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.

Larry Smith on The Alternate Reality of Bahamian Squatter Settlements

This is an issue that needs research, reflection, and discussion, not knee-jerking. Larry Smith starts the ball rolling at Bahama Pundit.

... the deeper we delve into the so-called 'Haitian problem', the more we come face to face with ourselves. The squatter settlements that give rise to so much public angst are a clear example of the alternate reality that many Bahamians live in, and we are not the only ones grappling with these issues....The reality is that squatters include indigenous Bahamians, Haitian-Bahamians, immigrants with work permits and illegal immigrants. But these one-dimensional labels merely mask the complexity of the problem, as the following three examples illustrate.A 2003 news report on squatters focused on a young man who, although born here, was not a Bahamian because his parents are Haitians. He had never been to Haiti, and though he had applied three times for Bahamian citizenship and spent about $4,500 on paperwork and lawyers, he had nothing to show for his efforts.A friend of mine knows of a "true-blood Bahamian" who works as a messenger and had a daughter with a Haitian woman. "The daughter was educated here and is hardworking, but has no status. She is confined to the fringes of society because her father can't be bothered to help her get regularized."Then there is the Haitian who has worked here for years and become a permanent resident. "He has several children," my friend told me. "One son is here on a work permit, a second son went to R M Bailey and appears to be a Bahamian, and a third son just arrived from Haiti and can't speak English. The second son is intelligent and well-educated, but has no status and is very angry about it."These examples put a human face on the problem, and we can multiply them many times throughout our society. The root question is, how do we deal with them? One answer is to deport immigrant children who are born and raised here. Another is to regularize them to become productive members of our society.The other key point to bear in mind is that squatting is often the only option for low-income people with no collateral or savings who subsist on temporary jobs. They can't afford the cost of land or housing, so they are forced to rely on irregular arrangements facilitated by Bahamians.Squatter settlements are the inevitable result.via The Alternate Reality of Bahamian Squatter Settlements - Bahama Pundit.

Melting Ice Could Lead to Massive Waves of Climate Refugees

As the Earth warms, the melting of its two massive ice sheets—Antarctica and Greenland—could raise sea level enormously.via SolveClimate.com.

Last month's earthquake in Haiti brought out two sides of Bahamians: the all-too-common bigotry that holds tight onto what we've achieved over the past forty years and refuses to share our good fortune with others, and a generosity and compassion that signals a possible change in the way we talk about ourselves, our country, and our neighbours.What struck me, though, was the almost unquestioning subtext of both: the growing-old refrain that we are blessed, we are special, God has smiled upon us, and therefore we must either keep that blessing selfishly to ourselves or spread it more generously than we have done in the past.And we've gone off to thank God, to congratulate ourselves, that we were not so unfortunate as to have had an earthquake here in our land, that we are mostly outside the earthquake zone (except Inagua, which is close enough to the fault that shook Port-au-Prince to have experienced the earth's shaking at different times in its history).What I wonder about, though, is the question of why in all our discussions about blessedness, in all our wrangling about who-won-Elizabeth, in all our self-centredness and short-sightedness, no one -- not during the debates, not during the discussions on the air, nowhere, not even during the Copenhagen talks last year -- has raised the issue that should have every Bahamian deeply concerned: the question of the impact that global warming will have on ocean warming, the melting of the ice caps, and the eventual rising of the seas.Now it's possible for us to not-believe all the science about global warming. I myself, while accepting the research and the results, and believing entirely that the earth's climate is experiencing some major changes, am vaguely sceptical about the stated causes of climate change, and am also not always convinced about the predicted results of it.BUT.  One thing that isn't in dispute at the moment is that the ocean temperature is currently rising. Or, to be more precise: "July 2009 was the hottest month for the world's oceans in almost 130 years of record-keeping" (Seas at Risk.Org); and that scientists are noticing a shrinkage of the ice sheets of both Greenland and Antarctica.Here's what that means:

If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it would raise sea level 7 meters 23 feet. Melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would raise sea level 5 meters 16 feet. But even just partial melting of these ice sheets will have a dramatic effect on sea level rise.Senior scientists are noting that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC projections of sea level rise during this century of 18 to 59 centimeters are already obsolete and that a rise of 2 meters during this time is within range.via Melting Ice Could Lead to Massive Waves of Climate Refugees | SolveClimate.com.

Here's what that means to our country.The Bahamas is flat, low-lying, with few points on any island that can be considered high ground. Our highest point, way away on Cat Island, is 206 ft (63 metres) above sea level. But what's perhaps more worrying is that our fresh water sources are universally fresh water lenses, which rely to some degree on the stability of the salt water levels to continue to provide us with fresh water levels. Consider the fact, too, that New Providence gets its fresh water barged in from Andros (having long outgrown/contaminated the local freshwater lens, which was once considerable for a Bahamian island, but which can in no way support Nassau's population of a quarter of a million people, give or take), and that Andros is one of the flatter, lower islands. We don't know what impact rising sea levels might have on that.So it's not inconceivable that rising sea levels will turn Bahamians back into what for the past three generations we have not been: migrants, refugees, emigrants in search of dry land. It's not inconceivable that Atlantis, for the past decade or so our "saviour", may be what we actually become one of these days -- a sunken country, our property reclaimed by the sea. One of these days, The Bahamas may become just a memory to be kept alive by those most reviled of us all -- our artists.Just saying.

Strong institutions, not strong men

"Africa doesn't need strong men -- it needs strong institutions." -- President Barack Obama, Address to Ghanaian Parliament, July 11, 2009

It's been two years now, and there's been all kind of noise in the public sphere about Bahamian party politics and who bears responsibility for the difficult times we have faced for most of that time, and who will deal most effectively with the difficult times we will face. Most of the time I leave the discussions and the debates about personalities (which is most of what the discussion addresses, even now, mid-term) and political party up to politicized pundits. There's enough noise out there, and it really hasn't done us any good.

And it seems to me that every moment we spend focussing on small tings -- like which colour tie the majority of the members of parliament wear, or which initials we can attach to the administration (and what is the difference, anyway, in real terms?), or whether Perry Christie or Hubert Ingraham is better cut out to lead The Bahamas through the twenty-first century (the answer, of course, is neither -- both men were shaped irretrievably by the third quarter of the twentieth and neither has demonstrated the ability to recognize the current environment we face and find ways that are relevant to today to meet its challenges) -- is time wasted. Our whole political campaign in 2007 was an exercise in time-wasting; because I believe with all my heart that, like Africa, what The Bahamas needs is not strong men, but strong institutions.

Yesterday was independence day here in The Bahamas. Normally I write that title with capital letters, like a proper noun; but today I'm not capitalizing the first letter of the date because I don't think we truly understand the challenges and responsibilities of being independent. Too many of our leaders, no matter what party to which they apparently pledge allegiance (which, for too many of them, changes with a dizzying flourish anyway), do not value our independence, but prefer rather to wait for strong men from elsewhere to solve our difficult problems. Development by dependence is the model they appear to prefer. It's so much easier, after all, isn't it, to allow a monolithic investor to come in and provide short-term happiness. But the hollowness that results in our own society hurts us all. For instance, while Atlantis was employing thousands in the 1990s and early 2000s, our own institutions were growing weaker and weaker and more and more irrelevant, and no strong-man leader had the guts (or the vision) to tackle that fact. The result? We have, if we're lucky, perhaps five more years of functionality within our public entities. We're already beginning to see the crumbling of public services -- from our inability to handle the renewal of passports to the apparent impossibility, despite hundreds of millions being spent in borrowed money on road improvements, to keep our traffic lights working. And the answer does not easily lie in privatization; governments have responsibilities to all their citizens, and one of those responsibilities is to ensure that the smallest and weakest of their citizens is not placed in a position of vulnerability to rapacious private enterprises which have no allegiance to their clients beyond the amount of money they make from them.

Our problem? Like Africa and many other post-colonial regions of the world, our focus has for far too long been on electing strong men instead of demanding strong institutions for ourselves. We have not built our nation in any way that can be guaranteed to last into the future. And our debate continues to ignore that fact.

So my hat's off to Barack Obama today. Let us take heed from those countries around us who have invested in strong men at the cost of building strong institutions. Let us learn from those nations where for years and years good government continued even when the leaders of those countries were people whose names have been easily and quickly forgotten because the institutions that governed those nations were stronger than the individual weaknesses. And let us recognize that there is value in creating and maintaining the institutions that we need.

On Culture, CARIFESTA, and the Bahamian Economy, Part I

It came to my attention last month that our government was planning to postpone, once again, the hosting of the Caribbean Festival of Arts, if it had not yet done so. Announcements to that effect would be made very soon, I was told. The fact that such announcements have not yet been made may make this post obsolete. I rather doubt it, however.It should be no surprise to anyone at all that I think this is a terrible idea. It's not just because I would like to write for a living and make that living in the country in which I grew up. It's also because it's flying in the face of what international agencies focussed on development economics suggest is the place of culture in that development.For those of us who don't know, or who haven't noticed, the world has changed. As I write, indeed, at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, the US President is opening the door for negotiations with Cuba, which, as we all know, is the only viable competitor for The Bahamas' prosperity in the Caribbean region. In fact, it's possible to argue that the only reason The Bahamas has maintained its supreme position in the region has been because the fifty-year long US embargo of Cuba, has coincided with the latest Bahamian boom. But now, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is visiting Cuba, and the Obama administration is making very clear noises that the embargo will soon be lifted.At the same time, for the first time in almost twenty years, the Bahamian government's plan for prosperity -- foreign investment, foreign investment, foreign investment -- is not bearing fruit. Why not? The reasons are various. Perhaps the biggest is the reason Barack Obama himself gave for changing the way the USA has done business for the past generation or so -- that trickle-down economics, or the spreading of the wealth accumulated by the rich and mighty -- does not work. It no longer works in the USA, which is the greatest nation in the world; and it has not worked in The Bahamas as an engine of development for a country that has not yet invested in itself.  Oh, it has done well in providing a couple of decades' worth of get-rich-quick money for a smattering of people. But as we are noticing, where the sharing of wealth is dependent on the goodwill of the greedy, little gets shared. And so our current "wealth" is almost wholly dependent on the goodwill of the foreign investor, who is interested in the people of this nation only as workers -- as block-layers, lifeguards, toilet-cleaners, cooks, drivers, or middle managers who have no ability to affect or shape company policy.It is not foreign investment that economists and development agencies are suggesting is the engine of economic development in the 21st century; it's culture. If you don't believe me, go and look it up. Culture is no longer regarded as peripheral to development. It has been recognized as a viable, resilient, sustainable and renewable source of economic gain. A quick look at any international economic arrangement negotiated since 2002 will illustrate this truth. International agencies everywhere, from the European Union to the Organization of American States to the United Nations to the World Trade Organization, are recognizing the place of culture on the economic agenda.But here, in The Bahamas, for a generation and a half -- the entire time since Independence -- our national policies have been shaped by a group of men and a handful of women whose actions and behaviour cumulatively suggest that they would rather erase Bahamian culture than invest in it.Despite our so-called prosperity, we are the only Caribbean nation that cannot demonstrate our government's pride in what makes us us. Part of this is because Government policy since 1992 has focussed on conning foreign investors to put in infrastructure that (we are told) the government cannot afford. The result? Despite soaring tourist arrivals (and, presumably, soaring demand for authentic Bahamian cultural products), the cultural industries are in effective decline. Those foreign investors in whom we've placed our trust? They don't care whose culture visitors consume, as long as the profits flow to into their coffers.  What we should have learned by now is that no people -- or their representatives -- can depend on someone else to develop their own cultural resources. We have to do that job for ourselves.But we don't. The recurrent budget allotted by our goverment to culture, despite all the fussing about a so-called Ministry of Culture and the appointment of Ministers of State, only crossed the $2 million line in the 2008-2009 budget year. The government agency charged with the development of Bahamian culture is not a Ministry, nor is it a Department; it is a Division, which means that even that $2 million is not administered by anybody in that Division. (It isn't administered by the Minister, either, for anyone who remains fooled into thinking that this may be so.)  The Chief Financial Officer in any government agency is the Permanent Secretary, or the Director of any Department that has a budget head; and the Cultural Affairs Division is so far away from having a budget head that it would be laughable if it were not so frightening. That $2 million is inscribed in a single line item under whatever budget head the Division is attached to (Office of the Prime Minister (Head 14) one year, Education (Head 38) the next, Youth, Sports and Culture (Head 47) the next). And that $2 million is expected to support festivals throughout The Bahamas, maintain a "national theatre" (which is so far from being either thing that it demonstrates the depth of the contempt that our governments have for us) run a National Arts Festival, finance sundry cultural events throughout the year, and run the $1.5 million festival of Junkanoo.Stand this up against the over $91 million we allot to the Ministry of Tourism, much of which is spent outside The Bahamas. I was once told, laughingly, by a senior official in that Ministry that the budget I was given to work with (that was back in 2004, when the budget was maybe $1.2 million, give or take) was what Tourism managers were given to make mistakes with. We can afford Miss Universe, which will benefit Atlantis; but we cannot, it appears, afford CARIFESTA, which will benefit us all.But it is not Miss Universe, which is a cultural brand developed elsewhere, with economic returns for the owners of the brand that will develop the Bahamian economy.According to international agencies and economists the world around, it is our culture.This is why the planned postponement of CARIFESTA, if it is indeed so planned (and if it isn't, the lack of any progress towards the hosting of that festival in 2010 indicates that a decision has already been made, if not announced), is the terrible idea that it is.I have yet to be convinced that Miss Universe will benefit the Bahamian economy substantially, other than in the collection of departure taxes, which will be funnelled into agencies that spend their monies outside the nation anyway. I am sure it will keep the Kerzners happy. I know, however, that I and mine will certainly not benefit in any way from Miss Universe; nor, I imagine, will most other people in the cultural industries, unless their name be Ronnie Butler or K.B. and unless they be set to open for whatever international giant that comes to perform. I do not think that food vendors or writers or poets or improv performers or even the broad Junkanoo community will benefit in any substantial way from Miss Universe, not to mention the car rental agencies, the restaurants and watering holes on the Bahamian side of the bridge, the small hotels and guest houses, the vast majority of taxi drivers and the tour bus companies not sanctioned by Atlantis, the street cleaners, the road-repairers, the marching bands, the graphic designers, the t-shirt makers, or the film community.These are the people who will benefit from CARIFESTA, however, which is unsuited to be housed at Atlantis, that most inauthentic institution, that theme park for the unsuspecting, which only resides among us, but is not of us.  The influx of visitors, and the type of visitors that will make up that influx, will be interested in us, who we are, what we do, and will spend money on what is most Bahamian, will not be conned into overspending on what is fictional at best.And yet (I'm told) our leaders believe that to host the Festival will be a waste of money in the end.I know this much. Economic evidence from around the world exists which proves our leaders wrong. And common sense suggests it too. Our development will not happen at the hands of foreigners; it is in our own hands, and the hands of the governments we elect to lead us. We can read the reports for ourselves, and accept the idea that culture is the economic sector in which to invest for nations that are still developing; or we can share the delusions of our politicians, which confuse the grandeur of the monstrosities the foreign investors build (and usually protect behind gates and bridges and visitor passes) with development of a nation and of a people. We need to make up our own minds. From here on in, it's up to us.

There Gatta Be A Better Way

First things first. This post is being was written in the knowledge that it might never get posted, simply because it's going to be critical and in contravention of my terms of employment -- in other words, flying in the face of General Orders. So if you're seeing it, (a) I'm no longer a government employee; (b) I no longer care what the consequence is; or (c) I'm dead. Or all of the above.But I'm writing it because it needs to be said.I've been was a civil servant for five years. The specific position I hold is held was part of the problem, but it's not all of it. The political persuasion I hold held, real or perceived, is was also part of the problem, but not all of it. The fundamental problem was that the system of government that is responsible for the development, promotion, sustaining and honouring of Bahamian culture is, quite simply (and I say this, borrowing unashamedly from other people's military and begging forgiveness for all those who are offended or outraged by "Language"), FUBAR.Here's how it works, or doesn't.Painting by Brent Malone, courtesy of Juliette Art Gallery, Abaco, BahamasEverything worth doing requires money. This is especially true for culture, which, in spite of popular misconceptions about it, is in many ways a business that has been around for centuries. And as with anything else, in the cultural field, you tend to get what you pay for. That's not always true, of course — a Brent Malone painting during his lifetime was far more reasonable a purchase than a Chan Pratt painting during his, but that was due far more to the philosophy and sensibility and target audience of the specific artists than much else, and the two prices may adjust themselves now that both painters have sadly passed on. But in most cases, it is true."The Squall" by Chan Pratt, courtesy of Chan Pratt ArtThe thing is, The Bahamas Government doesn't appear to see it that way. This is a problem that seems to be at the root of every decision made by every decision-making agency in the country. The main question at hand has nothing to do with seeking value for money; rather, the average civil servant aims to spend as little money as possible in one go, even if that means that what is purchased with that money is so low in quality that you have to buy it again and again and again.Now I know that this isn't unique to our government, that many governments suffer from the same malaise. That doesn't make it any better. And when it comes to culture, it grows even more difficult.Because, you see, culture isn't something that (a) most Bahamians seem to believe can/should be paid for and (b) most civil servants know very much about. (Let me stop right here to say that point (a) only applies to local culture; most Bahamians are avid consumers of global culture, and in fact we often spend far more than we need to on designer thisses and thats, on going to see foreign performers and shows, no matter how mediocre, on films we import, on cable stations that feature the cultural products of abroad. What we will not spend our money on is our own people and their cultural productions -- at least not unless/until foreigners spend their money on them first, as with Amos Ferguson. But I digress.)Most civil servants, in fact, labour under the impression that cultural production is some sort of fancy hobby, something that anybody can do, and worse, that people enjoy doing, and so they resist the idea of paying for it in any way, shape or form. Accountants are particularly prone to this misapprehension, but they're not alone; senior civil servants and politicians also hold it (except, in the case of politicians, when it comes to Junkanoo, and in most cases that exception is made because (a) they believe that only what is popular is good or (b) they need the votes).It makes for difficult times if you're the Director of Cultural Affairs for the government.I have spent my time as Director apologizing for my government, especially to professionals who, if they were in any other field, would be given red carpet treatment because of their stature. The same people who kowtow to ministers because they have blue licence plates, official cars, and drivers scoff at the demands of people -- professional people, mind you, with training or experience or a lifetime of performance under their belts, or all three -- to be paid what they are worth in the cultural field. These are the same people who think nothing of paying thousands of dollars for refreshments or decorations or the sound systems or seating for an event (accountants are not included in the above; most accountants of my acquaintance query all expenditure -- it's their job). But when it comes to the live entertainment, forget it.This is usually how the conversation goes.Government: We need a cultural show for [insert event of choice: visiting dignitaries, international conference, national celebration, CARIFESTA]Me: All right. I'll send you a budget. I'll let you know what it costs so you can build it into your expenditure.Government: ... A budget?Me (if it's a good day): Yes. Cultural shows cost money. (If it's a bad day, I'm not responsible for my reply)Government: We thought your department would pay for it.Me (after laughing hysterically and making a close acquaintance with the floor): You're kidding, right? My department doesn't even have a permanent home, you're thinking we have funding to pay for every event that comes across your desk? The Director of Culture may be the only director in the entire government system that doesn't get a courtesy car along with the office, and you think we have the funding to cover the cost of your show? No, I'll send you the breakdown and you add it to your Cabinet Paper. (I'm thinking: you're going to pay for everything else, from the sound system to the conference facilities, from the catering to the little folders and the goodies you're going to be handing out to the people attending, but you want me to provide the entertainment for you for FREE?)Government (doubtfully): Okay, send it, we'll take a look at it.(Time passes. Then we get one of the following communications.)A)Government: Okay, we've gone over your budget, and it's fine. Except for one thing. Do the performers have to cost so much? Can't you get people to perform for less? (Translation: can't we get somebody to perform for free?)B)Government: Okay, we've gone over your budget. We think we're going to go with the Police Force Band/the Defence Force Band/one of the above's Pop Band (Translation: we don't want to spend taxpayers' money on anybody who isn't already making a salary and has a pension coming after they retire, so we'll get in-house talent)C)Government: We've decided we don't need a cultural show after all. (Translation: we wouldn't pay a working artist a fair price if it killed us.)This notwithstanding the fact that if you invest in cultural performance, and if the performance is high-quality, and if you make people feel good or different or better or bigger (which cultural performance aims to do), you get a tangible return. People pay for that kind of experience, and they pay big. If they didn't, there wouldn't be a Hollywood film industry, there wouldn't be a Broadway in New York, and there most certainly wouldn't be Las Vegas, whose reputation is not all built on casinos and gaming tables. People are always looking for a different experience, something unique, something you can't get anywhere else, and the better and more unique and more different it is, the more they'll pay. It's called show business for a reason, folks, and it runs by a tried-true formula that works.And The Bahamas is so very rich in culture that we could all be benefitting from it.But we're not.  Part of the problem is what I've just described above.  There's a fundamental lack of respect for what we creative people do across every sector of our Bahamaland, and we are dissed on so regular a basis that I'm surprised that we stay here. The disrespect that is shown to Bahamian artists and cultural workers is played out in any number of ways, from the politicians' laughing about us in the House of Assembly, to the civil servants' disparaging remarks about artists and singers and shows, to the businessmen's opinion that what we do is a waste of good capital, to the average churchgoers' dismissal of the artistic lifestyle (if the artist doesn't happen to be part of the church membership of course, and providing entertainment aka praise and worship for the church itself), to the salaries not paid and the budgets not awarded and the promotions not given to those people who bust their behinds for the culture of the country day in, day out, with no questions asked and no rewards requested.They say what goes around comes around in the end.  They say, too, that time is longer than rope. And the fact that we're now in the twenty-first century in the middle of a global creative revolution suggests that the typical Bahamian attitude to artists, art, and creativity is heading us all for a big, hard crash.There gatta be a better way.  Arts and culture make good business.  There gatta be space in this nation, in this society, for artists, for creativity; after all, the way of the world now depends on innovation, uniqueness, difference. There gatta be investment in new ways of seeing, fresh ideas. There gatta be room for critical commentary and flights of fancy in this Bahamaland of ours. There gatta be room for creative people to make a living being creative. We will not always be able to make money by transplanting other people's bright ideas. Our business, our main industries, our economy all depend on our best creative minds. And so, politicitians, businessmen, accountants, civil servants, churchpeople, Bahamians, consider rethinking your prejudices and resistances to the culture within us. It's yours too, you know. We artists just help you see it.And who knows? You might just love it as much as all the other people's culture you've already paid top dollar for.

CARIFESTA Update - in the end

Well, we're back home. Those of us who travelled in the advance party returned on the charter, which was fine, one direct flight, then off the plane in Nassau. We flew through the turbulence of Tropical Storm Hannah, and though we had to wait for our luggage for some time at LPIA (there were only two men working the baggage carts -- no clue why that was, maybe Mondays are slow) we were home in less than six hours. Of course, given the fact that we had checked out of the hotel at 3:30 and arrived home at 2:30 that makes it 11 hours door-to-door, but that's part of the challenge of travelling with large groups.Back to work today. It's hard to imagine that I'll be sitting behind a desk in a couple of hours, fighting the usual fights of trying to get money released for cultural activities, trying to to get people paid for work they've done for the government, troubleshooting situations that are the result of half-assed jobs done by other people, wrapping up the CARIFESTA work and wrapping up other work I began.In government, projects almost never end. Even projects that have natural endings drag on longer than they should, largely because there are too many people involved in the process of executing them. Perhaps that's by design; perhaps it's because in The Bahamas (and, presumably, in most places, since politics and government are bedfellows) governments are places to house people who can't find work elsewhere, and so tasks are divided into tiny little pieces, all of which have to be completed before the task can be done, and most of which are shared among people of below-average competency, and so all the bits and pieces are almost never finished properly. And so wrapping up goes on forever, until budget years close, and the loose ends are either gathered or left to fray on their own.I'm pretty clear on one thing. For me, work is a series of projects to be completed, and to be completed well. Creative work is that: inspiration, design, creation, revision, polishing, presenting, ending. Beginnings and ends, like life itself, not infinite futile repetition, spirals that lose efficiency and quality as they turn.The Bahamas received the CARIFESTA Scroll for the second time. This time it wasn't Winston Saunders who accepted it on behalf of the Bahamian government, but the Minister of State himself, standing on the cricket field in the Providence Stadium, flanked by the contingent in full Junkanoo regalia, which probably means that we will actually host the event in 2010.It's a project that needs management, that needs design, polishing, and efficient, high-quality presentation.It's a project that could be mangled entirely by government.More on this later, when I've worked out how to express my reservations and hopes in ways that don't contravene General Orders. But for now, we're home again.

Walcott warns; others walk

Walcott warns : Stabroek NewsRight, well I've been hinting at it for some time now on this blog, but now I think it's time to come out and say it straight.  I've turned in my resignation as Director of Culture for the Bahamas Government.  I had originally intended to leave at the end of this month, as of August 31st, but a series of situations have pushed the actual date back till the end of this calendar year, and turned the resignation into a requested transfer back to the College of The Bahamas.  Courage!People who have heard sometimes ask me why.  (People who know me and have known the tribulations of working as a cultural professional within The Bahamas government don't ask why; they ask when.)Derek Walcott, Caribbean Nobel Laureate for Literature, gives a very good reason why in his speech at the opening of the CARIFESTA Symposia.  Here's what he says:

Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott yesterday implored the region’s governments to resist prostituting themselves to foreign investors, warning that giving into tourism-fuelled gentrification would spell disaster.“The prostitution is a thing we call development,” he said in stinging remarks delivered during an impromptu presentation at the grand opening of the CARIFESTA X Symposia, at the National Convention Centre. He warned: “Don’t let this continue, [because] something serious is going to happen.”


 “It is terrifying, all around there are huge hotels we are going to leave as monuments,” he said, with obvious disgust. “We are not leaving museums or theatres, because the governments say they can’t afford it.”


Walcott took the view that investors should also be encouraged to put money into the development of cultural infrastructure, like museums and theatres. He also challenged regional governments to be more supportive of artists, saying that younger people needed to have access to more scholarships.Walcott, who had once famously  called for the scrapping of the festival, was featured as the Distinguished Guest at the symposium. Nonetheless, he admitted that he still harboured serious reservations about the fate of artists afterward. Indeed, he blamed the regional governments and institutions for keeping artists in what he described as a state of deprivation. “Is this what we are celebrating?” he asked. “You are killing your artists.”


Walcott challenged regional leaders to pursue development of the arts simultaneously. Though he was not optimistic that the idea would be realized, he said it was important for them to adopt a change in attitude. He said there be should be no question of competing needs; that governments should do both.***He also suggested yesterday that the governments consider putting a moratorium on the festival in order to ensure that it is professionally organized and that it features the best people that the region can offer. “You need the best,” he said, before quickly adding, “But it is self deception, because what happens afterwards? What are their futures?"

There you have it.  My dilemma in a nutshell.  On the one hand, there are the people who tell you that the country needs you, that we have come a long way, that we are on the move and things are gonna get easier.  "Why now?" they ask.  The answer is simple, and Walcott has stated it plainly.  Caribbean governments do not invest in their people. Caribbean people do not see any real reflections of themselves.On the other hand -- and this is the reality, while the other is simply the spin -- the bare naked truth is that The Government of The Bahamas (gold, red or green, the party in charge doesn't matter) is no different from the governments of all our neighbours when it comes to cultural investment.  The Nobel Laureate has stated the truth, and there is no getting around it.  The President of Guyana has stated the excuse, and there is no getting around that either.  To remain in the post legitimizes the active underdevelopment of our people that all of our governments have made the central policy of their administrations.  To remain in the post restricts the criticisms that I can make; and to remain in the post compromises, whether we like to admit it or not, the attainment of excellence in all that we do.

Dissent, Power, and Politics

Well, from Jamaica, this is interesting:

PM Golding has invoked the Staff Orders rule that says governmental officials must keep their traps shut when their individual positions conflict with existing gov’t policy. Not an atypical move for him to make. But, it really does and should sweet us when we see cracks in the veneer of retrograde, unsubstantiated policies, that come in the form of truth-telling, even if the labba-mouth will probably lose their jobs.

Gagging Dissent « LONG BENCH

Especially given the exchange that's been occurring on Rick Lowe's BlogBahamas and Larry Smith's Bahama Pundit about the responsibility of civil servants to speak out about the wrongs and the cracks in the society.

Here's the source of Long Bench's commentary.

President of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, Wayne Jones, said the Government's Staff Orders outline a mode of behaviour for public officers, as it relates to their interaction with the public.

Jones told The Gleaner yesterday that Section 4.4 of the order points to how government material or documents should be shared with the media through the permanent secretary, head of department or designated spokespersons.Jones said Harvey would not be able to express a personal view, particularly on topical issues, without the media and other persons in society construing it to be government thinking.He acknowledged that public officials would be faced with situations where they might be asked to express a professional or personal view on a matter.

Come on, people of the Caribbean.  Do or do we not live in democracies? What is the responsibility of those of us employed in governments to our nation?  What is gained by the kinds of restrictions applied to civil servants that are outlined in the documents we inherited from the Brits (who remain subjects, and not citizens, in their own land, by the way)?  Weren't they written when only a small number of people worked for government, and when our lands were colonies anyway and when freedom of speech was not something anyone had at all?  Why are they still being invoked today, when our governments are major (in The Bahamas' case, the largest) employers?  Does this not seem to be at odds with the idea of a democracy?

Nevertheless.  General Orders stands.  Our Rules of Conduct may be found here.  Go read for yourself.



The Bahamas' budget debate is taking place now.  As a civil servant, I am not free to comment as I would like.  So I'll just ask questions instead.I am listening to the debate, and the rhetoric is impressive.  But what is the reality?  Is this budget really preparing us for the 21st century?  Do we even understand what the 21st century will require of us?Here's the link to our budget.You can download bits and pieces or the whole thing in .pdf format.  I encourage you to do so.Here are some links to important global developments that will impact our economy in short order.World Trade Organization (WTO)UNESCO Cultural Industries Overview

CARICOM Cultural Industries (pdf)

Too much pinkery?

For those of you who might be thinking that I have waaay too much time on my hands, know this: I've been on vacation for the past two weeks. The public service has the policy of being able to bank your vacation -- you get a certain number of weeks per year, and you can accumulate leave over time. It's a nice perk. Trouble is, it costs taxpayers money, because many civil servants, including some of the best, simply bank their vacation over time and then add it up as pre-retirement leave.  It has not been uncommon for people to be paid for three, six, nine or twelve months as they near retirement.  It's especially useful in times of illness.  My father was a case in point. When he was ill, his vacation leave helped assist us in taking care of his hospital bills.It's good for the worker, but not great for the service.  The person remains on the books, which means that their post is occupied even though they are not working in it.  That means that it's often difficult to replace them -- and believe it or not, the public service is suffering as much from a lack of employees as it is from a bloated payroll (more on that later).  So there's an official policy that keeps reminding us civil service that vacation leave is cumulative only up to a maximum of fifteen weeks.  For people who get three vacation weeks a year, that's five years' worth of vacation, but for people who get more than that it doesn't take long to accrue a lot of leave.  I entered my fifth incremental year last October with some 10 weeks' leave, and didn't know how I'd got it.  So I'm taking it this year -- two before Christmas, two right after, and two weeks right now.All that to say that I've been fooling with the blog.  I've fixed the comment issue in the upgrade, which is good.  On the other hand, I have had to abandon the theme I was using, which was a design I liked.  A lot.  I've got this one, which is by the same designer, but though it does the job, it doesn't feel right.  Not bold enough.  Not me enough.  I'm waiting for him to release the theme for 2.5 so I can play with it again -- but by that time I may have redesigned the entire site.So I say all that to say this:  this may be just too much pinkery for the moment.  But stick with me.  It'll all turn out well in the end.It's a mystery.