Family Islands: mail boat and postal reform
A proper means of inter-island transportation and accessibility is imperative to the economic growth of the Family Islands. To achieve the maximum potential of these variables is not an overnight task, but now is the time to come forth with better solutions outside of the government on how residents and business owners in these Family Islands can achieve the best of these amenities. There is a need for an improved mail boat system and postal services across the Family Islands because many residents still depend on these services to get gasoline, inventory, food, basic necessities, equipment and monies. However, the conditions of these services are inconsistent and subpar. In return, potential investors may not be interested in doing business on these islands where such problems are evident and ongoing.
As it stands
The Family Islands are in need of an improved means of transportation via sea vessels. Residents in these parts rely heavily on the mail boat to get inventory for businesses and other basic necessities since these islands are situated further away from the capital. This makes it even more of an imperative reason for the mail boat system to function properly. However, complaints have surfaced that the mail boat’s services have become more unsettling to residents rather than beneficial. It has also been alleged that mail boat operators charge residents what they want to transport goods/inventory, resulting in price fluctuations. These reports suggest that mail operators have not been abiding by the government-issued tariffs. The Mailboat Owners and Operators Association has often advocated for an increase in government-issued tariffs. However, before there is an increase, residents should be guaranteed a more reliable service that trumps their expectations. This does not change the fact that government does need to quickly look into changing these tariffs which can now be deemed as antiquated. The tariffs are definitely in need of reform.
As it stands, the cost of living is higher in Family Islands, which makes it difficult for business owners who are put at an even further disadvantage if their inventory is shipped at a later date or does not arrive at all. While these problems have been ongoing for years and should be addressed by the government, perhaps there is another alternative that does not require significant government subsidization.
Perhaps the time has come for a group of private investors to get together and form a solution that involves a new inter-freight company that can exclusively service the Family Islands. But this alternative to the mail boat has both its pros and cons. With all things being held constant, competition can usher in more reliable services, on-time deliveries and a more collaborative relationship with customers in the Family Islands. However, a private company operating without government subsidization while still having to incur fuel costs will then have to pass these expenses on to the consumer. Therefore, the pricing for services may differ. The choice then comes down to the consumer. Will a consumer rather pay $20 for a better service or $5 for another service where there is a high probability of longer wait times? Some consumers may not be able to afford the better service, but others – particularly small business owners – may gravitate towards the possibility that a new freight company could help to increase efficiency and financial opportunities. As a business owner who is heavily dependent on freight services, a faster and more reliable version could mean more business and could eventually help to achieve increased consumer spending.
It is important to note that freight companies should help to create economic growth rather than wait for business to “pick up” to then meet consumer demands. But this cannot happen if there is political interference and bureaucratic red tape. These types of businesses should help each island to become a developed hub for receiving/shipping goods given the geography of The Bahamas. There is a tremendous amount of economic potential in this type of business but it is currently not being maximized. The most disturbing factor is the time that it has taken those previously and currently in charge to get to the bottom of fixing these issues which have been lingering now for decades. While there is dollar value on the economic opportunity that has not been captured, one can assume that it would be well in the millions.
Another problem that family islanders face is the need for an advanced postal system, which could ultimately replace traditional banking. In 1836, the Public Bank of The Bahamas was the first bank to open in The Bahamas that offered commercial services. It was ran by the Post Office and closed in 1886. Shortly after, the Bank of Nassau offered similar services and was opened from 1889 to 1916. While the structure of this setup was simple, it was functional. But the maintenance of a proper postal system has declined over the years with the rise of modern banking and other money transaction businesses. However, many residents in the Family Islands still rely on postal services to receive goods and services and to perform banking services. With there not being a working postal system in New Providence, it then heightens the problems since residents that use the postal services are no longer able to. While other means of getting monies are available, it may not be financially prudent to all of these residents. It is key to have different avenues to help accommodate residents living in these islands to ensure that all forms of economic growth are being captured. It is also important that once New Providence’s postal services get up and running, this reform and restructure should be equally adapted in all Family Islands.
In conclusion, there is a vast amount of economic potential that is outstanding and this normative should alone be motivation for someone to step in and make a difference in the inter-transportation business in The Bahamas. The post office is also a form of accessibility to many things that allow residents to survive. If this is not being properly addressed then two major means of accessibility are not being utilized. Infrastructure and capital are also two very important parts of a growing economy. The need to fix these issues adds to resounding cause of improving the ease of doing business in The Bahamas. It should start with fixing the inter-connective issues that will eventually lead to a holistic approach in achieving economic growth. Whether the government or private investors become the solution, until then, residents and business owners will continue to be at a disadvantage.
• Roderick A. Simms II is an advocate for sustainable Family Islands growth and development. Email RASII@ME.com.