The people of The Bahamas need a break. Much of life in the country is uncomfortable. Finances for tens of thousands are tight, and for thousands more, totally absent. Costs are escalating and unrelentingly so. Business profits for many are marginal and, in many cases, non-existent. The physical environment in the City of Nassau is harassing and the social environment is, in ways, intimidating. The general mood is uninspired – the attitude cynical. Yes, there is happiness and ease in places, but they are not the prevailing reality for far too many.
While government action alone did not produce this sad state of affairs, it certainly has contributed to the same. That action has not only occurred in the last two years; however, the last two years have been a part of the story. It was the Christie administration that introduced a 7.5 percent value-added tax (VAT), a new tax altogether; and later the Minnis administration increased that tax to 12 percent. Both decisions greatly increased the burden on taxpayers in The Bahamas, especially the poor and middle class. Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) billings and outages have made life miserable for Bahamians for years but within the last year and half, it has just been appalling, further, the government’s decision to impose an additional fee has made things even more frustrating. From plastic bags to pennies lost, people feel like the government is being insensitive to their plight in the execution of its many policies.
Yes, we could debate the value of the government’s actions over the last two years or so. Some, I have no doubt, will prove good in the short, medium and long-term. Like the government’s University of The Bahamas scholarships, the millions of dollars in small and medium-sized business support, fiscal discipline and national security initiatives deserve credit in many respects. They might have been seen in an even better light had there been less stumbles on other fronts, along with the implementation of an increase in VAT. Still, the fact is, society feels harassed and needs a break.
Governing is hard, but at times the government must know when to ease up and give its people an easier time at life. In the end, it is the lived experience of being in a state that defines the pride and pleasure of belonging to it. Who wants to be in a hot, bothered, troubled, vexing state for too long? No one. We all want to be in a temperate, pleasant and encouraging environment. We all want to be where hope abounds.
The government must now focus on givebacks to the public. It must improve their physical environment for positive aesthetics and relief. It must find ways to have money flow to the public and not out of it. It must ease regulatory pressures rather than increase them. It must communicate more humbly and encouragingly to the people of this country rather than patronizingly. The government must also acknowledge the pain and hurt of the society rather than ignore it as irrelevant. It must also accept that there is anger about several significant policies and seek to provide some opportunity for reversing that anger.
Leadership is hard. It requires those in positions of power to make difficult decisions often. Yet, it is an enterprise that can be innovative and creative. It can even reverse course and change circumstances because it is a human enterprise. The government’s leaders have an opportunity to do just this if they can put aside political expediency. It must not matter at this time whether they believe they will win or lose the next election.
The government of The Bahamas must inspire this population! Pull the population together so that they can feel the pride and promise of this little nation. In the end, what could be more fulfilling than this and maybe your courage will be ultimately rewarded with appreciation from your people.
The people of this country need a break! That is a fact.
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.