Members of “Citizens For Justice” were disappointed but not shocked at the recent revelations of the poverty survey. In two years the number of Bahamians living below the poverty level has increased by three percentage points from 9.2% to 12.5%.
Bishop Walter Hanchell, Chairman of the advocacy group and an activist for the poor and oppressed, is calling on the government to put immediate programmes in place to bring relief to the huge number of poor, needy, homeless and unemployed persons throughout the country.
Citizens For Justice believe that while the government has made some efforts in attempting to bring relief to the poor, far too little has been done. “The excuse that no money is available to provide programmes for this very vulnerable segment of our society is totally unacceptable. The country needs a systematic plan of action to reduce poverty. We must now think out of the box and initiate empowerment programmes, the creation of small businesses and job opportunities for the unemployed. Additionally, we must examine the needs of two large sections of adults who have been marginalized for a long time and totally ignored. These are the under-employed and the growing number of persons throughout the country who may be deemed as unemployable because they lack skills, training, education and will not function normally in the job market.”
Bishop Hanchell is of the opinion that if the level of poverty and its negative effects on our nation are not dealt with expeditiously, we will continue to see increased crime and many other social ills impacting our nation. “We have had lip service for too long while our people suffer as a result of the reduction of poverty not being a priority of both the present and past administrations. The Bahamas has vast financial resources and there is absolutely no reason why poverty in the Bahamas cannot be eliminated.
Our present educational system which leaves much to be desired, has contributed to the increase of poverty in the Bahamas by graduating a large number of illiterate students over the past twenty five years. The system has failed miserably and needs to be revamped. A good education is one of the greatest tools in the war against poverty. The uneducated do not find jobs hence they turn to crime and other anti-social behaviours. They live in a culture of deprivation and hopelessness and are always in survival mode. Life for the poor in the Bahamas is hell on earth. They have none of the things that we take for granted. Many cannot afford electricity, water and cable television. They live in dilapidated homes in crowded inner-city neighbourhoods that are crime-ridden. Some of these homes have no in-door plumbing and this is quite shameful in this twenty-first century Bahamas. They have little or no food in their homes and depend on various charities and the Department of Social Services for food assistance. A huge number of poor people do not access these services and turn to gambling, selling drugs, prostitution, stealing or other illicit activities in order to survive. We cannot ignore these realities and must take action to help poverty victims before we self-destruct as a nation. Citizens For Justice is also calling for the government of the Bahamas to fix the unfair disparity in grant distribution to non governmental agencies.
The most devastating affect of poverty has taken its toll on our young people which has the highest rate of unemployment in the country. Each year thousands of high school graduates are added to the unemployed list and eventually the poverty list and nothing has been done to address this crisis. We have billion dollar developments in the Bahamas and it seems that these foreign investors have not been requested to invest in local charities that bring relief to the poor. Our harbours are crammed with luxury yachts owned by extremely wealthy business people, yet no one seems to have tapped into this segment to get assistance in order to create jobs for our young people. Lyford Cay, Ocean Club Estates and communities like Old Fort Bay have some of the wealthiest persons from around the world residing there. Some of these persons may be willing to assist local programmes that empower the poor and reduce crime for the benefit of both residents and visitors alike. Our offshore and local banking industries and other mega businesses have a responsibility as good corporate citizens to assist the government in improving the quality of life for the people of the Bahamas, in particular the poor and needy.
Citizens of Justice is calling on the government of the Bahamas to address the high cost of living and the high cost of doing business in the Bahamas. Too many small and middle sized businesses are closing down every month putting more Bahamians out of work. Additionally, the cost of electricity, food and gasoline must be reduced in order to diminish the pain and suffering of poor and middle class Bahamians. We are also calling on the Prime Minister to delay the implementation of Value Added Tax by at least two years. VAT will increase the cost of living for all Bahamians but will radically impact the lives of those already living below the poverty level. Between VAT and the legalization of webshop gambling, we can anticipate increased poverty and crime and the destruction of many families unless corrective measures are taken.
A major factor affecting poverty in the Bahamas is the fact that too many Bahamians are jobless while foreign workers have jobs. This has angered our working class towards our leaders who “Believe in Bahamians” and said “Bahamians First” during their election campaign. We believe that all foreign workers should leave the Bahamas immediately except for those with specialized skills that qualified Bahamians are not available to perform. The Bahamas must truly be for Bahamians first. We have received numerous complaints of Bahamians not working in the construction industry for almost three years while thousands of Chinese and other foreign workers are doing jobs Bahamians are willing and able to perform. This is oppression and a grave injustice to our people. Illegal immigrants come into our country each week, get jobs and take advantage of our educational and health services while Bahamians live like second class citizens in their own country. Why these boats are allowed to travel from Haiti and land in on South Beach undetected for so many years remains a mystery. We wonder whether this is inefficiency on the part of our officials or is there something untoward going on. We do not know who these people are that enter illegally, where they live, what crimes they have committed, yet they are allowed to land on our shores consistently. This is a serious national security breach and should be corrected forthwith.
Poverty can no longer be ignored. The plight of the middle class needs attention. Bahamians are losing their homes and being evicted from their rental units and something must be done to rescue our youth from the clutches of poverty.
Citizens For Justice