coherent research has been done in this regard?  What provisions have been made to supply tax breaks and other forms of encouragement that could lead a great number of talented Bahamians not only to self-employment but to exporting that could bring in much-needed foreign exchange?

Why has the institutionalization of entrepreneurship development been so poorly served in our planning?

It is of considerable impediment to our future as a sovereign nation that our government’s business model and general conduct of business provide no model for fiscal success or the promotion of independence.  Indeed, public sector enterprise tends to exhibit the seven deadly sins of business that militate against efficiency and profitability.  They include:

1. Continued use of anachronistic regulations and practices that were not meant to drive competitive, 21st century business, but for control and the preservation of strict hierarchies.

2. Massive overstaffing owing to constituency patronage, paybacks to party supporters and militant and greedy unionism, all of which suggests little concern for the overall economy.

3. Appointments to key, decision-making positions based more on appointees’ party fidelity than on their ability to lead or demonstrate fidelity to progress.

4. Less than stellar performance from public sector managers and staff, often as a result of mismatches between job demands and the skills and experience of the officeholder.  Moreover, incompetence is frequently hidden or allowed to prevail because of political interference and/or union action.

5. Poor or complete absence of articulation among government agencies and public corporations, a dysfunction that severely curtails private sector activities at some point along the continuum of unavoidable interaction.

6. Poor communication of essential information among government sectors and to the general public, the company’s principal shareholders.

7. Unequal application or distribution of opportunities and benefits to stakeholders, undesirable and costly delays in approvals and issuance of various licenses to individuals and private sector business.

Leadership crisis

It seems that, more and more, The Bahamas is experiencing a perilous crisis in leadership generally.  Nowhere is this failure of leadership more apparent than in the country’s governance, an area plagued by deep-rooted disease, which manifests in the following symptoms:

• Members of Parliament act in a manner that would surely result in termination if they clocked in at a serious private sector enterprise – not showing up for work, substandard performance on the job, unjustified spending of company money, failing to account for the funds entrusted to them and providing an execrable brand of customer service.

• The national Cabinet does not exhibit the principal characteristic of a Cabinet; that is, a united public front.  Cabinet members and even parliamentary secretaries speak out of turn, often contradicting their leader and other colleagues to make pronouncements that are patently self-serving.

In close connection to the foregoing, we must assess the state of Bahamian democracy.  There are those who believe that majority rule has answered all the challenges of Bahamian life, including the preservation of democracy.

Majority rule was certainly the critical opening to democracy in this country, correcting a centuries-long inequity.  It is not, however, and cannot be the whole cloth.  It does not provide for all the people of The Bahamas, nor does it address the many other inequities that afflict Bahamian society.

The U.S. Bureau of International Information makes a valuable contribution to this debate:

• Majority rule, by itself, is not automatically democratic.

• In a democratic society, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual human rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights of minorities and dissenters – whether ethnic, religious, or simply the losers in political debate.  [“What is Democracy?” Bureau of International Information Systems, U.S. State Department http://usinfo.state.gov.]

The struggle for democracy took a frightening turn in 2013, when the speaker of the House of Assembly appeared to abandon what should have been his democratic neutrality in the face of a challenge to a government proposal raised by the leader of the opposition.

Did the speaker not know that it is the opposition’s duty to challenge and the government’s obligation to refute accusations, not with partisan rulings and parlor tricks but with irrefutable facts?

The adversarial relationship between government and opposition constitutes the very essence of parliamentary democracy.  It serves to keep everyone honest and the conduct of the people’s business transparent.  Together, respecting their constitutional mandate, the two factions are supposed to constitute good governance.

Where would this country be today if Lynden Pindling had not thrown the mace, the symbol of the speaker’s authority, out a window of the House of Assembly?  Had he been in office back then, would the current speaker have named Pindling, the man whose actions allowed him to occupy the post today?  What if the slave Pompey had not risked the whip?  What if the first four men of color to occupy seats in Parliament had not risked censure or worse?

Nowadays, there seems reason to fear a progression that commonly characterizes Third World politics – government by fiat, declarations of the leader’s infallibility, speech unsanctioned by government declared blasphemy and punished by the abrogation of liberty or even life.

We must beware – just as the progress of freedom and independence are gradual, so too is the march to despotism.

• Patricia Glinton-Meicholas is a Bahamian author, educator and cultural anthropologist.

 


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