According to Sir Franklyn Wilson - one of the chief architects of the current PLP administration - the Bahamas is in “a very dangerous spot”.
He was referring to the potential downgrading of our investment rating to junk status by international financial agencies like Moody's.
Junk status means we are at risk of defaulting on our national debt. This would deter investment, raise borrowing costs and increase inflation.
Eventually it could lead to a devaluation of the Bahamian dollar, which would dramatically affect our cost of living and the ability of average citizens to travel.
The credit downgrade has been made more likely by the revelation that the Bahamian economy has actually contracted over the past two years (contrary to government projections) and little to no growth is expected in the near term.
Added to this, public debt reached a whopping $6.8 billion in March, while government spending grew by over 17 per cent - despite talk of restraint and the collection of new tax revenues.
Those indicators should be well known to most readers, but a new and less familiar economic threat is looming on the horizon that could affect all of our interactions with the outside world.
That threat is called de-risking. We could be shut off from global financing due to concerns about money laundering and terrorist financing.
A recent Reuters report put it this way: "As banks scrub their books of potentially risky businesses amid a tightening regulatory noose, major US. financial institutions have ended relationships with regional banks across the Caribbean."
This has already happened to five offshore banks here. Commercial banks here have also threatened to sever relations with local money transfer companies, as well as lawyers and realtors who operate third party accounts.
Among Caricom countries, at least 16 banks have lost all or some of their correspondent banking relationships, according to the International Monetary Fund.
“The devastation this can cause to the economies in the islands is horrific,” said John Beale, Barbados' ambassador to the United States. “How does a hotel carry out their business in terms of credit cards? How do they get compensated?”
The IMF has acknowledged that money transfer and remittances business has already been impacted, "along with business lines including credit card payments, cash management, investment services, and clearing and settlement."
Central Bank Governor John Rolle recently warned about "increased scrutiny" of Bahamian banking relationships with the rest of the world, but offered no plan to address the issue.
According to one local financial observer, “if we lose our corresponding bank relationships it will affect all trade and transactions, and some people will go out of business.
"We have to think this through very carefully and the Central Bank needs to communicate more effectively on this issue. We are in a very compromised position."
Meanwhile, the government is under fire for misrepresenting spending, borrowing and economic growth estimates. And there is little prospect of any meaningful economic reform over the near term.
While some observers expect the de-risking issue to be gradually resolved in time, others warn that a perceived erosion of our financial integrity could help to precipitate a credit rating slide.
The consequences of the anti-European Union vote in Britain last week have some interesting parallels with Bahamian and American politics that are worth exploring.
For over 40 years, Britain was an integral part of the European project to end centuries of warfare. But there was always a vocal political minority who wanted out - for various reasons.
The current prime minister foolishly promised these critics a referendum on leaving the EU, despite his own preference to stay. So now he’s resigning, and will hand over the country to his political foes.
The situation in the opposition Labour Party is worse. The leader is an undistinguished politician who was a fringe figure before being elected on a groundswell of grassroots support following the 2015 general election defeat.
If sip-sip is anything to go by, the governing Progressive Liberal Party is in turmoil as it prepares for the 2017 general election, severely wounded by the recent referendum debacle.
Dismayed by the low turnout and overwhelmingly negative results, party leaders are scrambling to avoid a catastrophic defeat like that suffered by the FNM after the 2002 failed referendum. But you wouldn’t know that by reading the newspapers.
As someone once wrote, put a ballot in front of citizens and they will focus whatever they feel strongly about onto it. It seems clear that, for many, the citizenship referendum had no relationship to their daily lives, so they said “no” with a high level of contempt for the subject, the process and the party in power.
The chief message was political in my view. And the only real difference from the 2002 referendum was that Perry Christie had the sense not to say (as Hubert Ingraham did) "whoever wins the referendum will win the election".
As the opposition Free National Movement tries to gain traction, we have had the spectacle of running battles in the press between MPs and the leadership, the curious intervention of resentful splitters who quit the FNM years ago, and a flaming public row among senior FNM figures who are not even involved in front-line politics.
And that is in addition to ongoing sniping from the minority Democratic National Alliance, which claims it wants a pre-election agreement with the FNM to fight the PLP - and seems to have no leadership issues of its own.
Last week, Facebook was alive with dramatic images of multiple waterspouts around New Providence. There were even reports of twisters on land, a rare occurrence in these parts.
This reminded me to look at a pamphlet I was given weeks ago called “Memoranda of the Bahama Tornado of 1850”.
It was written to aid "the schools at Grants-Town and Baines-Town” by the Rev William Woodcock of St Agnes Chapel and Capt R. J. Nelson of the Royal Engineers.
Saturday, March 30 1850 was a day of storms, thunder and lightening, the authors wrote. “Black-fringed clouds hung like a curtain over New Providence" and people “crowded for shelter under the market house.”
At about a quarter past one "a low roaring noise" arose towards the southwest of the town and “the storm descended in the form of a tornado” on the thatched-roof settlements over-the-hill “and proceeded with terrible velocity to the northeast, its path rarely exceeding from 20 to 100 yards in width.
“Whatever stood in this line was destroyed or desolated…and the sky seemed crowded with flying beams, roofs, furniture and clothes.” Coconut trees and orchards were ripped apart and the roof of St Agnes was damaged. And when the tornado reached the harbour it sank two vessels in its path and transformed into a waterspout before finally disappearing.
Rev Woodcock described the area around St Agnes as follows: “What a scene met the eye. Ruined houses, broken furniture, torn-up trees, crowds of confused and agitated people, and all the while the storm pitilessly raining down and deluging the roads with great pools of water.”
Eight people died and about 20 were injured. Most of those affected were “liberated Africans and coloured people occupying the cottages and little plots of garden ground in the districts of Grants Town and Baines Town.”
According to Captain Nelson, the tornado was first sighted at Andros.
“We next hear of it at Southwest Bay. In the same quarter it is stated that two clouds, each bearing a rainbow, met…Three waterspouts were seen from the southwest of the island…
"Having struck the southwest coast it proceeded through the pine barrens towards Nassau passing about two miles to the westward of the African village of Carmichael...We have no further account until it approached Nassau, where it came down on its way over the low hills above the town to (a point) very near where the tornado of 1825 also ended.”
Before transforming into a waterspout as it reached the harbour, the tornado demolished one wing of the home of the Chief Justice on Fort Fincastle hill and took off the roof of a neighbouring large house.
“The schools and the little chapel of St Agnes, in which the moral and secular education of 400 black and coloured children is carried on, were mercifully spared."
There is also a brief account of the 1825 tornado, which occurred on October 5 that year. Heralded by a large and heavy squall, it advanced rapidly on Nassau from the southeast and caused “much damage in its short but energetic course."
Waterspouts are common in the Bahamas during the rainy season, but tornados on land are rare.
In a powerful communication prepared recently, Bahamian waste expert Ginny McKinney has outlined a 'trail of tears’ over the country’s shocking failure to resolve its solid waste management problems - despite spending tens of millions over decades.
Writing to the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce, Mckinney began her review in the early 1990s, when Canadian engineering group, Stantec, was commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank to study our waste disposal issues.
Up to then, we just dumped all our garbage - including hazardous waste - in wetland areas like Big Pond off Blue Hill Road, or burned it on the Family Islands..
“Upon completion of the study (Stantec) were charged with designing a modern, fully engineered landfill for New Providence and 10 Family Islands,” Mckinney wrote.
Detailed guidance was given on how to manage these landfills, while green waste, tyres, cardboard and metals were to be diverted for recycling. Waste-to-energy facilities were suggested, but were not part of the bank's remit at the time.
The IDB contributed some $23 million for this 20-year project to protect public health and the environment, and the government kicked in another $10 million.
Despite its small population, the far-flung Bahamas archipelago enjoys impressive features and history as a maritime nation. The country has one of the world’s leading maritime registries with approximately between 1,500 to 1,600 ships carrying the Bahamas flag, and has a good international reputation in the maritime industry.
The Bahamas is home to the Grand Bahama Shipyard, one of the premier ship repair facilities in the world, and the largest cruise ship repair yard in the world. The Freeport Container Port is a significant transshipment center. The country hosts many cruise ships annually, including the largest cruise liners in the world.
The Bahamas archipelago is awash in maritime history. Native peoples navigated canoes to discover a new homeland, part islands but mostly sea, exploited and usurped by colonial greed and slavers in cargo ships, and trafficked by pirates and privateers in sloops and schooners who plundered with zeal over several centuries.
During global and regional wars and tentative or sustained peace, amidst slavery and colonialism, throughout the industrial age, through the waters of the Bahamas passed slave ships, merchant vessels, naval fleets, modern container ships and state-of-the-art cruise liners.
The moderns who made the archipelago their home, relied on the sea for food, trade, transport, sport, enjoyment and an impressive tourism industry, employing an armada of vessels, ingenuity and techniques to tame and when possible master the winds and the waves. Boatbuilding developed into a vibrant industry.
In the 21st century, the Lowell J. Mortimer Maritime Academy, a non-profit educational institution named in honour of the attorney, philanthropist and entrepreneur, represents a significant step in the country’s history as a maritime nation.
According to Fred ’This is War’ Mitchell, he will not be bound by any court of law when it comes to what he considers to be his unqualified right to say and do whatever he pleases in parliament.
In a previous column I described the current controversy over parliamentary privilege as a storm in a teacup, deliberately manufactured to deflect attention from a PR problem over influence peddling on a massive scale by Canadian resident Peter Nygard.
I gave a potted history of the arcane 16th century British origins of the concept of parliamentary privilege. But I also pointed out that the controversy threatens to open a constitutional pandora’s box - depending on how far government politicos are prepared to take matters.
Both Mitchell and his colleague - Jerome ‘Rubis’ Fitzgerald - have made an indignant pretence of claiming a right to parliamentary privilege with complete immunity from the law. "Any injunction which purports to restrict that (right) seeks to do so in vain,” as Fitzgerald declared melodramatically.
But if we take just a few steps back in time to when the Pindling government was faced with its own massive influence peddling scandal, we learn that the issue of parliamentary privilege was placed on the other foot then.
Recently, senior PLP cabinet ministers whipped up a political storm over something called parliamentary privilege, which most people have probably never heard of.
The ministers involved were the usual spin doctors - Fred “you are a traitor” Mitchell and Jerome “environmental disaster” Fitzgerald.
They fanned the storm into a force-five gale - hurling charges of sedition against their perceived political foes. And then they threatened to haul a Supreme Court judge, among others, before a parliamentary inquisition.
But it’s really only a tempest in a teacup. The storm was deliberately manufactured to deflect attention from a PR problem over the government's Canadian benefactor, Peter Nygard.
Nevertheless, it threatens to open a constitutional pandora’s box, so it’s worth taking a look at what parliamentary privilege actually is, in order to get a better grasp of the situation.
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.
The complex controversy swirling around Peter Nygard is bewildering. And our government has deliberately contributed to the confusion. This fact sheet will help readers understand what is going on and what is at stake.
Who is Peter Nygard? Born in Finland in 1943, he moved to Canada as a child. In 1967 he bought a share in a women’s clothing company and is now among the 100 richest Canadians.
Why is he in the Bahamas? In 1984 Nygard bought 3.25 acres at Simms Point, on the western tip of Lyford Cay, and built a second home there.
What’s wrong with that? Nothing. But over the years he transformed the house into a 250,000-square-foot, unlicensed party resort, upsetting his residential neighbours. He rented out to wealthy vacationers for more than $42,000 a night - until the place was damaged by fire in 2009. To accommodate these activities, Nygard doubled the size of his property by dredging the bay and filling the rocky shoreline with sand - without government approval. In fact, dredge pumps have been used almost continuously for years, to move sand from the bay onto Nygard’s property. The additional three acres of accreted land are valued in the millions.
Is that just talk? No. High-level government documents confirm that Nygard's development had "no Bahamian character” and would not have been approved by the Ministry of Works. The documents say he “abused” Bahamian laws and was operating an "unlicensed hotel” on "Crown seabed."
Is that the only issue Nygard is involved in? No. In recent years he developed a fascination for anti-aging research involving experimental stem cell treatment, which he claims could "produce immortality.” In an online video, Nygard is shown injecting himself with a presumed stem cell formulation as he quips to awed onlookers: "Ah, it feels so good, and you can see it's working".
Why are these issues so controversial? It’s an open secret that Nygard contributed millions to the PLP’s election campaign. The quid pro quo seems to have been regularisation of his long-term, unlawful activities at Simms Point, and approval of a "stem cell institute” on his property.