We Don’t Need Wild West Cowboys: We need a national posse armed to corral peace and prosperity

In The Bahamas, for the first time since the global financial meltdown of 2008, we are beginning to see the first buds of real forward movement in development programmes, particularly in areas where it has been lacking in crucial areas of our economy and society.

None but the most giddily optimistic could have said that all had been well in this country over the past decade. Solid evidence of rising crime and unemployment, anaemic foreign direct investment and a national debt spiralling out of control would have been testament enough. Then in 2017 the country elected a new government with an unprecedented rejection of the former administration—eminently convincing of a perception of stagnation. Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly that the Bahamian people believed that our country was heading towards the point of no return—a loss of sovereignty to bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and loss of life and dignity to growing antisocial behaviour.

Many of us Bahamians cautiously celebrated when, in the 2018/2019 budget debate in Parliament, the Prime Minister reported that the total foreign capital investment in The Bahamas from May 2017 to the date of the debate (June 2018) was estimated at $767.44m. Even better, we were told that the commitments were spread over multiple economic sectors, including resorts, condominium developments, farming and cement manufacturing.

This year gave us more reason to hope. There have been undeniable signs that major, moneyed investors are contending for space in our islands. There have been several notable expressions of the desirability of partnership with The Bahamas. In the face of substantial opposition, Disney Cruise Lines continued to contend for the right to develop the prime Lighthouse Point area in South Eleuthera as a new cruise port. It was a point of unbridled amazement that this huge company maintained negotiations, even in the face of considerable opposition from various local non-governmental development bodies and environmentalists. It seems that The Bahamas still has some golden assets by international investment standards.

Later came the bidding for the right to redevelop Nassau’s cruise port and environs, attracting the powerful Global Port Holdings, which has invested in and manages ports around the world. Still more hopeful was the insistence that the Bahamas government would retain controlling interest and Bahamians would have the opportunity to become shareholders in the venture.

One of the shakiest wheels on our country’s investment attraction vehicle has long been the fragile state of utilities and the unreliability and quality of their outputs. Few could honestly gainsay the claim that electricity generation and distribution has wobbled along on palsied legs for far too long. Here again, the tide seems to be turning towards a distinct positive. Government has brokered a deal with a Finnish company noted for its strength in the energy market to partner in the building of a new power plant at Clifton in Southwest New Providence.

For this writer’s money, no development could be more promising than the government’s brokering of a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank to implement the Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP). This seems to signal an understanding that the troubles The Bahamas has been experiencing cannot be attributed to economic problems alone, but are fed by multiple factors, including detrimental cultural beliefs and practices and unhealthy residential environments. Along the same lines, I welcome government’s initiation of the development of well-appointed community centres and the enhancement of the historic Southern Recreation Grounds.

The CSJP is an admission that increasing crime, youth disaffection in general and too-low productivity are symptoms of systemic ills, which can only be healed by a comprehensive programme that addresses not only the economic being but the social being as well. So bravo for this encouraging insight.

So, what’s the downside? Too many powerful elements in this country whose notion of development and progress requires shootouts OK Corral-style, despite the fact that the duels might result in more losses than gains. There are those who continue to pull out their cannons and fire indiscriminately, no matter the toll on the quality of our quality of life and a national progress that benefits all Bahamians.

Prime among those wishing to go down in history as the fastest guns in the Bahamian west have been the labour unions to whom the word ‘negotiation’ means ‘give us what we want or else’. A significant case in point has been the squabble over voluntary separation pay-outs to the departing managers of the Grand Lucayan Resort in Grand Bahama.

The gentlemen of the electrical generation industry have taken pride in being the Clanton gang at every step towards beneficial change in amelioration of an essential service that has been hallmarked by unreliable service and corruption and mired in debt. Dear sirs, you have threatened us with a long, dark hot summer. What’s new? Haven’t you delivered on this year after year? For the majority of us, summer by candlelight and heat has become an expectation.

Isn’t it time for this brand of Jurassic tooth and claw wrangling to cease? Isn’t it time to realize that there is no guaranteed healing balm for our economy when the Cowboys have shredded it with unreasoning and unceasing demands in their lust for power?

Now is the time to recognize and break the toxic nexus between the unending labour wrangling and low productivity across industries.

I firmly believe that unions have a valuable role to play in labour development and the prosperity of the nation, but their thinking must emerge from the dark ages of unexplained fires and other forms of scuttling programmes. What is sorely needed is good research, reliable statistics and transparency on both sides of the negotiating table.

That said, I applaud the Electrical Managers Union and their cautious expression of optimism regarding the plans for building the new Clifton plant. Equal kudos are due to the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union (BTCU) executives and the Prince George Wharf Taxi Association for their civil meeting with Global Ports Holding officials and the Downtown Nassau Partners.

Rather than expletive-ridden public statements, what is urgently needed are ‘posses’ made effective by the possession and demonstration of sound knowledge, skills, creativity and respect for human rights.

There is decidedly no intention in this writing to lay all this country’s woes at the doorstep of the unions. This would be inaccurate and very wrong.

Just about every social and economic sector, every community must bear its measure of responsibility for the more persistent problems. This includes elements of the religious establishment, who should be dedicated to spreading light, but cling to keeping their adherents in a darkness that denies the progress the 21st-century demands.

Societal and economic advancement is hamstrung by inefficiency, inconsistent productivity, the clinging to anachronistic beliefs and practices. In the latter instance, we seem to hold on with tooth and nails to colonial methodologies and hierarchies that defy forward movement. Why for example has there not yet been orderly and effective digitization and redundancy of the all-important records of the Registrar General’s Office and the Passport Office, both of which agencies are fundamental to national identity and a host of accompanying rights.

As people, from individual to individual, from group to group, we need to revisit ‘soft skills’, which have been defined as “a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, career attributes, social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients, among others, that enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills.”

We must revisit and sustain integrity and a commitment to community and the common good in all aspects of personal and national life.