Having commented briefly in an earlier column about utilising the potential of the Family Islands, I found the recent exchanges in the House of Assembly about the Immigration Bill’s amendments concerning foreign business visitors especially interesting, not least because of the indication of an easing of immigration restrictions.
As an outsider, there is always the danger of not having the full picture, but it seems any such easing fits in with the FNM government’s efforts to modernise, deregulate and liberalise the economy and with the intent of the Commercial Enterprises Act. It is also consistent with the nation’s application to join the World Trade Organisation which is claimed to be essential to secure long-term economic growth.
I found equally interesting the remarks reported in last week’s Tribune by Frederick Smith about the need to adapt immigration rules for investment and development purposes – he described The Bahamas as having been ‘choked by oppressive, repressive, discriminatory and abusive immigration policies’ – but what also struck me was his reference to aspiring to be like Singapore. That is an old chestnut that has always intrigued observers of this country who wonder why The Bahamas has not been able to emulate Singapore in building such a dramatically successful economy.
The main island of Singapore is not much bigger than New Providence. Its first and longest-serving prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, successfully transformed a poor island lacking natural resources into the economically powerful financial centre and shipping, aviation and logistics hub it is today. It is clear he made Singapore attractive to investors by instituting an efficient bureaucracy, a low and transparent tax regime and zero tolerance of corruption while creating some first-class infrastructure. But, most importantly in our own local context, he welcomed immigrants in a considered and controlled manner and attracted high-calibre people with the skills needed to help to develop the local economy and he managed to secure the integration of foreign and home-grown talent.
Some say the sort of authoritarianism practised in Singapore to achieve its new economic status and success would not be appropriate here at home. But it can be argued that in order to benefit fully from globalisation The Bahamas needs a fresh approach to its protectionist immigration policies.
In efforts in the past to promote trade and investment from Britain, I have been accustomed to singing the praises of The Bahamas and explaining to potential investors the myriad advantages the country has to offer. I tell them about the benefit of proximity to the world’s largest market, the nation’s stable political system and respect for the rule of law with the Privy Council as the highest Court of Appeal, the level of wealth, the good existing infrastructure and an equable climate with plenty of land spaced out over some 25 inhabited islands. I also talk about the industrial zone in Grand Bahama with its tax concessions, its container trans-shipment terminal, its ship-repair yard and its sea-air business centre together with the nation’s hugely successful tourism sector with more than five million visitors annually, its world-class hotels and resorts like Atlantis and Baha Mar, its marine resources and so many opportunities for eco-tourism as well as sailing, fishing and other sports – and then I wax lyrical about the unmatched beauty of the Exuma chain…….and so it goes on!
The more I have been pushing this message, however, the more I have come to realise so much of the real action in The Bahamas takes place in the northern and most heavily populated islands of New Providence, Grand Bahama and, to a lesser extent, Abaco. Some say that, notwithstanding the PLP’s idea of anchor projects in as many islands as possible, investing in the Family Islands brings little return because there are simply too few people there to make a business function properly. If that is indeed an impediment to economic activity, one wonders whether the broad issue of the movement of people and the utilisation of available land in the islands has been examined fully as a matter of overall importance to the nation’s economy.
While, of course, it goes without saying protection of the environment should be an important priority and indiscriminate development should be avoided – particularly in a country that attracts visitors for its beautiful and unspoilt scenery and waters - many of the Family Islands do appear to be underpopulated (for example, Andros) and from what I understand there are vast tracts of land available for use.
As an observer, one hesitates to offer prescriptions. But perhaps more attention should be given to ways of taking advantage of the huge areas of undeveloped land available so close to Florida and to introducing imaginative measures to stimulate economic activity in the Family Islands as a whole.
Remembering a dear friend
The article in The Tribune last Thursday by The Editor about the role of Donald McKinney in helping to end racial discrimination in The Bahamas prompts me to write as well in memory of his brother, Andrew, whom my wife and I were honoured to call a good friend and who passed away in 2015 when he was in his nineties.
As a diplomat, one meets many new people during a posting. All too soon it is time to move on to another country so, inevitably, there is limited opportunity for encounters to develop into genuine and lasting friendships – but, to our great good fortune, our contact with Andrew did just that. As a member of a famous old Bahamian family, he was a remarkable and accomplished person who led a long, varied and productive life of considerable and wide ranging achievement. We spent much time together including visits to his island in Georgian Bay in Canada and always appreciated his company and good humour, not least his many stories and Bahamian tales as an amusing raconteur.
There is insufficient space here to do justice to Andrew, but I was privileged to be asked to deliver a eulogy at his funeral service and was able to describe at that time the details of his life and of his many achievements. Suffice it to say now that I much valued our friendship and my wife and I remember him with great affection. We both continue to miss him dearly.
A little local difficulty heaps problems on May
Over the last few months, most people – including, I suspect, the main protagonists – will have doubtless become thoroughly fed up with the never-ending and still unresolved saga of Brexit.
Sadly, the current political turmoil in the UK as a result of Brexit took another turn for the worse last week with Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party suffering a drubbing in elections to choose local government councillors. Such local elections, covering some 250 councils, take place every four years in England. This time around, about 1,300 Tory candidates were defeated. That was not unexpected given the public anger over Mrs May’s perceived mishandling of the Brexit negotiations; but, interestingly, the opposition Labour Party also fared badly, losing over 80 seats, and this was clear evidence the people’s patience with both the mainstream parties had run out. The Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and others made gains accordingly.
Even allowing for so-called ‘protest voting’ in local elections, this was a dreadful outcome for the Tories and a humiliating defeat for Mrs May personally since she is being blamed for failing to deliver the result of the 2016 referendum. It is also being seen as a final warning to both the Conservatives and Labour as it appears the political landscape in Britain is being reshaped, including the emergence of a new Brexit party.
The Prime Minister’s tenacity and resilience in the face of adversity has been much admired. But people are now wondering at what point that turns into unattractive stubbornness and obduracy as she continues to insist her Withdrawal Agreement is a good one despite being voted down three times in the House of Commons. With the UK’s departure date from the EU now extended to the end of October, her latest proposal to the Labour Party, from whom she is seeking cross-party support, is to ask for a temporary customs arrangement with the EU together with selective alignment with single market regulations. That looks to be misguided and will undoubtedly infuriate the Leavers.
So this discreditable episode in British politics drags on with no sign of early resolution. The beleaguered Mrs May could soon be forced to stand down on the grounds she herself has become an impediment to Brexit. Meanwhile, the absurdity of Britain preparing to participate in the European Parliament elections from 23 to 26 May, when it was supposed to have left the EU on 29 March, will be apparent to all.
Only a fool would dare to predict what will happen in the coming weeks and months. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland said, ‘Curiouser and curiouser…….’