The Bahamian Dream II
The hope and expectation of every parent is to produce offspring who attain higher levels of success than they did. The genuine desire of each generation should be one that is built around the attainment of higher heights and charting of new territories by successive generations.
The Bahamian Dream was born out of dissatisfaction with a substandard life and discomfort with the status quo. It is one of deep aspiration, a cherished desire, unique ambition and daring vision of a Bahamas in which the average Bahamian can be all that he/she hopes to be. It is a dream embedded in the minds of our forefathers and defined by the achievement of feats unimaginable in that era, but conceived in the hearts of our founding fathers. This dream peaks at the juncture where Bahamians hold their destinies in their own hands and their strength lies in their unity, fortitude and beliefs.
It has afforded Bahamians like myself, born in Farm Road to parents who formed part of the working class at the time, educated in Bain and Grants Town at the Willard Patton Primary and C.R. Walker Secondary schools with opportunities to receive tertiary level education, command decent salaries and become homeowners. The pursuit of this dream has also encouraged some of us to take risks and become entrepreneurs in spite of the challenges associated with such endeavours – a sacrifice made willingly to provide a better way of life for our children and generations yet unborn. However, as impressive as this may sound, reality dictates that far too many Bahamians, particularly of my generation, have yet to claim the same testimony.
It appears that the Bahamian Dream is met by roadblocks due to an inability to foster ownership of the economy by a wide cross-sector of Bahamians. This is ‘the tragedy of the shrinking middle-class and select upper class’ that characterizes the 21st century Bahamas and threatens the very essence and crux of the dream. There is the accepted fact that there are more educated Bahamians up to post-graduate levels today than there were before, as well as more Bahamian entrepreneurs. In addition, we acknowledge that The Bahamas has the third highest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere and it can be argued that we enjoy a decent standard of living as a result. However, one may ask the following questions: Why aren’t we satisfied? What more do we want? The reality is that as a people collectively, we are yet to lay hold of the entire dream. There is still much more to be achieved, more grounds to cover and we owe it to ourselves and future generations not to stop until we have done so. The dream encourages us not to become complacent or lackadaisical, but to continue pressing until we have witnessed widespread prosperity. To many this is a utopian outlook and nearly impossible, but I belong to the more optimistic crew of believers who dare to believe that it is possible and at the least, we should attempt to make it possible.
Banks and the government
The global economic crisis is real and has impacted us severely. Atlantis, the country’s largest private employer which has created thousands of jobs for Bahamians and effectively improved the standard of living and quality of life for many, has been plagued with rumors of possible defaults on their obligations which can place thousands of jobs at risk. There is a rising concern that the inability to bring this matter to a quick resolve can have a negative impact on an already depressed Bahamian economy. The inability of successive governments to diversify the economy and reduce our vulnerability and dependency on employment by foreign employers has contributed to the catastrophic position that we find ourselves in today. A robust small-medium sized business sector would have safeguarded to some extent against such possible misfortunes. We are still waiting on the government to pass legislation concerning SMEs and it is unclear why such an important piece of legislation has not been enacted to date. In the same manner that we passed vital legislation to save the turtles and the sharks almost overnight to preserve our marine resources, the passage of legislation to make Bahamians more self-sufficient should have been met with equivalent and perhaps more priority.
It is challenging for today’s Bahamians to become entrepreneurs being faced with start-up costs that many of them are unable to meet. There are insufficient venture capital funds to provide access to seed money and there are limited alternative sources of funding. Bahamians complain regularly that financial institutions won’t lend them money to start a business, but instead are quick to provide funds to finance the purchase of vehicles, vacations, grocery, furniture, etc. If this is in fact true and the facts suggest that it is, why do they continue to enjoy our patronage? After all, they have made millions and billions of dollars which some of them have expatriated back to their home countries or issued in dividends. We must come together to demand more from these institutions and in the mean time patronize the financial institutions, banks, co-operatives and credit unions that will assist us in achieving the Bahamian Dream and provide more attractive rates and offers based upon the credit risk posed to each customer. The power rests with the people and this power should be activated to make this dream a reality.
In recent times, the government has made several moves that will delay the economic advancement of the average Bahamian and defer the attainment of the Bahamian Dream. In addition to the questionable levels of borrowing, the country’s fiscal position forced the government to carry out what was viewed by many as a fire sale of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC). The firm was sold to foreigners reportedly under value and the bidding process appears to have been tainted. A Bureau of Public Enterprise should have been formed to oversee the privatization process to ensure transparency in the bidding process and lack of political interference by politicians who are primarily concerned about the electorate’s and/or special interests’ concerns. It is worth considering the approach adopted by the U.K. in privatizing its equivalent of BTC about three decades ago. In 1981, then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government announced that her government would be privatizing British Telecommunications (BT), which held the monopoly on telecommunication and informed the public of a program to phase in liberalization of the market prior to the sale. The irony of this transaction from a Bahamian perspective was that Cable & Wireless, who bought BTC, was the first firm to offer alternative telephone service and receive an operating license through their subsidiary Mercury Communications in this newly liberalized market. In 1984, legislation was passed empowering the state to sell BT. In the same year, up to 51 percent of BT shares were sold to “British” private investors. Legislation was also enacted that enabled BT to be in a position to succeed in the midst of an already established local competition by allowing BT to form joint ventures, expand globally and manufacture its own apparatus. The remaining government shares were eventually sold in 1991 and 1993.
What Thatcher effectively did was expand the middle class and create wealth for hundreds of thousands of Britons through liberalization and eventual privatization. Contrasting the U.K.’s approach to the government’s modus operandi in choosing to sell to foreigners, one wonders whether the government is a proponent of the Bahamian Dream or whether it has a vision for its people. It is little wonder that we are faced today with a tragedy of the shrinking middle class and select upper class.
If we are to empower Bahamians in the 21st century Bahamas, creating jobs alone from foreign direct investments and empowering a handful of Bahamians is not the course of action to be taken. Bahamians need a government in place that is sensitive to the needs of its people at large. Sir Clifford Darling, Sir Randol Fawkes, Sir Milo Butler, Sir Lynden Pindling and Arthur D. Hanna, among others are men who were radicals of their time, understood the needs of the people and fought for majority rule. They denied themselves and swallowed their pride to meet those needs. That is why, more than half a century later, they are still loved by many Bahamians. We cannot allow our progress in advancing economically to be retarded.
This generation and future generations will not be satisfied with just a job in the civil service, hotels or banks, which are not owned by Bahamians. An economy dominated by job seekers, as opposed to job creators, will not experience the rebuilding or expansion of the middle class. The lack of ownership within The Bahamas’ economy by a broad spectrum of Bahamians fosters job insecurity and impedes the chance for a better way of life thereby choking the Bahamian Dream.
Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed to [email protected]