The economics of public policy
One of the biggest problems which we have here in The Bahamas, in my considered submission, is that our politicians, public commentators and so-called community leaders would appear to have absolutely no clue as to the economics and other ramifications of public policy.
On a constant basis we hear about various public issues such as: teenage pregnancies; the proliferation in illegal immigration; a dysfunctional Bahamas Electricity Corporation; suspected corruption in public life; the stark absence of a national development plan; food security; and the list goes on. The potential list of solutions may be even longer. What are we to do? How do we do it and when do we do it?
These are fundamental questions which we have ignored from time immemorial not only to our personal detriment, but that of the nation as a whole. It is one thing to postulate what may appear to be ‘public policy’ but what, in fact, is being proposed and how is it to be financed or funded without throwing the fragile economy into a tailspin?
Sadly, since the heydays of the now defunct (seemingly) United Bahamian Party (UBP) all of our ministers of finance have been the prime minister of the day, who just happened to be a lawyer. Lawyers, by and large, are not good at running public affairs and are not disciplined in managing public finances. Yes, they will legislate one to literal death but are lost in a parallel universe when it comes down to the actual economics of public policy.
Take for instance the rapid and unexpected growth of the southwestern district (the Carmichael Road corridor) and the western suburbs. Few demographers took the time to predict or project the development which we see on the ground in this area. Shopping centers, residences and new businesses are popping up all over that area.
Yet, we lack the infrastructure and the basic developmental amenities such as modern roads, efficient educational facilities and a viable healthcare delivery system, such as a hospital. We have a so-called ‘fire station’ attached to the Carmichael Road Police Station yet, in the event of a major fire in City 2000, equipment and personnel must be dispatched from the East Street depot.
Hundreds of residences and commercial properties will, obviously, be negatively impacted in the unfortunate event of a fire. Insurance premiums, across-the-board, will go up and the general insuring public will suffer from the same in these so-called ‘tough’ economic times. Who cares?
In respect to the ongoing and seemingly never-ending roadwork, it is patently clear that the Ministry of Works, under the auspices of Neko Grant and Colin Higgs, the permanent secretary, failed miserably to ensure that there was a master plan for the construction and execution of the same.
Massive overruns, to the tune of $25 million and a daily tremendous traffic jam causing motorists to consume excessive fuel and to wait in long lines of traffic unduly, are the order of the day. How much is being lost in worker productivity, unnecessary fuel expenditure and the resultant negative effects on individual pocketbooks?
It would seem to me, certainly, as a trained economist that in the non-emotional evaluation of public policy that one must ask the question: Is it good or bad? Should we institute the policy, or, if it is already in place, should we keep it? Take the roadwork. We all agree that it is necessary but is it being executed in an efficient manner and who is really benefitting from contracts awarded?
Is there any appreciable level of efficiency in that the contractors are acting with a minimum of expense, waste and effort? Regardless of what one is creating or making, there are any number of ways to perform the task at hand. It is impossible, I submit, to subscribe these attributes to the Free National Movement (FNM) administration or the general contractors. Money from the coffers of the taxpayer is being flung down the proverbial black hole and the beat goes on.
The economics of public policy are not being applied in this nation. This, no doubt, is a direct result of our so-called ministers of finance being totally and shamelessly devoid of one iota of economic or fiscal insight.
Unfortunately, under the current political regime which exists in The Bahamas, it is clear that small special interest groups can often get favors and contracts from the government of the day at the overt expense of the general taxpayer. This is a phenomenon which has existed in our nation from the time hammer was still an infant hatchet.
The troubling thing about this whole exercise is that at the end of the day, politicians come and they go. When they do demit office or are forced to ride off into the sunset, they leave us saddled with deficits and huge cost overruns. The economics of public policy is, apparently, dead and forgotten in our country. To God then, who is still alive and well on the throne, in all things, be the glory.
Ortland H. Bodie Jr.