By Kenneth Delano Bowe Sr
ELECTIONS have consequences. The Free National Movement (FNM) won the recent election, so Prime Minister Hubert A. Minnis and his Cabinet must now make decisions.
The first crucial decision should be whether web shops should be allowed to continue to exist. Keeping in mind that a ‘referendum’ held by the previous PLP government rejected the legalisation of web shops or ‘numbers houses’ as they were previously known.
By whatever name, the web shop industry is destroying the banking system and, at the same time, wreaking havoc and breaking down the social fabric of marginalised communities across this country. This is evidenced by the exit of commercial banks from the Family Islands in the case of Scotiabank’s closure on Long Island and North Eleuthera, and Royal Bank of Canada’s closure in Bimini.
The primary purpose of a bank in any community is to provide services such as chequing and savings deposits, and certificates of deposits, all of which are packaged and offered as loans to qualified customers and entrepreneurs once risks are assessed and interest rates are calculated.
Since legislation, or regularisation as it was called to by the previous government, web shops are now sucking up the limited savings and funds from Bahamian communities by offering games in the form of entertainment, which often offer customers little chance of winning. They also offer free money transfer services from customer to customer as an enticement to gambling, and presumably without Central Bank approval. Funds are siphoned from marginal communities and, what is even worse, this new gambling addiction undermines the work ethic of many Bahamians who believe they can ‘get rich quick’ by gambling.
If banks have no deposits, then they exit communities. Moreover, their absence deprives communities of other services such as reliable money transfer, cheque cashing, loans and credit card processing. Potential investors will not consider projects on an island without standard banking services for the purchase of goods and supplies, and the payment of salaries. Otherwise all transactions would need to be done on a cash basis, which becomes problematic and can result in the possibility of robbery.
Web shops add zero dollars to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). These web shop operations are practicing a reverse Robin Hood game of taking from the poor to enrich a few. In fact, the previous government selected and created a new class of oligarchs to amass wealth while destroying poor communities.
If it happens that web shop licenses are locked in for some period of time, then consideration should be given to a ‘Bahamas National Lottery’ that would operate parallel to the already existing ‘web shop’ groups. In so doing, a ‘Bahamas National Lottery’ would democratise the process by opening up the purchase of lottery tickets to a broad spectrum of retailers such as gas stations and ‘Mom and Pop’ operators throughout the country. The revenue from the Government’s ‘Bahamas National Lottery’ should have specific allocations to targeted activities such as education, sports and culture.
In conclusion, increased taxation on web shops may not be sufficient, as it still allows the enrichment of a chosen few whose power will increase in society, and who over time can influence the political process.
The Prime Minister and his Cabinet should recognise the wisdom of crowds. This is most brilliant in a book, The Wisdom of Crowds: large groups of people are smarter than an elite few), written by James Surowiecki