Tag Archives: government

#100things I want from government 1-10

Bahamas Houses of Parliament

This week I began to write a series of tweets which, I hope, will break this pattern of silence that has fallen upon me since Boston. I find I can’t engage with any public discussion happening in Nassau right now, largely because the disussions are without result. They are unproductive because they tread old ground incessantly so that they begin to resemble the path of white rats in lab mazes. I don’t like feeling like lab rats or hamsters on wheels, so I have unplugged for some time.

But one can’t stay unplugged forever. So I’m trying to get at least some of the concepts that are crowding my mind down in 140 characters or fewer, hoping the discipline will be constructive. Here’s how the series  began:

Been blocked/silent on big issues since I went to Boston. Maybe because the gap between life there & life here was so wide …

… not in experience but in possibility. And this is the opposite of what I felt when I lived abroad 20 years ago …

Living in the UK in the 1990s was like living in a coffin: rules everywhere & few rewards. Innovation? impossible. You emigrated to breathe

Today Nassau feels the same, only without rules. So as we move towards elections the silly season has graduated to full stupidity

Am going to start tweeting what I want to see from my next government. Prospective politicians, you want my attention? Bring it.

And so? The first 10 of the #100things I want from government:

  1. #100things I want from government: Gender equality. Don’t mind the noise in the man-ket. Women vote.
  2. #100things I want from government: A citizenship policy in a constitution that makes sense. l’d like to be sure my grandkids are Bahamian.
  3. #100things I want from government: An energy plan that makes sense. An energy plan that puts the power in my hands not some outsider’s.
  4.  #100things I want from government: Ideas and ideals for the good of the nation, not new letters and faces for the good of themselves.
  5. #100things I want from government: Research that unveils the causes of crime PLUS programmes to address them not reaction to the symptoms
  6. #100things I want from government: Some real democracy. No more vote once every five years & done. Want my MP to represent me not a party.
  7. #100things I want from government: Protection of the humanity of all within our borders: justice for all regardless of age, sex, origin.
  8. #100things I want from government: Facilitation of fresh ways of being/seeing, not frustration of everything different or new
  9. #100things I want from government: Honour & a place at the table for youth. Elders deserve respect, not deification.
  10. #100things I want from government: Devolution of power. Break up the rule of the 1% over the 400k.

A World According to Denmark

This week I’ve been watching the Danish television show Borgena series that follows the career of the fictional first female Prime Minister. I’m a good way through the first season (there are three seasons so far) and I’m hooked.

But this isn’t going to be a discussion of the show. If you want to know more about it, go do your own research; go watch it yourselves. For me, the exercise of watching it illuminates–throws into relief, rather–the very narrow limits of our local democracy.

For Borgen is a television show about government. I’m forced to watch a lot of these shorts of shows, and to be honest, ever since The West Wing I have not been sorry that I have done so. Such shows have a lot to say, a lot to teach perhaps, a lot to contribute to the way in which we (I) think about democracy. I’ve been exposed to the blockbusters (The West Wing), the sensational (Scandal), the seamy (Boss), the dastardly (both versions of House of Cards), but, The West Wing aside, most of them tend to exaggerate both the players and the gravity of their actions in the telling of their tales. Perhaps that’s because they all deal with politics and government in countries that are used to having great sway on the world stage–the US and Britain–and so the issues that preoccupy the fictional characters are larger than life; and, in a rather Shakespearean way, the flaws of the characters (in Boss and House of Cards particularly–and Scandal of course, which cannot survive without, well, scandal) are Hamlet-sized.

Continue reading A World According to Denmark

Larry Smith on The Alternate Reality of Bahamian Squatter Settlements

This is an issue that needs research, reflection, and discussion, not knee-jerking. Larry Smith starts the ball rolling at Bahama Pundit.

… the deeper we delve into the so-called ‘Haitian problem’, the more we come face to face with ourselves. The squatter settlements that give rise to so much public angst are a clear example of the alternate reality that many Bahamians live in, and we are not the only ones grappling with these issues.

The reality is that squatters include indigenous Bahamians, Haitian-Bahamians, immigrants with work permits and illegal immigrants. But these one-dimensional labels merely mask the complexity of the problem, as the following three examples illustrate.

A 2003 news report on squatters focused on a young man who, although born here, was not a Bahamian because his parents are Haitians. He had never been to Haiti, and though he had applied three times for Bahamian citizenship and spent about $4,500 on paperwork and lawyers, he had nothing to show for his efforts.

A friend of mine knows of a “true-blood Bahamian” who works as a messenger and had a daughter with a Haitian woman. “The daughter was educated here and is hardworking, but has no status. She is confined to the fringes of society because her father can’t be bothered to help her get regularized.”

Then there is the Haitian who has worked here for years and become a permanent resident. “He has several children,” my friend told me. “One son is here on a work permit, a second son went to R M Bailey and appears to be a Bahamian, and a third son just arrived from Haiti and can’t speak English. The second son is intelligent and well-educated, but has no status and is very angry about it.”

These examples put a human face on the problem, and we can multiply them many times throughout our society. The root question is, how do we deal with them? One answer is to deport immigrant children who are born and raised here. Another is to regularize them to become productive members of our society.

The other key point to bear in mind is that squatting is often the only option for low-income people with no collateral or savings who subsist on temporary jobs. They can’t afford the cost of land or housing, so they are forced to rely on irregular arrangements facilitated by Bahamians.

Squatter settlements are the inevitable result.

via The Alternate Reality of Bahamian Squatter Settlements – Bahama Pundit.

Melting Ice Could Lead to Massive Waves of Climate Refugees

As the Earth warms, the melting of its two massive ice sheets—Antarctica and Greenland—could raise sea level enormously.

via SolveClimate.com.

Last month’s earthquake in Haiti brought out two sides of Bahamians: the all-too-common bigotry that holds tight onto what we’ve achieved over the past forty years and refuses to share our good fortune with others, and a generosity and compassion that signals a possible change in the way we talk about ourselves, our country, and our neighbours.

What struck me, though, was the almost unquestioning subtext of both: the growing-old refrain that we are blessed, we are special, God has smiled upon us, and therefore we must either keep that blessing selfishly to ourselves or spread it more generously than we have done in the past.

And we’ve gone off to thank God, to congratulate ourselves, that we were not so unfortunate as to have had an earthquake here in our land, that we are mostly outside the earthquake zone (except Inagua, which is close enough to the fault that shook Port-au-Prince to have experienced the earth’s shaking at different times in its history).

What I wonder about, though, is the question of why in all our discussions about blessedness, in all our wrangling about who-won-Elizabeth, in all our self-centredness and short-sightedness, no one — not during the debates, not during the discussions on the air, nowhere, not even during the Copenhagen talks last year — has raised the issue that should have every Bahamian deeply concerned: the question of the impact that global warming will have on ocean warming, the melting of the ice caps, and the eventual rising of the seas.

Now it’s possible for us to not-believe all the science about global warming. I myself, while accepting the research and the results, and believing entirely that the earth’s climate is experiencing some major changes, am vaguely sceptical about the stated causes of climate change, and am also not always convinced about the predicted results of it.

BUT.  One thing that isn’t in dispute at the moment is that the ocean temperature is currently rising. Or, to be more precise: “July 2009 was the hottest month for the world’s oceans in almost 130 years of record-keeping” (Seas at Risk.Org); and that scientists are noticing a shrinkage of the ice sheets of both Greenland and Antarctica.

Here’s what that means:

If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it would raise sea level 7 meters 23 feet. Melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would raise sea level 5 meters 16 feet. But even just partial melting of these ice sheets will have a dramatic effect on sea level rise.Senior scientists are noting that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC projections of sea level rise during this century of 18 to 59 centimeters are already obsolete and that a rise of 2 meters during this time is within range.

via Melting Ice Could Lead to Massive Waves of Climate Refugees | SolveClimate.com.

Here’s what that means to our country.

The Bahamas is flat, low-lying, with few points on any island that can be considered high ground. Our highest point, way away on Cat Island, is 206 ft (63 metres) above sea level. But what’s perhaps more worrying is that our fresh water sources are universally fresh water lenses, which rely to some degree on the stability of the salt water levels to continue to provide us with fresh water levels. Consider the fact, too, that New Providence gets its fresh water barged in from Andros (having long outgrown/contaminated the local freshwater lens, which was once considerable for a Bahamian island, but which can in no way support Nassau’s population of a quarter of a million people, give or take), and that Andros is one of the flatter, lower islands. We don’t know what impact rising sea levels might have on that.

So it’s not inconceivable that rising sea levels will turn Bahamians back into what for the past three generations we have not been: migrants, refugees, emigrants in search of dry land. It’s not inconceivable that Atlantis, for the past decade or so our “saviour”, may be what we actually become one of these days — a sunken country, our property reclaimed by the sea. One of these days, The Bahamas may become just a memory to be kept alive by those most reviled of us all — our artists.

Just saying.

Strong institutions, not strong men

“Africa doesn’t need strong men — it needs strong institutions.” — President Barack Obama, Address to Ghanaian Parliament, July 11, 2009

It’s been two years now, and there’s been all kind of noise in the public sphere about Bahamian party politics and who bears responsibility for the difficult times we have faced for most of that time, and who will deal most effectively with the difficult times we will face. Most of the time I leave the discussions and the debates about personalities (which is most of what the discussion addresses, even now, mid-term) and political party up to politicized pundits. There’s enough noise out there, and it really hasn’t done us any good.

And it seems to me that every moment we spend focussing on small tings — like which colour tie the majority of the members of parliament wear, or which initials we can attach to the administration (and what is the difference, anyway, in real terms?), or whether Perry Christie or Hubert Ingraham is better cut out to lead The Bahamas through the twenty-first century (the answer, of course, is neither — both men were shaped irretrievably by the third quarter of the twentieth and neither has demonstrated the ability to recognize the current environment we face and find ways that are relevant to today to meet its challenges) — is time wasted. Our whole political campaign in 2007 was an exercise in time-wasting; because I believe with all my heart that, like Africa, what The Bahamas needs is not strong men, but strong institutions.

Yesterday was independence day here in The Bahamas. Normally I write that title with capital letters, like a proper noun; but today I’m not capitalizing the first letter of the date because I don’t think we truly understand the challenges and responsibilities of being independent. Too many of our leaders, no matter what party to which they apparently pledge allegiance (which, for too many of them, changes with a dizzying flourish anyway), do not value our independence, but prefer rather to wait for strong men from elsewhere to solve our difficult problems. Development by dependence is the model they appear to prefer. It’s so much easier, after all, isn’t it, to allow a monolithic investor to come in and provide short-term happiness. But the hollowness that results in our own society hurts us all. For instance, while Atlantis was employing thousands in the 1990s and early 2000s, our own institutions were growing weaker and weaker and more and more irrelevant, and no strong-man leader had the guts (or the vision) to tackle that fact. The result? We have, if we’re lucky, perhaps five more years of functionality within our public entities. We’re already beginning to see the crumbling of public services — from our inability to handle the renewal of passports to the apparent impossibility, despite hundreds of millions being spent in borrowed money on road improvements, to keep our traffic lights working. And the answer does not easily lie in privatization; governments have responsibilities to all their citizens, and one of those responsibilities is to ensure that the smallest and weakest of their citizens is not placed in a position of vulnerability to rapacious private enterprises which have no allegiance to their clients beyond the amount of money they make from them.

Our problem? Like Africa and many other post-colonial regions of the world, our focus has for far too long been on electing strong men instead of demanding strong institutions for ourselves. We have not built our nation in any way that can be guaranteed to last into the future. And our debate continues to ignore that fact.

So my hat’s off to Barack Obama today. Let us take heed from those countries around us who have invested in strong men at the cost of building strong institutions. Let us learn from those nations where for years and years good government continued even when the leaders of those countries were people whose names have been easily and quickly forgotten because the institutions that governed those nations were stronger than the individual weaknesses. And let us recognize that there is value in creating and maintaining the institutions that we need.

On Culture, CARIFESTA, and the Bahamian Economy, Part I

It came to my attention last month that our government was planning to postpone, once again, the hosting of the Caribbean Festival of Arts, if it had not yet done so. Announcements to that effect would be made very soon, I was told. The fact that such announcements have not yet been made may make this post obsolete. I rather doubt it, however.

It should be no surprise to anyone at all that I think this is a terrible idea. It’s not just because I would like to write for a living and make that living in the country in which I grew up. It’s also because it’s flying in the face of what international agencies focussed on development economics suggest is the place of culture in that development.

For those of us who don’t know, or who haven’t noticed, the world has changed. As I write, indeed, at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, the US President is opening the door for negotiations with Cuba, which, as we all know, is the only viable competitor for The Bahamas’ prosperity in the Caribbean region. In fact, it’s possible to argue that the only reason The Bahamas has maintained its supreme position in the region has been because the fifty-year long US embargo of Cuba, has coincided with the latest Bahamian boom. But now, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is visiting Cuba, and the Obama administration is making very clear noises that the embargo will soon be lifted.

At the same time, for the first time in almost twenty years, the Bahamian government’s plan for prosperity — foreign investment, foreign investment, foreign investment — is not bearing fruit. Why not? The reasons are various. Perhaps the biggest is the reason Barack Obama himself gave for changing the way the USA has done business for the past generation or so — that trickle-down economics, or the spreading of the wealth accumulated by the rich and mighty — does not work. It no longer works in the USA, which is the greatest nation in the world; and it has not worked in The Bahamas as an engine of development for a country that has not yet invested in itself.  Oh, it has done well in providing a couple of decades’ worth of get-rich-quick money for a smattering of people. But as we are noticing, where the sharing of wealth is dependent on the goodwill of the greedy, little gets shared. And so our current “wealth” is almost wholly dependent on the goodwill of the foreign investor, who is interested in the people of this nation only as workers — as block-layers, lifeguards, toilet-cleaners, cooks, drivers, or middle managers who have no ability to affect or shape company policy.

Continue reading On Culture, CARIFESTA, and the Bahamian Economy, Part I

There Gatta Be A Better Way

First things first. This post is being was written in the knowledge that it might never get posted, simply because it’s going to be critical and in contravention of my terms of employment — in other words, flying in the face of General Orders. So if you’re seeing it, (a) I’m no longer a government employee; (b) I no longer care what the consequence is; or (c) I’m dead. Or all of the above.

But I’m writing it because it needs to be said.

I‘ve been was a civil servant for five years. The specific position I hold is held was part of the problem, but it’s not all of it. The political persuasion I hold held, real or perceived, is was also part of the problem, but not all of it. The fundamental problem was that the system of government that is responsible for the development, promotion, sustaining and honouring of Bahamian culture is, quite simply (and I say this, borrowing unashamedly from other people’s military and begging forgiveness for all those who are offended or outraged by “Language”), FUBAR.

Here’s how it works, or doesn’t.

Painting by Brent Malone, courtesy of Juliette Art Gallery, Abaco, Bahamas
Brent Malone painting (title not provided) courtesy of Juliette Art Gallery, Abaco, Bahamas

Everything worth doing requires money. This is especially true for culture, which, in spite of popular misconceptions about it, is in many ways a business that has been around for centuries. And as with anything else, in the cultural field, you tend to get what you pay for. That’s not always true, of course — a Brent Malone painting during his lifetime was far more reasonable a purchase than a Chan Pratt painting during his, but that was due far more to the philosophy and sensibility and target audience of the specific artists than much else, and the two prices may adjust themselves now that both painters have sadly passed on. But in most cases, it is true.

"The Squall" by Chan Pratt, courtesy of Chan Pratt Art
"The Squall" by Chan Pratt, courtesy of Chan Pratt Art

Continue reading There Gatta Be A Better Way

CARIFESTA Update – in the end

Well, we’re back home. Those of us who travelled in the advance party returned on the charter, which was fine, one direct flight, then off the plane in Nassau. We flew through the turbulence of Tropical Storm Hannah, and though we had to wait for our luggage for some time at LPIA (there were only two men working the baggage carts — no clue why that was, maybe Mondays are slow) we were home in less than six hours. Of course, given the fact that we had checked out of the hotel at 3:30 and arrived home at 2:30 that makes it 11 hours door-to-door, but that’s part of the challenge of travelling with large groups.

Back to work today. It’s hard to imagine that I’ll be sitting behind a desk in a couple of hours, fighting the usual fights of trying to get money released for cultural activities, trying to to get people paid for work they’ve done for the government, troubleshooting situations that are the result of half-assed jobs done by other people, wrapping up the CARIFESTA work and wrapping up other work I began.

In government, projects almost never end. Even projects that have natural endings drag on longer than they should, largely because there are too many people involved in the process of executing them. Perhaps that’s by design; perhaps it’s because in The Bahamas (and, presumably, in most places, since politics and government are bedfellows) governments are places to house people who can’t find work elsewhere, and so tasks are divided into tiny little pieces, all of which have to be completed before the task can be done, and most of which are shared among people of below-average competency, and so all the bits and pieces are almost never finished properly. And so wrapping up goes on forever, until budget years close, and the loose ends are either gathered or left to fray on their own.

I’m pretty clear on one thing. For me, work is a series of projects to be completed, and to be completed well. Creative work is that: inspiration, design, creation, revision, polishing, presenting, ending. Beginnings and ends, like life itself, not infinite futile repetition, spirals that lose efficiency and quality as they turn.

The Bahamas received the CARIFESTA Scroll for the second time. This time it wasn’t Winston Saunders who accepted it on behalf of the Bahamian government, but the Minister of State himself, standing on the cricket field in the Providence Stadium, flanked by the contingent in full Junkanoo regalia, which probably means that we will actually host the event in 2010.

It’s a project that needs management, that needs design, polishing, and efficient, high-quality presentation.

It’s a project that could be mangled entirely by government.

More on this later, when I’ve worked out how to express my reservations and hopes in ways that don’t contravene General Orders. But for now, we’re home again.

Walcott warns; others walk

Walcott warns : Stabroek News

Right, well I’ve been hinting at it for some time now on this blog, but now I think it’s time to come out and say it straight.  I’ve turned in my resignation as Director of Culture for the Bahamas Government.  I had originally intended to leave at the end of this month, as of August 31st, but a series of situations have pushed the actual date back till the end of this calendar year, and turned the resignation into a requested transfer back to the College of The Bahamas.  Courage!

People who have heard sometimes ask me why.  (People who know me and have known the tribulations of working as a cultural professional within The Bahamas government don’t ask why; they ask when.)

Derek Walcott, Caribbean Nobel Laureate for Literature, gives a very good reason why in his speech at the opening of the CARIFESTA Symposia.  Here’s what he says:

Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott yesterday implored the region’s governments to resist prostituting themselves to foreign investors, warning that giving into tourism-fuelled gentrification would spell disaster.

“The prostitution is a thing we call development,” he said in stinging remarks delivered during an impromptu presentation at the grand opening of the CARIFESTA X Symposia, at the National Convention Centre. He warned: “Don’t let this continue, [because] something serious is going to happen.”

and:

 “It is terrifying, all around there are huge hotels we are going to leave as monuments,” he said, with obvious disgust. “We are not leaving museums or theatres, because the governments say they can’t afford it.”

and:

Walcott took the view that investors should also be encouraged to put money into the development of cultural infrastructure, like museums and theatres. He also challenged regional governments to be more supportive of artists, saying that younger people needed to have access to more scholarships.

Walcott, who had once famously  called for the scrapping of the festival, was featured as the Distinguished Guest at the symposium. Nonetheless, he admitted that he still harboured serious reservations about the fate of artists afterward. Indeed, he blamed the regional governments and institutions for keeping artists in what he described as a state of deprivation. “Is this what we are celebrating?” he asked. “You are killing your artists.”

and:

Walcott challenged regional leaders to pursue development of the arts simultaneously. Though he was not optimistic that the idea would be realized, he said it was important for them to adopt a change in attitude. He said there be should be no question of competing needs; that governments should do both.

***

He also suggested yesterday that the governments consider putting a moratorium on the festival in order to ensure that it is professionally organized and that it features the best people that the region can offer. “You need the best,” he said, before quickly adding, “But it is self deception, because what happens afterwards? What are their futures?”

There you have it.  My dilemma in a nutshell.  On the one hand, there are the people who tell you that the country needs you, that we have come a long way, that we are on the move and things are gonna get easier.  “Why now?” they ask.  The answer is simple, and Walcott has stated it plainly.  

Caribbean governments do not invest in their people. 

Caribbean people do not see any real reflections of themselves.

On the other hand — and this is the reality, while the other is simply the spin — the bare naked truth is that The Government of The Bahamas (gold, red or green, the party in charge doesn’t matter) is no different from the governments of all our neighbours when it comes to cultural investment.  The Nobel Laureate has stated the truth, and there is no getting around it.  The President of Guyana has stated the excuse, and there is no getting around that either.  

To remain in the post legitimizes the active underdevelopment of our people that all of our governments have made the central policy of their administrations.  To remain in the post restricts the criticisms that I can make; and to remain in the post compromises, whether we like to admit it or not, the attainment of excellence in all that we do.

Dissent, Power, and Politics

Well, from Jamaica, this is interesting:

PM Golding has invoked the Staff Orders rule that says governmental officials must keep their traps shut when their individual positions conflict with existing gov’t policy. Not an atypical move for him to make. But, it really does and should sweet us when we see cracks in the veneer of retrograde, unsubstantiated policies, that come in the form of truth-telling, even if the labba-mouth will probably lose their jobs.

Gagging Dissent « LONG BENCH

Especially given the exchange that’s been occurring on Rick Lowe’s BlogBahamas and Larry Smith’s Bahama Pundit about the responsibility of civil servants to speak out about the wrongs and the cracks in the society.

Here’s the source of Long Bench’s commentary.

President of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, Wayne Jones, said the Government’s Staff Orders outline a mode of behaviour for public officers, as it relates to their interaction with the public.

Jones told The Gleaner yesterday that Section 4.4 of the order points to how government material or documents should be shared with the media through the permanent secretary, head of department or designated spokespersons.

Jones said Harvey would not be able to express a personal view, particularly on topical issues, without the media and other persons in society construing it to be government thinking.

He acknowledged that public officials would be faced with situations where they might be asked to express a professional or personal view on a matter.

Come on, people of the Caribbean.  Do or do we not live in democracies? What is the responsibility of those of us employed in governments to our nation?  What is gained by the kinds of restrictions applied to civil servants that are outlined in the documents we inherited from the Brits (who remain subjects, and not citizens, in their own land, by the way)?  Weren’t they written when only a small number of people worked for government, and when our lands were colonies anyway and when freedom of speech was not something anyone had at all?  Why are they still being invoked today, when our governments are major (in The Bahamas’ case, the largest) employers?  Does this not seem to be at odds with the idea of a democracy?

Nevertheless.  General Orders stands.  Our Rules of Conduct may be found here.  Go read for yourself.