Consider This | Stupid is dangerous, pt. 2
“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
In part one of this series, we noted that, since the installation of the new government two years ago, there have been several developments that can be described as stupid at best and, at worst, potentially destructive to our democracy.
We also discussed how certain agencies of the state, including the police, have abused their power by prematurely launching several political prosecutions against former ministers of the government, one of which has been dismissed by a magistrate.
This week, we will continue to Consider this… Are we at risk of becoming impervious to dangerous threats to our democracy that have developed from some of the stupid actions and decisions that have been taken by the government?
The haplessly inane, autocratic antics of the Water & Sewerage Corporation executive chairman
Since the general elections of 2017, hardly a week goes by that the public is not forced to endure the nonsensical actions and utterances of the executive chairman of the Water & Sewerage Corporation. We should have anticipated that this was going to be his modus operandi. From the early days of the new government, he proclaimed that, in the exercise of naming his Cabinet, the prime minister should have appointed him. He even suggested that the residents of Long Island would be extremely disappointed not to have a minister at Cabinet meetings.
Like so many of his inexperienced colleagues who were elected, the executive chairman failed to comprehend that it is the prime minister’s sole prerogative to appoint (and disappoint) those who arrogantly consider themselves worthy of a Cabinet appointment. Furthermore, one of his more erudite associates should have admonished him that, even if he was appointed, his elevation to the Cabinet would not have been for the residents of Long Island, but for the entire country. Unfortunately for the country, so many of our neophyte ministers have themselves stubbornly refused to grasp even a sophomoric understanding of the Westminster system of government.
The executive chairman then embarked upon an incredible house-cleaning exercise at the corporation. First, he announced that a forensic audit would be conducted, because everyone knows that, under the PLP administration, there must have been evidence of malfeasance and misfeasance committed by the corporation’s administration just waiting to be excavated.
Even before the forensic audit was completed and published, the executive chairman unceremoniously terminated the general manager of the corporation.
The Bahamian people are now forced to endure the obtuse utterances and banal behavior of the executive chairman, who seems to be motivated solely by his intent to solidify his autocratic authority at the corporation. Some employees have stated that the corporation is at an unprecedented low ebb of employee morale.
The prime minister appears to be incapable of dealing with this rampantly stupid behavior by reining in his executive chairman from his antiquated authoritarian management style and autocratic antics that have resulted in totally frustrating the hard-working employees at the corporation.
The misguided purchase of Our Lucaya
Grand Bahama seems to possess a captivatingly magnetic pull for government ministers toward the wall of stupidity. The broadcast that announced Oban’s proposed investment in Grand Bahama has to be the most nonsensical and nationally obsequious display by the Cabinet of how such announcements should not be made. A year later, Oban is still struggling to make a case for its investment and the government is desperately trying to find a gracious exit from this embarrassing fiasco.
Then the government attempted to justify its purchase of Our Lucaya in Grand Bahama, at a cost of at least 150 percent of its estimated value, in order “to save Bahamian jobs”. Immediately after the purchase, however, nearly one half of the employees elected to take the separation package, thereby nullifying the purpose for the purchase in the first place.
To add insult to injury, the board that the government appointed to oversee the sale of the property was overruled by a sole government minister who wanted to settle a labor dispute at Our Lucaya at a cost of $2 million more than the amount that was recommended by the board.
The domestic gaming tax
The government again demonstrated that it was not up to the task of visionary governance when it increased the domestic gaming tax during the last budget without consulting the stakeholders who were most affected by the tax increase.
Because this matter was entangled in bitter wrangling between the gaming operators and the government for the past eight months, the government has not collected many millions in domestic gaming taxes.
Had the government consulted with the gaming operators, the former would have understood that the tax increases were enormously onerous, unjust, inequitable and inappropriate. They would also have been advised that these taxes could drive some operators out of business, or worse, back underground where they operated before the regulation of this industry. Both outcomes would also negatively impact government revenue.
It rapidly became apparent that the government has discriminatorily targeted the wholly Bahamian-owned domestic gaming sector and its Bahamian patrons.
In the former administration, the gaming operators enjoyed a partnership with the government. At the time, both partners approached the regularization of that sector in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation in order to maximize the tax for the public purse, while recognizing that these innovative entrepreneurs were entitled to a reasonable return on their investment. This spirit of collaboration and cooperation did not continue with the current administration. The government actually broadsided the operators who viewed the government’s actions as an attempt to tax them out of existence.
Much of the rancor, cost and loss in tax revenue could have been averted if the government adopted a less stupid approach to this matter.
Appointing a chief justice
The current administration is gun-shy when it comes to appointing chief justices. We observed this with the last chief justice, whom the prime minister took forever to appoint. In fact, when Justice Isaacs finally assumed the position, he served for only a very short time before his untimely passing.
We are again faced with a void in the office and, again, the prime minister has failed to fill the position in a timely manner, although it is a public secret that he has made his choice but has not yet publicly communicated it. This is unfortunate on two fronts.
First, it is fundamentally wrong for the substantive position to be vacant for as long as it has been. Secondly, if the person who the prime minister has selected is the individual whose name has been the subject of “semi-public” discussions in the legal fraternity and the cocktail circuit, many question the prime minister’s wisdom in his selection.
There are several important questions that the Bahamian people would like to have answered regarding this matter. One: is the person selected a sitting judge? If not, why not? Is it not possible for the prime minister to select the next chief justice from among the ranks of sitting Supreme Court justices? Or does the prime minister lack confidence in the current Supreme Court justices so that he has to go outside the courts to transplant an attorney, notwithstanding his candidate’s outstanding credentials, to the top position on the judiciary?
Second: Is the prime minister satisfied that his candidate will sincerely demonstrate a level of compassion for the dispossessed and underprivileged among us, or will he be inclined to favor those who are more highly placed and privileged in society? This is critically important because an effective chief justice, more than anyone else in the judiciary, must inspire confidence that justice will be dispensed fairly for all, regardless of race, social standing, and financial worth.
Third: Has the prime minister’s candidate demonstrated a history of public service to the Bahamian people, or has his candidate spent all of his professional life in private practice amassing a great fortune? For the prime minister to ignore those Supreme Court justices who have demonstrably sacrificed years of public service in the judiciary is an affront to them and to their contribution to national service and a commitment to a career for which they are grossly under-compensated. If the prime minister’s candidate was really interested in rendering public service to the Bahamian people, why is he only now, in the twilight of his professional career, willing to accept the highest judicial honor?
Fourth: How long will the prime minister’s candidate be able to hold the high office of chief justice because of constitutional age limitations? Is it financially prudent to saddle the Bahamian taxpayers with an annual pension of $120,000 for life for a person who will serve a very short time as the chief justice? Is it prudent for our VAT money to be so wastefully spent?
Fifth: is the prime minister’s candidate primarily motivated by the attraction of receiving a knighthood that accompanies the appointment? Enquiring minds would like to know what the true motives are.
If he is not very thoughtful and careful, this could be a very stupid decision taken by the prime minister.
In the remaining years of this administration, Bahamians will closely observe their government to assess the prudence of its public policy choices. When this government makes wise choices, we will commend them. But when they consciously collide into the wall of stupidity, we will chastise them. Because in the final analysis, Bahamians appreciate that stupid decisions could result in disastrous and dangerous consequences for us all.
There are other examples of stupid actions and decisions taken by this government, which is as much a symptom of its inexperience and naïveté as it is of an unabashed aura of arrogance. We will conclude this series of articles next week with a few other examples of the swirling stupidity that undeniable threatens us all.
• 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.