With more than 13 months having passed since our last General Election; the governing party seems perpetually under the microscope, bombarded by many questions and scathing reviews. The slogan: “It’s the Peoples’ Time” stirred excitement and engendered hope of newness. Hope that, the voice of the People would not be ignored; hope that, the plight of the People would be ameliorated; hope that the policies would reflect preferential option for the poor and hope that, radical change would ensue at an almost rocket pace. But alas, the excitement has died down and the feeling of hope is evaporating in some quarters, and not merely along partisan political lines. The hard truths must now be confronted and shouted is this: 1. Real change can only take place when systems CHANGE not only personages or a political party. 2. A political victory is great, but to win in a landslide with many political neophytes’ poses unique challenges. 3. When ambition trumps the desire to learn ‘the Art of diplomacy’ and or when ego blurs the vision of service to those who elected you; problems are looming on the horizon. 4. If leadership has to patiently walk with mincing steps, because there is a nagging ideological suspicion, regarding who to trust; opening one’s self to wise counsel is testy and becomes an enterprise like walking through a minefield. High our hopes or too high our hopes?
Without exception, every new government has made some missteps and or some blunders; and therefore, deserves the time to make adjustments and to re-access promises and pledges in light of realities of the NOW. Yet, if so soon people question the genuineness of promises and pledges or query the course the nation is on; both these realities should be causes for concern and or sober reflection. While, time must be given to “clean up messes”, understand the rhythm of Ministries and to interrupt the culture in Ministries and create/cultivate a new culture within ministries; the evidence is overwhelming that, the Bahamian Electorate has little to no patience for hubris elected officials and or those words and actions suggested, the People were but a means to their personal end.
High our hopes or too high our hopes? From this Pastoral Observation Deck and through this medium, let it be known that, there is a growing discontent by a growing number as they watch and listen to those who pledged to be champions for the People. The Prime Minister has said over and repeatedly that, he is for the poor and those in the Over the Hill Communities; but, it is not clear that, everyone he leads is sold on this mantra and or is committed to facilitating genuine change in the condition of the poor. In our country, Poor is not just for the historical branded ones in the Over the Hill Communities; but now, incrementally includes those in the Middle Class, who have the house, their car and children in college, but have all hell to meet their bills honestly and are seeing their life’s investments slip away from them. All the while the Financial Institutions, they were loyal to for more than twenty years shows them no loyalty or mercies now that they have hit a difficult patch financially.
High our hopes or too high our hopes? Oh the curt and unsympathetic voice on the other end of the telephone as demands are made for payments, leaving many to feel dehumanized. The sad commentary is that, many in leadership in Lending Agencies in our country, have not fought for their brothers and sisters, but have made sure that, they have ‘platinum parachutes’ when the time comes to make good their escape from the Sector. Those Agents with familiar voices, are systematically being made redundant and or are frustrated out of the Sector, leaving many to experience those who lack compassion or a stickler policy and financial protocol. Maybe just maybe the time is ripe for the Government to subsidize or partner with local owned Banks; with the intent that, softer terms are meted out to those who are struggling and are not shying away from their obligations, but who need a bit more leniency and grace.
High our hopes or too high our hopes? While, too few are educating themselves concerning ‘The Empire of Money’ – how its machinery is affected social change, public policy, political regime changes, cultural norms and yes our religious practices; all a sundry are experiencing the reach of its tentacles and its deadly grips. Those who control the money of the world are most unamenable to the Judeo Christian Ethics and it moral offshoot. Classism, the old weapon, is still well oiled and holds sway. Money circulates only in the agreed circles and is only shared with agreed stipulations. Small Island Nations like our Bahamas, must almost sell our souls through acculturation, accommodation and collusion, if we are going to be given a seat around the Table, in the International and Regional Bodies already spawned by ‘The Empire of Money.’ Our desire to have a quality of life compatible with the ‘developed nations,’ continue to cost us dearly. All the amenities of the developed world countries, come at a high cost, and since our economy is still service driven ( a ghost that the haunts us from our colonial past) the little we have, we spend and we borrow to supplement what we desire to stay on “the cutting edge” never realizing that it’s ‘The Empire of Money’ that, determines who is ‘First World’ or ‘Third World’, a ‘Developed Country’ or a ‘Developing Country.’
It is ‘The Empire of Money’ that, dangles the delicacies associated with development before us, while hiding the high premium from us. It is the Agents of ‘The Empire of Money’ we borrow from, to get what the Empire of Money says we need to be civilized, modernized, acculturalized, and harmonized with the others in the fraternity of the world community. We borrow from ‘the Empire of Money’ and ‘the Empire of Money’ finds clever ways to short-circuit our ability to earn money through Black Listing, travel warning, flooding our streets with guns or by demanding our financial regimes to be changed, forever moving the goals posts only to take over our financial models and make money in their jurisdictions. ‘The Empire of Money’ through its Agent says: “I want the money you owe me;” stunned by the demand and hard pressed to meet the demand immediately, ‘The Empire of Money’ gives advice as to how to generate quick money to service the debt owed to it. We know and experience this as TAXES!
Within the past three years, as a country, we were downgraded and were forced to implement Value Added Tax at 7.5% which generated on the low and a billion dollars. Needless to say, salaries didn’t increase, though the cost of living sky rocketed. Most Bahamians and residents of this country made the adjustment with many saying, “We saw little to nothing to show for the resources gained through VAT. Some may very well argue that, the burden of VAT played as significant part in the elections of last year , and so too did the promise to relieve the VAT off bread basket items and a VAT free day!
This year’s Budget proposes many things and new initiatives but is the proposal of a 4.5% hike in VAT which is not sitting well with most Bahamians. No matter how it is turned, VAT is not friendly to the Poor and deals another deadly blow to the shrinking Middle Class. The two $500.00 Duty Allowances though welcomed, still do not negate the everyday VAT demands. The VAT off ‘Bread Basket’ items though welcomed, still doesn’t address the healthy life style that, the Government envisions; as the cost of Health Care is sky rocketing especially for those with chronic or life threatening and terminal illnesses, all while the cost of living inflates. 1). Are we to assume that things are that bad in the country’s finances that such a drastic step needed to be taken urgently? 2). Is there any merit to incremental hikes in VAT and or a delayed implementation date? 3). Should it be the considered view that, urgent cash is needed, hence the hike in VAT a sure way to get quick cash? 4). Are there no viable alternatives that could be employed? Since, it is believed that taxation is the lazy way out and those who are creative and innovative can find other ways to generate funds. 5). What about Income Tax, which while not so easily implemented and has a slower but sure yielding; would definitely be a fairer tax as the burden will not be bourne by the “Poor” but those with the means or are we to believe that, the wealthy, the opulent, the Realtors and financial oligarchs of our country want their resources and access to resources untouched? 6). Is it right that, a Sector unregulated and illegally operating for years; that was legalized against the expressed wishes of the People, should earn millions and billions and the Government not be permitted to get a greater percentage? However, let it be clear that, this People, Pastor and Leadership do not support gambling in any way shape or form. The social ills that spring from it are well documented, it undermines the ethics of laboring for what one wants, it benefits from exploiting people’s weakness, by delaying the prospects of winning; when the reality is that the House will win at least 17xc to the one time someone wins. Finally, it’s hard to celebrate winning, cognizant that many people had to loose in order for one to win. It goes against the principle of charity and therefore should have a warning of addiction in very house.
To those who are present in this sanctuary and who are watching by way of Television and or on Social Media, to say that, people are hurting and struggling is an understatement. So those elected to Parliament and must debate, should be sensitized to this reality and not shrug it off cavalierly. The voice of, the plight, pain and lived reality of the poor must be taken into consideration not merely for partisan political points; but, from the place of deep humanity and mindfulness that, we are to be our brothers and sisters keepers. If there are alternative ways to achieve the same financial footing that this Budget touts and envisions, for God’s sake please explore them. If sober reflections and honest dialogue need to be had devoid of political rhetoric and partisanship, may God grant the humility for all involved to engage those committed to making the Bahamas a better place. But alas! If there is no other way or the Government can’t be persuaded to go another way; the Government should enter a contract with the people who must “band their bellies and tuff it out the following:
- To be stewards of what is collected by managing it well and using it for the purpose for which it is said to be needed for
- To stamp out corruption, abuse and mismanagement in every form.
- To close the places where funds hemorrhage through waste and imprudence and sheer crookedness.
- To look into procurement processes to ensure that, value is given for money and the best Company or person gets the contract for the good of the country.
- To look into Leases unoccupied buildings and or payment for services not being rendered in a substandard manner and get out of Leases that are flat our bad. The intentional purchasing of and or building structures to house Government Offices to cut expensive rental fees.
- To look into the viability of Income Taxes, if taxes are the way of the government will continuously go (though every tax is already a burden) to the poor.
- To use the findings from Audits to make changes in the Public Service and Quasi governmental Corporations and to hold accountable those who misuse and abuse public funds and to fire those who have broken the trust of their Office. While recouping funds squandered or mismanaged and or stolen or illegally obtained.
- To urge large Food Store chains to give the best prices to the people, to look into the possibility of quarterly give backs – through discounts. While readjusting bread basket items adding for healthy foods. Government is to ensure the Duty free/VAT free items are reflected in Food Store prices.
- To ensure that, those who sit in the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament share in these austere measures by driving the old government vehicles as long as they can before changing them. To use them only for the purpose they were issued and during the time specified. To refrain from talks on pay increases.
- To challenge those within the employ of the Government or Quasi Government Agencies to turn off the light when not in use and to not squander resources paid for by tax payers.
- To create the environment for more Bahamians to become owners of business and stop selling the narrative of work in the service industry. Challenge the people to embrace education and to aspire for excellence model citizens, to think critically and express themselves creatively.
- To Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on our insight. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straighten your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be a healing for your flesh and refreshment for your body (Proverbs 3:5-6). High our hopes or too high our hopes?