Front Porch | Remembering our advantages and advancements
• This column was first published on April 12, 2018.
Former Roman Catholic Vicar General Monsignor Preston Moss often laments the culture of complaint and cynicism that is common in The Bahamas. It is a negativity likely partly fueled by the economic dislocation of the Great Recession of 2008 and unprecedented crime levels.
The negativity and anger explodes on talk radio and through social media. It is often further fueled by mostly print but also broadcast commentary that is reliably negative and cynical, rarely highlighting positive developments in the country.
The Oban deal has been a disaster for the government. However, in the midst of this the economy is growing, tourism is on the upswing, crime is on the decline, there are new investments coming into the country and the Hubert Minnis administration is tackling longstanding problems such as shantytowns and the problems at the New Providence Landfill.
But in some quarters there are those like the fabled Henny Penny aka Chicken Little, who are convinced that the sky is falling and the world is coming to an end.
Of course, many of those in opposition to the government of the day are perennially miserable, especially entitled PLPs, who are convinced the country wants them back and is ready to chuck out the FNM.
Former Governor General and veteran political participant and observer Sir Arthur Foulkes, who turns 90 next month, succinctly noted: “When you are in opposition, you tend to believe that everyone else is as miserable as you are.”
While he underscores the legitimate woes of many, the need for improvement in many areas of national life, and the necessity of holding leaders accountable, Moss notes the tremendous progress he witnessed in The Bahamas during his nearly 80 years, including in recent years.
The insipid and shallow retort by some, who question what majority rule accomplished, is but one of the more egregious examples of an often studied failure and often willful ignorance to recognize our progress as a country. Some of this is by those who still yearn for the supposedly halcyon days of white privilege.
Before majority rule, most Bahamian children never attended high school. It was a prime example of social injustice, designed to retard the development and advancement of black Bahamians and poor whites, both of whom were liberated by majority rule.
Today, we have a seat for every child who wants to go to school from primary to high school. Quite a number of the finest educators in the country have taught in the public education system.
We still have a long way to go to improve education at the primary and high school levels, including in the government-operated school system.
Still, scores of students who graduated from this system have become accomplished in many fields, often besting students who graduated from private schools. We have advanced considerably because of the many capable individuals who matriculated into the government-operated system.
None of this denies the woeful skills gap and the critical need to improve public and private education. But we have a system upon which to improve and build.
Countries like Jamaica and Brazil have to rotate students because of a lack of classrooms, with some students attending in the morning and some in the afternoon. And still there are many who cannot be accommodated.
A banker involved in efforts to improve the ease of doing business in The Bahamas is often deeply frustrated by the failure of many of her colleagues locally to recognize the progress The Bahamas has made and continues to make.
She notes that at international meetings, her foreign colleagues often highlight improvements in their jurisdictions, while her domestic colleagues often mostly bemoan what still needs to be done.
Her argument is that we should tout our advantages and advancements, while acknowledging our shortcoming and areas for improvement.
The recommendations of the Ease of Doing Business Committee appointed by the Minnis administration will help to significantly improve the conditions for local and foreign businesses. Already there are improvements in the business license process and trading across borders.
There is need for vast improvement in our healthcare system. But we must also recognize that much of the burden on the system is a result of the lifestyle choices of an often unhealthy population burdened by chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
We eat poorly. We are overweight, with approximately 50 percent of our children obese. We fail to exercise on a regular basis. We relish our libations, often to excess. Our being unhealthily overweight is not sexy or something to celebrate with all manner of supposedly cute sayings and excuses.
When we get sick, we expect the state to rescue us from our unhealthy choices of a lifetime but we do not necessarily want to pay for the facilities, technology, medication and personnel that will be needed to care for us as we grow unhealthier.
Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands should be congratulated for the work he is doing to address various lifestyle diseases. He will need to embark on the most ambitious public health campaign in Bahamian history to address lifestyle diseases.
Amidst our national healthcare challenges, healthcare is available in even some of our remotest island communities through a network of community health clinics built primarily in the 1990s. Some of these facilities are not state of the art but there is a level of care available and it saves lives. Still, every Bahamian has access to basic healthcare.
The inclusion of morgues in many of the Family Island healthcare facilities was quite an advancement. Since the earliest of times those who died in the Family Islands had to be interred within 24 hours. This is no longer the case in many of our islands.
The Bahamas enjoys centrally generated electricity in every population center in our archipelago. Even the United States of America does not match this. Our great national opportunity and challenge is to move to greater renewable energy in the years ahead.
During the three terms of the Hubert Ingraham administration there was a revolution in infrastructure that is the envy of the Caribbean and small island states throughout the world.
On a visit to Abaco, former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur marvelled at what Ingraham did in Abaco, noting that the island enjoyed some amenities various states in CARICOM did not enjoy.
A Bahamian friend on a cruise through The Bahamas marvelled at his ability to use his cellphone throughout his trip, including in the middle of the ocean. Our access to cellular communication and the Internet compares favorably to access in the developed world.
Another friend, who travels the Caribbean frequently, notes that few countries in the region enjoy the access to cellular and Internet service The Bahamas enjoys.
For context, as Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has noted on occasion: “Our far-flung archipelago, with approximately 21 major islands and many hundreds of cays and islands, extends from north to south, approximately the same geographic length from the northern to the southern end of Britain.
“To put it another way, The Bahamas extends from north to south, the same distance as from Puerto Rico to Trinidad and Tobago off the coast of South America.”
The Bahamas has achieved one of the highest qualities of life in the Western Hemisphere from an economy almost exclusively based on services. Imagine if we had the resources of some other countries.
It would be myopic to view our country through rose-colored glasses. But it is equally myopic for us to view the country through various blinders which blinker our vision, including the blinders of unremitting negativity, cynicism and endless complaint void of a more balanced perspective on the road we have successfully trod.