Agriculture Minister V Alfred Gray recently proclaimed the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) on Andros a huge success.
Food imports will be halved within years, he suggested (which must mean we will be eating half as much). But his more fact-checkable point was that BAMSI had already produced $100 million worth of food - mostly bananas.
A visit to the BAMSI produce centre in the Levy building on East Bay Street verified that it was indeed stocked with some good-looking bananas - although not much else.
Gray said BAMSI sold 200 40-pound boxes of bananas a week, which works out to 8,000 pounds, or 416,000 pounds per year. And since BAMSI sells bananas for 49 cents a pound, the yearly revenue would be about $204,000 - a far cry from $100 million.
This is the level of accountability we get from our government, despite the fact that we are throwing tens of millions in public funds at BAMSI.
None of the information about BAMSI (now more than two years old) has ever been properly compiled or presented to the public. There is no business plan in the public domain, and the so-called memorandum of understanding with the College of the Bahamas remains unavailable.
Two years ago, the prime minister touted $23 million in construction contracts and said $100 million would eventually be invested to produce 40 food items. He claimed this would lead to the creation of a new city on Andros, but critics said it was mostly a slush fund for PLP cronies.
On the Institute's website, a video shows Godfrey Eneas (the president) garbed in pretentious academic robes delivering a graduation speech. His talk amounted to little more than fawning praise for PLP leaders, Lynden Pindling and Perry Christie.
In fact, Eneas told his audience that he had nominated Christie for the World Food Prize - a prestigious honour recognising advances in human development through food production. Unfortunately for Mr Christie, the prize went to some lowly crop scientists who had actually done something worthwhile.
Eneas characterised BAMSI as the culmination of Sir Lynden's vision for Andros as the "political capital and breadbasket" of the country. Well, it is certainly a breadbasket for some. But beyond that, perhaps he could tell us what the actual return is on such a massive investment of public funds.
The PLP claims that BAMSI is spearheading agricultural development in order to achieve the holy grail of economic diversification. This will happen, they say, by training Bahamians to become farmers and food processors, and by substituting local products for imports.
Meanwhile, as noted in this space recently, the only two commercial food processors in the country - Sawyer’s and P. W. Albury - recently closed because they were unable to compete in today’s globalised market. And this was despite decades of experience and brand recognition.
Most of the BAMSI millions appear to have been spent on the construction of buildings in the North Andros pineland. In January last year, one of these was destroyed by fire, and it was later revealed that the contractor - Audley Hanna - did not have insurance, even though that is a requirement for a government contract.
No explanation for this was ever provided by the Minister of Works. And neither has he made any of the BAMSI contacts public - as he promised to do. And this was in the face of numerous requests from parliament's fiscal watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee.
Instead, the government simply ponied up another $2 million for reconstruction. There appear to be no consequences for Hanna - who also sits on the board of the Water & Sewerage Corporation. And there is also no information on the contract bidding process - whatever it may be.
Why should this be the case? If BAMSI is such a transformational project and centrepiece of the PLP’s legacy, it should be in the government’s interest to put as much good information out there as possible - both to clear up any misunderstandings and to document the project's value.
Since this is not being done, the inescapable conclusion is that there are things to hide. The opposition FNM has made occasional noises about this, but unfortunately, we have no idea what they would do about BAMSI once in office.
Government politicos like to say that the 9/11 terror attacks demonstrated our vulnerability to international crises and pointed to the need to be more self-sufficient. But food self-sufficiency for the Bahamas is an illusion, since we still have to import the fertiliser, the equipment, and even the labour.
The fact is that ever since the failure of the loyalist plantations, large-scale agriculture has been unsustainable here. This is due mainly to competition from more efficient regional producers, combined with the limitations of our natural environment.
No doubt a range of familiar crops can be produced on Andros on a limited scale with the investment of millions of dollars. But what is the return on that investment compared to other options?
Or, to put it another way, we can certainly grow bananas in our backyard. But do we need a $100 million vanity project to do it?
When Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses such as Dengue and Chikungunya invade a region without prior immunity, between 25-65% of the population will become exposed.
So there’s no point counting confirmed cases. Doctors say the current Zika outbreak in the Bahamas should reasonably be expected to affect tens of thousands of people. And as a result, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta have issued a travel alert.
The virus is primarily spread by mosquitoes, but it is also spread from mother to baby during pregnancy, and during sexual intercourse. The CDC has advised pregnant women not to travel to the Bahamas, and travellers are being encouraged to use condoms or not have sex at all while in the Bahamas.
According to Tourism Director Joy Jibrilu, “when it comes to the management of threats to public health, we must (act) with transparency and openness. We are keenly aware of what the implications are."
Zika has been recognized for decades in Africa, so a significant proportion of the population there has been exposed and is therefore immune. Unless the virus mutates, only sporadic cases will continue to occur.
But the Bahamas - and other countries in the Western Hemisphere and Europe - have never been previously exposed and so are fertile ground for the Zika virus, as long as the mosquito vectors are around.
"We see cyclical infections with Dengue as the number of non-immune people grows between epidemics,” one local doctor told me. "Hopefully, this epidemic will pass within the next 12 months or so, but until it does the government should focus on discouraging women from becoming pregnant."
This is because the major complication from this generally mild disease is the effect it can have on a developing fetus. There is evidence that Zika infection in pregnancy causes birth defects, including brain abnormalities.
Scientists are working on 18 different vaccines, but only one has made it to testing phase. An effective vaccine is not expected to be ready before 2018.
The best way to protect yourself is to use mosquito repellents and remove breeding sites - which means any outdoor container filled with water. Public health authorities are also fogging communities with pesticides.
American presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had to apologise recently for calling some of her opponent’s supporters “deplorable”, meaning they are racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic.
In fairness, she did add that many Trump supporters were desperate for change because they felt let down by the system. Still, it is never a good idea for candidates to denigrate voters during an election campaign.
Just think back to the 2012 Republican nominee’s comment that 47 per cent of voters who take government handouts would support Barack Obama “no matter what”. Mitt Romney effectively wrote off half the American electorate with that comment.
And of course, we are all familiar with Donald Trump’s persistent alienation of non-white voters. These voters are an increasingly important factor in American presidential elections, but Trump has focused more on exploiting the anger and vitriol of the white working class.
According to well-known geopolitical analyst George Friedman, white workers have become a disaffected group in the United States - due largely to the collapse of their living standards, combined with the changing values of a more diverse society.
They see the political elite as near criminal and entirely incompetent, with politicians saying whatever they need to say, while ignoring the problems that affect those earning below the median income level.
These lower middle class Americans are increasingly unable to live the life they could have expected a generation ago, which breeds resentment. And things are similar in Europe, where the governing elites seem oblivious to the rising potential for social and political upheaval.
"When those who have skills and are prepared to work can’t get a job that will allow their families to live reasonably well, this is a problem,” Friedman says. "When vast numbers of people are entering this condition, this is a crisis. When there is a crisis, these people will turn to politicians who speak to them and give them hope.”
The general facts on rising inequality are clear. The world’s richest 1 per cent now own more than the rest of us combined. Power is being used to skew the economic system to increase the gap between the richest and the rest.
As French analyst Philippe Maze-Sencier wrote, people are worried: “Their world is in turmoil, their children’s future suddenly uncertain, their way of living under threat. The perceived impotence of traditional parties (has) contributed to making...hard-right populist movements acceptable if not mainstream."
I would argue that there are clear parallels to this trend in the Bahamas, but we have yet to see the rise of a populist leader who can skilfully exploit the fears and resentments of the masses to effectively attack the status quo.
Many Bahamians view our political parties as bands of brothers organised to protect special interests and avert any serious change. They hold all the cards, promote their own bipartisan interests, restrain attempts at serious reform, and trample on the rights of ordinary people.
Indeed, Friedman’s description of white working class anger in the US could easily be applied to the black working class in the Bahamas: "They see the political elite as near criminal and entirely incompetent, with politicians saying whatever they need to say."
Of course, politicians are not the only members of the governing elite. Important businessmen, wealthy lawyers, doctors and financiers, high-level civil servants, and union leaders are able to exert significant influence over government decisions.
To avoid political and social upheaval, our leaders need to focus on ways to create a better life for most people. This means economic growth and jobs, especially for youth. We have far too much political gamesmanship, lack of accountability, and gravy train corruption - and too little effort to make things better.
Take tourism, for example. It is our biggest economic driver, but we are not growing, adapting or improving this industry. We take it for granted, but the cultural product we market to visitors has deteriorated. And there are no more hotel beds being occupied today than there were a generation ago.
The inevitable result is structural high unemployment. But what is the cause? Is it our inflexible labour markets, where unions regularly threaten to shut the country down? Is it bureaucratic inertia? Is it a lack of private investment? Is it political rent-seeking, corruption and nepotism? Is it because growth and development do not benefit those in control?
Probably a combination of all these factors. But one thing is clear - if we do not find a way to move things forward, reduce our inefficiencies, reform our institutions, and dramatically improve the lives of a majority of our citizens, at some point we could be facing a failed state.