Press Statement in response to Dr. Miles Munroe re Web Shops
By Alfred M. Sears, Esq.
15th May, 2014
Dr. Miles Munroe is quoted in The Nassau Guardian, Wednesday, May 14, 2014 as stating that the regularization of the web shop industry in The Bahamas will lead to “a corrupt system” because a small group of owners, in an industry that is estimated to generate $400 million per year, has the ability to “buy a government.” Further, Dr. Munroe asserted that “I don’t believe in gambling in any form, but if you are going to go in that direction you don’t give that power to a small group of people because we will never have a safe government again. As a matter of fact, I think that any small group in a country that controls so much power that [it] can influence who gets elected, [it] will become a shadow government.” Then, he is quoted as saying that because the Government has announced that it will regularize the web shops despite last year’s gambling referendum the Christie Administration is on the brink of creating a “democratic dictatorship.”
Respectfully, I disagree with Dr. Miles Munroe and believe that he is wrong on public policy, the law and logic.
The web shop industry in The Bahamas operates in a country where casino gambling, operated by foreign investors, is the core attraction in major touristic resorts. These casinos are regulated by the Government and are the recipients of concessions and annual cash promotional contributions from the Government. While Bahamians are not allowed to gamble in the casinos, nevertheless some Bahamians are given exemption certificates to gamble for the house as croupiers, pit bosses and supervisors. There has not been any sustained public demonstration or criticism against the casinos’ interest or operation in The Bahamas by any sector of the Bahamian society based on the ground of a moral opposition to gambling. In fact, many churches hold their conventions, meetings and socialize in these very resorts where casino gambling takes place. Many Bahamians show off the casinos to their guests as a tourist attraction.
As a matter of public policy, to leave the existing web shop industry unregulated exposes The Bahamas to possible punitive measures by the FATF, Financial Stability Board, OECD and negative advisories from the United States. The FATF, the Financial Stability Board and the United States listed the Bahamas in 2000 for being an “uncooperative jurisdiction” with respect to anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism. Surely, no Bahamian would want a repetition of that disruption of the Bahamian economy.
Is it logical to contend, as Dr. Munroe does, that a small group that controls significant economic power is a threat to safe government in The Bahamas? At one time, Kerzner International enterprises, which generated hundreds of millions in annual sales, were owned by a small group of shareholders. Rather than seeing a threat to safe Government in The Bahamas, the Government bestowed a knighthood on Mr. Sol Kerzner for his contribution to The Bahamas. In The Bahamas small groups of entrepreneurs, comprising foreign investors and primarily the merchant elite, control the redistributive trade, touristic resorts, construction and financial services enterprises. In a free enterprise system, private ownership by individuals, small groups, publicly traded companies or public enterprises produce value in the Bahamian economy. Surely, it cannot be logically contended that the ownership structure of the enterprises alone constitutes a threat to safe government. If it is not the structure of ownership that is the problem, then the only thing that Dr. Munroe can be objecting to are the Bahamian owners of the web shops. Is it being contended that the only way we can have a safe government is when the owner of a major industry is foreign or from the traditional merchant elites of The Bahamas? If this were what is being insinuated, then that would be a very troubling proposition indeed.
The Referendum of January 28, 2013 was a purely consultative or advisory exercise to enable the Government to find out the views of the electorate on the two questions posed. Unlike a constitutional referendum to amend the deeply entrenched provisions of the Constitution, an advisory referendum does not bind the Government and imposes no obligation on the legislature to act in a particular fashion. The result of the said Referendum merely provides one of many factors that the Government has to weigh when making laws for the peace, order and good government of The Bahamas.
If we want to ensure the safety of our governance process from powerful economic interests within The Bahamas, I respectfully invite Dr. Munroe and others, as I have been doing, to lobby for measures such as election finance and other transparency reforms rather than seeking to prevent qualified Bahamians from owning enterprises and industries that we are quite content to allow foreign investors and the traditional merchant elites to own.
I support the Government for resolving to regularize the web shop industry in The Bahamas by July 1st. I believe that a properly amended Gaming Bill can establish an equitable regulatory standard in the gaming sector between the foreign operators of casinos and Bahamian owned web shops. The regulation of web shops, an industry created, owned and patronized by Bahamians, will provide protection for Bahamian gaming consumers, secure the integrity of the anti-money laundering regulatory regime, generate significant tax revenue and create a level playing field for Bahamian and foreign entrepreneurs in the gaming industry in The Bahamas.
I disclose that I have represented some of the Bahamian gaming entrepreneurs, in my capacity as a lawyer, both in The Bahamas and in other foreign jurisdictions. However, my views, contained herein, that qualified Bahamians should have the same opportunity to compete on a level playing field in every area of the Bahamian economy, whether it relates to gaming or tele-evangelism enterprises, have been widely publicized for years in the media and during my ten years in the House of Assembly.