OPINION: Time to privatize government assets

I agreed with the PLP when they opposed the sale of majority shares in BTC to a private company. Now, several years on, I must say that my position has completely reversed. We now have two telecoms companies and while I am happy to say that I do not use BTC, I understand that their service and standards have improved exponentially through competition.

And what was the anxiety really all about? What did we really lose – revenue? Hardly, the old BTC was bleeding money just like the rest of the public ‘assets’ that Bahamians think we need to hold on to for sentimental and irrational reasons. Meanwhile they are like so many anchors around our neck, dragging us down to the bottom of the sea.

Hats off to Hubert Ingraham, who knew better. He was always the visionary and 10 steps ahead of the rest of us. I now support the privatization of as many of our national encumbrances as is feasible. It can only lead to a lightening of the strain on the public purse, better service, quality and standards.

Take for example Bahamasair. It costs us some $20 million a year to run this dinosaur. For what? What does this achieve for us? Nothing at all, I submit. We are an archipelago of nations where at least 30 islands need some form of airlift. That means regular scheduled flights, airports, ground staff etc, have to be in place. Even though many of the flights may be half empty, the plane still has to go, it still has to have a crew and a pilot, the airports have to be staffed every day.

It is virtually impossible for one entity to take on all of this responsibility and make money. So, why not privatize any and all aspects of this mammoth responsibility to companies willing to take it on and which have an interest in making money? If several airlines want to take over specific routes, let them. If someone wants to manage an airport, or several or all, I say wonderful. All these people will have to pay the government to play, meaning an economic shot in the arm for Bahamians, and because they do not have a national treasury to fall back on, you had best believe these companies will work their hardest to ensure standards, efficiency and customer satisfaction.

The same goes for education. It is a well-known fact that the D average grade for graduating students is really an F from the public schools, boosted by higher grades from the private institutions. For decades, government has shouldered the responsibility of educating the vast majority of students in this country, in the name of keeping schooling free. But, are they really being educated? Can we call them scholars when they are allowed to leave school functionally illiterate through social promotion?

The government divesting itself of this responsibility need not mean that all students will be charged money for school. If we gave half or even two thirds of the more than $200 million we spend annually on education to have a private, professional company with experience in rehabilitative education programs to take over these schools, I guarantee you the national average would shoot up within 5 years. Meanwhile, the public would save $50 to $100 million annually.

So why not? The usual answer is jobs. These private companies will fire people! Perhaps they will initially, but then look again at the BTC example. There are now two thriving companies, both doing their best to succeed, both trying to employ the best and the brightest, which leads young people interested in a telecoms career to try and excel in order to make the big dollars, leading to higher standards all around, higher salaries and more people employed in the sector across the two companies at the end of the day.

The time for small government in The Bahamas has come. The tired, stagnant, slow, decrepit old system by which we have been living has failed us. It is time now to take these anchors from around our necks so we can float to the surface and breathe some fresh air.

Kind regards,

Essy Bootle


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