Letters

Shooting ourselves in the foot and other observances

Dear Editor,

We Bahamians have a woeful record of managing money, but an even sorrier history of national and personal discipline.

Worse still, we seem unable to accept that we each have a responsibility for the ills of our society and economy. In contrast, there is one area where Bahamians excel. Many of us are award-winning marksmen. We excel at shooting ourselves in the foot and destroying the very ground on which we stand.

We can claim shooters who are better at hitting their targets than the famed showwoman Annie Oakley.

The very best are, without doubt, the young men who are killing their peers weekly.

Coming in, in a close second, are the union leaders who are taking to Bay Street a bunch of easily riled men and women, Bible in hand and blood in eyes, at the height of tourism’s best season in decades.

Let’s not forget outsider politicians. Among them are seasoned sharpshooters who are desperately seeking to warm their behinds in a seat in Parliament again and those who will cast aside truth and dignity to hold on to the place they already occupy.

I believe these groups are similarly motivated.

They are all seeking personal advantage, little caring how they go about achieving their goals and blind to the ultimate chain of destruction they may unleash upon the nation.

I suppose the thinking is that they have the government’s back against the wall, so strike while the iron is hot.

Obviously, they must all share poor arithmetic skills as well. Don’t they know that nothing from nothing leaves nothing?

The most recent reports of the International Monetary Fund and of international credit rating agencies suggest that while our economy is showing frail signs of growth, we are still too near the edge of fiscal calamity to act without well-considered thought.

Leaving the matter of the current spate of killings to the competence of criminologists, I’d like to delve a little deeper into the context of the current (pun!) electricity crisis, which has flung open the doors to union agitation and to counterproductive statements from outsider politicians, partisan groups and armchair activists, who can scarcely contain their glee at the abundance of fresh meat to devour.

Although my household has suffered the outages in full measure, this letter is not another gripe session; there has been enough of that already. Flogging a dead horse won’t magically cause it to spring back to full vigor, ready to win races. It is time to focus on curative measures and we know where the worst of the malady is entrenched.

First, it is important to state unequivocally that we are all, in greater or lesser measure, responsible for the present state of affairs — Bahamians and residents, all government administrations, of whatever party persuasion, self-serving advisors, workers who have failed to do what they were paid to do, those among us who refuse to pay their electric bills and the morally deficient property owners and electricians who devise hook-ups to steal electricity.

Have I missed anyone? If we are all responsible, then it must follow that we all have to contribute to immediate and long-term solutions, by ceasing to do what won’t improve the situation and doing those things that might lead to better.

Questions

Let me ask a few urgent questions. The first one to the junior physicians employed by the Public Hospitals Authority.

Isn’t ‘first, do no harm’ the ultimate professional and ethical rule to which you subscribe? You have declared that you will withhold your services until your demands are met and only deal with “emergencies”.

Sounds reasonable on the surface, but have you taken the time to consider the logistics of your plan, so that you can honor your pledge to make your patients’ safety a priority? Who will decide what constitutes an emergency? Who will conduct triage? Do you have a roster of who and how many of you will respond and to what degree?

Have you included the administration in drawing up the plan so that it will have some chance of working smoothly?

Second question goes to the Public Hospitals Authority. Have you made paying this vital cadre of practitioners their due your priority?

The best I can do is to thank them for the extraordinary service they render to the nation in less than optimum conditions.

You must look longingly at the pay and perks of your peers in the United States, but there is no sound basis for comparison when the U.S. counts its income in trillions, while for 2017, World Bank noted our gross domestic product at $11.78 billion (using purchasing power parity (ppp) exchange rates).

Sadly, owing to scant attention to increasing our domestic production, most of the national income goes out again to purchase necessities, leaving the smaller amount for local development.

You union leaders — especially those who led the “justice league” to Bay Street recently — you must know that in every protest you bring together several sets of people, both helpful and harmful.

Among them are those who simply desire better working conditions and rewards commensurate with quality of service. This is entirely in order. Unfortunately, they are joined with those whose motives and service are far less worthy.

No doubt, some see the march to Bay Street as a sanctioned opportunity to slack off even more. Then, ominously, there are those political operatives who march in feigned brotherhood for no better reason than to bring down the current government administration. Lastly, it would be dangerous to ignore those malcontents whose first and only order of business is to create chaos.

To all those who are calling “Down with Minnis!”, do you really think that a single man can solve our power issues in months, seeing that it took years of gross political interference from PLP and FNM alike, widespread areas of mismanagement, misuse of funds, malingering and malfeasance, which have brought electricity generation to its knees?

Whatever their degree of responsibility in the matter, neither Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis nor anyone else involved possesses a magic wand or a lamp that can summon a genie who can change all the rules of time and physics for an instantaneous fix.

Furthermore, does it make any kind of sense to trigger fresh elections, which will cost more money than we have at our disposal, especially as we need every penny to put power generation on a surer footing?

You feverishly vocal former members of the national Cabinet and various board chairmen who presided over the affairs of BEC, were you performing your duties with eyes wide shut?

How could you pay yourselves lavish salaries, bonuses and various perks while generators were rotting and the Clifton Pier plant was corrupting the surrounding land and bay with ill-contained toxic oil?

As far as I know, only a single person has been hauled before the courts for crimes against the corporation. There should be others.

Furthermore, why were people who could most definitely pay for the electricity supplied to their large houses put on a “protected list”, when many of your neediest countrymen faced disconnection for non-payment and were left to swelter in their already unhealthy housing? Does anyone see justice in that?

Short-term solutions

First of all, members of government, don’t sulk when your feet are held to the fire. You are public servants who have a sworn obligation to lead us in problem-solving, to be upfront with the people you serve and to keep us well-informed of all developments that touch so closely on the quality of our lives.

If you are now being hung out to dry in the fierce winds of public anger and censure for rash campaign promises, take your licks with dignity and get on with steering a steady course to the desired and necessary destination.

Next, will the former ministers of government who once counted BEC/BPL in your portfolio, PLEASE SHUT UP!

Slink away in shame, praying that no one will have the guts to call you to public accounting.

How many of you on the “special, no-pay list” have asked to be removed from it and how many of you have begun to pay off your accumulated debt?

Better yet, why don’t you add to your ‘must-do’ list a sincere public apology to the Bahamian people? Better still, why don’t we demand that you submit to a forensic audit of the sci-fi accounting that had to have been practiced on your watch?

Thirdly, to all protesters/activists, let’s allow those charged with the professional aspects of fixing the problem to get on with the job in peace until December when they say the new generators will come on stream. No excuses after that, save for the intervention of some natural disaster — God forbid!

Longer-term solutions

We must control the shoot-from-the-hip reactions to crises that arise. We must seek out and address the cascade of underlying mistakes and corruption that feed the problems.

Few of the ones from which this country suffers are the result of happenstance. We have worked for the grief we are now enduring.

First of all, you politicians, stop making promises during your election campaigns that you know you can’t keep or have no intention of honoring once you secure that all-important cushy seat in Parliament.

You see, it’s dangerous to do so.

Our challenged education system is turning out too many people lacking the ability to see your promises as what they truly are — little more than blow-hard advertising, rather than rock-solid commitment.

Above all, Parliament must make it priority to give teeth to, enact and enforce, the Fiscal Responsibility Bill.

There are too many people walking around enjoying ill-gotten gains at public expense.

There is a measure that can be taken immediately. Public servants must stop taking those costly Queen of Sheba-style jaunts to various foreign conventions/meetings. How many of the people who travel bring back anything of value for country and people or even a coherent report?

When will we get the message that we can’t compete with the G-8 countries in spending lavishly on travel?

It is a priority to have independent, competent assessment of every request for proposal for major national works and for the contract award process.

How can we ever put our systems and country on sound footing if we continue to be guided by the desire to grease the palms of family, friends, lovers and political supporters with no visible qualification for the job, rather than commissioning those with proven competence to carry out the project in view?

Let’s stop giving sidewalk-building contracts to people who seem incapable of mixing concrete or producing a level surface, as was the order of the day during the lead-up to the 2017 election. I suggest that a public ethics board be constituted immediately; if one exists, please do a better job of protecting national interests.

It is urgent that we carry out process, performance and productivity assessments in every corporation, agency and department.

What are the lines of confluence? Where are the gaps in vital connections? Who is dropping the ball in the sequence?

Example: Why has there been such a disconnect between the agencies responsible for establishing and safeguarding our citizenship and issuing passports?

What kind of maintenance and supervisory gaps were there that allowed ancient electricity generators to remain in place, die and leave us in darkness? What lapses in security gave rise to three fires in generating facilities at BPL that have yet to be sufficiently explained?

Stop letting political affiliation, rather than professional and mental competence, be the judge of fitness to occupy a post.

In close connection, stop filling government corporations and agencies with people lacking the necessary skills and who see their vote as a ticket to a permanent on-the-job vacation.

Union leaders, let your agitation be about more than salary increases.

Raising productivity levels among your constituents has to become a sacred trust for you. However tough you talk, money doesn’t grow on trees.

I believe that the worker is worthy of his or her hire and we must not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn, but the unalterable fact of life is that we have to first produce the corn and do the milling to be rewarded.

You have to play a major role in increasing the ease of and success in doing business in The Bahamas and the public service must play the lead role in this regard.

To all Bahamians, not just public servants, how can you expect quality of life to increase when your productivity continues to decline, while duty shirking, embezzlement, fraud and downright piracy mount?

When you go to work, make sure that you are prepared to start work competently and fill productively the hours for which you are paid.

Even when they enjoy a monopoly, or monopolistic conditions, public corporations must be run as strictly and competitively as a Fortune 500 company.

Bahamians, pay your bills. Government does not own diamond mines or oil fields that can generate endless funds to pay for the services we need.

We are the government’s purse.

By the same token, the government is obligated to account for every penny of our money that they spend.

I say again, something from nothing leaves nothing.

– Patricia Glinton-Meicholas

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