Consider This | Stupid is dangerous, pt. 3
“The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.” — Celia Storey
In part one of this series, we noted that, since the installation of the new government, there have been a number of 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 PLP politicians and ministers of the government, one of which has been dismissed by a magistrate.
Last week, we addressed some of the haplessly inane, autocratic antics of the Water and Sewerage Corporation executive chairman, the misguided and stupid decisions related to the purchase of the Grand Lucayan resort, the ill-advised and poorly executed gaming taxes in last year’s budget and challenges facing the prime minister in his appointment of a long-vacated supreme court chief justice post.
This week, in this final installment of this series, 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?
A vibrant foreign service
Successive governments have engaged in the practice of appointing political supporters to key positions in the foreign service, especially to ambassadorships that are strategically important to the country.
In many cases, those ambassadorial appointees are not career diplomats, lacking the requisite training and experience in the art of diplomacy. Rather, they are chosen from individuals who have demonstrated unquestioned dedication to their political party during the general elections campaign and are rewarded with such appointments for their loyalty, often without any serious consideration of their diplomatic skills and abilities. This myopic approach, which has continued under the present administration, has resulted in the appointment of persons who are ill-qualified to represent the country because they lack crucial foreign diplomatic acumen and experience.
We are not suggesting that foreign diplomats ought not to be former politicians or partisan supporters. We are, however, suggesting that persons who are appointed to diplomatic assignments should possess the art of diplomacy, fully conversant with the culture, norms and nuances of the countries to which they are appointed. Our nearest neighbor, the U.S., when appointing supporters to diplomatic posts abroad, requires them to take an intensive and immersive course of study in how to represent their country before taking up their posts.
In the years ahead, the countries that will have the largest economies will include India, China, the United States, Japan, Indonesia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Brazil, France and Mexico, to mention a few. It is quite likely that the largest foreign direct investments in The Bahamas will come from those countries. Accordingly, The Bahamas should deliberately and methodically target those countries which are of greatest strategic importance. This could be an effective method to empower many Bahamians through partnership arrangements that will yield enormous benefits here at home.
If we continue to appoint unskilled ambassadors purely for politically partisan reasons, we will assuredly miss the opportunity of maximizing our capacity to reap enormous benefits from foreign direct investments. We must, therefore, immediately prepare to identify, mentor and educate our foreign diplomats so they will know how to maximize their efforts to pursue policies abroad that will benefit The Bahamas.
Engaging the international agencies
As in the case of developing a vibrant foreign service, we must also recognize that the international agencies that significantly and increasingly impact our daily lives must not be engaged only when we encounter decisions they take that are potentially harmful to our economy and our culture.
In the past, we have developed a posture of responding to such agencies only when crises emerge, consistently demonstrating that we primarily engage on the eve of their decisions that could adversely affect us.
This was patently demonstrated recently by our last-minute engagement with the European Union (EU) regarding the actions that preceded the blacklisting of The Bahamas by the faceless, but impactful, bureaucrats in Brussels. Had we been more proactive, we might have been better able to anticipate and respond in a more timely and effective fashion to the activities that resulted in The Bahamas’ blacklisting.
While we fully recognize that we have entered a pernicious era of neo-colonialism by the EU, if we had earlier established a permanent professional and perceptive presence in Brussels, we might have had a better chance of averting the blacklisting. We will never really know because, again, we waited until the 11th hour for various ministers of the government, including the prime minister to become fully engaged and scurry about, attempting to thwart the EU’s decision that has irreparably and irreversibly damaged our financial services sector.
One of the most egregious appointments by this administration is the recent announcement of the Bahamian ambassador to the European Union. This individual does not have a diplomatic background, any established international relationships or an inspiring presence with the EU. In light of the enormous responsibilities and potentially contentious subject matters in which our EU ambassador must engage, the government’s choice for this post represents the shortsightedness and impotence of such an appointment.
Our representatives must be more proactive in defining the agenda and crafting the narrative regarding actions that such foreign agencies are contemplating well in advance of their implementation. In order to do that, we need smart, informed, internationally and politically savvy personnel who fully understand the nuances of statecraft in sensitive diplomatic posts. We do not need neophyte political supporters who have no experience in averting the kind of disaster that the EU’s blacklisting and interference has created.
Breaching the political divide
Too many of our critically important policies and decisions are steeped in an environment that is best characterized by an impenetrable political divide. The current administration, the first in the post-Pindling era, possessed a golden opportunity when it came to office in 2017 to lower the political temperature and bridge the deeply divided political partisanship and tribalism that has unfortunately developed in our domestic politics. They have miserably failed on this account.
Our country is too small to continue to foster a political culture where, after the general election, the winner takes all. For too long, we have adopted an attitude where public policies are formulated without the consensus of the major stakeholders affected by such decisions. We witnessed this with the unilateral decision by the government to increase value-added tax, the domestic gaming tax and the increase in taxes on residences at Lyford Cay. The consequence of this autonomous governance was the government’s reversal regarding the latter decision, as well as having to completely revisit other misguided and stupid decisions.
Until and unless the government recognizes that it has a responsibility and a duty to involve the governed in its decision-making process and to engage in a consensus-building exercise in formulating public policy, it will continue to make stupid mistakes that could be injurious to our democracy.
We began this series by observing that a storm is brewing on the horizon. We noted that tropical storms and hurricanes normally provide us advance notice and warning signs of potential devastation. In the case of the storm of which we now speak, there are few visible indications that we are at risk of the possible destructive consequences of its effects. This storm, which is manifested by the swirling clouds of stupidity in governance, has the potential of drastically and dramatically degrading and demeaning our democracy, our culture and our way of life.
It is worth repeating that corruption and abuse of power, which are frequently manifested in government stupidity, disgrace, damage and depreciate our national fabric and our democratic institutions.
We must, therefore, strengthen the national foundation and jealously safeguard those democratic institutions, lest they are abandoned to persons who will stupidly abuse them for their own selfish, personal and political agendas, creating a Bahamas we would neither recognize nor want for our children and the generations to come.
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.