“If you do not know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.” — Henry A. Kissinger
Twenty years ago, as we approached the new millennium, the world was hopeful that, as we were witnessing the end of the 20th century and welcoming the dawn of the 21st century, the world would embrace a new era of hope for a brighter future.
With the exception of the trepidation that surrounded an impending Y2K virus scare that might infect global electronic platforms, there was a general sense of euphoria that we were witnessing the sunset of a century that was punctuated by two world wars which resulted in scores of deaths, horrific holocausts that resulted in the mass genocide of millions, recurrent airline hijackings, the ascendancy of terrorism that respected no national boundaries and the assassinations of prominent political and social activists like Mahatma Gandhi, Malcolm X, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and two scions of the Kennedy dynasty.
During the first two decades of the new millennium, many of the atrocities have continued unabated on an equally horrific, and even escalating, scale as evinced by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and by the increasing instability and volatility in many cities of the Middle East.
Here in The Bahamas, we have observed the hopeful anticipation, dreams and aspirations of everyday Bahamians devastatingly dashed by economic, social and political setbacks that diminished our joy. Increasingly, Bahamians are confronted by challenges that have resulted in a sense that we are not improving our standard of living and quality of life. The recent destruction that resulted from Hurricane Dorian will set many Bahamians back from the slow progress that many made in the first two decades of the 21st century.
Therefore, this week, we would like to consider this — where are we headed as a nation, or in the frequently quoted Latin interrogative: Quo vadis, Bahamas?
The origins of quo vadis
The term “quo vadis” is also commonly translated as “Where are you going?” or, poetically, “Whither goest thou?”
Some scholars attribute the term to a Christian tradition regarding Saint Peter in one of the earliest of the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. In that account, Peter flees from crucifixion in Rome at the hands of the government, and, along the road outside the city, he meets the risen Jesus.
The apostle Peter asks Jesus, “Quō vādis?” Jesus replies, “Rōmam eō iterum crucifīgī” which translates to: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.”
Peter then musters the courage to continue his ministry and returns to the city, where he is martyred by being crucified upside down.
The first two decades of this new century have been punctuated by challenged leadership in many areas of civil society.
Many Bahamians have lost faith in the political leadership that catapulted us in a sustained upward trajectory in the latter years of the last century.
This is evidenced by the continuous change in government every five years of this century that has characterized our general elections — a clear indictment of our political leaders who have been uninspiring and incapable of retaining the trust of the electorate who refuse to allow both major governing political parties to gain a second consecutive term.
Some of our business leaders, captains of industry and trade union bosses have diminished the possibilities of an uninterrupted brighter future, as have many of our religious leaders who seem incapable of providing sustained spiritual shepherding of their flock.
In so many areas of our daily lives, leadership is challenged.
Standard of living and quality of life
In years past, we could realistically expect that, with each passing year, our standard of living would improve as would our quality of life. However, both are under constant assault. In too many households, there are persons who have great difficulty in making ends meet because disposable income has diminished, and the cost of living has increased.
Most of our utility companies have not served us well. We never know from day to day whether the electrical power will be interrupted, both at home and at work. We cannot depend on our telephone systems to work without interruption. Our cable TV and internet are frequently offline or “temporarily suspended”.
Our infrastructure is outdated and unreliable and requires a systematic approach to planning how it should be upgraded.
Challenged safety net
We must face the fact that there are too many Bahamians who live below the poverty line, who are homeless, who do not know where their next meal is coming from and who do not have access to affordable health care. Too many children go to school without a meal, which means their ability to learn is challenged before they even open a book.
As a developing nation, we should never forget the admonition of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
We must improve the nation’s safety net to ensure that fewer persons fall between the cracks in that safety net and disappear forever into a world where just surviving is considered an accomplishment.
We do seem to have a better appreciation that we are integrally and intrinsically connected to our environment. That’s why it is critically urgent to develop a national environment plan to engender a fundamental awareness and appreciation that one of our most treasured national assets is our environment and it must be fiercely safeguarded. Any person or government that ignores this is ignoring the future wellbeing of our nation, spiritually, physically and economically.
Quo vadis, Bahamas?
Therefore, the important question that must be urgently addressed is quo vadis, Bahamas? Where are we going, and how do we plan to get there? The last Christie administration spent enormous resources in developing a national development plan which sought to address the question, where are we going and how will we get there?
The current administration shelved that plan, which we believe was a monumental mistake. As Henry Kissinger noted, “If you don’t know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.” Presently, that seems to be precisely where we are.
In order to meet the challenges that confront us now, and in the future, we must formulate a unified, national vision that will not be automatically abandoned by a change of government. There must be fundamental positions on which we can all agree, regardless of who occupies the chair from one election to another.
In addition to a consensus national vision, we must specifically determine how we will transform that vision into workable, practical national policies and programs. The implementation of the national insurance scheme and a value-added tax regime are classic examples of such agreed visions that inure to the common good.
But a national vision, in essence the way forward for The Bahamas and all who live here, must be formulated by lawmakers whose first allegiance is to the people, not to the party. They must embrace what is right for everyone, what is best for the common good, and not be distracted by tribal murmurings.
The way forward must contain sensible, practical and non-partisan plans that address every person and every sector, from smooth highways to renewable energy, from a stable economy that is attainable to all to an education that is the envy of the region, and from a long-term plan for addressing the periodic assaults of Mother Nature to long-term plans for providing a rewarding retirement for all.
We must no longer experience the instability of the knowledge that our lives can change every five years, when the government does. Plans for the nation that will not and cannot change must be in place so that we will no longer have to ask “Quo vadis, Bahamas?” because our path to prosperity and the way to wellbeing will be securely set out for us and for generations yet unborn.
• 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.