A Cry for Reciprocity

Reading the newspapers and listening to the occasional radio talk show in the weeks since 2019 boldly emerged from the womb of time has made me think that it might have been better if New Year had remained where it was and ossified. We mortals in many parts of the world, including The Bahamas had only a short time ago been singing piously of “Peace on Earth, goodwill to men” before the fearfully awaited advent. I know that many of you holed in church for the countdown, not wishing the Grim Reaper to find you and fill the gaps in his harvest.

Back on track—the “Peace on Earth” line proved to be an egregious piece of false advertising. Hardly had we wiped the ham, turkey, potato salad and mac & cheese grease from our lips, when the madness that besmirched just about every quadrant of the world got up a full head of steam and blistered its way into our already wounded and fragile consciousness.

I could write about the men and women across the globe who have skipped the stages of divorce from sanity, going straight to the degree absolute. There are those who went ahead without as much as giving the rest of us a heads up to get out of the way of their posturing, rants and downright dangerous decisions. I’ll say no more on that head than to hope those forced to spend $5 billion on their back garden wall will get back enough change to buy a few Big Mac combos. There should be some form of reciprocity, shouldn’t there?

Instead, I turn to the counterparts in lunacy in my own beloved country, The Bahamas. Have we not had drilled into us that we must first take the plank from our own eyes before we work on removing the debris from our neighbours? Hardly had we powdered the New Year’s infant bottom when the first murder was announced. But this new propensity to solve problems with the spilling of blood is not the main theme of this essay either. No, that honour goes to those people who so enjoy a connection with the public media that they would insert an intravenous line between their never-still tongues and the news desks of The Bahamas.

Here comes my second use of the word “reciprocity”. The types I’m about to highlight seem not to reciprocate by actually taking in the news reports of the ambient conditions in our islands, our region and our world that are likely to influence them to modify their demands. My first shock in this regard was delivered by the Bahamas Union of Teachers. They had just succeeded in getting the Ministry of Education to clean up mould and other insalubrious situations in one of the state schools (bravissimo!), when their leader launched a new campaign—Secure from the administration a 20 per cent, across-the-board pay rise for their membership.

As Education has no other purse but the National Budget, a question at once arose and lit a flame in my sometimes overactive imagination. Had our government found the “El Dorado” of the Incas or were they smart enough to break into Fort Knox or the coffers of an oil-rich Emirate without being detected? Oh my, I thought. Should I revive my long-lapsed membership to catch in on the coming bounty? “Suck teeth!” My integrity slapped me up side the head and forced me to wear a dunce’s cap for giving even momentary consideration to the notion.

If the newest BUT off-world sally were not enough, I next read that the Trade Union Congress (TUC) expects the value of the voluntary separation offers to Grand Lucayan managers to come close to $4.2 million, as opposed to the $3.2 million offered by Lucayan Renewal Holdings Limited and backed by government.

An urgent question from an already overburdened taxpayer, where is the money coming from? I dismiss my earlier, admittedly frivolous suggestions of finding Inca gold/breaching Fort Knox, but, seriously now—Is the government going to mint money that lacks any believable collateral? Do these groups not have a real grip on the state of the national purse or is this more of the “all for me” mentality that has led to the serious punch delivered to the Education budget by the incredible $450k fraudulence reported by the Auditor General this year?

Now I turn to the real substance of my essay—Reciprocity. A leading dictionary defines reciprocity as “a situation in which two groups agree to help each other by behaving in the same way or by giving each other similar advantages.” The following sentence is given in illustration: “We offer to all our trading partners a commitment to reciprocity and fairness.”  (Cambridge Business English Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

In the yearly demands of the unions, if there is any real consideration of reciprocity, I have failed signally in perceiving it in their frequent recourse to the recording devices of the news media. Let’s look first at the educators. Are their demands commensurate with their contributions and accountability in the classroom? Shouldn’t their reciprocity be reflected in the education outcomes of the schools and the academic achievements of the students? The low achievement reported year after year undoubtedly is the result of multiple causative factors, including the quality of teachers’ instructional performance in the nation’s classrooms.

To what extent do the practitioners, own their share of the responsibility for a national average of D, and students who emerge from 12 years of their contributions not literate enough for decent employment? Certainly, no such ownership is reflected in the vociferous rhetoric of the union administration. Through the recent threats of strike, it would have done my heart good to hear that the potential strikers were experiencing some reservations about withdrawing their services, knowing that it was sure to have a harmful impact on students already struggling academically against great odds. It would be even more satisfying to hear of the Union’s militancy in upgrading classroom performance and student outcomes. When will the leaders support lifelong learning and a structured programme of recertification of educators as loudly as they call for increased rewards without evidence of rises in personal and professional development and quality?

The same questions arise in connection with the TUC’s demands for the departing managers of the Grand Lucayan. Unlike the case of the educators, I have little firsthand information on their performance while the property was in operation, but I do wish to know if they were as assiduous in maintaining the highest quality of service during their employ. Customer service tends to be less than stellar in all too many establishments catering for the public.

I know of many fine and dedicated teachers who have, by the quality of their caring, fashioned silk out of the roughest of material. I know of hospitality personnel who cause me to return to their places of employment again and again. Such people are worthy of their hire and all the applause and rises, which we can deliver. It is one of my dearest wishes to all fine contributors justly rewarded. But The Bahamas has to make reciprocity a gospel of service. I read somewhere recently that authority is not the right to rule—-it’s the responsibility to serve. I offer this thought to Bahamians across the societal and economic spectra.

Recently, writer Rogan Smith reflected on the ecosystem of sexual abuse. I wish to emphasize that the nation is also suffering from a widespread ecosystem of greed that militates against our survival. It is a morass which we have to clean up with far greater accountability, self-respect and love of homeland. A life of honest gain and equality of opportunity has the same base as all of nature—Give and take, yin and yang, complementarity. Let’s address the imbalance that is currently clipping the wings of our dear country, retarding its flight to higher realms of probity and prosperity. Let’s have greater accountability and acceptance of responsibility in every aspect of our personal and public lives.