It is amazing how traumatic or unprecedented events can be a litmus test for the character of an individual, groups of various kinds or an entire nation. History shows that the dynamism of such events have the power to strip away artifice, pretence, masks and other devices human beings and other members of the animal kingdom engage to camouflage true selves.
Many astute Bahamians have been saying that the 2016 presidential election in the United States of America (U.S.A.) has sparked the revelations of the duality of the American people — those willing to sacrifice to preserve the fundamental liberties the U.S. Constitution accords all citizens and those equally determined to surrender limb and life to deprive others of those same rights.
I have always said that owing to the proximity of the two countries and despite the great differences in power, wealth and geopolitics, when the U.S. sneezes, The Bahamas catches a cold.
How dare we point fingers, judge and make pronouncements about needed solutions for the unappetizing litter in our neighbour’s yard, when we are failing to perceive and seek solutions for an even more devastating situation at home?
As evidence, consider the case of the nuclear fallout, which has resulted from the Bahamas Government’s sobering announcement: on July 1, a 4.5 per cent rise in value-added tax (VAT) (7.5 to 12 per cent), passed by this country’s Parliament, will come into force. The reactions to this legislation have laid bare the Bahamian character and criteria by which all too many judge what constitutes government’s rights, responsibilities and culpabilities as compared to those of Bahamian citizens.
Theirs is gravely and deliberately unbalanced logic. Is the government solely responsible for the well-being of the nation? When things go bad, is the government alone responsible for setting things right? Is the Government grossly in error for imposing any law or policy that requires any belt-tightening on the people’s part? No matter that the national debt-to-GDP ratio is in the danger zone, it is our divine right to reject any form of personal discipline?
It is our right to an eternal summer, even if our contribution to the current fiscal crisis is substantial? Really now! Do you believe us all to be so stupid as to drink in this screed without filtration through the colander of historical evidence and the even finer screen of good common sense? Such spurning of collective responsibility is only possible on Jupiter’s icy world where everything appears to be dead anyway.
While this brand of thinking is unproductive and can lead to civil unrest, even more reprehensible are those pundits who are fuelling the fears of the people by their one-sided and lurid predictions. Supposed experts have been trying hard to appear dispassionate and devoted to the country when only the very dull could miss their partisan intent. Some of the more garish claims predict the wholesale turning away of blue-chip investments and the failure of VAT revenues to make even a dent in correcting our fiscal imbalances. Among them have been members of the Parliamentary Opposition, who gleefully and hypocritically took advantage of popular ignorance to shift the blame for their own mismanagement of the country’s finances when it had been their responsibility just over a year ago and for the four years before then.
Even more shameful have been the power-hungry in the bosom of the current administration, who took their cheap bids for fame, knowing how little true merit often has to do with hero-making in The Bahamas, if one is bold and loud enough in declarations of patriotism to cover underlying self-interest. What I find particularly grievous is the case of a 21-year-old with leadership potential being led by the nose to career destruction.
Why are there so many Bahamians who are so willing—nay eager—to sell this country into IMF slavery for the modern equivalent of thirty pieces of silver? Even more questionable are the growing attempts of many businesspeople to twist the government’s arm by threatening to let go hundreds of employees. They attribute this planned consolidation to an expected enormous hit to their bottom line that VAT will supposedly occasion. I want to believe you—I would willingly suspend disbelief, if you would, as Cuba Gooding’s character said, “Show me the money!”
In all of this, men and women ranging from real estate brokers to merchants, to statistic wranglers, to former parliamentarians who have self-resurrected to cast stones. They avoid telling the people that VAT is a consumption tax; it won’t take away the consumer’s right to choose when what and how much to buy. They don’t tell the people that VAT is not income tax and no one will have the right to deduct money from their paychecks. They don’t encourage Bahamians to see that wise budgeting and purchasing can go a long way to seeing us through the VAT increases.
So, will the real Bahamian patriots please stand up!
Not you who have put Bahamians in such a state of agitation that it would not be unreasonable to suggest media-enabled demagogues could lead them to rioting, further endangering this country’s international credibility. Sit down you who, while you held the reins of government danced, travelled the world in bespoke suits and turned a deaf ear to the Auditor General’s reports of missing millions. I must own that you may indeed be telling the truth when you said that you would not have raised VAT to 12 percent. Could it be that you would have raised the VAT rate to 15 percent instead? Surely, that could have been the only way to make a start on amortizing the woeful national debt?
If some of you must be dishonest and dissimulate, please do so with at least a modicum of believability. Don’t be like the child hiding in a game of ‘hide and seek’ who are astonished when discovered by the seeker. No one told them that leaving their bottom sticking out from behind the sofa will give them away.
Let the real patriots among us turn our minds to solutions, to educate the people to personal discipline, and aspiring them to hope and act in hope. Stand up men and women of goodwill and honesty. And yes, by all means, let’s keep the government’s feet to the fire—the honest, country-loving members of the team will thank us for helping them to stay clear of the cobwebs that can infect the minds of those wielding great power over people’s lives. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of this country. Lend your support not to party preferment or to political ambitions, but to the dignified survival of our homeland.
The time is now.