GOVERNING FOR BAHAMIANS
There are encouraging signs that the present PLP government will go further than Mr. Christie’s in reversing the ingrained national inferiority complex that has done this country such harm in terms of policy since 1992. These signs are to be detected, for instance, in the announcement that “teeth” will be restored to the requirement that foreign developers fulfill their promises with approved projects. It is also to be hoped that delinquent foreign owners of taxable family island properties will find themselves the subject of powers of sale by a tax-hungry treasury, sparing Bahamian property owners in Nassau.
This was the original intention of the architects of our pro-Bahamian property tax regime – before it was mangled by Minnis to achieve the exact reverse outcome. The sense of Bahamians as second class citizens is a deplorable legacy of the Ingraham years, an era characterized by a governing culture more in tune with external interests than Bahamian ones. As an example, in 2009, without any meaningful public consultation, Mr. Ingraham’s government abruptly outlawed the consumption of turtle meat, criminalizing the culinary culture of thousands of black and white family islanders overnight. It acted on the urging of foreign-oriented lobbies, yet in utter disregard not just for local culture, but for the actual science of conservation – which justifies a ban on commercial harvesting, but not on traditional consumption.
That is why the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos and British Virgin Islands all banned commercial harvesting, but all declined to criminalize local consumption. But in The Bahamas from the start it was never really about science or conservation. It was about the forced adoption of somebody else’s culinary norms. The lobbyists simply set out to kill an aspect of Bahamian culture that disgusted them.
Tragically, Mr. Ingraham was on hand to do their bidding. That this foreigner-knows-best attitude is still rampant today (long after Mr. Ingraham’s years of small-minded misrule have ended) is neither deliberate nor necessarily party political. Rather, it now represents a default position among the political class. Politicians often instinctively see their job as dragging Bahamians into somebody else’s version of modernity, without considering the applicability of it to the Bahamian context, nor even the validity of local concerns.
A couple of years ago, the local (Canadian-dominated) banking industry came up with the idea of implementing a credit bureau and managed to convince local politicians and professionals that it would somehow be in the interests of Bahamian consumers – although it required abrogating historic and fundamental aspects of their financial privacy.
In allowing it, the then-government ignored both the cautionary tale of the US consumer (reduced to a debt-controlled drone in a credit environment designed by banks) and the very local dangers of such a move. Permitting banks to share information on debtors removes the one trump card the Bahamian consumer has had in his uneven dealings with them. In other words, it was good for Canadian banks but bad for Bahamian consumers. Guess who won. It is time to put our thinking back on track and begin governing The Bahamas again for the benefit of Bahamians. Every recommendation from the outside must be subjected to that test before it is even seriously considered.