EDITOR, The Tribune.
THE collapse of Freeport provides an unprecedented opportunity to revisit a self-governing state of Abaco. If we are able to learn from their failure, a narrow path back to international status and prosperity could emerge.
Our electorate never wanted to be part of the inevitable country-for-sale that became the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. The country continues to be frustrated not just the lack of any discernible progress, but an everyday struggle to even reach mediocrity. We cannot be trapped in the revolutionary past of the civil rights era. We are now, like everyone else, competing with China.
We propose the Abaco islands take advantage of the European re-organisation and re-adopt the legal parentage of its founder, the United Kingdom, with the status of a new “internationalised” British Overseas Territory. Our entire land area would be as a designated multi-ethnic, international, tax-free/customs-free Free Trade Area (FTA), with the US dollar as its currency.
Our immigration policy would promote aggressive economic migration to quadruple our population, with flexible residence similar to Panama’s Friendly Nations Visa. Migrants (including Bahamian citizens) would be required to demonstrate economic activity (a new business, a job offer) to be granted immediate, auto-approved - but conditional - five-year permanent residency. Citizenship would be of the soil alone, as per BOT procedure.
Those counted in two successive censuses over twelve months, Bahamian or foreign, would be registered as citizens.
Using the model of Turks & Caicos and the Cayman Islands, the new state would establish a constitution, legal system derived from English Common Law, transparent financial system, and a premier-less legislative assembly composed of seven geographical representatives forming a co-operative quasi-republic. A limited infrastructure would be based in the new capital of Marsh Harbour, and rely on electronic voting to determine electoral opinion and formal consensus.
Electronic consensus would be digitally “blind”, and with a commitment to a multi-ethnic society embedded in the founding documents, discrimination, or even any form of political action, on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, or other characteristic, would be entirely illegal.
Freeport failed due to constant and relentless government interference. Using the model of Hong Kong, the new state would aim to deliberately and constitutionally constrain and restrict any form of government involvement whatsoever from day one, save for essential regulation to prevent abuse. Officials would actually be legally forbidden to interfere or legislate without consensus or proven necessity.
We would adopt all the characteristics that fuelled Freeport’s rise, give financial safe-harbour to its disaffected investors, and legally protect against what destroyed it (government interference and racial nationalism) - with the safeguard ring-fence of an international sovereign border; all its KPIs, and none of its liabilities; only an hour from the US mainland. Instead of hosting Special Economic Zones (SEZs), our entire nation would be the investor’s dream: an Enterprise Island from top to bottom.
All barriers to business and trade would be entirely removed, and treated as an allergen, e.g. business licenses would be completely abolished. Infrastructure would be developed and supported by a flat-fee Common Infrastructure Contribution remitted by businesses in operation for over three years, based on their individual GDP. Withdrawals would require the permission of five randomised annual representatives, and public publishing of prior intent.
Crucially, the contribution would be constitutionally refundable if the state cannot prove, upon challenge in the courts, where it was used for positive benefit.
No approvals, permits, licenses, quasi-government entities (e.g. OPM, BIA, CBOB), or any form of process potentially-abusable by officials would be allowed to establish themselves, based on the same sceptical spirit (e.g. assuming abuse) found in the US founding documents. Conditional auto-approval would be available without prior consultation, subject to later revocation.
Those wishing to engage in any business involving environmental or social risk would be required to commit to a binding contract with the new state, for which violation would invoke severe penalties. With no official capacity to act in, no individual would be able to “broker” approval.
Free of constraint, our subdivisions would embark upon a ten-year energy distribution plan of laying a federated network of solar micro-grids, constructed and managed jointly by communities themselves. Our power would no longer be failing overhead cable, but localised subnets resistant at a suburban level – save for national emergency backup facilities. The government would be legally constrained from controlling energy supply without consent.
Bahamians would be free to relay their international mail through our postal system, and import their online deliveries to our duty-free ports. Bahamian airlines and ferries would be free to land and dock without fees, and offer taxi service to family islands. Our separation would aim to empower neighbouring Bahamian businesses to prosper freely, with the support of a modern technological environment - safe harbour for all.
In return, our residents would be free to purchase services from Bahamian providers, such as BPL, BEC, BTC, and Cable Bahamas. None of which would suffer any barriers to continued operation.
With the stability of British parentage and the US dollar, the promise of the Rule of Law, a multi-ethnic electorate, control of our own immigration policies, and unimpeachable protection of the private sector from government meddling, we can evolve the Hawksbill Creek model to something far more ambitious and genuinely inspiring. Freedom from tribal nationalism, prepared for globalisation, all barriers to trade removed, and a new nation aspiring to provide opportunity for all.
Where Freeport failed with its Port Area, our entire island will be free of tax, duty, and interference. Where it failed with its luxury, ours is already established. Where the government’s racial nationalism divided, our multi-ethnic commitment will conquer. Where its immigration intended to block, ours will build. When it fails with its “tech hub”, we can offer the gentrified environment the new Information Age wants.
Singapore’s strategy was simple: adopt what works, get rid of what doesn’t. Hong Kong’s was similar: get government out of as much as possible. We can learn from these initially-barren countries, Freeport, and the Bahamas.
During the days preceding the birth of the Bahamas, Abaco was seen as a closed, racially-segregated community wishing to pull up the drawbridge. The time has come for us to be the island nation which opens the door successive governments closed over the last fifty years, and to fulfil our international, multi-racial potential as a bulwark of freedom and prosperity in the archipelago of unfathomable natural wealth.
For residents, Bahamians, foreigners, and all those with a dream to be part of a new 21st Century world, it will be the chance to build something entirely new, together, and a way to learn from the mistakes of the past. Where Nassau offers regression, restriction, and stagnation, we can offer freedom, and hope. Our nation can offer vision, and every Bahamian with passion is welcome, no matter where you’ve been or where you’re from. Your success will be ours, together.
FREEDOM FOR ABACO
July 12, 2018.