We note with amusement PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts' praise of Fred Mitchell for his "extraordinary skill, leadership and patriotism" in creating the biggest foreign policy cock-up since his previous stint as foreign minister in the first Christie administration.
Cast your mind back to the 2006 controversy over the callous 10-month detention of two Cuban dentists at Carmichael Road. The pair had US visas, but were denied permission to emigrate by the Cuban government. After leaving clandestinely by boat they were picked up in Bahamian waters and held at the detention centre.
That case involved months of stonewalling and escalating rhetoric, until an agreement was eventually fashioned that sent the dentists to Jamaica, from where they made their way to the US. Mitchell was large and in charge the whole time, and offered no remorse.
On his second tour of duty, you would expect him to have a better grasp on these matters. Making belligerent statements, accusing critics of treason, issuing threats and hurling personal invective at all and sundry are classic defensive behaviours, but they are hardly the kind of psychologies that should be put on public display by our chief diplomat.
The bottom line is that Mitchell is a lifelong political propagandist - and nothing more, no matter how hard he pretends. Send him to Bahamas Information Services where he belongs.
Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration is responsible for the detention centre, Mitchell now defers on this matter to his senior colleague - Dr Bernard Nottage. And although Mitchell claims there has been no publicity fallout from the Cuban abuse controversy, his junior colleague - Obie Wilchombe - thinks otherwise.
Despite Mitchell's earlier undiplomatic bluster over several months, we now know that a secret investigation into the beating of illegal immigrants by Defence Force guards took place in July. Some of that report was subsequently leaked to the press, but there has been no official publication.
Dr Nottage is now saying that those involved in the beatings will be tried, and a civil inquiry into conditions at the detention centre will follow. But unfortunately, the trial will be held behind closed doors (which suggests all kinds of skulduggery), and a report will supposedly be issued later - a refrain we have heard too many times before.
As we have already pointed out, there are two parts to this issue. The first is the ideological dispute that the Cuban exiles have with the Castro regime and their disapproval of the fact that we ship Cuban migrants back to Cuba. The second is the mistreatment of migrants while in Bahamian custody.
It is pointless to engage in aggressive behaviour against the Cuban exiles. Most reasonable people appreciate the complications involved and are generally supportive of the Bahamian position, which is based on international law. But the mistreatment of detainees (of whatever nationality) is another matter entirely. All allegations should be handled transparently and in a timely manner.
In a recent communication to the PLP Council, Mitchell had this to say: "This is a small group of misdirected, professional protestors (referring to the Miami group Democracy Now) whose stock in trade is fighting an ideological war with an enemy that they have been fighting since 1959 (meaning the Castro regime). They are best kept at a safe distance and not engaged."
Too bad he did not have the sense to take his own advice. Instead, he has been grandstanding on this issue since March. As I noted weeks ago: "Rather than sticking to diplomatic language and making constructive interventions when necessary, Mitchell began using the issue as a soapbox to show off his nationalist credentials."
And now he has stepped onto another soapbox - announcing the launch of an investigation into the involvement of Cuban exiles and Cuban migrants in a "criminal" conspiracy to "destabilise the country".
This latest allegation is in clear conformity with the Mitchell Rule of political propaganda: create a conspiracy to stir things up and deflect attention from your own deficiencies.
GETTING VEXED ABOUT VAT
The government's newly appointed tax administrator, ex-Price Waterhouse Coopers accountant Ishmael Lightbourn, and his sidekick Pauline Peters - the former tax chief of Grenada - had a hard time at a packed public meeting last week, hosted by Dr Hubert Minnis, to discuss the proposed value added tax.
Lightbourn could neither explain nor defend the many things that the cabinet is deciding on the fly. And this led to his presentation degenerating into a free-for-all, accompanied by derisive laughter, scornful comments and disgusted moans from the audience of mostly businesspeople and professionals. Lightbourn himself was by turns defensive, angry and condescending.
So at this point there's no point trying to write a helpful piece about VAT.
However, I believe it is important to note one thing. No matter which party has been in office the government has been pursuing tax reform for at least the past 15 years (I know of an IMF study in 1997 and a Crown Agents study in 2006), and value added tax has always been a top option for revenue-raising. In fact, VAT has been adopted by more than 140 countries worldwide.
We are facing a recurrent deficit of $1.3 billion, a capital deficit for the last seven years of $1.7 billion, and a public debt of $4.9 billion - not including contingent liabilities. We are borrowing money to pay salaries, Lightbourn said, which is a slippery slope, no matter which government is in power. The bottom line is that we must deal with revenue and spending in order to maintain our economic and social stability.
So towards the end of the last Ingraham administration, the Ministry of Finance produced a technical report on VAT, which did not have time to go to cabinet before the May 2012 election. After the election, the new Christie cabinet decided to implement VAT. And now, there are just nine months before the tax is scheduled to kick in, with the details being worked out as we speak and no-one having a clue what it is all about.
More to the point, the introduction of VAT was never an issue or point of discussion in the recent general election. This means that the electorate had no opportunity to express their opinion on it. The politicos kept it largely to themselves.
The voters are the ones who will be taxed, yet we have seen no official reports on the consequences or the possible alternatives - such as a freeze on spending, curtailment of non-essential spending, or a reduction in subsidies to public corporations. There should be at least some effort at a co-operative approach.
But, as a spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce recently said: "We don't know any details. There's no legislation, no regulations, no tariff schedules, no financial models."
A NEW LAW FOR BAHAMIAN FISHERIES
For the past several months, experts from the European Union have been consulting with fishing industry stakeholders here to draft a replacement for the 1977 fisheries act.
This project is part of a programme known as ACP Fish 11, which is aimed at strengthening fishery management policies in developing countries which were European dependencies, but are now part of a trade and aid agreement with the EU.
One of the main goals of the programme is to reduce the incidence of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which can prevent ACP countries from exporting marine products to the EU. The Bahamian lobster fishery is a case in point.
Local seafood processors are currently seeking endorsement for crawfish exports under the European Union's Catch Certification programme. Without this endorsement, which is aimed at curbing the over-exploitation of marine resources, Bahamian lobsters could be banned from the EU, which currently takes 40 per cent of the catch.
Updating the Bahamian fisheries act is one of many projects undertaken by the ACP Fish 11 Programme around the world. Since this project began, EU consultants have met with government agencies and stakeholder groups to produce a first draft of the proposed legislation.
A workshop was held last week to review major features of the draft. According to Vanessa Haley of the Bahamas National Trust, "this project is both positive and necessary to ensure a sustainable Bahamian fishery. It will lead to improved compliance with fishery management decisions."
In 2010, fishing contributed $70 million to the Bahamian economy - or about 1.2% of GDP. Some 9,000 people were employed in fishing, processing and distribution.
Th draft law establishes a fisheries council to advise on policy, composed of senior civil servants, conservationists, scientists, and industry representatives. It also sets up an industry forum to represent the views of the fishing sector as a whole.
License fees, court penalties, proceeds from the sale of confiscated items and other allocations will go into a fisheries development fund. This money is intended to be used for monitoring and policing of fisheries waters, as well as for research and training.
The draft law allows the minister to designate paticular fisheries as nationally important and therefore requiring a management plan to ensure sustainable use. Such plans can set closed seasons and catch quotas, and define protected areas among other things. They may also include preferential rights for local fishing communities.
However, the draft law also explicitly allows the minister himself to allocate commercial fishing rights in Bahamian waters to foreign fishermen or governments. It also allows the minister to licence foreign vessels "where the applicant provides sufficient financial and other guarantees relating to his fulfillment of all obligations arising under this Act."
In contrast, the current act prohibits all foreign commercial fishing unless such rights are included in a government-to-government treaty or are required for scientific research. Language in the draft law appears aimed at complying with WTO rules on free trade, but according to Fisheries Director Michael Braynan, it does not yet reflect government policy.
"When we feel that the draft is in a form we can support, it will go to the minister and he would take it to cabinet and then to parliament. It must be very clear that what is in the draft are the recommendations of experts after broad consultations with stakeholders. Policy considerations will come later."
Foreign fishing vessels have operated in The Bahamas in the past under the terms of the current act. Examples include the US vessels that started the stone crab fishery, and the United Nations Development Programme vessels that started the fishery for deep water snappers and groupers. By government policy, foreign fishing has not been allowed in the more general sense.
The background to this issue goes back to the marathon negotiations over the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, which took place between 1972 and 1982. The convention came into force in 1994 and set the definition of archipelagic states, a category within which the Bahamas falls.
A baseline is drawn between the outermost points of the outermost island, and the archipelagic state has full sovereignty over all waters inside this baseline, although foreign vessels have right of innocent passage.
The convention also defined what is known as exclusive economic zones, which extend from the edge of the territorial sea (within 12 miles of land) out to 230 miles. Within this area, the coastal nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources. The EEZs were introduced to end increasingly heated clashes over fishing rights and petroleum resources.
Conservationists believe it is dangerous to give a government minister the power to allocate fishing rights in our exclusive economic zone to foreigners. They also want destructive fishing methods like longlining to be explicitly outlawed in any new legislation.