by Larry Smith
by Larry Smith
by Larry Smith
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.
by Larry Smith
If you visit the Stronger Bahamas Facebook page, a recent post proclaims our intention to cut greenhouse emissions by 30 per cent within 15 years, and insists that the government is “delivering" on its promises.
Let me explain. Last year, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced Stronger Bahamas as a “non-partisan public engagement and communications initiative” - with a $4 million taxpayer-funded budget.
The opposition denounced it as a propaganda campaign. And it is certainly true that the communications thrust is to paint a rosy and (many would say) totally unrealistic picture of the current state of affairs in our country.
The Facebook post about carbon emissions is a spectacular case in point. The post referred to Environment Minister Ken Dorsett’s 2015 budget address.
“When we took office (it) was obvious we could not go about business as usual,” he declared back then. “We have made major strides in climate change mitigation and renewable energy deployment."
In support of this vague assertion, Dorsett pointed to a reduction of tariffs on energy-efficient appliances and a new regulatory regime for solar power generation - a regime that has never been implemented.
He went on to insist that the government is “advancing renewable energy options to improve energy security, create jobs and provide for public-private participation in the power sector."
Touting the national energy policy (developed over three administrations and completely out of touch with reality), he said renewables would have a 30 per cent share of our energy mix by 2033 - so far into the future as to be meaningless. Dorsett also envisioned solar power plants on many out islands - including at BAMSI on Andros.
In his latest budget address, Dorsett focused more on the prospects of obtaining international funding for unspecified "climate change mitigation” projects. And he boasted about his election as chairman of the International Renewable Energy Agency.
But despite this portentous appointment, there was no talk of actual renewable energy projects in the Bahamas. It was all about accessing money from whatever source possible for studies - typically a means of delaying real change while looking busy.
In summary, as Dorsett said fantastically, “It should be clear to everyone that we are on our way to a renewable energy future.” And this is the talking point that the Stronger Bahamas campaign was trying to articulate on its Facebook post.
As we said above, it is a totally unrealistic picture - for the following reasons:
by Lary Smith
As the government pours millions of unaccountable tax dollars into a political porkbarrel project on Andros called BAMSI, the only two commercial food processing firms in the country have quietly gone out of business - putting at least 20 Bahamians out of work.
P W Albury & Sons, distributors of Champion brand canned products, announced the closure of its Centreville plant last month. And Sawyer’s Food Products shut its Claridge Road factory at the end of 2013. Both had been canning food since the 1950s.
In 1959 Paul Albury, a schoolteacher from Spanish Wells, acquired the defunct J S Johnson canning operation, which traced its origins to the early years of pineapple farming on Eleuthera.
Sawyer’s was founded in Nassau in 1957 by Wesley and Norma Sawyer, operating initially from a small plant in Oakes Field. Wesley had trained in food processing at Arthur Vining Davis’ Three Bays Farm on Eleuthera.
Both companies started out canning tomatoes and pigeon peas supplied by small farmers around the country. Over the years they expanded their product ranges to include beans, jams, sauces - and even items like conch chowder and pig’s feet souse (under the Sawyer’s label).
But for the past 15 years at least both were importing all their raw materials - including produce. In an effort to stay afloat, P. W Albury even began importing pre-canned products from the US to distribute under their own label.
Spokespeople for both families identified two major factors that led to the demise of their companies.
"Bahamians have totally changed their eating habits,” said Caroline Albury, Paul Albury’s granddaughter. “Most rely on fast food outlets now rather than cooking their own meals. That, plus the high overheads, made it impossible to compete."
And according to former plant manager Michael Sawyer, "it was difficult to source raw materials in the right quantities at the right cost. Import controls on competitive foreign products were dropped in the early 2000s, and high local overheads made it difficult to operate."
It boils down to the same old Bahamian story - a tiny fragmented market with low volumes produces no economies of scale. It’s cheaper and easier to import food products from larger countries with major agro industries.
Pineapple farming is a case in point. Exports of canned pineapples began in the mid-1800s from Eleuthera. And the J S Johnson company was formed in 1876 to can pineapples, tomatoes, guavas, grapefruit and other produce at a factory on Union Street in Nassau. Back then, newspaper reports described Eleuthera as “one big flourishing pineapple plantation."
The peak year for Bahamian pineapples was 1892, when more than 8 million were exported. But when Hawaii and the Philippines - with better growing conditions and distribution networks - started producing pineapples, the Bahamas simply could not compete.
By the late 1920s the industry had collapsed. J S Johnson closed its factory and set up an insurance agency. Later the factory was sold to Paul Albury, who moved it to its present site in Centreville. When Paul died in 1964, sons David and James took over and changed the name to P W Albury & Sons. When the sons died, David’s three children kept the company going.
In the 1940s, Wesley Sawyer worked for the Telecoms Department in Rock Sound. He met and married Norma Perpall, who was Arthur Vining Davis’ secretary. Davis - the legendary chairman of Alcoa - was a big developer and landowner on Eleuthera.
Wesley started working at Davis’ Three Bays Farm on a tomato and pineapple canning operation. He went to the US for training, and then moved to Nassau. After working with Carl Claridge, shipping okra in brine to the US, he set up his own canning plant on Crawford Street in Oakes Field, moving to bigger premises on Claridge Road in 1964.
Wesley Sawyer died in 1974, but his wife and two sons - Kenneth and Michael - kept the company operating until December 2013.
by Larry Smith
I think most of us would agree that the country could do with a strategic plan that looks beyond our five-year electoral cycles and pushes the public sector to deliver.
As the Inter-American Development Bank notes, “without such a strategy, policies, programmes and investments (are) decided on an ad hoc basis, and (are) vulnerable to short-term political pressure."
So the IDB has agreed to fund the development of our national plan - backed by a central planning unit in the Office of the Prime Minister - with a $450,000 grant.
This project will provide the basis for "a modern investment management system and road map for informing future public and private investment decisions,” the IDB said.
The prerequisites for success are political will combined with technical focus. But as we know only too well, the politicians who oversee planning processes are generally "fickle, moveable and largely interested in satisfying their power constituencies."
That caveat - plus the lack of institutional capacities - are big reasons why we never bothered to develop and implement a long-term strategic plan. But this is now a very fashionable thing, and almost every country has one.
by Larry Smith
by Larry Smith
Prime Minister Perry Christie says climate change “threatens the existence of the Bahamas as we know it”. So what does the recent Paris agreement to tackle climate issues mean for the Bahamas - and the rest of the world?
In case you didn’t know, almost 200 countries spent two weeks at the end of last year crafting the world’s first universal agreement - one that signals the end of the fossil fuel era.
The goal is to peak greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible” in order to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Christie was among those in Paris pushing for more - arguing that warming should be kept below 1.5 degrees. "The Bahamas and other small developing island states are seeing…life-threatening impacts, and the science tells us we can only expect more over time,” he said.
by Felicity Johnson
On October 7, four days after the exit of Hurricane Joaquin, the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) announced a $1million-plus donation to official relief efforts.
by Felicity Johnson
The Baha Mar saga is an epic and cautionary tale. It is a story of grand ambition, hubris and spectacular miscalculations by three major players now desperately seeking to rescue their reputations amidst the unravelling of one of the biggest single tourism projects ever in the Western Hemisphere.
While none of the players will come out as clear winners, the clear losers from the fallout of the unravelling are the Bahamian people who are watching in horror and anxiety as the country heads toward a possible recession and the potential loss of thousands of jobs.
And while all of the players bear responsibility for the current mess at Baha Mar, the party most responsible for protecting the country’s interests is the government of the day headed by a prime minister even more delusional and grossly incompetent than even his fiercest critics imagined.
The Baha Mar saga will be retold in books and studied in university classrooms. It is a case study in international relations and high finance in the 21st century, bringing together a small country, the Chinese state and a foreign investor in a relationship which began in mutual accord but that descended into recrimination amidst misunderstanding and misjudgement, and emerging questions of greed and mass corruption.