The Economic Empowerment Zone programme launched in the Over-the-Hill community seems to be going nowhere fast with only 17 applications for concessions. It is perplexing that this was presented as a poverty alleviation initiative given its emphasis on businesses rather than households, individuals and vulnerable communities.
The plan depends on the market economy, through tax incentives and the attached requirements, to alleviate poverty in the area by decreasing costs incurred by businesses. The expectation is that more businesses will result in more jobs, those jobs will lead to less unemployment and that will result in the eradication of poverty. It appears as though the government intends to be more hands-off as resources are created and reallocated by the free market. The assumption is economic development will improve living conditions for everyone.
There is no plan to address the specific needs of any group of people within the Over-the-Hill community. There are people living Over-the-Hill that have particular needs that need to be addressed. They include women, migrant people, differently-abled people and homeless people - they have not been addressed by this plan. There is no consideration to women’s health needs, discrimination against migrant people, limited educational opportunities for differently-abled people, or the difficulty homeless people face in simply acquiring identity documents.
While they may all live in the same area and are stricken by poverty, they face a range of challenges that cannot be addressed by a plan than does not intentionally consider them and their needs.
A major issue with the plan is its failure to acknowledge its limitations, or to identify and suggest remedy for issues its implementation could cause. For example, there is no acknowledgment of the way the Free Market approach can further disadvantage Over-the-Hill residents. There is no built-in safeguarding against exploitation of residents or predatory behaviour of business owners. It is possible for people to open new business branches without hiring residents, or hiring a minimum, and for corporate social responsibility commitments to be abandoned. There needs to be clarity about how these systems will be enforced, not only on an annual basis when businesses seek approval for concessions, but on an ongoing basis, year-round.
One of the first steps to alleviating poverty is listening to the people who deal with it every day. Find out about their daily challenges and what they need to overcome them. What can be done to ensure every household has proper plumbing with access to potable water? This is a basic need that needs to be addressed now. Who are the leaders within these communities who have access to residents, are trusted by them, and can work with government officials to design people-centered initiatives that are responsive to their needs? Involve the people themselves in the process, giving them agency to identify critical issues and recommend solutions. Over-the-Hill will not be transformed overnight, but we have to criticise the exclusion of residents, lack of focus on the right areas and failure of the current administration to see where it has gone wrong and make adjustments rather than carrying on in the same way because it can.
There’s no excuse for political silence on police brutality
It is no secret police officers abuse suspects in custody. In fact, many applaud police officers for misusing their power, seeing it as punishment for whatever the person in custody may have done. We often hear stories of people who confessed to crime under duress, whether or not they were guilty. When it was reported last week that an ambulance was called for a suspect in custody at CDU, there was no surprise. We still have yet to see a response from anyone in our main political parties, especially Members of Parliament.
We do not see these kinds of reports every week, or even every month, but we are all clear on the culture. It is not unusual, when talking about a crime, for someone to say, “When they police hold him!” The suggestion is that police officers will mete out justice on their own. Some parents and guardians even take children to police stations to be “roughed up”. These two frequent occurrences point to the ineffective state of the judicial system and lack of faith in it, the disfunction of law enforcement and the perception of police as villains. The reluctance to address and remedy makes clear the disregard for human rights and due process.
Attorney Christina Galanos said: “They are beaten and made to confess and when it goes up to trial they may not have any injuries or their injuries aren’t significant enough for a judge to throw a matter out and and most juries don’t know anything about the legal system and how the police operate, so they may well convict on this confession.”
It does not help in the administration of justice. It does not help the image of law enforcement, or encourage people to come forward with information. It has to be stopped, and abusive police officers need to be relieved of their duties and ordered to get help. This is inexcusable.
Now the real work begins
Staff from the Department of Gender and Family Affairs attended the United Nations 63rd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the New York City headquarters with a delegation of approximately 70 people who, according to Minister of Social Services and Urban Development Frankie Campbell, funded themselves. This year, CSW focused on social protection systems and access to public services and proper infrastructure as we work toward gender equality as well as the link between women’s empowerment and sustainable development.
It is not unusual for government officials and delegations of varying sizes to travel and attend international meetings and conferences. Unfortunately, we rarely receive information about what transpired upon their return. It is important to note that the participation of members of the government delegation is restricted. They cannot, for example, be a part of a panel or make any comments that may be (mis)read as government positions. They are able to attend the United Nations General Assembly sessions and scores of side events organized by NGOs, running from early in the morning until late into the evening.
It is important for us to know what takes places at these international meetings. If commitments are made by the Bahamian government, we need to know about them. Scores of Bahamians attended CSW and there must be information they can share with the general public.
This particular session must have been quite instructive to the Ministry of Social Services as it focused on the need for social protection which is an area that needs major improvement. Social protection refers to interventions that reduce economic and social vulnerability including poverty and hunger. It includes income support for those who need it including unemployed people, low-income people, and the elderly, access to food and food security programmes, labour market interventions, harm-reduction strategies and programmes and natural resource management. This has not been a strong suit of any government administration in The Bahamas, and is desperate need of attention.
It is encouraging that so many people took interest and attended the session. Now we need to know what they learned and discussed, and how the experience will benefit the Bahamian people. We, the people, must demand that our representatives and employees report back. Attendance is only the beginning. The real work takes place right here, at home.