Roberta Flack and later the Fugees sang “Killing me softly”, with his words… perhaps this is the best way of describing what the government and lead ministers are doing. However there is nothing soft in their killing. They are creating collective forgetting through the manipulation of facts to suit some agenda that will ultimately lead to worsening poverty and under or backward development.
Collectively, the government and people have amnesia. As the minister of public works stands and proclaims the success of his government in not plunging the population into darkness, the lights dip and then bam, they are off. The lights have in fact been off every day for a week and sometimes three times a day for hours at a time.
Somehow, the minister forgets that his government has been here before and are as responsible for the electricity mess as the last government. Indeed, all governments since the inception of this system of power generation are equally responsible for the mess that allows them to literally and figuratively rob the public and impoverish the nation. However, we seem to have collective forgetting. None of the last three or more administrations have done anything they promised to do in relation to the goals and objectives they set for themselves. None have complied with their goal to commit to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals agreed by all states parties. In fact Goal 7 (affordable and clean energy) of the SDGs states: Investing in solar, wind and thermal power, improving energy productivity and ensuring energy for all is vital if we are to achieve SDG 7 by 2030.
Expanding infrastructure and upgrading technology to provide clean and more efficient energy in all countries will encourage growth and help the environment.
None of this has happened. In fact, this government that promises such wonderful green energy and environmental protection has knowingly worsened the problem by investing more money in non-renewable sources of power. They have also seemingly lost generators that the country, that is the people, paid millions of dollars for between the port and Clifton Pier. They have misled the public. In reality, The Bahamas has fallen behind and continues to fall behind in anything to do with environmental protection and sustainable development.
The Bahamas government, successive administrations, have boasted about how far ahead they are of their southern compatriots. Meanwhile, the infrastructure they claim to be improving is collapsing as it is in other countries they are better than. The grid in Puerto Rico collapsed after Hurricanes Irma and Maria slammed the island in 2017. If The Bahamas were to be hit directly as Puerto Rico was, there would be nothing left. Our grid is so tenuously held together by unsustainable and environmentally destructive practices that it hardly functions. Yet each management company and government minister defends their unsustainable practices as if they were the best.
In the Dominican Republic the electricity would go off at least five times a day. The dips and spikes in service are destructive, but they are improving. In Haiti there are similar problems. In Puerto Rico, the blackouts are notorious, yet the government claims to be doing the best it can. It is privatizing the bad service because it pockets millions. Similarly, in The Bahamas, deals are being made to plunge the population into deeper poverty through environmentally destructive energy operations that contaminate the water, cause health problems and pollute the air.
The recent loss of service to Bimini and the inconsistent service to most communities attests to the lack of serious attention being given to the dire problems with energy in the country. In fact, the Minnis government’s commitment to sustainability is completely undermined by all their acts. Sustainability is not a word nor is it one practice. It seems that every action taken in the last ten years by both administrations has done nothing but weaken the nation and further degrade the infrastructure. Roads have been improved. However, that was to support a tourism industry that promises sustainability, but delivers nothing of the sort. In order for tourism to be sustainable, there must be linkages and forward-looking policies, regulations, laws and planning all developed through sustainable design thinking. This government does not apply any of these skills in its governance.
Given the devastating blackouts and regularly unreliable electricity, tourists are opting to go elsewhere, or simply staying at home. They are cancelling their reservations rather than be inconvenienced by such backward service delivery. The 1970s saw regular power and water interruptions. Today, we are supposed to be way ahead of this, yet the country is plagued by bad service. And they still call it “the people’s time”. Numerous properties have noted substantial financial losses due to bad power and lack of planning. But no one is allowed to speak out or question.
Attitude of violence
Both the minister of public works and the minister of national security have indicated that Joe Public should not question their work. These men in their public capacity have both made it clear that people should say nothing because whatever we live is not really what is going on. As the minister of public works claims, the service is better than during the last administration. He seems to be closing the door on public accountability because what he says goes. Yet no one shares his experience. The message delivered by these men is sit small and don’t ask any questions. Let the big boys lead.
Obfuscating the facts
This is called clear public relations blah blah. The public is misled intentionally by smoke screens, public service announcements that build a false image of prosperity and stability and through a general lack of transparency, all of which are being touted as a program of clear and transparent governance. Simply put, the system is in collapse and the people are being bled by charlatans and snake-oil salesmen who know little about what they do, but claim to be saviors and prophets.
Sustainability and affordability
The claim of Goal 7 is that energy is to be more affordable, yet everything shows this to be untrue. Affordability is a part of sustainable practices; if the community cannot afford electricity, it is not sustainable. Notwithstanding whatever public doublespeak the punters come out with, they make good money to manipulate the truth.
Nothing is clean or efficient in the way energy is generated today. The forward-looking BPL plans to continue the same kind of extractive, exploitative and polluting energy production through deepening the reliance on oil-burning generators rather than solar and investing in natural gas, which is a co-product of oil production. Why are we so unwilling to see the truth and to understand that we are actually killing ourselves, and not slowly or softly?
The power of collective forgetting is that there can be no challenge to authority and national destruction because no one knows any better. The government claims to have made all these plans, alignments with best practices, as well as policies towards sustainability, yet nothing is being done as they claim. The nation is in a state of collapse, only we cannot see it for all the stronger Bahamas talk and “people’s time” jingoism. We are in collective forgetting and are being killed, not softly, by his words.
• Ian Bethell-Bennett is a professor at the University of The Bahamas.