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Culture Clash: Our Votes Are Not The Only Way We Can Use Our Voices

By Alicia Wallace

THE past few years in The Bahamas have given us many things to think about. Our dissatisfaction mounting, too many of us found ourselves unable to act.

Members of Parliament did not disclose, and we were outraged. We made the time and effort to vote in the gambling opinion poll — which was framed as a referendum — only to be ignored and disrespected. There was resolve to get rid of the PLP administration and desire for more participatory governance.

There was anger and disappointment. We must figure out how to move beyond it to make progress and demand better of our representatives. It is critical that we activate and assert our citizenship outside of election season, and recognise its power on any given day.

We are underutilising our citizenship. Our conversations about citizenship are often limited to passports and work visas, seldom delving into the properties of citizenship and its direct link to government and governance.

Citizenship, at its best, is not passive. It is not wearing the title “Bahamian” and having a passport declaring our relationship with the country. It is not even at its peak when we cast our ballots every five years to elect representatives and, subsequently, the leader of the country. Citizens have the right to live, receive an education, work, and vote here. Those things come along with citizenship, but they are not the beginning and the end.

What are the responsibilities of a citizen? What are the things we should be doing to both honour and fully exercise our citizenship?

It is our duty to participate in Bahamian democracy, to monitor the work (or lack thereof) of our elected (and paid) officials, to engage one another on issues of national concern, and to agitate for the changes we need.

Regardless of how our representatives would like to posture and feign unmitigated authority, it is our duty to question. We have to challenge the systems that do not work for us, and those that are being abused to such an extent that any supposed benefit is lost on us or pales in comparison to the perks they afford to the privileged. We have to pay attention. We need to be prepared to speak openly about what we see and hear, and to make recommendations for Bahamian citizens as a collective to respond.

What can citizens do, from the ground, to effect change?

Politicians benefit from the popular idea that they are in charge. They have led us to believe that we elect them to lead and make decisions for us. They depend on our laziness and willingness to pass off our duties as citizens, allowing them to do as they wish. In truth, we are their employers, and their job is to represent us. Our issues should be at the front of their minds, and potential solutions should be rolling off their tongues.

Unfortunately, too many of us cast our votes and almost immediately disengage, content that someone else will deal with the running of the country. Some of us are busy, some of us are tired, and some of us are just not interested enough. For those of us who care about our country and its future, it is imperative that we remain alert, communicative, and ready to act.

There is a broad range of actions any citizen can take to protest, change, and create. We know our challenges, and we hold the solutions. In recent years, we have become more willing to share needs, experiences, and ideas. We communicate in a variety of ways, from the sometimes incisive, sometimes enlightening letter to the editor to the hilariously relatable and catchy song. We are creative people, constantly finding new ways to raise issues, share knowledge, and invite people to the conversation.

Talk radio has given us space to think aloud, hear from fellow Bahamians, and form opinions that need not depend solely on our individual experiences. We now have access to the realities of people we do not know, and may not even know of if we did not hear them on the radio, telling their own stories.

We have spent years honing and exercising theses skills, and desperately need to get to the next step. Some of the easiest things we think to do are writing letters to newspaper editors, calling in to radio talk shows, and share our thoughts on social media.

How do we move from conversation to collective action?

Social media — specifically Facebook — has taken us beyond one-way communication. It allows us to organise ourselves into groups and discuss issues relevant to our shared values. What do we do with the perspective we gain from this? How do our positions change based on new information?

One of the road blocks to effective collective action is lack of buy-in. This issue exists for a number of reasons including lack of trust. We ask ourselves about ulterior motives and question the methods of people we do not know. True activism and advocacy require time, energy, and other resources in limited supply, especially for nonprofit initiatives. We ask ourselves why anyone would give freely of these resources, and how long it will take for them to be bought (as we may have seen recently).

Another major roadblock is the divisiveness that inevitably comes from difference in identity or opinion, completely detracting from the shared vision.

Theoretically, many of us want the same things, but are prepared to forgo rights to ensure that someone else does not gain access to those (or other) rights (as we saw in the June 2016 referendum).

There is tremendous value in the conversations we have on a daily basis on radio talk shows, Facebook, and themed panels and fora.

We head-nod, clap, and like each other’s comments, and sometimes dive right into actions like petitions and protests. Collective action must come, but all participating citizens need to understand why we are there, together, despite difference. This requires a shared vision. There must be something we can all agree on, commit to working toward, and recognise as more importance than differences in identity and personality. We must shift the way we engage one another.

Social media can be a tool for organising, but it’s up to us to drive the conversation toward indisputable consensus that can serve as a foundation and driver for citizen-led action.

Let’s keep the conversation going, but more meaningfully and constructively toward action. At some point, we have to put our citizenship to work, and that means doing something — not just voting.

Comments

Porcupine 1 year, 5 months ago

Ms. Wallace,

All excellent points. However, many of the Family Islands do not get talk radio. Personally, I do not have the time for Facebook or social media. My free time is spent reading and writing and helping raise my son. Below is something I finished up last night. What do you think? Repost, if you think these ideas are worth sharing.

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Porcupine 1 year, 5 months ago

The Future of The Bahamas Discussion June 2017 I am putting forth a number of suggestions and comments which I feel are essential for the well-being of this country. I have listened to our new politicians and I am not impressed. It appears they have no sense of urgency. I do not hear the level of understanding needed. And, I feel there is a lack of bold initiatives needed to prevent an economic and social collapse of The Bahamas. I am offering no silver bullet, but rather a bitter pill which must be taken soon, to avoid what I see as impending catastrophe for this beautiful chain of islands. This is my home. This is where I want my 3 year old son to grow up. However, from my point of view, having paid close attention to the financial and social happenings over the last 3 election cycles, I see a failure of leadership. We are headed for the rocks. We need a visionary and competent captain to guide us in the right direction. I had hopes for the FNM, however, it appears that it will be more of the same. We need action from the people of The Bahamas. With this sense of urgency in mind, with my belief that the people MUST rise up and force our leaders to do the right thing, and with my belief that this country is worth saving, I humbly offer the following: Democracy is all about following the will of the people. Therefore, I would ask the current government to follow the results of the recent democratic referendum on web shops. Make it illegal for a web shop in The Bahamas to accept one dollar starting tomorrow. If the web shop owners persist, throw them in jail. Period. This will allow hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the real economy, instead of into the pockets of those who produce absolutely nothing. I see gambling as a symptom of an economy where one cannot make a living wage from a full days work. What the web shops take in per year is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Do not underestimate the damage to the real economy by these web shops. It is not just the loss of hard dollars. It is the loss of tax money. It is the empowering of the web shop owners, the last people we should be empowering. They are already unjustly wealthy. It is the damage to our democracy, as this money is funneled into politics. Who does not see this? Why discuss campaign finance reform, while ignoring the power of the web shop money on our political system. And, do not underestimate the damage it does to our legitimate banking sector. I am tired of listening to people saying that Bahamians should have a choice in this matter. We already spoke. Our will was ignored. End the web shop's existence as a matter of first priority, Dr. Minnis.

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Porcupine 1 year, 5 months ago

The second highest priority must be to begin investigations of all the money missing from the various governmental departments. We must hold our people accountable for the money that has been stolen. We do not even have a full accounting of all of the money that has gone missing. We do not need to spend millions of dollars on consultants. The needed software has been available for many years now. What has been lacking is the will. And, that will has been lacking because far too many people in this country have had their hands in the cookie jar. Institute the required systems and put managers and auditors in place who will watch over OUR money. Just like Kelly's or Wendy's does. Do you think these companies lose the amounts of money that the government of The Bahamas does? Of course not, for they wouldn't be in business long. It is 2017. Let's keep track of our money. Call in Scotland Yard if we must. We cannot be afraid to prosecute and jail those who are stealing from us. And, we must demand restitution of these monies, not just jail time.

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Porcupine 1 year, 5 months ago

Make taking kick backs for contracts by MPs punishable by capital punishment. We are quite willing to hang someone for taking one life. Why not the killing of an entire country? Hire foreign investigators, if necessary. But, we must probe every government official for possible corruption. Corruption that we know for sure has been going on for way too long, and continues. Start with the former Prime Minister and his entire Cabinet. Make public immediately the names of all those who owe the Bank of Bahamas for their crony unpaid loans. Take them to court. Take their assets, even if it leaves them penniless, and start getting back some of OUR money. Name names and do not just shame them. Prosecute them. Allow Sarkis Izmirilian to recoup every dollar he put into Baha Mar. If it means he now takes back over, so be it. Not only will this be economically prudent, it will let the world know that we are reversing course from the prior Christie government and will now treat foreign investors fairly in the future. Make the Attorney General accountable to the people, not a political party. Is there a person in The Bahamas who believes that we were not totally screwed over by the Christie government and the Chinese? Is there one person? Never ever hire people and allow them to do absolutely nothing, as in the 52 week program. It is terribly wasteful and sends a horrible message to our youth. End this sham now. This program is a slap in the face to every right-minded taxpaying citizen in this country. Eliminate Duty and every Customs officer from the government payroll effective immediately. This is a corrupt system. Everyone knows it. Everyone knows it. Pay the Customs employees in full for another year and begin retraining programs for them all. Duty is stifling our country's economic growth and impoverishing a huge percentage of the Bahamian population. We will discuss replacing the lost revenue in a minute. And , perhaps we will start pushing towards a system that does not invite corruption and malfeasance.

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Porcupine 1 year, 5 months ago

Lower VAT to 5% and institute a seriously progressive increase in property taxes to fill the Duty void. Every truly Christian economist recognizes that VAT is an unfair type of taxation that places a disproportionate burden on the working class and poor. I hate VAT, however, it is here and if we make it a bit less onerous, eliminate Duty, end our borrowing, and reduce our expenditures, it can serve as a tool to help pull us out of debt. We must remember who loves VAT, and why. Businesses don't pay VAT. Politicians get little resistance to VAT from their “educated” business sector, who are the ones who effectively run ALL governments globally now. Slash every governmental department budget by 20% effective immediately. This will more than compensate for the reduction of VAT revenue and lost Duty. Is there an honest government employee who does not believe that we could trim 20% from their department and still make it work. We must change our culture of corruption and slackness and begin to compete with ourselves to do a better job.
Eliminate business license fees. If we really want to empower our people and encourage Bahamians, let's put our money where our mouths are and eliminate the barriers to getting into business. Make the Department of Inland Revenue accountable to the people and make every one of their employees show a certificate proving they have graduated from high school and can do simple math. Allow the Department of Inland Revenue to be taken to court for inconveniencing a business owner by asking for a letter from another government agency. This is 2017. Find a competent computer programmer who can make all government agency's computers and information accessible to each other. Fire the head of the Department of Inland Revenue every month if necessary, until we get an efficient department that treats people with respect, is efficient, and who understands that they WORK for US. I am tired of talking to honest business people who are having to fight this department for their unfair penalties, unwarranted late fees and inability to do simple math. This situation is utterly outrageous. If the people must march again, it should be to occupy the Department of Inland Revenue until such time as they begin to treat us fairly.

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Porcupine 1 year, 5 months ago

Taxation- Taxes are necessary to run the government for the people. There is no magic involved. There are expenses on one side of the sheet, and revenue on the other side of the sheet. Presently, we place too much tax burden on the working people and the poor. VAT, as it stands now, is a prime example of this. The people of every country must be involved in these discussions. There is a way to raise every penny needed to run a government without killing the poorest of the people and creating such hardship for the middle class. We should look seriously at progressive real estate taxes to raise more of the revenue needed for running our government. Look at it this way. The most valuable properties in The Bahamas are owned by foreigners who own them mostly to declare residency here so that they can avoid taxes in their own countries. Is this correct? So, these individuals save millions and millions of dollars in taxes in their home countries by claiming residency in The Bahamas. Is it not fair that they should pay a bit more in taxes here in The Bahamas for the benefits of living here? The Bahamas is a relatively stable democracy, not at war, with beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters, and plenty of sunshine. For the most part, we the people are friendly and welcoming. Likewise, the most valuable commercial property is owned by businesses that make money. If they cannot afford to pay a bit more in property taxes, given that they pay no income taxes, no business license fees, no VAT, then they shouldn't be occupying that valuable property. Am I saying that a bit more taxes should be shifted to the wealthy and those with the most valuable businesses? Yes, I am. Is this way of thinking not Christian in every respect? Please remember who advises governments around the world on taxation matters. They are business people for the most part. Is it an accident that the rapid transfer of wealth in the world is going directly to the richest business people? It is not an accident. It is all about financial engineering and taxation. What I am suggesting is that the Bahamian people think this out for ourselves. I am not suggesting that we place too great a burden on businesses or the richest amongst us. I am suggesting that we start being more fair in our taxation structure. Not just here, but around the world. These tax policies must be clear, enforceable and much easier to avoid the corruption we have seen, and see, with the DUTY method of taxation. Does anyone know a poor Customs officer? Do you need to be a genius to see the inherent problems of keeping people in this current system honest?

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Porcupine 1 year, 5 months ago

I am not an expert on taxation and fiscal policy. However, I think I can make enough salient points so that anyone can understand that we have a failed and unfair taxation system. There are many experts out there that can guide us. What I am saying is that we need a new approach. We need to seek out new advice, for clearly the way things are done now, are not working for the majority of people of The Bahamas.
Pass a workable Freedom of Information Act so that every 5 years we don't have the so-called “complete surprise” that we are broke, that our government officials have made corrupt deals, and that we have been taken to the cleaners by those charged with our welfare. Legislate a binding agreement that eliminates any more borrowing by the government of The Bahamas. The debt load alone is overwhelming us. We must come to understand the consequences of how much money is being spent on INTEREST alone. Not even on paying the loan back, just interest alone. Borrowing only serves to allow our politicians to betray us. They are making it easier for themselves to stay in power. They lie to us, saying everything is OK. While dooming each and every Bahamian, most importantly our youth, to the many, many problems associated with being so heavily in debt. We have already reached the fiscal threshold whereby we no longer have the opportunity to make sensible democratic decisions. We have already reached the point where TOO much money is going to pay interest, instead of investing in Bahamians. We are already seeing a sharp rise in the cost of living due to the need for the government to raise more and more TAXES to pay the interest due on these onerous loans. Just because someone is there to loan us the money doesn't mean they believe in us. Let's understand this. The banks, IMF and other institutions lend us money knowing that they will get it back. They will get it back by forcing us to sell our country, cut pensions, cut social services, privatize all of our public utilities, and on and on, in order to do so. Please look hard at Greece if you don't have the economics background to understand this concept. It is scripted. It is called a Structural Adjustment Program.

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Porcupine 1 year, 5 months ago

I must re-emphasize. Borrowing more money for government spending is KILLING our country. Get the IMF, the World Bank, IDB, World Trade Organization and every other global financial institution out of The Bahamas. Listening to their advice only serves to enslave a country to the money masters. Read your history. Politicians do not seem smart enough to understand these people's mode of operating and their true intentions. If they do understand, then they are part of the problem and need to be removed from office. People of The Bahamas---By allowing things to go on as they have been for the last few decades, we can be sure of one thing. We will see increasing suffering. We will see increasing crime. We will see an an increasing liklihood that there will be no future for our children. The issues mentioned above, while not complete, are things that are easier to do now, than to commit to the inevitable suffering by the whole country which will undoubtedly occur on our present path, FNM or PLP, it doesn't matter. The writing is on the wall. Either we tighten our belts, and make some sensible decisions, or we kiss this country goodbye. Is it really The People's Time?

Porcupine A Family Island in The Bahamas

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sheeprunner12 1 year, 5 months ago

It seems that the most sensible, practical and progressive people live outside of Nassau and Freeport ........... Did anyone listen to the Budget contribution made by Ricky Mackey (MP-North Eleuthera)??????? .......... He should be a special advisor to the PM for Family Island Affairs ..... As a matter of fact, the Long Island MP suggested that a Family Island caucus of MPs should lobby and present a united plan for FI development ........ TEN MPs = 3 PLP + 7 FNM ............ Watsayu, Porcupine?????????

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