I Spend, You Owe


With all the reports swirling about payola by political supporters, government compromise and the fallout over the same, it is a good time to make this a teachable moment for the average Bahamian about why the subject of government corruption matters to you and your family.

My focus will not be on any one reported benefactor – and that is because when events happen in The Bahamas, we tend to get so caught up in the personalities involved that the critical messages we need to hammer home to the citizenry get lost.

Here is the point that you, the everyday Bahamian should focus on when it comes to the subject of governments and the decisions they are elected to make for the country: when governments become corrupted, you and your family become second-class to someone’s cash.

Think about it in your everyday life. If you want to get somewhere in life and a person gives you all the money you need to get there, once you do get there, what do you think will happen? The person who gave you that money will always have power over you, because they can tell you “it’s because of me that you got where you are today.”

And if where you get to is a position of power, what do you think the person who gave you the money is going to ask you for? He helped you, now you need to pay him back by helping him. How many people you know drop a bunch of money on someone and expect nothing in return?

Even in relationships, if we see a man giving a woman a bunch of money and gifts, what’s the first thing that goes through our head – the woman has got to be giving him something for him to be shelling out all that cash, right?

So the same goes for a government. No single person or group gives a political party millions of dollars expecting nothing in return – that would be stupid if you think about it. The reason political parties are formed is to win elections. If they win, they become the government, which means they become the power people in the country.

If my money gave you your power, you think I’m not looking to be paid back? I gave you the money so you could be in the position to give me certain things I want when you win. It is the old saying: “I spend, you owe”, and when that applies to governments there will be winners and losers.

The losers will never be the money people; they will be the people who always get the short end of the stick when situations get sticky – the common man.

Why This All Matters

The reason government compromise and corruption matters, whether the money it takes is from a Bahamian or a foreigner, is that the persons you put in office will not be able to put you first when it’s time for them to sit around the table and make decisions.

Now before I continue, let’s be clear about donations to political parties at election time. When elections come around, many people donate to parties in many ways; via their time, skills and of course their money.

A person may donate whatever he is able to, to help the party he supports and for the most part – outside of campaign finance laws that currently don’t exist here – these donations don’t necessarily sully an entire would-be government.

But in every country, there will be special interest groups or single individuals who are looking to get certain things done by whoever wins the government. The temptation to take huge sums of money from these people can be great since after all, parties want to win, and the more money one has at his disposal, the more he can do on the ground at campaign time.

But this is where the integrity of a political leader becomes most important. While he or she is not currently able to control what a person may put into the hand of a single candidate during campaign season, he or she can control what money is given to the organization as a whole.

If he or she cares more about the good of the country than becoming Prime Minister, stock has to be taken of this money that’s being offered and who is offering it – especially if the person is of ill repute or a criminal, because that leader should have enough sense to know that if a shady person is willing to give you millions of dollars, he isn’t doing it because you have a good heart.

When a political leader either personally accepts, or allows to be donated to his party’s efforts millions of dollars from such people – Bahamian or foreign – he or she has made a decision; and that is that if successful at the polls, the Bahamian people are going to have to take a back seat to the people who will now be looking for a quick payback on their investment.

And so this is how it matters to you and your family. Right now, The Bahamas is going through a myriad of challenges in economics, finances, crime, education, unemployment, you name it. A responsible and effective government will need to focus on these issues without distraction if it is going to be of any use to the public.

But remember now, there are persons knocking on the door who have already coughed up millions, and they are not looking to sit and wait for five years for them to get what they want. They want to get straight, and sooner rather than later.

They Win, You Lose

And so, a government which makes itself a slave to special interests cannot focus on doing what the country needs because they need to get these interests straight – and with good reason.

No government likes a scandal. No government politician wants to end up staring down the barrel of a gun if he doesn’t give a benefactor what was agreed to. No government wants its benefactors to expose the deals that have been made behind closed doors.

And these are just some of the scenarios possible when parties take large sums of money from shady characters, persons whose ill repute extends beyond our borders, or from persons involved in criminal activities. You have to play by their rules or pay the consequences.

The losers in all this are the Bahamian people, because they would have elected a government whose attention is now split between getting certain people straight, and getting the country’s problems sorted out. When a Cabinet sits down and sets its priorities, it needs to be able to do so without someone pulling its strings.

When the time comes to focus on unemployment for the masses, but a special interest wants approvals for his work sorted out – what is a slave government to do? That government has to try to give that special interest what he wants – so your jobs? You lose; they have got to be put on the back burner for now.

When it’s time to focus on crime, and the special interests a government becomes a slave to are involved in criminal activities, what do you think will happen? That government is not going to order those criminal activities to be dealt with, because the players therein have already given millions.

So the nation’s crime problem? Well a slave government can’t focus on that like they may want to, because they may be stepping on the toes of the persons who have already paid them, and so now they’ve got to turn a blind eye to what they are doing.

We all know crime begets crime, so if you turn a blind eye to one major area of crime, you are directly or indirectly encouraging crime to flourish in other areas. And who becomes the loser – the public, who are the victims of these interconnected crimes.

And as for the private sector and the small businessman? Depending on the special interests in play, the small man will be shut out of opportunities in favor of persons promised exclusive rights and licenses to do business.

So the special interests that you didn’t vote for, in effect become your government without you even knowing it, because now they are calling the shots. And for those who know the rules of shot callers, you don’t tell them when to stop trying to authorize payback – they stop when they are ready and when they are satisfied.

So everybody who has taken money from those shot callers better answer that phone when the shot caller calls. That is why governments rush to pass certain Bills and spend inordinate amounts of time focusing on one area (like numbers) to the exclusion of all other critical areas – the shot callers are making the calls, and that government must answer.

Enter you and your family who can’t even find your MP most times, much less get him or her to work on your situation and those of the country. Why? You aren’t the shot caller, so your calls get ignored. Unemployment, crime, education, etc have all got to become second-class to someone’s cash.

This is why this issue matters for you, because if your government is a slave to a few, it cannot give the attention necessary to take care of its responsibilities toward you.

Our Name and Shame

What many Bahamians still fail to appreciate is The Bahamas is part of the world; we are not here by ourselves. How our governments deal with certain investors and characters has the potential to cause the world to focus its attention on what we are doing and why.

Right now the hot-button subject is stem cell research, a scientifically promising though heavily controversial issue in the field of human research worldwide. It is critical that The Bahamas does not negatively put itself on the world’s radar with this matter.

And that is exactly what would happen by allowing a stem cell research facility to be built at someone’s house in a residential area not zoned for commercial enterprise (Lyford Cay), as has already been reported on by Tribune Business.

A world-renowned expansion in “medical tourism” in The Bahamas in someone’s personal backyard? Come on Bahamas. The country might as well change its slogan from ‘Better in The Bahamas’ to Banana Republic and call it a day. All viable and legitimate “medical tourism” projects would fall under scrutiny once the world sees The Bahamas playing fast and loose with a critical aspect thereof.

Incidentally, we cannot get our government to build or upgrade hospitals and clinics and stock them with adequate medicine to treat Bahamians, but the whole country is focused on a controversy that involves giving an expat the opportunity to have a “medical research” facility with foreign researchers in his backyard.

And hence I end as I began for Bahamians to understand why government compromise via special interests matters for you – it is because when governments become corrupted, you and your family become second-class to someone’s cash.

Sharon Turner
Tribune Column