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Editorial: Could Bahamas Learn From Singapore?

SPEAKING at the CEO Network conference at the Melia Nassau Beach hotel last week, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis told his audience that the Bahamian economy had grown by about 2.5 percent in the past year, which, he said, could possibly signal its best growth in ten years.

“Tourism is doing very well,” he continued. “Both Atlantis, Paradise Island, and Baha Mar, are doing exceptionally well. Our economic prospects are improving, but we must do more to boost jobs and opportunity.”

“The wanton corruption of the last five years has ended but we must continue to reform our laws in order to confront a culture of corruption. Our public finances are improving though we are not out of the woods.

“Still, amidst our challenges, The Bahamas is much better off than it was just a year ago when we were headed into an abyss from which we would not have easily recovered. The recovery of our national prospects and our economy has begun and has taken hold,” he said.

He went on to talk of a number of tourism and investment projects planned for Grand Bahama and ambitious infrastructure programmes for several of the other islands. He continued in this vein, outlining what government has to do to put a failing country back together again emphasizing that “economic transformation requires us to combat corruption at all levels of Government because corruption retards economic growth and poses a tremendous burden on Government finances”.

Several readers commented on this article when it was published on Tribune242. One reader in particular, who critcised government for not doing more, ruffled the feathers of another reader, who signed himself “Cobalt”.

In all of this the most important ingredient to effect change was left out — the Bahamian people. There can be no change, no movement forward unless the people — including those wasting their lives sitting on the blocks, sniffing their weed and drinking their booze — are determined to make their contribution as decent, upright citizens.

And this is what Cobalt had to say:

“Yes, John. The Prime Minister understands that citizens living within the inner cities need jobs. He understands that the entire nation needs an economic boost. But the dilemma that we all face is that economic development takes TIME.

“It may only take a second to make a mistake, but it can take years to rectify that mistake. And here in The Bahamas we have made TONS of mistakes. So while the government is doing its best to initiate an adequate economic foundation in the midst of a ‘mess of a country’, I encourage every Bahamian to take a long look in the mirror. The problem I see with many Bahamians is that we want our situation to change, yet we fail to change ourselves. We want our situation to improve, yet we fail to improve ourselves. We want the government to accomplish everything, but ask your nearest neighbour what has he accomplished for himself. Successive Bahamian governments have failed because we the people have continued to fail. The government is simply an extension of the people it represents. The government is extracted from a pool of its own citizens. So when we begin to improve ourselves, the government will likewise begin to improve.

“Here’s a fun fact,” continued Cobalt, “foreigners come to this country with little or nothing, and in a little over a decade are successful business owners and entrepreneurs. The Chinese do it, the Jamaicans do it, the Haitians do it. Yet all we Bahamians do is sit, complain, and blame the government. If we want change in our country, we have to be the change. If we want change in our communities, let’s start by changing our households. Let’s start by talking with our neighbours and forming community resources. We as Bahamians are NOT helpless. We can help ourselves and improve our own country.”

While attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government in London (April 16-20), Prime Minister Minnis met the Prime Minister of Singapore to discuss deepening relations and enhancing cooperation in areas of mutual interest. Such a meeting could pay dividends for The Bahamas if our prime minister could take a leaf out of tiny Singapore’s history and try to introduce it to The Bahamas. How could a poor, small, stagnant British crown colony be transformed in two years into a Tiger economy with a corrupt free government and civil service?

Singapore is noted for having one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Out of a population of 5.1 million only 16 people were murdered in 2011. It is also noted that they have the most competitive economy behind that of Switzerland. We remember the days when the late prime minister Sir Lynden Pindling talked of his ambition to turn The Bahamas into a little Switzerland. As we know he did not even know where to begin — too much corruption was in the air.

According to the World Bank, Singapore is the best country in which to do business while The Bahamas ranks 119 among 190 economies for ease of doing business. Singapore also has a disciplined population that follows the rule of law — all thanks to one man, Lee Kuan Yew. In a rule of 31 years, Yew transformed a backward seaport into the most prosperous country in Southeast Asia.

But, unlike The Bahamas, he had a secret — he had a disciplined population that preferred work to leisure. Working together their small country has become the envy of the world.

What becomes of The Bahamas is up to the Bahamian people - government cannot do it alone.

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