Letter to the Editor
This is beginning to not feel like The Bahamas.
It is not just the lack of jobs or the news of people killing themselves because of it. It is not even the ever increasing rate of murders in our country or the constant recurring themes of a diminishing economy, an increasing national debt, a failing educational system, an overall high crime rate, the perception of a stagnant judicial system, the continuing problem of teen pregnancy and so on.
I think what it is is the sense that we are in the process of giving up as a people on the idea of building a nation.
There was a time when we felt that we were different as a people: that our goal of nation building was not just a delusion but that we were actually the greatest little nation in the world with the potential to not only do well by all of our people but to positively impact our neighbours and the world in general.
That was the vision that allowed us to peaceably confront the racist divides of our past and to commence the process of building an equitable future for all Bahamians. It gave us the courage to confidently take into our own hands responsibility for our national destiny and to entrust the mantle of leadership to men and women who were largely young, inexperienced and unexposed but whom we implicitly trusted and supported because they were ours and because that fact alone assured us that they would do right by us.
But times have changed. We seem now to have lost our vision and our sense of hope. And we seem to have abandoned the process of building a nation in favour of empowering and enriching the chosen few at the expense of the many.
The reason that I feel that way is because the issues which we are now facing as a nation were foreseeable, but were not avoided, and are fixable but are not being fixed. And that fact inevitably leads to the question of why things were allowed to get to this point and why they are not being addressed.
Take, for instance, the issue of the economy. Although the major pillar of the economy is tourism, there is no doubt that stop-over tourism (which is the core of the tourism industry) has been declining for years and that that form of tourism has been overpriced, underserviced and poorly enhanced. In the face of that reality, we have not tried to position ourselves by utilizing national resources such as crown land, tax relief, government loans, government guarantees, government subsidies and the like to promote Bahamian ownership of small, intimate tourism offerings such as bed and breakfast hotels, eco lodges, boutique hotels, native night clubs, music festival parks, indigenous tourism paraphernalia, development of nature trails, development of historical trails, development of the national monuments such as our forts, blue holes and caves, restoration of historical buildings within the inner cities, and development of fun activities around historically indigenous themes such as piracy, bootlegging and colonial life. Instead, we have focused on cruise ship tourism (which has little or no positive effect on our local economy) and have been engaged over the last 25 years, through the Crystal Palace hotel and the Atlantis Hotel, in trying unsuccessfully to mimic a foreign owned Las Vegas model of tourism to which we have added insult to injury by gifting those mentioned national resources of crown land, tax relief, government loans, government guarantees and government subsidies to the foreign owners of those hotels in the promotion of a tourism model that is alien to The Bahamas.
The result has been predictable. We now have a tourism model that is only coincidentally located within The Bahamas as it otherwise has nothing whatsoever to do with The Bahamas and we are not only shocked that that model is not producing a robust economy for Bahamians at large but we are determined to add to the debacle by increasing the size of it through the pending Baha Mar project and another soon to be named project in Freeport.
Additionally, we now appear determined to further humiliate the Bahamian work force and complicate their future ability to benefit from economic development by introducing a quota system into our immigration policy to the effect that in the future the availability of jobs in this country to Bahamians will not be determined based on whether they are qualified to do those jobs but on whether the 70% quota of those jobs which are available for Bahamians has been filled since the policy which will pertain in the future appears to be that so long as 70% of jobs on any project have been allotted to Bahamians the promoter will have a right to allot the remaining 30% of those jobs to non-Bahamians and to demand work permits for those non-Bahamians.
Whatever one’s political persuasion, how can that immigration quota policy be seen as anything other than nonsense? And how can our Parliament be seriously considering it? How is the dignity and livelihood of the Bahamian worker to be preserved and protected by that policy? And whatever happened to the Bahamianisation policy? That Bahamianisation policy, incidentally, is not confined to the Bahamas, but exists in every country under whatever name they chose to call it and is simply a national policy by each country of employing its own citizens to fill job vacancies within its borders unless an expertise is required which cannot, from time to time, be serviced from within that country.
That kind of commentary is not limited to the tourism industry. It applies equally to the financial services sector (offshore banking) where we have made numerous reciprocated and, therefore, inequitable concessions to onshore jurisdictions which have had the indirect, but inevitable, consequence of stigmatizing and devaluing our financial services sector products. In the face of that reality, we have not attempted to rationalize and rebrand our financial services sector products so as to position ourselves to be able to continue to compete on the international stage but appear, instead, to have accepted the supposed inevitability of our own demise and to have contented ourselves with being mere spectators to the downward spiral of that sector.
But no where do I feel more outrage at the national quagmire in which we now find ourselves than in respect of our attitude to the poor and disadvantaged amongst us. Not only have we largely abandoned our national commitment to ensuring that the largesse of this nation is utilized to foster the common good of the common people, but we have now embarked upon a process of over taxing and under supporting in respect of the masses that cannot be seen as anything other than a mean spirited and callous act of mass rape and pillage in respect of them.
When the poorest amongst us are called upon to bear the heaviest burden of taxation amongst us something is wrong. When on top of that, we decrease social services to them through increased public education costs, reduced private education subsidies and reduced employment benefits and then go on to increase their cost of living by increasing customs duties, increasing their national insurance contributions, increasing their electricity costs and threatening to tax them for access to public broadcasting, while standing by idly and watching the rise in predatory lending practices, the growth in predatory pay day loan schemes, the emergence of predatory pawn shops and all the while preaching the message of waiting for a foreign saviour to come and revive the Bahamian economy, what can that be other than a failure and abandonment of the vision of building a greater Bahamas for the common good?
These are not trivial issues. And our parliamentarians do us no service by treating these issues as comical or as mere political footballs to be passed from one to the other in a game of posturing and grandstanding which appears to have everything to do with their own personal political ambitions and nothing to do with the people.
I worry for this country. I worry about our compassion and our ability to maintain our social cohesion and our essential character as a people if we are not able to address and reverse these problems. I worry about the many who have so little and the few who have so much. I worry about our soul as a nation.
Yes, this is beginning to not feel like The Bahamas. And if we do not change course there is no doubt that very soon this will cease to be The Bahamas as we know it. But it is not too late to change course and I implore those who love this country to be a part of that change for the good not of party, of politics or of personalities, but of country.
Gregory K. Moss
27th September, 2010