Taxes, spokespeople, politicians & the press

The Nassau Guardian, continuing its expose on the value-added tax coordinator, reports on the latest statement made by the Leader of the Opposition about the Prime Minister.

I don't really see why.

For me the story does not lie in the statement of the Leader of the Opposition, or in the Prime Minister's response. Both men are transient; but the issues are permanent, and will affect us all for quite a while. For me the story lies in the absurdity of the defence of a person who clearly is not managing his own finances as the main spokesperson for financial reform. Forget what the PM or the LO had to say; focus on the issue at hand. The government has no money because it has not kept up with the changes in the global economy and has not managed its finances as it should. The government, in an attempt to manage those national finances, has appointed a person who appears unable or unwilling to manage his own personal finances. This is, to put it kindly, illogical; to put it unkindly, it's absurd.

It's absurd.It's disrespectful to the citizenry who is being asked to pay more taxes, and new ones.It is, very fundamentally, part of the problem. People not paying taxes that already exist is a large reason why the government has a shortage of revenue. To have someone who does not pay taxes—or even his mortgage, if reports are to be believed—as the spokesperson who is asking us to pay more taxes is quite possibly the worst strategy that one could ever employ.

Harvard, sustainability, Exuma, and COB

Yesterday morning, Facebook posts notwithstanding, I was in Long Island waiting to board a plane to Georgetown, Exuma, as part of a ten-day long ethnographic study of Exuma, Long Island and Cat Island.

The study is part of a longer-term project whose ultimate goal is to create a plan for the sustainable development of Exuma and its cays, a plan which, it's hoped, can provide a blueprint for the development of other islands. This year, as part of the project, seven Bahamian students doing Field Experience at the College of The Bahamas have teamed up with 16 students from the Harvard Department of Anthropology and the Graduate School of Design to carry out ethnographic field studies. There are several teams of students, most of them in Great Exuma and the Cays, but also in Cat Island and Long Island.

Since Friday, I've been travelling with the professor of the Harvard course to the different locations where the students are deployed, meeting with them and talking to them about their personal projects, helping to troubleshoot (where possible or necessary). On Friday and Saturday we were in Long Island, helping the students there settle in. Yesterday we moved on to Georgetown, where several events intertwine: for me, the main one is working with my students, but there are workshops and meetings between the people in Georgetown and the people from Harvard. What's exciting about it is that we're working together on a piece of ethnography that is put together like a mosaic. Ethnography, the in-depth study of a single community at a single point in time, is traditionally done by a single anthropologist who goes to a different society from her own and lives there for an extended period—at least fifteen months—they used to specify in Cambridge, which allowed the researcher to observe a full year of activity and also gave a three-month cushion to permit a working level of acclimatisation.

What's happening in this case is something a little different. Researchers from Harvard have been working since 2012 on different elements, and the project will continue through 2015—a five-year span that will incorporate perspectives from a wide range of researchers. Some are student researchers, and some are working on doctorates and post-doctorates. Some are established researchers as well. Some are students of design, some are anthropologists. It's the mosaic approach to ethnography, and now, in 2014, the voices of Bahamian students of the College of The Bahamas have been added.The project has murky connections, to be sure. In 2010-2011, the Bahamas National Trust and the Free National Movement government came under heavy fire after the revelation that the Aga Khan had been given permission to create a marina for Bell Island, his private island in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. The process required dredging of the sea bed and the conversion of an inland pond, and there was strong opposition to the development. (That opposition, according to more recent reports, has abated somewhat, as the PLP is now the government in power; the current narrative seems to be that far less damage was done to the environment than those in opposition feared. Be that as it may. The permissions were given, the development has taken place, and we must all, especially those of us who are the citizens and stewards of this remarkable country, move on.It's probably no coincidence at all that the Aga Khan has established a gift and grants to research and plan for the sustainable development of Exuma and the Cays. Cynics like me will have the tendency to regard this largesse as a payoff for being allowed to do in the Exuma Land and Sea Park far more than Bahamians who have been living on the communities within that park for over two hundred years. There is certainly more than a whiff of inequity about the permissions given to the über-rich to develop private islands in the Exuma Cays, even within the Park, while locals are prevented from using the resources which have provided them with subsistence for generations. But the reality is that the permissions have been given, the inequities are being enforced, and all that we are left with is the prospect of amelioration.

And here's where we come in,  the students of the College of The Bahamas and myself. The gift and grants are being administered by Harvard University, the Aga Khan's alma mater, and since 2012 students and faculty from Harvard University have been visiting Exuma, conducting research to contribute to the island's development. In 2013, the College of The Bahamas was approached in various capacities to join the project. One of those capacities involved linking up with the fieldwork that would be carried out this spring in Exuma. I happen to teach a Field Experience course this spring, and the students in that course are required to conduct field research somewhere, at some time. The project's challenges notwithstanding, this element offers potential for that amelioration. Here's where the potential lies. One of the most fundamental flaws we have in our governmental system is the fatal disconnect between the Family Islands (I refuse to call them "Out") and New Providence, where officials sit in air-conditioned offices, meet with high-faluting investors, and carve up our archipelago for finite, quickly-spent pocketsful of cash. The way in which we administer our nation is akin to the Europeans dividing up Africa with a table, maps and a ruler during the nineteenth century, or  the Allied generals of the First World War deploying their troops to die among the barbed wire and trenches of the European front. The decisions made by our leaders are cavalier, ill-informed, greedy, and destructive. Bahamian patrimony is being disposed of for sums that spin the heads of politicians and civil servants but that carry with them heavy doses of nothingness: they mean almost nothing to the investors who offer them, and they mean less than nothing to the people who are most directly affected—the Family Islands, our fellow citizens, who are daily being deprived of their traditions, their communal means of survival, their ways of life, and their sustainability. My students, the students who attend COB, are potentially the politicians and civil servants of the future. The experience they are being offered by their involvement in the project is my hope of contributing to long-term and future change—of creating a sense of respect and understanding for the different ways of life of our archipelago, for the wealth and beauty of our environment. There's another far more pragmatic, element as well. The studies being led by Harvard are generating data about our islands, data that can and may be crucial to the future well-being of our nation. This project will end in 2015, and that end will be accompanied by a set of reports and plans which will be touted and bound and, if past experience is anything to go by, shelved. But the data itself, the raw material that is being generated in the process, will be the property of Harvard University, not of The Bahamas—unless the College of The Bahamas is involved at the base level of the research. We have missed a year of this already, but the fact that Bahamian students are now involved in the ethnographic process is one way of ensuring some access to the intellectual riches that are now being generated. And that is my ultimate goal here.

Long blog post. Big, big deal. From here on in I will be blogging, as internet permits, about the things we are discovering on our journey. Watch this space. And, my fellow Bahamians, prepare for action if needed. This is the only Bahamas we've got.

Taxing the way forward

Earlier this week, the Nassau Guardian featured the following in its business section:‘Accelerated push’ to collect real property taxes

WWW.THENASSAUGUARDIAN.COMThe government will mount an “accelerated push” this year to collect the more than $500 million owed in real property taxes and eliminate the policy discrepancies which lead to taxpayer “frustration”, Financial Secretary John Rolle said yesterday.

The Nassau Guardian: Accelerated Push.

I read the article with a mixture of hope and scepticism. The article, and the fundamental statement it reported, only barely address the critical need for reform in the government agencies that are responsible for revenue collection in this country. For over half a century we have subsisted—even flourished—with a state revenue collection scheme that was, in its own peculiar way, streamlined and relatively easy to administer. When you tax consumption over everything else, and collect that tax at the border, it's pretty easy to keep track. Our supplemental revenue streams (like real property tax) have been far less successful, with the result that, despite some six years of administrative bleating about collecting outstanding taxes, the general toothlessness of the exercise has made it very difficult for the government to show any real gains. And to a large extent, the problem is systemic.

Let me give you a personal example.

Three years ago, my mother died. In my immediate family, she was the last of her generation to do so. As a result, I became the owner of real property that I do not inhabit. This certainly did not happen overnight (the process of probating estates is far slower than that), but it did take place without overt intention on my part. It changed my status as a taxpayer in this nation.

I have to confess that I am still unclear about how that status changed. My obligations as a taxpayer quite simply passed me by; until the probate of my mother's estate, I didn't qualify as someone who had to pay real property tax, not being the owner of any potential income property, and in the year or so since that situation changed, I have had no notification about my new obligation to pay taxes on the property I have inherited. Even though the change in my property-owning status occurred just at the time that the government was in dire need of increasing its revenue, no one and nothing has been done to make it any clearer just what my obligations are in this regard.

I have to confess, I did not think that I needed to do very much to find out how my status was changing. After all, the process of probating the estate took a long enough time, with the documents in question passing through various government departments, and requiring a kind of assessment that, I imagined, would result in the end with a notice from some government agency informing me that I was now obliged to pay real property tax. Ideally, I imagined that the notice would come along with specifics: that this piece of property was liable to pay this amount of tax, and that one was liable to this amount. I imagined it because all through the period the estate was being probated I was hearing noises about the government's tax collection policies, the amnesty on real property, etc. I assumed, clearly naïvely, that somewhere, somehow, the real property office would have had something to do with the probate, would have noted that the property I was inheriting had changed hands, and would have made up the notice that I was imagining I might receive.

No notice came with the probate.

No notice came after it.

I have slowly come to the realization that it is entirely up to me as a new landowner, as the new possessor of property that is not owner-occupied to find out about, register, call for the assessment of, and pay taxes on the property I have inherited.

Something in me rises up in indignation about that. After all, it's not me who needs the money; it's the government whose bottom line is affected, and the government who should be making the effort at least to alert me that my status has changed, to make it easier for me to pay the tax I owe. I'm not saying that I want to withhold the taxes. On the contrary; I am one of those individuals whose salary is heavily subsidized by the taxpayers' money, and so it's in my own best interest to make sure taxes are paid. But I don't think that it should all be left up to me as the potential taxpayer to go to a government office to sign up to pay taxes. What sense does that make?

Am I wrong to raise this question? Should I be so very patriotic that I go out of my way, even pay a substantial sum out of my own pocket, to get the land surveyed so that I can produce the documents that, according to what I've looked up online,  I have to submit with the registration form that I have to pick up or print out and deliver to the Real Property Tax Office? Something about this seems counterintuitive, especially as we live in a society where very few people go out of their way to pay for what they don't have to. Compare this state of affairs to that which obtained when I lived in Canada, where the government was the principal actor when it came to taxpaying, where the government made it its business to see that revenue was collected. There, I paid up front, and had to put effort in to get my rebates back. Here, it seems, it's the other way round.

Now consider this. I am the member of a generation that may be among the first large group of people who inherits the kind of real property that can be taxed. Our parents, who benefitted from Majority Rule in ways that were tangible and financial, became the first large group of private property owners. Their generation is slowly dying off, and we, their children, are inheriting their assets. We too are beneficiaries of the prosperity that followed Majority Rule, and so many of us are living in homes that belong to us. Some of us are fortunate enough to be living in homes that are above the tax threshold, but some of us are exempt. But as we inherit our parents' land, our status is changing too; we are becoming  taxpayers. But too many of them, of us, are effectively "tax dodgers" because the system requires us to make the effort to find out what we owe, pay for the assessment on what we own, and begin to pay our property taxes. This in a climate where there is no clear avenue to finding out what we owe and when. This is a climate where there too little thought has been given to making it easy for those of us who are well-intentioned to meet our obligations. The government needs the money but the government is making very little legitimate effort to collect it.It's not as though this moment was unforeseeable. Indeed, this is a time when the government, if properly staffed and equipped by enough vision, should have been able to predict a spike in government revenue for the very reasons I outlined above. My generation, I realize now, should have been being prepared for this moment, the moment when we would begin to inherit non-owner-occupied property--or to begin to sell that property, converting it perhaps to ownership that falls into more lucrative tax brackets. But no; despite the bleating about amnesties and the rest of it, I have had to go to a non-governmental website to find out what exactly my personal obligations are. I remain unclear about them even now.

So it's no surprise to me that there are many people in positions of authority who are delinquent on paying their real property tax. I'm not talking about those who are deliberately avoiding their obligation; I'm not talking about the faceless, corrupt them who take, take, take and never give to our society. I'm talking about well-intentioned Bahamians, people who work hard to pay their bills, people who make their national insurance contributions for themselves and the people who work for them, people who pay down on their mortgages and their credit card debts and their electricity bills, people who pay their customs duties when they bring in merchandise that exceeds the allowable exemption. I'm talking about the working Bahamian middle class, the people who keep the economy going because they do pay their way in our society. These people, like me, may well intend to pay their real property tax, but may equally be daunted by the amount of effort that is required to begin to do so.There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that requires honest people to have to engage in detective work to find out what taxes to pay and how to pay them. And so I trust that this "accelerated push" announced this week will be far more than lip service. Because lip service is not what is needed now. What is needed, direly so, is the reform of a system that is unwilling to prosecute the dishonest and makes crooks even of the well-intentioned.

More about Deans Blue Hole

Turns out the articles and features on the Blue Hole were a year old.  Still, the webpage advertising the site is still up and running, as anyone who followed the link would see. The post about the selling of the property around the Hole was discussed on Facebook, though, and I'm going to include the discussion below, to bring us up to date; it seems that the government has moved to acquire the land around the site by compulsory acquisition.Below is the Facebook exchange.

  • David Burrows Can anyone say Clifton II?
  • Marysa Malone 'This slice of paradise in the Bahamas is one of, if not the, definitive trophy parcels of the Caribbean and is open-zoned and thus limited only by one’s imagination, whether a large resort or development of ultra exclusive private homes.' OPEN ZONED???
  • Leigh Termath James Sarles How is it that a non Bahamian company can be advertising this for sale?
  • Kimberly King-Burns it has been privately-owned for more than thirty years, and there have been several efforts to trade parcels of other land with the past two administrations that have been unsuccessful. utterly boggles the mind.
  • Ishmael Smith I think that I am misunderstanding Kimberly King. Kim, are you suggesting that the current owners of the land tried to trade this for other parcels and successive governments have refused?
  • Gina Mortimer Storr And how did it ever become privately owned....
  • Donna Harding No private owner can own a body of water, the ocean. They can own the property around it . I am told that the Government is acquiring the surrounding property by way of compulsory acquisition and either paying them or giving them land elsewhere.
  • Der Bonniesicker Say what? They selling Dean's Blue Hole?!?!?!?! Oh noooooooo. Another gem lost to the Bahamin people.
  • Nicolette Bethel It's my understanding that the land around Dean's Blue Hole was originally generation property and the family acquired the title. Well and good. The property has for a while been parcelled off for sale to private buyers. Also well and good. But there ought to be limits. The government CAN, if this threat continues, acquire the land, forcibly if need be (as was done with Clifton, as was done with the lands along West Bay Street that were needed for the expansion of the road), but I'm sure is reluctant to do so (a) because it may not wish to pay "fair" market price (though what is $24 million when we have an $80 million+ deepwater harbour, are giving $20 million a year to Bahamar, and spent $278 million on New Providence roads?) and (b) would prefer not to interfere with local Bahamian developers' right to sell the property they own.

    While no private owner can own a body of water, a private owner can make it very difficult to access that body of water. If the land around the hole (which this company has even RENAMED) is sold, the ability of Bahamians to access this world wonder will be severely curtailed, as the only reasonable access is by land.

    23 hours ago · Edited · Like · 3
  • Donna Harding I am not sure how recent the article is as this was in the news sometime ago with the real estate company saying that it was an old listing and taken off the market. I just returned from a trip there and was told that the government is indeed acquiring some of the land around the blue hole and exchanging it for land somewhere else on the Island. The Government can acquire by way of Compulsory Acquisition and to take away any doubt they hopefully will.
  • Donna Harding As regards access, it will be extremely difficult to deny it to the public when they have had it for years.
  • Gina Mortimer Storr I tht generation property is not supposed to b sold...
    22 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Antoinette Pinder I agree Gina!
  • Nicolette Bethel Thanks, Donna Harding! Looked again -- the article that was linked to it is a year old. But the web page and the listing are still very active, which concerns me.
    12 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Arlington Gibao Butler I hope through eminent domain the government acquires the surrounding property giving Bahamians unfettered access and ends all the speculation.

Blue Hole Bay | Long Island, Bahamas - The Agency

Somebody want to explain to me exactly how it is that my government is permitting this piece of national patrimony continue to be advertised for sale -- for the paltry price of $24 million?And not even by a Bahamian real estate agency?Anybody???

Step onto one of the most magnificent beaches on the planet—literally. This heavenly marvel was officially designated one of the Top 77 Natural Wonders of the World, a title that truly speaks for itself. In fact, the Grand Canyon is the only site in the U.S. to achieve the same designation. We want to welcome you to the divine Dean’s Blue Hole located on Long Island in one the most viable vacation spots on earth, the Bahamas.Blue Hole Bay consists of a whopping 46 acres, wrapping around Deans Blue Hole – the deepest undersea cave in the world – along with 134 back acres totaling 180 Acres. It is open-zoned and thus limited only by one’s imagination, whether a large resort or development of ultra exclusive private homes.Take a luxurious swim in the clear shallow water of the adjacent turquoise bay perfectly framed by a sparkling white sand beach.… Dive into the world’s deepest sea cave that plunges 663 feet down into the bottomless blue depths….Or simply sail over to dazzling Stocking Island in the Exumas, the utmost popular sailing destination in the Caribbean.This slice of paradise is one of, if not the, definitive trophy parcels of the Caribbean, fit for the dreamer who wants to make their own personal idea of pure bliss come to life. It is for the person who wants to own a Natural Wonder of the world, and for those that choose to indulge in only the best of the best, without exception. Other owners in this region of the Bahamas include—Johnny Depp, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, The Johnson & Johnson family, David Copperfield, Tyler Perry, Bernard Arnault LVMH – Forbes #4, and frequenters Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Google’s Sergey Brin, and Oprah.Located a short 350 miles southeast of Miami.via Blue Hole Bay | Long Island, Bahamas - The Agency.

Bush medicine and a morning stroll

For the past two days my body's been warning me: a cold is on its way. By last night it had ripened and turned into a stuffy, streaming mess, complete with long queues of sneezes and the inability to breathe. Philip kindly bought me some over-the-counter cold medicine, the kind that works wonders but that is inscribed with the direst warnings about what it will do to my liver if overused. It helped me eat dinner last night (between sneezes) and to sleep (no sneezing) but when it wore off sometime in the wee hours I lay in bed contemplating when I could take the next dose and doing math in my head. No more than ten pills a day, two pills every four hours ... it didn't add up. All my hours were not covered. So I thought, forget the cold relief, time for the cure.So when I got up, having made myself lie in bed longer than I was inclined to on the theory that bed rest is as good for a cold as medicine (I don't teach classes today, conveniently), I decided to go out into the neighbourhood in search of cerasee. We happen to live through a series of corners replete with old hedges and fences, the kind of environment that cerasee loves. The back wall of the house next to ours is topped with a fence that is green and orange with it. At least it is when I'm not sick. So I gathered up some kleenex, a plastic bag, a handkerchief (for when the tissue ran out), the dog leash and our old, arthritic dog, and off we set.Well, it seems that some kind of gardening had taken place next door; all the cerasee on the fence was dead. So while Anna the dog was sniffing the grass on the other side of the road (it's a LONG leash and a small road) I was peering around at the base of the wall to see if any cerasee had survived. The first batch I found was guarded by a large black and white spider, so I left it alone, but I found and harvested enough for the morning not far away. Then we walked to the end of the road, where I found another fence with a more abundant cerasee crop, made a note for tomorrow, and walked back. I have boiled it now with salt and lime, and am sitting, feeling my head clear. Anna the dog is sleeping. The walk was longer than was comfortable for her, so I gave her a painkiller pushed into a handful of cheddar cheese and she's looking less uncomfortable. The painkillers, which she's been taking since Saturday, have made her far more sprightly than she has been and she and I are inclined to do more exercise than is fully comfortable for her fourteen-year-old hip-dysplasic back legs. But the pills seem to do the trick.The people I live with, the people I am closest to, scoff at bush medicine. My mother never took it that I ever saw, and neither does my husband. Too bad for them. I have a cousin who theorizes that cold and cerasee can't share the same body. When the cerasee goes in, he says, you shudder from the bitterness. And when you shudder, the cold goes out.We'll see.

Reparations Part II: A Lecture by Prof. Hilary Beckles

[easy-media med="3125"]The lecture is not short. Watch it at your own leisure. You may well not agree with it, all of it or some of it or a little of it. But if you have anything at all to say about the question of reparations, you will have no ground on which to stand unless you engage with the ideas he puts forth.Here is a taste:

When the world sits down, the western world, the European world, when they sit down to discuss the Caribbean, Africa, when they look at their past and the enslavement of our peoples, the victimization of our peoples, the destruction of Africans' potential, and the consequences that followed slavery, the apartheid that was put in place in the Caribbean after slavery, they speak about [the idea that] the time has come to move on.And they discuss moving on in the context of certain key words. These are the words that they use: Let's be progressive. Let's move on. Let's have progress. Let's have equity. Let's have democracy, equality, time for healing, time for atonement. We must have redemption, and forgiveness. The time has come for reconciliation ... Justice.These are the key words [around which] the conversation takes place about the legacies of slavery. But if you look at these words very carefully—and these are all very important words because these are the key words in western civilizations that speak to human progress—but there's a word that is missing from there. There is a word that is missing from the dialogue. And that word is what we call the elephant in the room. There's an elephant in the room. There's a word that nobody wants to say in the western world. There's a word that they do not want to use. But without that word, all of the precious words of hollow. Without that word, the justice, the forgiveness, the atonement, the equality, the progress, the reconciliation—without that word all of those other words are hollow. And that word of course is reparations.

How The Tribune is helping me get into trouble

What's not made clear, of course,  is that the "revamping" of Urban Renewal that I'm talking about was the cutting short of the programme in 2007, not the instituting of Urban Renewal 2.0 in 2012. I was disappointed to see that the revolutionary core of 1.0 was not replicated in the programme when it was reintroduced, but the real damage was done in 2007, if you ask me.

“Urban Renewal 1.0 was designed to give the law-abiding citizens real opportunities to gain access to social services and community policing worked on the premise that if you can gain the trust of the law-abiding citizens in a troubled area it becomes far easier to solve, deal with and ultimately prevent crime.“And the programme was accompanied by some real efforts by psychological professionals to help to heal people who had suffered long-term abuse, brutalisation and so on.“This core is what I considered revolutionary at the time, and which was removed when Urban Renewal was reformed because it was considered a waste of time and money, and a waste of policemen’s training too, as apparently police are supposed to fight crime, not prevent it.”“By focusing so much on the criminals, we lose sight of the law-abiding citizens in the same communities, and it is a long time since we have really sought to serve them or meet their real needs.”Dr Bethel added that the policing of inner city communities that arose after Urban Renewal 1.0 ended helped inspire distrust in inner city communities for authorities.“Imagine if you were,” she said, “a 12 year old living in inner city Nassau in 2002 and in 2003 all of a sudden police are put into your community and they’re not violent or menacing, they are friendly, father figures who are teaching you music. They are walking around, learning your names and so on and for five years you get to know them.“Then, when you are 17, they are taken away, and the only replacement are police with guns. How are you ever going to trust your country again? That’s what I think part of the root of this particular kind of violence is.”via Urban Renewal revamp 'an error' | The Tribune. - Bahamas 2013: A Year in Review with Nicolette Bethel

The highlight, for me--the part I spent the most time on:

5) 2013 may have been one of the worst years ever for crime in The Bahamas. What are your thoughts and suggestions?I’m not sure I buy the popular semi-hysteria about crime. As a social scientist I tend to stand back and look at local situations as objectively as possible. Here are the facts that strike me about The Bahamas in 2013.1) We have a population problem. It’s not a problem of overpopulation; far from it. It’s a problem of population distribution. Almost a quarter of a million people live in eighty square miles of land. The population density that results—3,125 people per square mile—places intolerable pressure on all of us. But it’s unnecessary pressure, because the whole territory of The Bahamas totals approximately 5400 square miles, and our whole population totals 354,000; the population density of our whole nation is a mere 66 people per square mile. To me, it’s a no-brainer; we HAVE to create and encourage the development of centres of population around our archipelago and establish means of encouraging Nassauvians to move there. End of story. But:2) We have an economic problem. For the last twenty years if not more, our governments have placed more emphasis on the attraction of foreign direct investment in various forms than on any single local developmental initiative. The result is that we all today confuse the construction of huge resorts with actual development, and we castigate our leaders for spending pretty well any money on Bahamians at all, put by the fact that such spending is an investment in the Bahamian nation. The landscape that has been produced is a landscape in which the fabulously wealthy of the world live behind illegally high walls in gated communities five driving minutes away from areas of high population density and virtually no amenities. We have allowed our educational services to stagnate, so that we are still providing the majority of our citizens with the kind of education that was appropriate for the first ten years of our independence, but with a deterioration in its quality.We quibble about whether we can “afford” a university but have no problems in assigning more money from our national budget to “assist” the latest multimillion dollar resort complex in its development than we assign to the College of The Bahamas. In other words, our country, which is still the wealthiest in CARICOM, has real economic problems when it comes to how it spends its money, and on what. Rather than investing in the means to develop the whole of this large, land-rich, stunningly beautiful, strategically significant nation, we waste far too much on projects that harm the general population without generating any return.In this scenario, crime is inevitable, and the violent crime that we have come to fear this year is depressingly predictable. I have been convinced for most of my adult life, from the moment I set foot in a classroom to teach the younger brothers of young men who had struck it rich working for major and minor drug lords, that some of the best minds in The Bahamas go into crime. The young men who are killing themselves and others in the process are part of our national resource, and we have worked hard to discard them like paper. They are turning their minds to making space for themselves because no one has made any room for them. We want them to work as construction workers at the bottom of a hierarchy that still places whiteness and riches at its top, and we expect them to be grateful. At the same time, we live in a society with open borders and a general resistance to spending the kind of money and time needed to police those borders adequately, and we also live on the edge of the most schizophrenic society that ever lived—a society that says that all men are equal of one side of its mouth, and out of the other side says that all people are equally good targets for bullets. The absurd American Arm the Good Guy scenario does not work, because which individual really believes he’s the bad guy? And so:violent crime, criminals with automatic weapons, and sensational headlines that sell newspapers but really do very little to present the problem sensibly.To sum up: I don’t buy the “worst year” idea in terms of crime. I’m not sure that 2013 was the worst year; I tend to divide what I read in Bahamian discourse on these sorts of things by four and digest the result. We have the crime that we should expect for the population size and density that we have on New Providence. It is not at all surprising. It’s frightening, yes, but that’s because our city is too small to absorb it. The solutions are there. It’s a mathematical problem whose solution can be simple. We need to act to make it happen.via - Bahamas 2013: A Year in Review with Nicolette Bethel.

A World According to Denmark

This week I've been watching the Danish television show Borgena series that follows the career of the fictional first female Prime Minister. I'm a good way through the first season (there are three seasons so far) and I'm hooked.But this isn't going to be a discussion of the show. If you want to know more about it, go do your own research; go watch it yourselves. For me, the exercise of watching it illuminates--throws into relief, rather--the very narrow limits of our local democracy.For Borgen is a television show about government. I'm forced to watch a lot of these shorts of shows, and to be honest, ever since The West Wing I have not been sorry that I have done so. Such shows have a lot to say, a lot to teach perhaps, a lot to contribute to the way in which we (I) think about democracy. I've been exposed to the blockbusters (The West Wing), the sensational (Scandal), the seamy (Boss), the dastardly (both versions of House of Cards), but, The West Wing aside, most of them tend to exaggerate both the players and the gravity of their actions in the telling of their tales. Perhaps that's because they all deal with politics and government in countries that are used to having great sway on the world stage--the US and Britain--and so the issues that preoccupy the fictional characters are larger than life; and, in a rather Shakespearean way, the flaws of the characters (in Boss and House of Cards particularly--and Scandal of course, which cannot survive without, well, scandal) are Hamlet-sized.Borgen is different, and there is nothing wrong with that at all. Denmark is not, and never has been, a world leader. It's a small, rich, successful country that had (and still has, indeed) a very minor empire; that has a very democratic monarchy; that has a parliamentary system that is very typically European, in that  political parties are ideological factions and represent many different ways of viewing the world and one's government, and that has a pretty endearing way of seeing its place in the world. The politicians about which this series is written are pretty ordinary in this sceme of things. They are about as flawed as the people I work with at the College of The Bahamas. The crises that threaten the government are more often than not moral crises (how many times does morality cross the political stage on our side of the Atlantic?), and philosophy often lies at the core of decisions made. What's even more interesting is that the government in question is a coalition government, so forget the monolithic strong-arming of policy and ideas that we are so used to on this side of the Atlantic; governing in this world has a lot more to do with finding and maintaining common ground than bullying opponents. The main antagonists (I don't mean this in a protagonist/antagonist sense) are the press, which is really free, and whose right to challenge and question politicians is guarded by almost everyone, politicians included. It's a fascinating look, for me, into a world in which democracy is related to what ordinary people believe about the world, to consensus, and to paying attention to the rights of the many, where "democracy" is not a code-word for the tyranny of the majority or first-past-the-post voting (a crash course on Danish politics can be found here and here).It makes me hopeful that it is possible to do the business of government in a different way than we currently do in our part of the world. That's the main reason I enjoy the show. Every other television show about government that I have seen, has reinforced the idea that politicians must universally be hollow or corrupt, and our familiarity with the (very lofty, very flawed) American political system has hurt our democracy, our government, and our ability to carve our own way. Do we believe in democracy, I wonder? Do we hold our politicians to account? (I can hear you now--are these serious questions?) In the forty years of our independence, how much real work has our legislature done? Why are the laws on the books still patched-up versions of colonial laws, most of which are predicated on the idea that the majority of the inhabitants of our country are little better than children and must be forced to behave well rather than treated as full citizens? Are the decisions we make made for us or in desperation to achieve something worth recording in history books?I'll stop there, and just say this to every Bahamian who cares about the state of our nation: go find this TV show, clear your head and clear your schedule, and watch it. Then see how you think about politics, governance, and the possibilties of small societies. Then let's get together and start making them happen here.

Write A House Is Giving Writers Free Homes In Detroit

Write A House is currently hoping to raise $25,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo to restore Peach House, the first future home for a Detroit writer. Young Detroit Builders, which teaches contracting skills to young people in the city, will help get the houses back into shape.via Write A House Is Giving Writers Free Homes In Detroit.

Yes. This is why we need real, independent local government in our country. I cannot imagine any Bahamian government coming up with something so radical, but a municipal government has room to experiment.All the best to Detroit. This is a kickass project.

More on Reparations

The question raised in the last post, regarding Western Europe and reparations, engendered great discussion on Facebook, and also threw up some interesting links. Here are some excerpts from that discussion, and then also some excerpts from the links:

  • Jamaal Charlton I think that we – as a people – need to first look beyond what’s currently being sought/debated. What I mean by that is; we need to first fight to repair own people, until we all get to a point where we wouldn’t need to accept any form of slavery reparations.
  • Gilbert Morris  do not believe that Caribbean leaders, much less African ones, have the moral standing to make the case for reparations. ...  the only anchor we have against Europeans COMPARED to other and previous slaving and enslaving is that their values ought to have prevented it. ... even when faced with their own vaunted values, they made excuses and often brought their values toward their behaviour, rather than corrected their behaviour by virtue of their values. As such, they sinned against themselves and against foundational principles and failure to recognise this leaves open continued justification of atrocities, past and present. ... I do not see Caribbean leaders as credible to call for either recognition or reparations. ... Caribbean and African leaders have done more to damage their people than anything in our history ... [they] have been the greatest threats to their peoples, stealing their birthright and undermining their prosperity.  ... Our region now leads the world in murders and such is our inversion of psychological orientation that we seem to regard the mere possibility of change as a monumental impossible risk; even as every component of civilisation collapses around us.
  • Timothy Treco ... NO AMOUNT OF MONEY can bring closure. Wrongdoing, and pain cannot be measured in dollars. Further, when the reparations we speak of move into the subsequent generations, it further complicates all matters. ... As John the Baptist said, he who steals should steal no more... It is simply easier to forgive, and to rid ourselves of the atrocities happening again. In the end, God is going to level ALL THE PLAYING field... Revenge is His. WE MUST rest there, and in the mean time make sure that Justice occurs.
  • Rae Whitehouse ... 'reparations' (i hate that word--it reeks of a panacea that does not exist) need to happen and eventually will happen. what interests me more is where exactly the money will be coming from, where exactly the money will be going to, and what exactly will be done with it. highly problematic, indeed. obviously, just because something is logistically challenging does not mean it's not necessary, but i see The Clusterfuck to End All Clusterfucks in our future. i'm all 'ok go' with the ideals, but the gritty practicalities are distressing me. help.
  • Dillon F. Knowles ... financial reparations will probably have the same effect that the estate of a deceased typically has on a family - civil "war". If you think we are currently unproductive as people with an entitlement mentality, tell us there is a pot of gold to be shared out. Do you think that if we could manage to agree on how to share it, that we would put it to productive use or just enhance our quest for instant gratification. As wrong as slavery is, it cannot be undone, and we decendants of slaves must continue to overcome the hand delt us by hard work and ingenuity.
  • Ava Turnquest ... everyone points to other injustices that are threatened if this wrong is put right - or attempted. when something is broken, nowadays it seems like all efforts are focused on ensuring it stays broken, lest other broken items feel entitled to repair.

The links:

Slavery reparations: should aid money be used to pay for past misdeeds? | Jonathan Glennie

Project Overview | Legacies of British's colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after

Will Western Europe Pay Out to Slave Descendants? | VICE

The answer is yes. Perhaps not in my lifetime. But if we are all human beings (and we are) the arguments against reparations will fade in the light of the brokenness of the world the slavery built. It's a brokenness that 50 years cannot begin to fix (answer to the "independence" argument) without some global restructuring of wealth. And it's not something that can be relegated to the past. The acts may be past but the violence of those acts lives on. If reparations are never paid, Western Europe will be enshrining the fiction it created to justify the enslavement and indentureship of people whose skins were not white & particularly of Africans, and demonstrating that, unlike the Jews, the Maori, and, critically, the white slaveowners, the Africans who were enslaved and their children who were enslaved by their accident of birth are not as human as everyone else. To resist this symbolic action is to perpetuate an institution of hate.

When I spoke to Esther Stanford of PARCOE UK, she argued that “reparations is as much about the battle of ideas and ideologies” as it is about money—and she faults the governments involved for not working with civil society groups to raise “reparations consciousness.” Stanford “It’s not an African name; it’s an enslaved person’s name that I carry to this day” is a lawyer and reparations activist who is currently completing a PhD in the history of the reparations movement. She has called CARICOM’s effort “far too limited, far too myopic.”via Will Western Europe Pay Out to Slave Descendants? | VICE.

I thought I was liberal and open minded about race … until I realised what was going on in my New York building | Chloe Angyal | Comment is free |

The additional suspicion with which my black guests are treated is not a form of obvious violence. Compared to the actions of the Klan, being asked to wait a few minutes in the lobby is, some will point out, not a big deal. But these are microaggressions, small and common instances of discrimination, and "their slow accumulation over a lifetime is in part what defines a marginalized experience… social others are microaggressed hourly, daily, weekly, monthly." The violence this time is psychic.via I thought I was liberal and open minded about race … until I realised what was going on in my New York building | Chloe Angyal | Comment is free |

Worth the read.

The new colonialism, or Things Fall Apart: S&P: downgrade if no tax ‘follow through’ | The Tribune

The Bahamas will suffer another credit rating downgrade within the next six-nine months unless it “follows through” on Value-Added Tax (VAT) or some other structural revenue reform following the 2014-2015 Budget.Dr Lisa Schineller, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) senior country analyst for the Bahamas, yesterday told Tribune Business that the upcoming May Budget had to include the Government’s plans for generating medium and long-term “revenue buoyancy”.Suggesting that the national debate over VAT, and whether this is the best tax reform option, needed to be concluded relatively swiftly, Dr Schineller said S&P needed to “see something move on the revenue side this [fiscal] year”.via S&P: downgrade if no tax ‘follow through’ | The Tribune.

Don't get me wrong. I am not one of those who is fundamentally anti-VAT or who believes that there is absolutely no need to reform the Bahamian tax regime. I am not a knee-jerk no-taxes person; indeed, I believe that taxes are critical to maintain a contemporary society, where all citizens have access to the basic services that are necessary for twenty-first century life, and I also believe that to do away with taxation is to create a society that will resemble the world on which the Americas was built--a profoundly unequal world, where profit and wealth for a few rested on the backs of many who were underpaid (or not paid at all), under-fed, ill, poorly housed, abused.But.I do not see that much good can come out of any agency who stands far away, has nothing invested in the society, and who simply goes around the world, peering into people's business and recommending solutions that have been developed for other social realities with other challenges. The approach seems to be both cavalier and dismissive, and the goals are unrealistic. While I would be the first person to agree that government spending is in dire need of adjustment, I am also part of an institution, the College-soon-to-be-university of The Bahamas, which is under real threat from indiscriminate cuts in government spending. It is institutions like the College on which future revenue streams, future real economic changes will be built, if the government invests in those institutions; but the pressure being applied by companies like S&P and others is having the opposite effect. What The Bahamas needs are not more experts from the outside who come along with solutions that treat us as though we are cookies cut from some other reality, as though the unique challenges posed by being a large sprawling, unevenly developed postcolonial archipelago can be solved with plans developed in post-war France or approved by the OECD under the terms of the WTO. I don't need to watch films like Life and Debt to guess what might happen next.Once again, don't get me wrong. I am not arguing that changes do not need to be made. I am not making any case whatsoever that the system we have at the moment is working. What I am suggesting is that the carrot-and-stick approach being used by those who pay too much attention international credit ratings agencies--who are not gods, even though they behave as though they are, and even though they have the power to affect our economic fortunes as we let them--is too reminiscent of the indiscriminate tactics of the plantation and of the colonial settlement, where the bottom line is more important than the damage involved in getting there for my liking.I can only refer people to Achebe's classic work, Things Fall Apart for one of the best illustrations of what can happen to a society where necessary change is imposed from the outside, rather than developed internally. It's a story that has been repeated again and again over the last five hundred years in our part of the world, especially with regard to societies made up of people whose skin colours once marked them out as less-than. There is a hollowness that attends on these kinds of changes, most of which spring out of a deeply entrenched sense that--contrary to the evidence of history--people from the developed world know what's best for people in the developing world. We need to beware the White Man's Burden, which remains alive and well in the twenty-first century global economy; that burden has a bad habit of being dropped and breaking everything that's inside.

David Simon speaks my language | World news | The Observer

The creator of The Wire, David Simon, delivered an impromptu speech about the divide between rich and poor in America at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, and how capitalism has lost sight of its social compact.via David Simon: 'There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show' | World news | The Observer.

He says basically what I tend to think. I may be a little more Marxist than he is, but apart from that, I see gold in every word he says.Hear, hear. Read it all, you bad.

Approaching VAT: "There are WAY too many breaks for the poor" ?!

Concerning Reparations for Slavery: Part One

This past October, a tiny tempest-in-a-teacup erupted in the wake of a fairly routine report on a decision taken by CARICOM to sue the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands for reparations for slavery. Following the report, which headlined, somewhat misleadingly, as "BAHAMAS SUING UK OVER SLAVERY", was a flurry of communications on both sides of the debate, along with a quick opinion poll by the Tribune which suggested that one-third of the people who took it were in support of the lawsuit, two-thirds against. The matter has since seemed to go away, sinking into the mire of superficialities which passes for public debate in our nation. But I want to suggest that what CARICOM has initiated is something that will eventually occur, and which may, when it does happen, change the future of the region if we let it. Whatever the noise in the market, the matter of reparations for New World slavery will not go away. A great wrong was committed against millions of human beings in the name of nothing more than global domination and profit, and that is a debt that will one day be paid.Here's why I say that. It seems to me that the resistance against the idea of reparations for slavery takes one of several forms. The first is the idea expressed by the UK government representative contacted by the Tribune to respond to CARICOM's lawsuit: that "governments today cannot take responsibility for what happened 200 years ago". The second is subtly connected to the first, but it shifts the focus from the enslaving nations to the nations founded on slavery, and argues that as the ills of the present cannot be solved by placing the blame on past wrongs, the past should be buried and the future considered. There is a third: that the debt has already been paid with independence, and that the political freedom of the people who were once enslaved is all that is necessary to right the wrong. A fourth argues that instead of focussing on the slavery of the past, the continuing enslavement and exploitation of people today is more a more pressing matter to consider. And there are countless other objections to the idea.What all of these objections have in common is that they deflect the idea of reparations from the principle on which the idea rests to the practicalities of the issue. In so doing, they inadvertently make the case, at least to me, for the very thing they oppose. What not one of these objections admits is that the institution of transatlantic slavery was a crime against humanity of such magnitude that makes it nearly impossible for us to deal with even two centuries after the beginning of its abolition. What they all do, instead, is continue to perpetuate the crime that lies at the heart of the reparations movement: that the enslavement of Africans by Europeans in the process of founding the so-called "New" World depended upon the fundamental dehumanization of those enslaved, and was accompanied by the very different dehumanization of the enslavers which occurred in the process.What these objections do is focus on the people enslaved, on the practical difficulties in addressing the wrong, on the pragmatics of the issue, which affect so many things about our current existence that it is almost impossible to conceive of living any other way. What not one of them does is address the idea that the crime for which restitution is being sought is not a crime against the person; it is a crime against the very idea of humanity and the concept of human beings. And it does not address the idea that until we begin to think about reparations from this perspective, we will continue to commit that crime.In case I'm not making myself clear, let me say it this way.For me, reparations for the transatlantic exercise of slavery (which is the specific offence that is being addressed in the CARICOM lawsuit) are not being sought for some past wrong that ended two hundred years ago. They are being sought for the continued dehumanization of the people who were enslaved, the people who enslaved them, and the people (us) who have inherited the world that rose up to maintain the slave system. It is a world whose structures, certainly in The Bahamas, remain very much intact, thus giving life to, enabling, the narrative that suggests that the past can be buried. But the past is not yet dead. It lives on in the very discourse that we use to discuss--or to dismiss--the call for reparations, and it is this which needs healing.This meditation is only a beginning of an exploration of the topic, and the start of my personal attempt to make sense of the issue, and to explain why first, I support the call for reparations; why second, I am convinced that no amount of ridicule and dismissal will make the call for reparations disappear; why third, I am certain that the arguments being brought against the call will eventually dissolve and peter out, and why the call for reparations will swell until restitution is paid; and why last, I am convinced that one day reparations of some kind will be paid by European governments (or by the EU itself) for their part in the system of transatlantic slavery.If you doubt me, consider this move, initiated this past May in France, pushing Europe to do what it has already done: to declare slavery a crime against humanity. And consider the language that accompanied it:

Written declaration, under Rule 123 of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, on establishing a European day in recognition of the victims of European colonisation and colonial slavery1
  1. European colonisation not only caused political submission and the economic plunder of the colonised territories and population, but also the extermination of native peoples and the deportation and reduction to slavery of millions;
  2. Under Article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, enslavement is recognised as a crime against humanity;
  3. Colonisation had among its effects that of depriving the colonised territories of their lifeblood, impacting negatively on their development capacity;
  4. The political, economic, demographic and psychological consequences of European colonisation are still resonating;
  5. The Commission is hence called upon to support the establishment of a European day in recognition of the victims of European colonisation and colonial slavery;
  6. The Council is also encouraged to take ownership of the initiative by supporting it at European level;
  7. This declaration, together with the names of the signatories, is forwarded to the Council and the Commission.
It's a beginning. It is a small step, true, and principally symbolic, as it was accompanied by no restitution; but it is a turn in the direction of rightness.I'm going to return to this topic over the next month or so.You're warned.