An outsider reading the headlines of local papers in the last few days would rightly think world events had passed The Bahamas by. A country obsessed by the salary of a single man when that man was merely a senior policy advisor who was not accused of stealing public funds or misleading shareholders and wiping out savings? This in a world beset by terrorist attacks, crazies killing innocent people in church or mowing down cyclists on a New York city street. A world facing unprecedented weather events, troubled by crime and challenged by poverty.
Yet The Bahamas must be blissfully untouched by such major matters because it’s a man’s salary people are talking about.
At the outset, controversy over the pay of Sir Baltron Bethel is justified but not simply because of the numbers involved. Yes, he earned a very handsome salary, $140,000 a year then along comes a raise of $60,000 two weeks before the election along with a contract extension. A salary of $200,000 is generous but within the realm of CEOs in mid-size corporations and, in fact, low for a major corporation. So it is not the amount we find untenable. What troubles us and troubles us greatly are the issues surrounding the sudden increase and the reality that we operate in an isolated silo system where someone like a Sir Baltron holds so much sway and power.
First, let us be clear. We have talked with people in former Prime Minister Perry Christie’s office to try to understand what role Sir Baltron played before his termination in late May following the election in which the former administration got a thorough thrashing. To a person, everyone reported Sir Baltron as hard-working with the energy of an Eveready bunny. They called him highly intelligent and extremely talented. He made investors, colleagues and guests feel at home and important. He handled much of the Prime Minister’s writing needs. The Prime Minister could have chosen far worse.
No matter how invaluable the former Prime Minister felt Sir Baltron to be, he made a huge mistake shoving a rushed whopping salary increase and contract extension just ahead of an election.. Such behaviour is not the legacy of a man who cares a great deal about the legacy he leaves. It is poor judgment at best, the kind that deserves a good finger-wagging in the face.
Secondly, the role that Sir Baltron played so well is one that could have gone terribly wrong and must be redefined. That’s where the real focus should be, not just on the man’s pay but on how the system functioned. To make anything happen, everyone had to go through Sir Baltron and everyone knew it. He was the gatekeeper. The Prime Minister counted fully on the counsel of his senior policy advisor.
We reiterate because it is important. The problem is not just with the amount on the pay stub, but how the raise was handled and why someone like a Sir Baltron held so much influence over decisions that would impact an entire country.
The man served in a highly centralised system in which everything filtered up to and through the office of the Prime Minister. Tragically, and despite promises to the contrary, it still does. Investors are bewildered and flummoxed. What kind of country is this where the Prime Minister and his cohorts have to approve your willingness to put your money into a business? Can you imagine if someone who wanted to open a fishing lodge in Key West had to see President Donald Trump for permission and walk away with a Heads of Agreement in which they offer to do this in exchange for government giving them tax concessions?
Surely, you meet a set of standards, due diligence is carried out, zoning regulations and environmental management policy met and then the local population decides whether or not to welcome the business. It is the people who live in a community and will be impacted so why if a hotelier is thinking about a boutique resort in Long Island, Cat Island or Inagua would he or she be taking the case to a senior policy advisor in the highest office in the land?
Sir Baltron, this fight should not just be about you and the pay you took home or hoped to continue to take home. It should be about how we do business in this country. If we do not start making it easier to do business, if we do not realize that incentives are not giveaways but investments that lead to a vibrant economy, we will continue to be mired in no-growth stagnation. If that happens, it ignites a vicious cycle. Low or no growth followed by imposition of ever increasing taxes to make ends meet.
Wake up, Bahamas, and smell the Future. Businesses, local and foreign, are no longer interested in a system that has a single door for entry.
Nice work, Romi, Rotary and Team
The clean-up effort that began two Saturdays ago gets a Tribune thumbs up. Montagu Foreshore is clean and inviting. The new low white picket fencing along the eastern side of the grassy knoll to the east of Nassau Yacht Club adds style and beauty against the green lawn, a site reminiscent of Ocean Club Estates and we wouldn’t be surprised if Atlantis did not participate as it is one of the partners who maintain Montagu Park. Thanks to Minister of Environment Romauld ‘Romi’ Ferreira, the Rotary Clubs, Bahamas Waste and other partners and all those volunteers for a job well done and especially for keeping the landscaping low enough to allow for a full view of the water, a touch of inspiration and spiritual renewal that never gets old.