An Analysis Of The ‘Vote Yes’ Campaign
As we enter a new year filled with opportunities to direct the path of our nation, the Bahamian public will have the opportunity to weigh in on a local industry that has formed a part of our society from time immemorial.
The government by way of a national address by the minister of national security released the two questions that will be posed to the Bahamian people in the referendum on gambling scheduled for January 28, 2013. The debate on the gambling issue has intensified with the “Vote Yes” (proponents) and “Vote No” (opponents) campaigns in full gear.
Bahamians and non-Bahamians alike have weighed in on the upcoming referendum and contributed their views by way of print media and advertisements.
The case put forth by the “Vote Yes” Campaign (VYC) is one that on the face of it seems compelling based on the economic and fiscal realities our nation is confronted with. The reality is that the struggling global economy continues to negatively impact our two leading industries – tourism and financial services. The government finds itself in a dilemma; strapped for cash with rising expenditure and reduced revenue in a challenging economic environment, with more than 40,000 persons out of work and joblessness presumably on the rise.
In this article, we analyze the VYC and the arguments that have been put forward by this group. The VYC is built upon the following major issues: (1) Employment and the economy; (2) Bahamian ownership; (3) annual revenue; (4) community giving and (5) freedom of choice. An analysis of each issue should be undertaken. Based on the statistics provided by the VYC to support the arguments presented, one may assume that the web shops possess exceptional record keeping practices, sophisticated systems, data collation and analysis capabilities and a vibrant local network. Let us review some of the figures provided by the VYC.
The VYC argues that nearly three percent of the Bahamian workforce is employed by the alleged Bahamian-owned gaming industry; representing some 3,000 direct jobs and purportedly 2,000 indirect jobs. Many questions arise as a result of this assertion. How many web shop/numbers operators exist in The Bahamas? What roles or positions do these 3,000 individuals hold? Certainly, they are not all CEOs, managers, accountants, lawyers, etc.
Where is their place of work? Is it in the empty web shops that are positioned throughout our archipelago whose patrons presumably patronize the numbers business from the comfort of their homes, workplaces and/or telephones? Where are funds received from patrons processed? Are local banking institutions accepting the proceeds from these web shops? If so, are funds received consistent with the business activities/purpose? If in fact local financial institutions are not accepting funds from web shop owners, are they processing funds on their own? If so, are the web shop owners subjected to regulation governing financial activities and transactions? More importantly, are employees of these organizations able to receive payroll in local bank accounts on direction from web shop owners?
In the absence of credible evidence, it is difficult to accept the VYC’s claim that they are responsible for directly employing some 3,000 persons. The VYC further claims that the National Insurance Board (NIB) receives approximately $14.4 million annually from the alleged Bahamian-owned gaming industry. This too is difficult to accept in the absence of information provided on the annual earnings of entities operating in this industry. Is the VYC prepared to produce copies of its NIB receipts for at least the past three years? Further, can NIB confirm or deny the numbers provided by the VYC? In the absence of evidence and/or confirmation by NIB and relevant government agencies, these figures can only be taken at face value simply as lobbying mechanisms. The VYC must convince voters that a “no” vote outcome will have a serious economic impact on the Bahamian economy as alleged.
The VYC alleges that the “four major gaming houses combined with countless other small businesses that provide gaming services are all 100 percent Bahamian owned”. The question arises: Who are the major shareholders of the “four major gaming houses” among others? Why have they refused to come forward and present their case to the Bahamian public? How is the Bahamian public able to confirm that the alleged gaming industry is in fact Bahamian owned? The reality is that the Bahamian public has not been provided with incorporating documents to prove that these businesses are legitimate. Additionally, the public has not had an opportunity to question the operators of these gaming houses. Could it be that the owners of these operations agree by silence that they are in effect lawbreakers seeking to have their activities legitimized? The “vote yes Bahamas” website itself concedes that “there remain legal barriers restricting the progress of this Bahamian-owned industry”. It is only fitting that the Bahamian people know who they are voting “yes” for and whether these individuals are deserving of our favorable vote.
It has been indicated by the VYC that the government will receive some $30 million in annual revenue through taxation, which by their calculations represents 5.5 percent of our national deficit. Upon which basis have the gaming houses arrived at this conclusion? Although these gaming houses are privately held companies/businesses that have no obligation to produce financial statements and share the same with the general public, to date the VYC has not produced financial reports to substantiate the financial assertions made. How is the Bahamian public able to confirm that all funds received by the gaming houses are in fact derived from the Bahamian public who purchase numbers daily? At the very least, the “four major gaming houses” ought to provide evidence to the Bahamian public by way of financial statements and/or reports to substantiate their claims. This matter may be considered from a point of view of a public offering for shares. Certainly a wise investor would not invest his funds in an entity without reviewing some evidence on the financial soundness of the firm. Likewise, if the VYC wants the Bahamian public to invest votes in the continuance and existence of their business operations by voting yes, then certainly the public should be provided with an accurate accounting of their operations.
Finally, the VYC claims that the web shop operators have been good community providers donating some $1.2 million to charitable efforts. While this may seem commendable, such an amount pales in comparison to the alleged annual earnings of the gaming industry.
The VYC states that it is opposed to a national lottery and would prefer self-control of the industry. While it is good for governments to encourage entrepreneurship among its people, the government must be careful not to carve out an industry for a select few only. It is interesting to note that the VYC is not advocating for casino gambling; rather the focus is on protecting the enterprises that have been built off an illegal activity. While it appears that the VYC is an avid advocate for Bahamian rights, the VYC appears to have “pled the 5th” on the casino gambling issue. Arguably this forms a part of a greater issue in that the VYC has accepted casino gambling for the foreigner only and numbers only for the Bahamians; at least for now.
The all important question is whether the Bahamian people are in favor of placing this industry in the hands of a select few whose business operations are not transparent enough to enable us to make a determination as to why we should vote yes.
The aforementioned points should be in the minds of the Bahamian public as the referendum day approaches.
By Arinthia S. Komolafe
The Nassau Guardian