Never before in my experience have there been so many Bahamians who seem determined to achieve their personal agendas and benefit at the expense of intelligent action by the collective for the benefit of the collective, order and peace in our country.
Sadly, spreading the corrosive napalm of narrow, self-serving interests has become the expected custom of local politicians. What is amazing that among the current crop of mayhem promoters are bankers, lawyers, principals of major businesses and professional firms, either former or current. They are mostly well educated in high status positions with every indication that they enjoy a higher income than the “living wage earned by the majority.
Such profiles suggest that this voluble group know what they’re doing or ought to know. It is unlikely that they are unaware of the true challenged state of the Bahamian society and economy. Neither do or they lack knowledge of their obligations as reasoning citizens to contribute to the development of civil society. This makes these comfortable, self-interested men and women all the worthier of condemnation for encouraging our people to flout the laws of the land and the common good, thereby promoting civil unrest.
How are they doing it? By sophistry, which dictionaries define as the “use of clever but false arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.” Even more culpable are those lawyer/politicians, who harry the authorities with questionable law suits and, in the process, drain valuable but limited resources of time, planning, knowledge and analysis based efforts, and let’s not forget millions of dollars of public funds.
It’s worth looking briefly at some of the most specious of these engagements, which range from the sublime, to the ridiculous, to the downright dangerous in terms of their potential to disrupt public order.
Among the sublime is the masterpiece of sophistry embodied in a letter a noted forensic accountant wrote to the editor of a local daily newspaper in defense of webshops. In this brilliant correspondence, the said gentleman sidesteps the real issues plaguing the Bahamian gaming industry today—the seemingly uncontrolled proliferation of such establishments in the poorest quarters of the country and the many indications of a growing gaming addiction among their patrons, who are least able to bear the cost of the vice. Instead, this accountant, in a specious tour de force, links the principals of the gaming industry with the plutocrats of the global tech revolution, such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In the same breath, he tells us that we should be giving our homegrown Midas entrepreneurs awards for their technical acumen. Never mind that, earlier this year, Zuckerberg was left with mud on his face when it was revealed that Facebook shared users’ data with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. He was obliged to testify before the United States Congress because of this breach of public trust.
On the other hand, and just as bogus, has been the call to government by one “Porcupine” to summarily shut down the webshops, despite the fact that they are now legally constituted and licensed. We are expected to applaud and support what is basically a proposal to discard due process, which is far more frightful than the accountant’s call for red carpet treatment for webshop developers. Even more frightful is the knowledge that this suggestion will go down well with many who view themselves as righteous. Why? Because the Bahamian concepts of righteousness and law are highly individualistic, based on a gospel anthem in the key of ‘me’. If a proposal accords with one’s personal sense of right and wrong, it is just to discard law and order. The unique, home-grown “Small Man” ethics makes it right to steal from the shopkeeper, whose prices are considered too high, or to be unproductive on one’s job, because the employer is adjudged “stingy”—Rightly or wrongly.
Ridiculous are the ramblings of those who purport to lead in matters of the economy, who have become particularly vocal with the government’s 4.5 percent increase in VAT. The comments generally centre on why that action was wrong, without offering viable, practicable solutions, exemplified by remarks that appeared in the Wednesday journals (11 July 2018). Extolling the virtues of “past leaders of the Commonwealth…who walked by faith and not by sight”, the goodly commenter claimed “who walked by faith and not by sight, they sought to be innovative and progressive, depending on ingenuity of the Bahamian people rather than being degrading and regressive…we cannot tax our way into a better tomorrow. We must innovate and elevate our natives and our resources and our people to a better tomorrow.”
Sounds good, but singularly full of logistical holes. How do this cadre of persons suggest that we work this particular turning of water with the financial world clamoring for us to address our deficits and debt to GDP ratio in the short term?
The most egregious and dangerous of these Bahamian rationalizations has been that of a well-known attorney’s opposition to the Bahamian government’s move to halt the spread of shanty towns and dismantle those already in existence. Generally, these residential areas have sprung up illegally and mostly on public land. They are unregulated as regards electrical connections and other infrastructure such as water and sewerage provisions. Could we be expected to believe that the man of law who is calling on government to honour the status quo does not realize the implications of his proposal? At best they are unproductive and, at the other end of the spectrum, bear the potential to do great harm.
All law-abiding, conscientious citizens should cling dearly to the properly constituted rule of law, as it is a lifeline of the democracy we claim to hold dear. Leading the way should be the attorney in question, who has sworn to uphold the law and work, according to democratic means, to amend those laws that are adjudged bad from inception or have become prejudicial to the common good through the changing tides of life. What does it say for our belief in law, if we allow the shanty town development to proliferate?
- Should it be accepted that anyone desiring to build can erect structures on land that is not theirs?
- Should we not consider the long-term, negative consequences of lack of proper town planning and zoning? We have the evidence of the consequences right before our eyes in the historic unplanned developments that have attached to the historic, over the hill townships.
- Should we not be concerned about the risk to public health and safety with the rise of unregulated infrastructure, including illegal installations of electricity, water and sewerage? When the major concern in the latter instance has to be the potential for outbreaks of dangerous diseases such as cholera?
- Who is to bear the cost when something goes wrong in such areas?
- Is the next step in shanty towns to institute their own system of law and order, no matter how lacking in concord with the provisions of the Bahamas Constitution?
We are dealing with people’s lives, however, so the resolution of the current problem must be handled with compassion and protection of life and health. This is the first law of a democratic collective.
That said, the government must be the primary initiator in efforts to reduce the potential for chaos and be ever flexible in maintaining order, which is a cornerstone of progress. I suggest our leaders on both sides of the parliamentary chambers stop taking pot shots at each other and focus on the following:
- Effecting and sustaining transparency—Start by passing the Fiscal Responsibility Bill and bring into force the Freedom of Information Act.
- Promoting efficiency government business and the public service in general
- Bringing its communications network into the 21st century, ending the interagency blindness which snarls and retards ease of doing business
- Reducing the ridiculous giveaways of prime public land to investors, whose fidelity to The Bahamas has often proven transitory. Give more of the same incentives to local entrepreneurs, who have proven their seriousness.
- Put teeth into encouragement of entrepreneurship.
If enough of us are serious about creating a better Bahamian society and economy, let’s stop leading with the left hook of “what’s in it for me”, and favour the “right” of the collective, the common good, a fairer share of all and more sustainable order and peace.
God bless this wonderful gift we call the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.