Snakes & Ladders: Choices on the Road to Progress

Did you ever play the board game “Snakes & Ladders”? I did. What I remember best about it is feeling exhilarated at one moment and teeth-grinding frustration the next. You see, the object of the play, as with all board games, is to get from the start to the destination before all other players and with the least damage.

The trouble was, as with all other such games, the Snakes & Ladders Board was covered with obstacles that could help you or hinder you from reaching your goal. It’s not hard to guess what those obstacles are—drawings of snakes and ladders large, small and in between covered the playing surface. Landing on a serpent forced you to descend a certain number of steps. One very long, malicious fellow ran from the very top of the board to the bottom, causing you to start all over again. Fortunately, a range of ladders behaved in just the opposite way.

I view my country’s road to progress in the same light as the Snakes & Ladders game. It is filled with potholes, pitfalls and downturns. Happily, we have been blessed with as many or even more assets, which have the power to propel The Bahamas to incredible heights of prosperity and its people to satisfying wellbeing.

The catch is this. We don’t always recognize, which is which, whether we’re headed to heaven or hell, down the slippery slope of a serpent into his dangerous pit or up to ever higher ground, thanks to perceiving and taking advantage of the better choice. To assist those of my readers who would like to land on the safe side of the dilemma, I offer the following samples of the two categories laid before us continually.

 

Snakes

The Five-Year Imperative

Five years is the maximum time allotted to a government administration from one election to another. In The Bahamas, that period has become little more than an extension of the election season. It means that the war between the political parties never takes a break.

The party winning the right to administer the government must work feverishly to deliver on promises, which can be a scary process. In our political culture, during the politicos promise to outdo the good Lord and all his disciples in miracles. Such a strategy could be overwhelmingly productive, but there is a catch. A large majority of my people actually believe that a party’s installation as the government endows members of the new administration with the ability to turn water into wine, cause long corrupt and faulty utilities to produce reliable light and water supplies at the flick of every switch.

This marvel is possible because a second miracle occurs with the distribution of Cabinet portfolios. The lad who is placed in this lofty seat now has all the best ideas and skill to heal all wounds and all the money in his budget to fund his rescues. If the new ministers don’t immediately stop the sky from falling on Chicken Little, Turkey Lurkey, Goosey Loosey and company, he is assailed daily by choruses of condemnation.

How could any rational beings believe such fantasies, you ask? Easily. Members of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition (who, by the way, are loyal only to the goal of storming and retaking the bastions of government), begin immediately to go hammer and tongs after every pronouncement of the government, every appointment, every contract signing, every budget proposal. In fact, everything the losers mucked up during their tenure, they can now lay at the doorstep of their archenemies, with a sanctimony not even a toddler can miss. When next they take a turn in opposition, the new government is likely to adopt the same strategy.

The country’s progress suffers. In defence, the government tends to become secretive, hiding plans from the electorate, until they can spring them as a victory. Unfortunately, having the hounds of hell nipping at their fundaments, a government tends to rush into signing contracts and making announcements with insufficient research and deliberation. The upshot? White elephants of hope for a better day litter the ground and the people grow more cynical and manipulative—get while the getting’s good.

 

Bahamians-Only or Else

This gambit is one of the classics of those who wish to overcome the possible pitfalls of too close a scrutiny of their true intentions. The perpetrators are well aware that stoking the fires of xenophobia is just the right red flag to get Bahamian bulls charging and mowing down the opposition in their favour. Nothing hobbles national progress more than this brand of hypocrisy. The cases have been many, but one sticks in the craw more than many other recent examples.

After making the campaign promise of more reliable and cheaper electricity supplies, the reigning government went mum for a while, then pulled an enormous rabbit out of the deep hat of hopeful plans. And it was a revelation to make most of us who have endured the blackouts, mysterious yet unsolved fires at the legacy electricity plant, lost computer file and ruined hardware sit up and take notice. It sounds like something that could work this time.

To create a new 132-megawatt electricity generation plant, the Bahamas Government has signed an agreement Wärtsilä Oyj Abp, a Finnish corporation which manufactures and services power sources and other equipment in the marine and energy markets. The company’s revenue in 2017 was 4.911 billion EUR. Wärtsilä’s declared purpose is “enabling sustainable societies with smart technology. We shape our markets by generating transformative results through collaboration, partnerships, market insight and active engagement in ecosystems.” The inked agreement is to supply brand new generators to The Bahamas and install them. Founded in 1834? Means not fly by night as so many of our suppliers of solution for electricity woes have been. This company has the chops to deliver and honour a warranty. Sounds good to me so far. According to BPL’s CEO, the takeaways promised will allow the power company to stop paying almost $2 million dollars monthly to rent power generators; use more cost-effective fuel and give consumers (you, me) lower fuel surcharges and monthly bills. Brilliant!

A local newspaper reports the BPL CEO as noting: “We do not have anybody inside of BPL today that would understand Wärtsilä four-stroke engines. And so, we are relying on Wärtsilä to come and do what they do best around the world.”

However, the company’s representative has gone on record to say that Wärtsilä will engage Bahamians, including civil engineers, to contribute to the buildout wherever they can identify appropriately skill persons. This could be a big ladder for Bahamas progress. Why endanger it? If you care, why not make sure that all the right Ts are crossed on the agreement?

Yet, the following was reported from the union leader: “I’m very concerned because, number one, you’re telling me that you’re bringing in foreigners to [install] the engines. We have Bahamians who can do it… Listen, this country is paying $95 million. We’re supposed to be in charge of this. They’re not giving it to us for free.”

According to newspaper reports, the new generators will leave Italy where they are being manufactured and take two months to arrive at New Providence. Despite this information, the union many offered us this jaw-dropping sally: “Bahamian engineers can be trained and gain the necessary skills for the engines in the time it will take for them to be made and shipped to The Bahamas.”

Here was an opportunity to build a ladder for progress. Bahamian engineers undoubtedly have the brains to learn the Wärtsilä four-stroke engines, so why not demand proper training that will allow them to gain mastery over sufficient time. Hasn’t there been enough chewing gum and rubber band remediation for electricity generation in our capital and damaging muscle-flexing? Shouldn’t your teams take at least take some ownership in the shoddy service consumers have received for years now?

 

Ladders

The Bahamas is currently standing on the first rungs of some promising ladders. Global Port Holdings, a company of extensive, provable experience and clout, vied for and won the bid to revolutionize Nassau cruise port. That means the potential to dominate a very long ladder to a stronger economy. Nassau has also secured the multimillion-dollar The Pointe downtown and $125 million Residences at GoldWynn, the condo hotel.

Freeport, the nation’s second city is attracting fresh, quality investment again. The Bahamas Investor has noted, “Innovator GIBC Digital is leading the tech turnaround in The Bahamas’ second city.” That Freeport has managed to attract the attention of a company with offices in New York, London, Hong Kong and Singapore constitutes a ladder to be appreciated and carefully managed.

The Family Islands are attracting fresh interest. All we need is to erect the ladder that will take our country from a snail-slow economic turnaround to the top of the game board. That ladder is a Bahamian personality that once again promotes hard work, integrity and country-first attitude. It must start with the men and women we select to lead us. None of them or any of us should be not be vying non-stop for the next solo, personal gain at the expense of the majority of our fellow citizens.