“In the infancy of societies, the chiefs of state shape its institutions; later the institutions shape the chiefs of state.” — Montesquieu
In daily social intercourse with friends, colleagues and acquaintances, a recurring theme often arises. Invariably, two questions emerge: Is there too much interference from the government and its agencies in our daily lives, and are we losing control of our country and our fundamental freedoms?
There is a growing sense that Bahamians feel like second-class citizens in their own country. This sentiment is frequently confirmed when we encounter difficulties obtaining routine government services, when attempting to conduct simple banking transactions and when dealing with regulators.
Last week, we reviewed the recently failed, politically motivated prosecution by the Free National Movement (FNM) government, which ended in a magistrate’s discharge and dismissal of the bribery and extortion charges against Frank Smith, the former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) member of Parliament and former chairman of the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA).
It is absolutely unfortunate and a compounded abuse of power and office that the government has appealed the magistrate’s ruling in this case. To many Bahamians, this appeal represents nothing more than a desperate face-saving act by a government that should never have brought this matter to court in the first place.
During the week, the attorney general arrogantly affirmed that the government will not provide an accounting of the cost of this prosecution, although the people’s hard-earned taxes were used to pay the enormously excessive, wasteful prosecution cost. The attorney general refuses to abide by his party’s solemn promise of accountability. He haughtily fails to recognize that the funds expended on this politically contrived and motivated misjudgment, which was a monumental mistake in the first place, are the Bahamian people’s money and that the Bahamian people are owed a full accounting of the money expended on this prosecution. This is the height of hypocrisy.
Therefore, this week, we will continue to Consider this… Do Bahamians increasingly feel that some of our traditional institutions have become dysfunctional, resulting in our patrimony and our culture being stolen from us?
In the final installment of this series, we will review two recent but powerful examples to consider this week’s question: (1) the irresistible love affair that successive governments have developed and demonstrate for foreign investors, regardless of their questionable bona fides; and (2) recent developments in the unrelenting attack on our sovereignty by countries who insist that we police their citizens who conduct business offshore and our feeble response to this attack.
Our love affair with foreign investors
Like former administrations, this government seems hopelessly determined to kowtow to every misguided wish and unreasonable demand of foreign investors. While we all accept that The Bahamas will always depend on a reasonable degree of foreign direct investment to develop our country, we must also appreciate that many foreign investors believe that, when they come here, they are entitled to demand whatever they wish from our government, regardless of their bona fides. They know full well that they cannot extract such benefits from any other country. For them, it truly is “better in The Bahamas”.
One of the most glaring examples of this is the failed proposed investment by Oban Energies, which continues to pursue its interest in developing an oil refinery on Grand Bahama. Has the government informed Oban that the major oil companies have not built a single oil refinery anywhere in more than two decades, and that Oban must therefore justify the commercial viability of this venture? Why does Oban want to construct one, and why does it want to do so in our country? Given the potential for environmental and health risks and the feverish pitch with which the government continues to entertain this project, very serious questions arise as to who will really benefit from this investment.
The government seems incapable of understanding its elemental responsibility. We must not allow others to believe they can come into our country and behave irresponsibly toward our fragile environment. If the government is determined to succumb to Oban, it should not allow this venture to proceed until and unless environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are conducted by independent experts, and those EIAs must be made public before any agreements are finalized.
We cannot accept any EIA that is prepared by Oban’s consultants, if the EIA findings are to be taken seriously. Acceptance of any EIA that is paid for by Oban is tantamount to asking a prosecutor if he can also serve as a juror or judge. Oban is now on its third president since announcing its intentions in The Bahamas.
The government must reject the false narrative that, if the foreigner says that a course of action is acceptable, such action must be justifiable simply because they say so. What will it take for a gullible government to understand that foreign investors will act in their own best interests, even when those interests are antithetical to ours? We must be more discerning.
Over the past few years, international organizations and agencies have launched persistent attempts to significantly direct the course of governance in the country. The most important organizations and agencies include the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the European Union (EU) and the international credit ratings agencies, principally Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.
These organizations have imposed enormously strenuous pressures on The Bahamas government to calibrate the public finances and to enact legislation ostensibly to “level the playing field” relating to taxes. They claim to want this to dispel the perception that we are a tax haven for their citizens who have used our offshore financial sector to evade their home countries’ tax authorities and fiscal regulators.
The upshot of our engagement with these international organizations – principally the OECD and the EU – is that The Bahamas has enacted legislation and adopted policies that have adversely affected and irreparably eroded one of the primary pillars of our economy: the financial services sector. The most despicable result of their incursion into our sovereignty has been that, every time we comply with the dictates of these international organizations, the goal posts move. This results in even further erosion of our financial services sector.
How have we chosen to address this matter? We have appointed an ambassador to Brussels who has not distinguished herself as a person with the right stuff to represent us against the onslaught of irreparable damage to our patrimony. While it is the prime minister’s prerogative to appoint ambassadors to represent our interests, he must ensure that he exercises prudence and wisdom in such appointments. That cannot be the case with his selection of our new ambassador to Brussels, who is absolutely unqualified to even tread water in an ocean of ‘sharks’, who have demonstrated a feeding frenzy for our financial services sector.
And why have his Cabinet ministers abdicated their responsibility by acquiescing to the prime minister’s appointment and to him recalling our ambassador in Geneva, whose remit was to negotiate the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization?
Our engagement with the IMF, WTO, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s has significantly impacted, and will continue to impact, the formulation and implementation of fiscal and monetary policies. The effects of our admission to the WTO will have long-term, irreversible impacts on many important segments of Bahamian society. It is vitally important that our best and brightest minds must be dispatched to put our case to those organizations in the strongest possible terms. I fear that we are failing the country by refusing to do so. The official opposition must be much more vociferously vocal in challenging the government in this regard.
The art of the steal
We have repeatedly succumbed to the prospects of having our patrimony, our culture and our sovereignty slowly, but systematically, stolen from us.
The government has attempted to steal the freedom of one of its citizens who also happens to have been a political adversary, without any evidence of corruption by the accused. The waste by the government of our hard-earned taxes will also occur if the government does not accurately and fully account for the cost of the recent political prosecution, as well as those that are in process.
Until we learn to mobilize our own extensive Bahamian intellectual capital, using more appropriately deployed Bahamian expertise to build the Bahamian nation, we are doomed to continue to be a colony, dependent upon and controlled by external forces that do not have our best interests at heart.
We will witness the further decline of our financial services sector if we refuse to appoint suitably qualified ambassadors who intimately understand the complexities of the sector’s challenges and have perfected the negotiating skills required to competently challenge those who seek to steal our future.
We thought we had secured our independence once, but it appears that we need to become independent once more – free at last of all those who do not believe in the soaring Bahamian spirit and the indomitable Bahamian soul.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to email@example.com.