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Courage amidst the predicament of small nations


Published: Oct 02, 2013

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Forty years ago on September 18, 2013, The Bahamas became the 138th member of the United Nations (U.N.) and was formally absorbed into the international community of nations.

This landmark event came just over two months after we obtained political independence from Great Britain.  It was only fitting therefore that the grounds of the United Nations, which now has membership of 193 countries, served as the platform for the clarion call for justice, equity and assistance for its smaller member states.

The U.N., which succeeded the League of Nations, was founded in 1945 with 51 member states.  The U.N.’s official website states that the organization is “committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress better living standards and human rights”.

Historical challenges take a new turn

Ironically, the challenges we face as a nation today are not dissimilar to yesterday’s struggles.  It must be noted, however, that the global landscape has evolved significantly and silence in the current dispensation is not golden but arguably damaging to us as a people.

History records that the late Sir Lynden O. Pindling (then leader of the official opposition) in the aftermath of Black Tuesday led the Progressive Liberal Party’s mission to the United Nations in August 1965.  This visit took place at a time when the U.N. had a Special Committee on Decolonization and the committee through its chair had agreed to grant the delegation an audience.  The delegation through Sir Lynden spoke of the challenges that confronted the majority of the Bahamian population and all the inequities and disparities that existed in our country at the time.  These inequities included limited and inadequate access to quality education and healthcare in a system that promoted a regressive tax structure and placed the tax burden on the masses.

Today, after the attainment of majority rule and independence, The Bahamas still finds itself in a quandary as it struggles to continue to have its voice heard and adhered to on the global scene. While we have made progress in the eradication of the marginalization within, there is an increased threat to our way of life and standard of living by certain international policies and maneuvers.

A self-defining moment

In a courageous move this past week, Prime Minister Perry Christie delivered a motivating and candid speech in which he demanded more from the international community and more specifically large and developed nations in addressing the myriad issues confronting smaller member nations of the U.N.  Christie, in a defining moment for oft ignored small nations, advocated for the provision of assistance and much-needed aid to small countries in general with specific references to the Caribbean and The Bahamas.

Christie highlighted the present challenges that confront our archipelagic nation, and more specifically drew attention to the impact of crime, imbalance in world trade, illegal migration, criteria for the allocation of foreign aid and the ever-changing goal posts of international tax compliance on the limited resources of small island nations like The Bahamas.  In his delivery, Christie noted the consequences of international standards in the reduction of the Bahamian government’s ability to direct adequate resources from important programs, including education and healthcare, for the development and benefit of the Bahamian people.

Defending a vital pillar of our economy

The important role of International Financial Centers (IFCs) in the flow and efficient allocation of capital in a global village is well documented.  However, the continuous imposition of new international standards and redefining of old requirements since the turn of the millennium have weakened the financial services sectors of several small jurisdictions.  The reality remains that The Bahamas and other IFCs have implemented more robust customer due diligence requirements to properly fight money laundering and terrorist financing.

It is apparent that developed nations working with multilateral organizations have successfully implemented moving targets that appear to be strategically designed to weaken the second highest contributor to our gross domestic product – our financial services industry.  From the introduction of a blacklist of non-cooperative countries in the money laundering fight to a gray list of countries not cooperating enough on tax matters, the efforts have been persistent.  The lines have been blurred between tax planning and tax crimes to the point that tax competition is now viewed in a negative light.

When considered against the extra-territorial reach of certain developed nations and the negative sentiments attached to client confidentiality, The Bahamas, as a nation committed to international compliance and the rule of law, has much to fight for.  Even though we have and we continue to implement international best practices within our financial services industry, Christie’s message is vital in communicating our concerns and the destabilizing effect continuous attacks by the international community on this sector will have on emigration, brain drain and the shrinking of the middle class.

Uniting for a common cause

The Bahamas has sought to promote moral principles promulgated by the U.N. and has over the years ratified international conventions and treaties in support of the work of the U.N.  More recently, the Minister of Social Services Melanie Griffin signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Disabled in demonstration of our commitment to the organization.  It is not unreasonable, therefore, to expect that our commitment is rewarded by support not only from the U.N. but its members; especially the developed countries of the G20.

The voices of smaller nations in the U.N. should not be drowned by the strength of a select few, especially in discussions of matters that impact their economies and peoples.  Nations that continue to be negatively impacted by international policies should follow in Christie’s footsteps and fight for the sustenance of the pillars of their economies.  We must jointly demand international standards that promote equality, harmonization, progress and prosperity across all nations and resist policies that put us at a competitive disadvantage to the benefit of developed countries.

The Bahamas, and indeed the Caribbean, must always seize every opportunity to raise the voice of small island states and less developed nations.  We must stand courageously in unity for the sake of our peoples and generations yet unborn.  On the other hand, Christie’s message to the big and powerful nations was clear: “Find your courage because the hour grows late.”

• Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law.  Comments can be directed at commentary@komolafelaw.com.

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