Pride Interrupted – “ACCORDING TO ME” TRIBUNE COLUMN

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I am a Bahamian whose national pride has been interrupted. It’s been interrupted by a group of persons commonly referred to as the government, who in just 13 short months, has managed to set our country back many years.

I look at what is happening in our country now at the government level and as a Bahamian I am flat out disgusted. Sitting under the rule of corruption, secrecy and disarray creates a weight on the soul and psyche that can become unbearable at times for Bahamians who actually care about the state of their nation.

It’s like the Bible says: “when the unjust rule, the people groan”, and every honest Bahamian can tell you that the groaning in the hearts of many is heavy, with little tangible light in sight for the way forward. Our current leaders don’t inspire us, they mire and tire us.

Now as Independence Day approaches, people are saying a lot of things that sound patriotic. Yes, many are sincere. But many more people wont say openly how they really feel for fear of ridicule. For my part, I don’t care to try to create a special image to anyone. I speak what’s real and however people see that is how they see it. Patriots speak the truth. Patsies speak what people want to hear.

Good governance, though we take it for granted, matters because as goes the head so goes the country. Our country’s reputation also matters. I’ve traveled the world representing The Bahamas in my previous government capacity. I’ve seen the way leaders in the United Nations, the United States, the Commonwealth of Nations and the Caribbean showed respect and admiration for us. It made me so proud to be Bahamian that I often wanted to cry from such a strong sense of fulfillment.

It’s a sense of pride that is hard to put into words as you sit in rooms with the men and women who lead almost every nation on the planet. To now have leaders whispering among themselves about us because of the reputations of those who now govern us is humiliating to me as a Bahamian. To have investor after investor talk about being shaken down by government officials for monies under the table is humiliating to me.

More and more Bahamians, when in discussions about their country often pause, shake their head and say “boy I don’t know what’s gonna happen or what we are going to do.” This is symptomatic of a nation without leadership – sound, effective, purpose-driven and uncorrupt leadership.

No government is perfect. In fact, perfection is a construct that does not exist in the human condition and therefore need not be debated because it cannot be conceptualized. Governments are not able to be perfect, but they are able to effective, accountable, transparent and responsible depending on the persons involved.

People say all politicians are corrupt – that is a lie. Many are, but not all. We say that in part because of natural skepticism about people in power, but more of it is simply laziness on our part. We rather say everyone is corrupt and then in our minds, that absolves us of any responsibility to check the facts and the record about the accomplishments and actions in government of those vying for political office.

We are all one Bahamas, they say. That’s a lie. We are more polarized politically and socially now than we care to admit and the government is fomenting that division through a myriad of actions and policies. Forward, Upward, Onward Together is our nation’s motto. But are we truly moving forward, upward and onward together today? No. We are moving back – back to naked corruption, back to secrecy and fear and back to our name being tarnished abroad.

Back to Corruption

Bahamas, you cannot have a government that is spending multiplied millions of your tax dollars and refuses to tell you what is being done with the money. When that is happening, it means your money is being stolen and/or misappropriated.

You cannot have a government table a budget with expenditure figures and projections that Wall Street immediately called out as figures that don’t add up. You cannot have a government borrow over $1 billion in one year, but won’t tell you what it’s for. They say it’s going to “pay bills”, but when you ask them which bills, they refuse to tell you. Why do you think that is?

In the words of the late Charles Maynard, we need to “stop getting emotional about the yellow and red and start to think”. If a government borrows over $1 billion, but government workers are not being paid, pensions are delayed, government bills are not being paid, government infrastructure is not being maintained or constructed – where do you think all that money is actually going?

Not one single significant piece of government infrastructure that was not already under construction or tendered before the general election has been built by the present government thus far. The critical care block at PMH was already paid for. The Nassau road works were already paid for. LPIA was already paid for. Monies for infrastructure projects in the Family Islands were already secured.

No new schools have been built. No new airports. No new clinics. No new government complexes. No hurricane relief funds. No new construction to revitalize Over The Hill communities. Family Island clinics don’t have basic medicine. Garbage can’t even be collected regularly. Nassau streets are filthy again. Paid job programs were cancelled. COB’s and Education’s funding was cut by millions. So what has the over $1 billion dollars gone toward?

Right up to the day of last year’s general election, salaries, pensions and bills were being paid on time. How is it that not long after that election, suddenly there is no longer any money to do these things that were being done for five straight years with no problems?

While in Opposition, if the PLP ever had reason to wonder where and why money was spent and they put those questions in Parliament to the Minister of Finance, they always got an answer to their question. The former Minister of Finance never refused to tell the Bahamian people what their money was being spent on – and ideally how could he – the money belonged to you, not him.

Fifteen million dollars in the 2012/2013 budget for “PLP campaign promises”, and not a single piece of documentation has been provided to show where that money went. A brand new $20 million allocation was placed in last year’s budget in the Ministry of Finance under an undefined line item with no word on where that money went.

Forty-five million was due to Baha Mar as part of our Heads of Agreement with them, and a reported $20 million of that money has not been paid with no word as to where it went, even though the full $45 million was borrowed for that payment.

The government is “borrowing” but in actuality simply taking $60 million of your social security money from NIB to construct 125 “low cost” homes, but $60 million divided by 125 is $480,000 per house. No low cost home costs that much to build obviously, else it would not be a low cost home when they have to sell it to you. So just where do you think the excess money is going?

As just two examples: when Housing embarked on building homes in the former Mackey Yard, the plan was to build 53 homes at a cost of $3.9 million. That comes out to about $73,600 per house. Less than two years ago in Pride Estates, the homes were selling for between $83,000 and $135,000, which means the government spent less than that to build those houses.

Now the government is trying to make you think they are spending almost a half-million dollars each to build these “low-cost” houses. Come on! And who is the Minister for NIB where the $60 million is being “borrowed” for these houses? Shane Gibson, the same man whose alleged activities while as Housing Minister were under investigation.

Back to Secrecy

I need to inject my personal experience at this point. When I handled government information for the Prime Minister’s office, there wasn’t a piece of information the media wanted on the public’s business that they couldn’t get. In fact, at times when civil servants would not provide them the information, they simply contacted the Prime Minister’s office and in most cases by the end of the day, though often much sooner, they had what they needed.

I worked as primary and chief liaison to the media prior to and in government for seven years. Let them tell you the difference between what they had then, and what they have now. That is why I can only shake my head in disappointment at how the media today takes “no comment” from a government minister and keeps on rolling like it’s all good.

A government minister cannot have “no comment” on matters under his or her portfolio that pertain to the public’s business. It is unacceptable in a democracy. He or she must answer, or suffer a true Fourth Estate or true Opposition’s wrath for not doing so.

In almost every major headline story reported since May 8, 2012, the public through the media was stonewalled by government ministers, who either hit them with the “no comment”; “I wasn’t’ aware”; “I don’t have to tell you that”; “I don’t care what the public thinks”; “I don’t know how much money I authorized to be spent on that” and let’s not forget the number one circus response to all serious questions: “It’s all Ingraham’s fault.”

This is not the behavior of a democratic government. It is the behavior of despots. It shows how deep the government’s contempt is for the Bahamian people. It shows that the government considers itself royalty, not servants of the people. Every time they refuse to answer a question put to them, they are telling the public, ‘I am your god, do not question me.”

As such, the Bahamian people are left groping in the dark about what is really going on in their own country. The previous government wasn’t the second coming of Christ, but it did not treat the media and by extension the public that way, and few know that better than me. Whether the public chose to avail themselves of government information freely provided is another story – but it was provided, as it should be in a democracy.

Back to International Shame

There is no other recorded instance in the 40-year history of an Independent Bahamas where our government presented a candidate for Ambassador to Washington whose appointment was not accepted, and for cause. But it has happened this time. This administration, which at the Cabinet level is an almost carbon copy of its 2002 – 2007 term, has once again embarked on a path of bringing shame to our name overseas.

Do these people swear an oath to ruin The Bahamas’ name upon assuming office? In their last term, every time our name was majorly reported abroad, it was in the context of shame and scandal.

The “no comment” mantra was once again thrown at the press on this issue. Due- diligence is critical when selecting diplomats to represent The Bahamas to the world. Our diplomats are our face to the United States, the United Nations, regional organisations and in other countries where we hold embassies and consulates.

Since the government knows their failed Ambassadorial candidate will not serve in that post, they ought to stop wasting our tax money in Washington, go ahead and give him whatever new patronage job here at home if they desire, and stop bothering with sullying our reputation and the reputation of our embassy in Washington behind trying to keep political appointees happy.

The nation is bigger than any one man or woman and their agendas. What the government is playing with is not a toy, and when these guys are gone from office, it will be you and I who are left to pay for the decisions they make.

Today we are living under a government that is sparking chaos, confusion, embarrassment among our peers, and that is once again leaving the door wide open for naked corruption to prance nakedly in our faces, daring us to try to do something about it.

For these reasons and more, I am currently a Bahamian living the life of pride interrupted.

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