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The very idea of local government

Dear Editor,

Some writers have recently brought forth the importance of immediately acting on the idea of democracy, most especially the revision of our local government laws.

As someone who lives in one of the Family Islands, it seems apparent that those who live in Nassau somehow forget the major differences and costs associated with living in the out islands.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade living in the Family Islands for anything. However, it must be said that those who so heavily influence the true “cost” of living here seem completely out of touch with the realities of living and making a living outside of Nassau.

What are the true costs of living in the Family Islands?

On top of the already overpriced goods and services we get in Nassau, comes additional fees for us here in the Family Islands. For instance, what value do you place on our time, the hours each week, whereby we must wait on the dock for the mailboats to deliver our already expensive products to be landed from Nassau? These are goods that are often damaged, wet, or missing altogether. And, then pay freight on top of that? How about the hours spent in line at BoB just to cash a check? How about having to travel to Nassau to get a driver’s license, or any other government service not available to us in the out islands? Are these not real taxes on us, on top of the taxes we already pay, just to live?

Anyone who shops online, especially using one-click shopping, must realize that the government of The Bahamas exists in the dark ages of technology, whereby so much of our bureaucratic red tape could be eliminated with a seemingly simple and cheap software upgrade. The Bank of The Bahamas can’t even get its online banking right after how many years now? A disgrace to our country. How about the cost of a gallon of gasoline, or a gallon of milk on our Family Islands? Ask around. The seven copies of customs paperwork to bring in anything from away is an embarrassment. The “extra” we must hand over to already well-paid officials, which they put directly into their pockets, is a crime. This on top of the duty, VAT, stamp tax, and who knows what else.

I am not asking for price control, as I don’t believe in it. I believe that it would be best to be allowed to unshackle ourselves from the nearly non-existent representation of our tax money. We don’t see our MP except for photo ops. I suspect many of the other islands have similar complaints.

If we truly believe in democracy, which seems more talk than reality with this new administration, we should implement a number of liberating measures such that all of us in The Bahamas can maintain some input, some control over the basics of our lives. I know this is a tall order. To ask our representatives to cede power to those who pay their salaries. Yet, short of a full-scale fight for independence, what else are we to do? Just sit and suffer at the hands of politicians who just don’t get it? Or, maybe they do get it and they just don’t want to part with all the perks associated with their jobs. Jobs which they only half-heartedly do, if they do anything at all, while collecting a pretty paycheck and who knows what else to “represent” us.

The answer to the problems associated with local government are mostly those of transparency and accountability. Given that our central government is so slow to act on these measures, or is threatened by them, is only more of a reason to embrace them with immediate resolve.

When I hear of the paltry amounts of money given by the central government to our local government here on Andros, I am appalled. Our Family Islands are suffering from many ills. Most complaints of these ills to our representatives seem to fall on deaf ears. I have heard that our own MP doesn’t like to come here, “because all we do is complain”. And then, when other central government representatives come here and are asked why our clinic is in a state of shambles, or our dock is a disgrace, they say, “because nobody here is complaining about it”. Can we stop the BS?

I am under no illusions. The challenges to finding educated, internationally exposed, selfless, visionary leaders among our Family Islanders is no small feat. However, at least they have to face “the people” on a daily basis. Presently, the little nod to representation that we have as taxpaying citizens of The Bahamas borders on non-existent.

With that said, isn’t it preferable to take the risk of increasing our limited direct democracy with an enhanced local government, than to suffer the indignation of continually being ignored by those who ostensibly have our interests as their obligation in central government? I would answer, “Yes, it is.”

Give us the opportunity to raise funds and to decide how to spend more of our tax money locally. Unshackle us from some of the documented inefficiencies, corruption and graft that currently exist in central government here in The Bahamas. Not that we will immediately do better, but, again, at least we can put personal pressure on our representatives, instead of writing letters to the editor, or to the prime minister’s office, that go mostly unheard by those in power over our lives.

I think the bottom line is this. The differences between living in Nassau and living in the Family Islands are many and great. We are tired of being ignored. Is this unreasonable? Decades of political promises have remained unfulfilled, no matter which party is in power. Do we sit and wait while nothing gets done, as has been the case? Or, do we rise up and sensibly request that more is done to improve our opportunities for a better life?

As I have said to every adult I know here: “You have spent your entire lives listening to the false promises made by politicians to improve this island. If, in another five years time, we still have nothing to show in terms of progress, whose fault is this? Not the politicians. It is our failure. Our failure in doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

I think it is fair to say that for the most part, central government has failed the Family Islands, and the need to take greater control over our destiny has never been greater.

History suggests that the fight for self-determination is one of the most important in humanity’s progress. Is this fight worth it? We have little right to cry, if we don’t forcefully try.

– Norman Trabulsy Jr., Andros

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