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 Bahamas Commentary

2006-01-10 19:31:40

Bahamians Want Something for Nothing

Things will continue to go from bad to worse so long as Bahamians continue to believe in the fantasy that you can get something for nothing.

There are tens of thousands of Bahamians who seem to have a near endless capacity to accept and put up with lousiness, particularly when it comes from the public sector.

We are day in and day out appalled by stories that surface concerning the extent and ubiquity of collapse here, there and everywhere.

One day the breaking news is about the run-down state of some of the nation's schools. On another there is again news about the extent to which Bahamians in one community or the other are living in squalor.

There is evidence galore to suggest that there are other egregious examples where Bahamians in public sector employ have been obliged to put up with conditions that are simply deplorable, where health and safety regulations are routinely flouted.

This state of affairs is inexcusable.

Strangely there are very many Bahamians who are apparently not exercised at all by what is happening. We suspect that this may be due to their deeply held belief that once you put the word 'public' in front of something, that 'something' is free.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Every service that is 'enjoyed' has to be paid for by some one and some how. The people who dare deny the truth of this economic fact of life do so at their own peril.

We make this point as prelude to another which is that there are Bahamians who are today righteously indignant about the extent to which public facilities and institutions have been allowed to deteriorate. The problem is that wherever a need is located, money must be found to pay for it.

If no one pays for it, nothing real happens.

If this is true, then it necessarily follows that payment for services must be carried by either the public or private sector. The trade off boils down to a contrast between profits and taxes and who pays for what, when, where and how.

When we bear in mind how The Bahamas funds its government from a regressive tax regime, it is not at all surprising that there will be times when things simply fall apart for want of adequate maintenance, itself borne of inadequate funding.

What is interesting about this mismatch between ambition and capacity is that it applies to those who would govern The Bahamas. As the record would show successive governments have been ambitiously extravagant in spending, long on borrowing and woefully short on maintaining the new things they have purchased.

This may explain how it comes to be that so many of this city's roads are dropping to pieces; why public utilities are always breaking down and why so many Bahamians are ultimately called upon to pay more and more for the less and less for the services they get from the government.

This phenomenon is nothing new. This has been going on for as long as we can remember. One caveat is in order, which is that there was a time when governments in The Bahamas did not bother with providing as vast array of services as they currently do.

This is precisely where the problem arises. As one administration after the other has taken its turn at the wheel, they have extended the reach of the Government. Trouble is that they have not expanded the tax base, thus the current fiscal crisis of the state in The Bahamas.

As a direct consequence of that crisis, ours is an environment where delay, neglect and decline seem to be the order of the day. Ours is a society where garbage is not collected on a timely basis, where electricity service is sporadic, where the public water supply is costly, and where telephone service is expensive and grossly inadequate.

Ours is also a society where places like Government Printing Department are clear and present hazards to the health and safety of its workers. There are other places like some of this nation's schools which are perfectly unfit for the men, women and children who are obliged to patronize them.

But what is terribly revealing about all of this is the extent to which Bahamians have become oblivious to the enveloping rot. In this regard, one need only pay a visit on the National Insurance Complex on Blue Road to see and experience the extent to which it has been allowed to quite literally drop to pieces.

And the beat goes on.

As we see it, things will continue to go from bad to worse so long as Bahamians continue to believe in the fantasy that you can get something for nothing. In the ultimate analysis, some one must pay.

Editorial from The Bahama Journal

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