EDITOR, The Tribune
Ease of doing business in The Bahamas, for the most part, is an oxymoron or a contradiction in terms. On many occasions I have frustratingly experienced the inconsistencies and gross inefficiencies in dealing with various government agencies, but today (March 6) it became astoundingly clear why last year The Bahamas ranked 118 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business. Ameliorative action has to be taken because current counterproductive conditions affect the quality of life of Bahamian citizens and can drive away even the most determined investors after countless frustrations in playing the “send the fool farther” game.
Because I love my country fiercely, I call for the launch of a performance audit of public services. The examination is supposed to be objective and systematic, generally using structured and professionally adopted methodologies. Here in The Bahamas if it is to be so, we would have to bring in experts who are attested as never having had any connection with this country—note even a day trip on a cruise ship.
Please permit me space to bring my husband’s story to public notice. His ongoing, mind-boggling experiences have forced me to pen this letter. Before I go any further, I want to say there is some light amid the darkness. I compliment Michael Fernander, an amazing public servant, who is a bright spark at the Registrar General’s Office with excellent customer skills.
The story when we heard directly from our friend Pam Burnside of her trying experiences at the Passport Office. As we have to travel abroad for medical reasons, it made my husband check our passports. He discovered that his had to be renewed right away. Used as most Bahamians are to frustrating turnaround in dealings with public offices, he expected to lose some time from his work, but he had no idea he would confront crisis. Of course, his first trip was to the Passport Office with copies of the documents he was told he should have, including an e-copy of his birth certificate. The good people at this facility told him that he would have to get a new copy from the Registry. No problem? Hardly!
Second act of the drama. The dear man went on to the Registry where he was told that they could not find a record for him in the name he bears. Apparently, they had one where he had been registered by his mother’s maiden name initially, but nothing else. He told them that this matter had been rectified a short time later with the marriage of his parents. He showed them copies of his parents’ marriage certificate to attest. Note also that the signatures of his naturalised mother and his Bahamian-born and raised father appear on the certified copy of the birth certificate, which would have afforded him the right to a Bahamian passport since he was a child.
This now greying man, born in Nassau, baptised at St Francis Xavier Cathedral here in the capital, and, good Catholic, attended St Thomas More Primary, Bishop Leonard Junior, St Augustine’s College and The College of The Bahamas (now UB) and married a Bahamian, who was born at Port Howe, Cat Island, of parents born and raised on two different islands of this great country and whose ancestry has no non-Bahamian in her line since plantation days. He has never had a problem renewing his passport over the years; the Parliamentary Registrar has always certified his right to vote; he has voted assiduously over the years; he has been on the jury list more than once and has, in fact, served on a jury in respect of a matter adjudicated by the former president of the Court of Appeal, Dame Anita Allen. The National Insurance Board has happily (and efficiently I might add) taken his contributions.
Act Three (the most shocking, which set me writing this letter): In my presence, with his phone on speaker, a polite, youthful voice, told my husband that they still could not find their original of the copy he gave them in the Registry files. Incredibly, the caller instructed him to go back to the Passport Office and ask them to please gave him a registered copy of their record of his birth. Please recall now that the Passport Office sent him to the Registry in the first place. As I sat to write this letter, my husband was headed back to the Passport Office. He has now been to the Registry five times in two days. This is not about elitism or privilege—we don’t have any that I know of. He is willing to wait patiently and always has.
Although I sincerely believe that my husband will eventually get his passport renewed, I would not have been able to help him with citizenship had be not been born in this country to a Bahamian father. Had our genders been reversed, the matter would have been easily resolved. What’s even scarier, the Registry could not even find a record of our marriage certificate, although all those years ago we were joined by the then Registrar General herself, Kelphine Cunningham.
Should the “Know-A-Guy” route be the only one to take to get a legitimate matter dealt with accurately and with dispatch in this country? There are others at the Registry who are pleasant and have tried to be kind, but something’s amiss. Time to think about appointing trouble-shooters with high-level clout. Is it technology? It may be time for new algorithms. Five visits to a single government agency in two days—that is unconscionable. I speak for all the poor, tired I call on Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs Hon Carl W Bethel and Hon Darren A Henfield, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to deal with this matter forthwith. My husband and I have the right to expect your assistance as contributing, tax-paying citizens. Even if you gentlemen don’t care about my health, do care about the health of the country, which is directly impacted by the amount of productive time, funds and energy wasted in wading through the thickets of poor records management and inefficiency that are making a mockery of “ease of doing business” and national progress.
March 6, 2019