It is generally accepted that globalisation is part of the reason for the rise of populism in the West. The growing support for populist extremist parties in Europe seems also to have resulted from a loss of faith in traditional political establishments and their capacity to deal effectively with either national issues or the problems of the general public.
One manifestation of this is the perceived mishandling by a Conservative government in the United Kingdom of the Brexit negotiations so that, more than two years after the decision of the British people in a referendum to leave the European Union, the terms of the nation’s departure from the bloc remain unsettled.
Another example is the longest government shutdown in United States history. To the outsider, it is beyond belief that a dispute among politicians on an unrelated matter of border security should result in as many as 800,000 federal employees not being paid. Whether or not a wall on the Mexican border is required, it is extraordinary that they should be treated in this manner.
It is hard to understand such events in major countries that are supposed to be beacons of democracy and sound governance. In our small nation, dissatisfaction with our politicians is as prevalent as in larger democracies. But we tend to be closer to our political leaders as prominent public figures in a more limited environment who are readily identifiable and, theoretically, more accessible. As such, it should be easier to hold them to account.
In these columns we aim to do just that by articulating the concerns and grievances of ordinary people. We scrutinise flawed government policies and seek to unmask injustice, corruption and the excesses of politicians. Equally, we draw attention to examples of sound policy and good governance as circumstances demand.
For some while we have been commenting favourably on the FNM government’s determination to modernise, deregulate, liberalise and diversify the nation’s economy. The need for such major reform is indisputable and it has become more pressing in preparation for our WTO membership. So, reaffirmation of the government’s plans by Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest in an interview this week with Tribune Business was particularly welcome.
Successive governments have paid lip service in the past to the importance of diversifying our economy away from reliance on the twin pillars of tourism and financial services. But Mr Turnquest is going further than this by showing the government’s commitment - despite the likely political backlash - to long-term radical measures designed to encourage production of new goods and services, to create new jobs and to overcome economic sluggishness and achieve real growth.
His emphasis on the need to stimulate and strengthen businesses in the private sector will be widely applauded and we look forward to the promised details of the government’s plans to boost Bahamian entrepreneurship. Equally encouraging were his remarks about controlling government expenditure and limiting a bloated public sector which remains a cause for serious concern, though previous administrations have declined to address the issue.
Another positive development is the priority being given to improving productivity through creation of a National Productivity Council. But, as so often in The Bahamas, the test will be how effectively new legislation to set standards will be implemented.
We believe, however, the key to achieving more foreign direct investment and economic growth is to improve the ease and cost of doing business in this country. The Commercial Enterprises Act is a step in the right direction, but the current suffocating bureaucracy and red tape needs to be addressed urgently, with officials to face penalties for inefficiency, unnecessary delay or outright obstruction in dealing with, for example, business licences. There should also be a crackdown on the demand for bribes in return for expediting action.
Clearly, the FNM government is laying down a solid groundwork for sustained improvements in the country’s economy; and we hope that policy-makers are giving due weight to the obvious fact that greater economic activity will produce enhanced tax revenue for government coffers.
In a modern, ordered society, regulation is necessary for the benefit of all. But government interference in business, as the creator of the nation’s wealth, should be kept to as low a level as possible.
It will take strong leadership to push through Mr Turnquest’s reforms in the face of inevitable opposition. But it is good for the future of the whole country that this FNM government is on the correct path in its efforts to transform our national economy.