Anyone considering the challenges our country faces ought to arrive at a startling acceptance of the reality that we have reached a frightening point as a young nation.
For a very long time, we have been able to convince and deceive ourselves into believing that our problems, challenges and concerns are consistent with the growing pains of any fledgling nation and that, in general, we are the best little country in the world. Patriotic rhetoric aside, no honest assessment of the state of affairs of the Bahamas could possibly reach such a conclusion.
What is clear is that not only are the wheels falling off, but the axles, the engine and the frame are disintegrating and yet the collective national ostrich-like posture is so widely adopted that there are very few people who look around long enough to see.
Whether one talks about education, where we have a graduation rate of 30 per cent, or healthcare where access is not uniform and can be expensive, or telecommunications and energy, which needs urgent reform since we suffer constant dropped calls and blackouts, or the prevalence of corruption, etcetera, we can see that the challenges facing the country could lead to a resigned posture.
A more sombre and appropriate approach would be to examine the attitude not only of the average citizen, but of the leadership of the country who seem unwilling or unable to acknowledge the extent of the problem and the need to act. They continue to kick problems further down field, seemingly with the mantra: “Why act today when you can wait ‘til tomorrow?’
The Bank of the Bahamas (BOB), the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) and Bahamasair are all poorly run, virtually insolvent quasi-private corporations. Were they actually private corporations/companies, they would have either ceased to exist either voluntarily or be mandated to shut down and wind-up. Instead, they are held-up as paradigms of national patrimony, bastions of national pride and political sinkholes for cronies. They are all inefficient, bloated employment agencies! Rather than acknowledging the value of the contributions made during the eras of introduction, we have collectively decided to hold on to these mammoth, swollen caricatures of themselves.
Whilst I’m not the biggest fan of today’s incarnation of the trade union movement, BEC/Bahamasair/BOB and corporations like them have simultaneously allowed for the stifling of progressive development of trade unionism as a tool for the advancement of a productive labour force in a manner not dissimilar to the inertia exhibited by the American auto industry under the Teamsters, where pricing of American vehicles largely reflected benefits for the workers as opposed to the cost of rubber, raw materials, training, etc. As it stands, unions seem to have no problem with merely asking for unreasonable benefits. Alas, it’s not the workers that caused the mess at these entities but the politically-driven, face saving precedent of giving $3,000 bonuses to these workers—working for bankrupt corporations— is sure to invite a similar demand from every other trade union in the country. Historically, the problem with the American auto industry was, frankly, that labour killed it. In the US, since the stimulus, that industry is only now on the rebound having lost market share to Japanese and South Korean vehicle manufacturers.
The level of national chaos has risen to a point where decisions made by individuals or groups, some of which have damaging implications for national security and/or the continuing generation of revenue, have become common place. It is this mentality which is the public version of an inability to achieve conflict resolution. We know that between two individuals, the result of failed conflict resolution is a stabbing or shooting; on a larger scale, we see the burning down of a dormitory at BAMSI, the ripping-up of freshly tarred public roads in a dispute about money or unpaid invoices, the sabotage of engines at BEC or the disruption relative to that organisation’s pipelines, the interruption or shut down of either the immigration facilities and air traffic at the airport during the busiest times of the year, and the withdrawal of vital services at our major public hospital.
As a society, one would argue that we have reached our absolute limit, descending into the social abyss and on the brink of no return as has been typified by countries such as Jamaica and Haiti. One needs only to look at our skyrocketing crime rate, the disintegration of the family and the emergence of a culture of active, vocal xenophobia where there is a confrontational co-existence with people who we may consider to be dissimilar to us (it has become clear that the two most detested groups of immigrants in the eyes of many Bahamians are Haitians and Jamaicans).
We certainly need to drop what appears to be a “me / I” attitude and adopt an “‘us” attitude, with a view to thinking about the state of our nationhood 30 years from today.