By ADRIAN GIBSON
This is my final column for the year - a column on perspective. Whilst it’s simple, easy and even convenient to focus on topical issues, often it is more important to look at the total picture and to acknowledge that we, as a country, are in deep doo-doo. This is a perspective that won’t and cannot be prettied up, but we need to act and until we do, our nation is in trouble. We are often prone to clichés that suggest that we understand that it cannot be business as usual, whilst speaking forever about wanting change ... but, our behaviour says that we are comfortable with the status quo, that we are as happy as pigs in slop revelling in the social chaos that is engulfing our little island chain.
The first and most important part of the change we must embrace is that we acknowledge that we have a problem (or, dare I say, problems). It is going to take an individual, a courageous leader of unbelievable character to admit that this is a societal breakdown that we created and have sustained and, moreover, that it is primarily cultivated by our political class who have nurtured what fundamentally amounts to a self-directed culture of entitlement by whatever means necessary.
Therefore, as a direct result, the country has followed suit and politicians are today joined at the hip by some men and women of the cloth, some in the business class and persons in other professions who are conducting themselves in much the same way. Such behaviour has now trickled down to wider society.
“We have what amounts to a 21st century Sodom and Gomorrah!” exclaimed Dr Duane Sands, when I told him about what I thought to address this week. I could hear the passion in his voice and his disappointment with the overall direction of the country.
“As we descend deeper into the abyss, we continue to cry out ‘God save us’, even as we walk deliberately and steadfastly directly to hell!” he said.
Indeed, at times it does seem that we are unprepared to acknowledge the level of depravity in our country, instead choosing to whitewash the reality, a reality that for most of us has become too painful to accept. However, hope can only be found in firstly accepting our national reality and in shifting from the commonly repeated lie that this is the best little country in the world.
Yes, I love the Bahamas. I grew up in Long Island in a time when one could sleep with their doors open and where everyone in the community was referred to as aunties and uncles. It was only in recent years that I discovered that I had no blood relation to some of the folks who I still call auntie and uncle. Frankly, this was a time that was not so far away - I only turned 30 in August - and so we can recapture the magic, the moments of true community building and neighbourly love that did indeed make us the best little country on earth. When I grew up, a village truly raised a child and, frankly, nearly everyone could whip or pinch a child that got out of line, with reports going ahead to your family which resulted in another whipping/chiding on arrival.
Yes, Mr Prime Minister, the next election will be about crime but so was the last general election. During the PLP campaign, they mounted numerous billboards that reflected condemnable numbers of murders that occurred during the FNM’s five years in government, even erecting such signs in touristic areas. What’s more, the governing party purported to have the panacea on crime, promulgating a pamphlet that outlined what they coined ‘Project Safe Bahamas.’ That said, the FNM hasn’t yet outlined an alternative crime plan that one could find appreciable nor were they effective during their last term in governance.
According to the United Nations and the World Health Organisation’s 2014 Global Status Report on Violence Prevention, the Bahamas ranks at number 11 out of 20 of the most homicidal countries in the world. The Global Status Report asserts that there was an average of 32.1 murders in the Bahamas per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012 with 75 per cent of homicides caused by firearms.
High rates of gun violence have led to the Bahamas being deemed by these organisations as an “armed conflict zone” and, by a Business Insider report, as “this tropical paradise technically qualifies as an armed conflict zone.” We all know that armed robberies, rapes and homicides are common in the Bahamas of today, with causes of violent crime ranging from gang warfare to domestic disputes to trivial disputes such as an argument over a plate of food. The country’s murder count for the year 2014 reached 117 yesterday (with a number of apparent homicides still not classified and likely to push the count even higher). This is shameful.
Another embarrassing fact about the state of affairs in the Bahamas is that our country, per a 2010 Inter-American Development Bank Country Strategy, had (and probably still has) the highest prisoner to population ration in the region and one of the highest in the world, with nearly 70 per cent of prisoners still awaiting trial. That’s simply absurd.
In a conversation, someone told me yesterday that this country “is in a freefall.”
When you read the papers, the Bahamas has been astoundingly rated as number 11 in the world for homicides; has the dubious distinction of being deemed as the destination with top tourist market share loser; the financial and banking sector are shrivelling up and dying on the vine; and our educational system leaves much to be desired as more than 60 per cent of students don’t graduate from school and simply attain leaving certificates. Yet, we continue to perpetuate the myth that all is well and that we need not make any serious, painful adjustments and, what’s even more interesting, there are some of us who seek to destroy anybody who renders a different message from the norm.
Wow! Whilst the overseers/promoters of the tourism plan twiddle their thumbs and speak with fancy talks, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revealed in a report that the Bahamas has lost the greatest tourism market share of any Caribbean nation in the post-recession years. What’s more - even before the onset of VAT - the Bahamas has been ranked as the region’s most expensive. How competitive could we possibly be if we price ourselves out of the market?
Plus, our service quality is poor ... Poor, poor, poor. I encounter persons giving poor service and behaving as if they’re doing a special favour (their job), almost on a weekly/daily basis. With service like that which is being rendered, is there any wonder why tourists are going elsewhere? (And that’s just one of the many issues relating to our tourism product).
We must be prepared to engage in a process, preferably of non-punitive correction of the systems challenges that have got us to this point. If we take a punitive approach, nearly everyone would perhaps go down and, with so many folks covering their own skin, such an approach would not work.
Part of the reality that we must face is that we have children so ‘casually’, which lends to dysfunction in the family and has contributed to much of the wayward behaviour as many of these youngsters grow up without fathers or to irresponsible teenage mothers or feel unwanted and simply become social menaces. There’s a degree of responsibility that comes with children that we must embrace, especially men who father children and go on with life as if they didn’t!
I will be back in the new year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all! See you soon.