“I have to tell you, our infrastructure, folks, is a mess. America is like a Third World country.” – Donald Trump
Forty-six years ago, on July 10, 1973, The Bahamas gained its political independence from Great Britain and assumed responsibility for its own destiny.
At that time, and for the decades to follow, as Bahamians undertook the leadership of the political directorate, they also became captains of industry and major national institutions, both in the private and public sectors.
In the post-independence Bahamas, state-owned institutions, including the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, the Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation and the Water & Sewerage Corporation, the Central Bank of The Bahamas, the College of The Bahamas and the National Insurance Board were all headed by Bahamians. In the private sector, we witnessed the formation and growth of the Sunshine Boys, black Bahamian entrepreneurs who proved that, once given the opportunity, they could rise from humble beginnings to become the founders and owners of some of the most prominent industries in the new nation.
One of the greatest legacies of the Pindling-led era was that government’s commitment to the newly minted Bahamianization policy, ensuring that well-educated, professionally trained Bahamians in medicine, law, accounting, engineering, architecture, tourism, banking and other fields were not eclipsed by their predominantly foreign counterparts as was customarily done prior to Majority Rule and political independence. As Bahamians displaced foreigners and rose to the top of their respective disciplines, expectations abounded that this fledgling nation was well on its way to the First World.
In part one of this series, we considered how the recent incompetence manifested at Bahamas Power & Light and the now privatized BTC are desperately trying to return us to the Third World.
This week, as we conclude this two-part series, we would like to consider this… Despite the advances that were made in the post-independence Bahamas, are we at risk of returning to the Third World in fundamentally important aspects of our society?
The Third World defined
“Third World” is a phrase frequently used to describe developing nations. The term initially emerged during the Cold War to identify countries whose views did not align with either the member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and capitalism, which were referred to as the First World, or the Soviet Union and communism, countries that were known as the Second World.
Hence, the United States was considered a member of the First World, and Russia was considered a member of the Second World. Third World countries generally referred to those nations in Asia and Africa that were not aligned with either the United States or the Soviet Union.
Reference to “a Third World country” later evolved to connote developing nations characterized by poverty and a low standard of living for much of its population. The term evoked a pejorative perspective of such countries. The term “developing country” is a preferred description and has generally replaced the earlier nomenclature of “Third World” when referring to economically developing nations.
The Bahamas is therefore often referred to as a “developing” instead of a Third World country. But, in light of developments over the past few years, we should examine whether we better fit the description of the latter instead of the former. Let’s examine some of our national institutions that can inform our perspective.
Bahamas Power & Light
In part one of this series, we demonstrated how residents of New Providence have suffered from the gross ineptitude of the management of one of the country’s most essential public services, the generation and distribution of electricity.
At that time, we reflected how virtually every single day, on one part of the island of New Providence or another, Nassauvians have endured the inability of Bahamas Power & Light (BPL), the public electrical utility, to provide continuously reliable electrical power to our homes and businesses. This summer seems to have been the absolute worst in recent memory. BPL has been intractably inept in addressing this situation.
In the past few weeks, we have witnessed unprecedented power interruptions, resulting in many wondering whether the management of BPL has any idea of what they are doing.
Since penning part one of this series, the situation has deteriorated even further. Despite the protestations of the executives at BPL, we are now at a crisis level. This sentiment was echoed by the veteran BPL employee, Paul Maynard, who should know and who has confirmed our worst fears that this situation is likely to persist for the rest of 2019.
The shareholders of any respectable, world-class company that performed at the level of gross incompetence that BPL has would have fired the management and the board long ago for gross incompetence and replaced both with more qualified persons.
Instead, the politicos appear to be doggedly determined to reward inept individuals and penalize those who endeavor to reform archaic business practices that have become entrenched over many years of neglect and nonchalance.
The high cost of electricity in The Bahamas is exceeded by its total unreliability. Without back-up generators that have been purchased by those who can afford them for homes and workplaces, business and social life in this country would come to a virtual standstill.
Those organizations that cannot afford to purchase back-up generators daily face an existential threat to their ability to continue as a going concern. This is unacceptable and must be resolved if we are going to remove the scourge of being viewed by Bahamians and the rest of the world as Third World.
Given the performance of BPL lately, that company seems to be doing everything it can to assist us in hurrying back to the Third World. This is shameful, disappointing and inexcusable. It should not be tolerated. The people at the helm of this vital utility and the board should be fired. Immediately.
We also noted in part one of this series, and it is worth repeating, before being privatized in the early years of this century, the Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation, BaTelCo as it was then known, was managed by Bahamians for many decades. The new name, BTC, was assigned to the newly privatized company which promised to offer improved telephone services with greater efficiency and reliability, all at a lower price.
With all of the financial resources at its disposal, the private owners of BTC still face many challenges today and Bahamians still suffer from dropped calls and sub-par service in many areas. There have been instances where their entire telecommunications network, both landlines and mobile, was offline, resulting in disruption of service to individual and corporate subscribers.
If The Bahamas intends to achieve First World status in telecommunications, it is vitally important that these disruptions are totally eliminated and that BTC’s offerings are expanded, not contracted.
In like manner, the government has equally failed to adequately regulate the first and primary provider of cable services to its customers. The extremely poor service from Cable Bahamas has become laughable.
Anyone turning their television to many channels on Cable Bahamas can automatically assume that the first language of The Bahamas is Spanish, not English. When consulting the cable guide, many channels provide program titles in Spanish. In fact, more often than not, we cannot rely on the guide to inform us about the scheduled programming because what the guide lists as the next program has no relationship to what is actually broadcast.
In addition, there are occasions, especially on Sunday nights, where certain channels are simply offline without any explanation by Cable Bahamas.
The regulatory agency, URCA, which is mandated to regulate cable TV in The Bahamas, is near useless.
Like its private and public counterparts, Cable Bahamas has equally contributed to anchoring The Bahamas in the status of Third World.
Today marks the 27th anniversary since the Free National Movement (FNM) first wrested power from the 25-year rule of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). Back then, the FNM came to power on the campaign promise that “it’s time for a change”.
It subsequently promised the Bahamian people that they could confidently anticipate that it is “better now, and better to come”. In 2017, the FNM touted the slogan that “it’s the people’s time”.
Every single Bahamian, regardless of their political partisan stripes, must now confess that, as in 1992, it is time for a change and that the FNM has miserably failed to live up to its promise of “better now and better to come”.
Things are not better now and only the Almighty knows when better will come.
What we now understand is that “it’s the people’s time” to languish in the utter failure of this government to provide reliable electricity to the residents of New Providence.
As long as we persist in accepting the gross inefficiencies and incompetence of these institutions, we will continue to be relegated to Third World status as a country, with limited reasonable prospects of improving anytime soon.
• 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.