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The tragedy of Bahamian development Faustian or Shakespearian tragicomedy?


Published: Jul 15, 2017

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Dear Editor, 

Banks and historical development

The stage provides great entertainment, except when we are a part of it and we are the ones being laughed, jeered at, or at the receiving end of rotten tomato throwing. As the country sits poised to lose its self-proclaimed status as a banking centre, given the exodus of the offshore, onshore or commercial banks, and the real shift from off-shore banking to wealth or asset management, the country needs to sit up and start to seriously reconsider its position. Lies continue to be taken as truths and pipe dreams reign. Sadly, the populous and the government both seem unwilling or unable to pull back the veil of the story they have created. We have bought into a lie about a healthy GDP for years, even while we have faced the obvious non-truth of this story. Radio talk show hosts continue to promote the country as a high GDP country when, in reality, The Bahamas has a serious problem as inequality deepens and worsens; the GDP means little except for those outliers who take the GDP up to its high point. There are a few people who own a great deal of money in the country, but that money does not usually reside in the country, for the most part. Further, many of the corrupt officials who have benefited from this lie of financial prosperity move their dollars offshore to places untouched by Bahamian law enforcement. These same few benefit at the expense of the population.

Historically, Bahamians were resilient people who, because they were not allowed to own bank accounts in commercial banks such as the Royal Bank of Canada, had an entire system of lending and financial working that depended on local people who ran asues. These asues were usually run by women and worked well to keep citizens alive. Much like burial societies and friendly societies that derived form the African heritage, these empowered the blacks. Sadly, the government saw this as a bad way of saving and chose to make it illegal. All that came from Africa was painted with a tar brush as being bad and working against national development. Desegregation allowed poor, black Bahamians to open bank accounts, but it also encouraged them to pull out of the traditional and very functional asue system. Today, while asues continue to service parts of the population, they have been undermined by the government’s distrust of an unregulated banking system, but the number houses have full-government support. The latter represent a serious risk to the stability of the country, in part because some operate illegal banking systems that are not regulated as the Canadian banks are, which also causes the Canadian banks to resist remaining in the local economy. A story two years ago or so in The New York Times about Scotiabank in the Caribbean put the writing on the wall, however, many people chose to ignore it. Now, the MPs are laying the failure of this first world status so many of them boasted about at the feet of the government; it is a pipe dream as banks close branches and downsize staff. Some islands have been left without any banks or are told to go to the next branch that is on another island. How is this development? We are reaching first world status real fast.

In The Bahamas in the 21st century, in order to seek medical attention, most people must buy a plane ticket and fly to the capital where the lame-duck hospital, that has really only been partially updated, continues to function as if it were servicing a population of a small town, not a country of over 370,000 people. It was already outdated and too small and too downtrodden in the 1970s into the 1980s. Those who buy tickets to fly in must also pay to stay somewhere and seek assistance with transportation. Often, they land for scheduled surgical procedures only to be told that their surgery has been cancelled and a new date will be given to them soon. How much does this cost the user? How do the framers of National Health Insurance foresee overcoming these problems, especially in a country that is so far down the black financial hole that it can hardly see the light from the sun? We speedin’ down the first world road.

Now we are telling people that they must buy a plane ticket to fly to the bank! How is this national development? It seems that the national only now focuses on New Providence. Although, please do not be surprised when yet more bank closures in the capital will negatively influence the already hours-long bank queues and refusals to give poor, hard-working black people mortgages, though they will give them loans for cars. This begins an incredible debt cycle as many people are told that their bank will become fully automated rather than a branch that one can go into to speak to a flesh and blood human. We should understand that to mean that unemployment will increase, money in the local economy will decrease, and poverty will rise. The fewer jobs around, the more poverty increases. This is not rocket science. Yet government remains moot on this, or claims that unemployment is falling. When banks pull out of towns, they leave gaping holes like wounds that will either fester and puss, or cause eventual death. The number houses cannot operate as banks unless government chooses to allows this, which then means that our international relationships will be threatened by controls placed on capital flows and transparency. Having come out of the offshore banking system, it is clear that the country has done nothing to develop to keep up with a rapidly changing global village. How is this development? This is the new economy understanding of first-worldness.

Selling land was an excellent way to make money, once. International landowners are a godsend, but an economy cannot be pegged to that done-sailed ship. It is the most unsustainable and short-term way to ‘develop’ a country. Further, when we sell off all immovable assets to people who can pay top dollar, the land prices are pushed up incredibly. Realtors and other agents like this because they earn large commissions (and that is a good thing), but everyone else loses out because it becomes impossible to buy land in the home country. Again, this is not to say we do not want foreign direct investment, we want investors, but this cannot be the sole source of national income.

Changing government is good, but where is the plan?

The crooks usually slink off through the wings stage left as government changes and the dust settles. As Moody’s threatens to once again downgrade the country, where is the government plan to fight this? What are the action points they plan to implement? Where are the policy changes? The only policy mentioned so far has been increasing taxation, insisting that people pay their taxes, but those other people who live above, outside, to the left of, or to the right of the law continue to evade taxation. How do you plan to get them to pay their taxes? Instead, it seems that the plan is to punish the middle class who are already heavily taxed. Please shut the front door on those who say how low the tax rate is here for locals. If you pay a dollar for something in the U.S. by the time it lands in your house it costs $10, depending on how many times it is VATED and taxed and marked up, yet we do not see this heavy taxation. At the same time, the state has signed onto the WTO and has not implemented the policies, nor has it changed the tax structures and duty structures that are required by the WTO. Where to next? Small Bahamian business are dying under the weight of onerous taxes and fees, and the reality that large international corporations can operate in the local economy more effectively than small, local businesses. We are throttling through our barrier to first-worldness.

 

Moving onto the smart island

How can we move into this coveted place when the infrastructure is still dumb? Not sure that there is another way to write it. The state and the nation have allowed the state to do this, have refused to update, upgrade, make sustainable, improve, stabilize the energy grid, or even the public service infrastructure. Without reliable energy, not energy that pollutes and goes off three, four, five times, browns out, or stays off for days and at the same time loses $7 million, the smart island dream is just that, a dream. It is sad when the lies become so believable that we go to bed and wake up with them, and start to wear them as second skins. How can we sit so close to Florida, have an American company provide us with energy, and have the most expensive energy in this hemisphere? Is it the hemisphere? Computer and internet router blow when de dam lights dip de las time. On de islan is worser. Yet, what do we do? We complain but DO nothing. This is first-worldness?

Bahamianization

We so often talk about foreign being better than Bahamian and that they must be paid more than locals, so we are now right back to the pre-Burma Road days, but no one does anything proactive about the obvious cases of discrimination. How do we claim to be about Bahamianization when Bahamians are usually earning somewhere around $8,000-$10,000 annually? International persons make more than that. Take note, this is not to challenge internationalization of the country or the economy, but rather to point out that Bahamians continue to be treated like second-class citizens in their own country, and many Bahamian women are treated like third-class citizens, and anyone who is perceived as ‘Haitian’ even though they have been here for one, two, three or four generations, are treated like fourth-class citizens. Discrimination? We see it when Bahamians are asked not to be on hotel property and when fences are erected to protect private beaches, easements wiped out. The joys of the first world, ain no body got time to worry bout beach.

We soon reach

We are in a national travesty or tragicomedy along the lines of Shakespeare or Marlow and Doctor Faustus or the Duchess of Malfi, where people can be daggered to death in public and souls can be sold to the devil, yet nothing is done and most actors don’t know their lines because they can’t read or count. Education is so poor that the smart island must be driven by the few who actually graduate. What is smart about an island that refuses to accept the reality of where it is and how low it sits in the rising water, with the most biased structure that is against most of the population? Yet, when Dr. Fuastus is tempted should he not go to Lucifer when there are no other viable options? As the Moody’s reality sinks in, what will government do? The mess that has been made from a 55% debt to GDP ratio 2012-2013, to a 72% debt to GDP ratio in 2016/2017, (Moody’s) says that we are in for a rough stage life. If no one is going to jail for the murderous corruption and the strangle-hold control of national development by a few Lucifers, lets stop the mud-slinging and really start to work towards improving life. What is going to be done about the departing banks, the rising costs of buying a home, the inability for most people to survive, that is not just words and sweet talk while sipping a sweet tropical drink with an umbrella in it while floating on a clear blue pool, not the sea because it too salty? This stage is so termite-eaten and un-kept, unmaintained like most government buildings and services (so the potential down-rating of postal service would be no shock to anyone, except the state), we will soon fall through. Such is life in promised first-worldness.

 

- Ian Mabon


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