With a new board of directors in place at Bahamas Power and Light and its members having received from the Minister of Works clear and firm advice about their role and responsibilities, let us hope order has been restored. An official investigation into the events surrounding the earlier dramatic removal of the previous board is now pending, but that ought not to prevent the new leadership from getting on with the job.
It is self-evident an efficient and reliable power supply at a reasonable cost is essential to the daily life of all Bahamians. For far too long, the provision of electricity in our country has been erratic and grotesquely expensive to the consumer. Most people blame this on a combination of a lack of investment and poor management. It continues to be a matter of serious public concern that major improvements should be made and the first priority should be to implement the agreement with Shell North America for its proposed multi-fuel plant at Clifton Pier which was approved by Cabinet last April.
Whatever the results of the investigation, one of the less savoury aspects of the BPL furore has been the extreme behaviour of the Bahamas Electrical Workers Union president Paul Maynard. His threats, while lecturing in coarse language BPL’s chief executive officer, have no place in our modern civilised society. It is, of course, his role to make reasonable demands in order to protect the rights and interests of his union members, but his hectoring attitude may well be counterproductive by hardening the reaction of BPL’s management.
In particular, his demands that BPL should bring back on contract terms former employees who have already received generous redundancy packages under the recent voluntary severance package look to be crass and unjustified. It may not be clear how many staff categorised as ‘business critical’ were attracted by the package. But, if any are re-engaged after receiving large such payments, the likely negative reaction of those who had stayed on in their jobs is predictable - and the effect on staff morale, which Mr Maynard claims to be so concerned about, would be severe.
How to manage BPL’s operations and staffing moving forward is a matter for the company itself. Instead of making generalised demands about new contracts for staff who have volunteered to leave and been well rewarded, we believe the union’s efforts would be better concentrated on considering each case of redundancy on its merits and ensuring all its members concerned have been treated correctly in accordance with the agreed severance terms.
Another disturbing example of a union overreaching itself vis-à-vis an employer was the reported dictatorial attitude – as well as demands to be consulted about operational matters and the school curriculum - of the Bahamas Union of Teachers president towards the Ministry of Education while addressing new teachers at last week’s orientation exercise.
It is evident that to enable it to support its members the teachers’ union needs to keep abreast of working conditions in schools, including a healthy and safe environment both for pupils and teachers, and the terms of employment of its members. It may also be useful to keep itself fully informed about the Government’s education policies as a whole and in particular about the running of schools. However, it should be beyond the remit of the union to seek to dictate policy about the content of the education to be provided and to become involved in determining curriculum issues. These are matters for policy-makers within the Department of Education under the broad overall direction of elected government ministers.
Britain seeking to strengthen Commonwealth links
For some while, we have been predicting in these columns that one of the consequences of Brexit is that Britain will seek to revitalise its historical relationships with its Commonwealth partners following its departure from the European Union at the end of March next year – not only with larger countries like Canada, Australia and India but also smaller former colonial territories in the Caribbean. New political and economic co-operation is likely to benefit Commonwealth nations and Britain alike.
One example already is Prime Minister Theresa May’s trip this week to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, accompanied by a business delegation, and the visit to Singapore of the UK Secretary of State for International Trade. These visits are clearly paving the way for new co-operation and, in particular, for bilateral trade agreements after Britain becomes free, post-Brexit, to negotiate its own deals.
As part of its bid to strengthen relationships with old allies and to forge new partnerships around the world, the British government announced last March expansion of its overseas diplomatic representation. This included, among others, the re-opening of a diplomatic mission in The Bahamas – and we hope that that becomes a reality before too long.