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Bahamas Confronts 'Sir Stafford Sands Moment'

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ALFRED M SEARS, QC

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Stafford Sands

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

COVID-19 has created “a Sir Stafford Sands moment” for The Bahamas to transform its economy and “leap” into the 21st century, an ex-Cabinet minister argued yesterday.

Alfred Sears QC, a former attorney general, told Tribune Business that the country needed to seize a once-in-50-years opportunity to overhaul its economic “architecture” for the new global realities it will face in a post-pandemic world.

Suggesting that The Bahamas has “a fantastic opportunity to develop a number of niche industries” using its proximity to the US, including the creation of an aviation hub, farming, seafood harvesting and light manufacturing.

Mr Sears, who represents a number of web shop operators, also argued that the government could “with a stroke of a pen” boost the country’s export earnings and its own tax revenues by allowing local gaming providers to accept foreign providers while licensing their games to third parties overseas.

While advocating a full embrace of the digital economy, the former attorney general acknowledged that the economic transformation he envisages will be impossible without reliable, lower cost energy and the greater penetration of renewable sources.

He also called for a “unity government” to lead The Bahamas’ recovery from COVID-19, adding that neither of the two main political parties has a monopoly on the experience, expertise and ideas required for the task of rebuilding an economy and jobs where unemployment is presently at least 40 percent.

“It is imperative that we use this pandemic as an opportunity to realign our economy and our governance, and to build greater resilience and sustainability,” Mr Sears told Tribune Business. “In a nutshell, this is a fantastic moment for the Commonwealth of The Bahamas; an opportunity to do what Sir Stafford Sands did in the 1950s.

“That kind of transformed the architecture from seasonal tourism, fishing and subsistence farming to year-round tourism and financial services. We have that opportunity to affect the same kind of leap, and also to reform our political process to be more inclusive, transparent and fair.”

Despite widely being viewed as a chief architect of The Bahamas’ present economic system, Sir Stafford has always been a controversial figure for many because of his politics and perceived beliefs.

However, Mr Sears said the construction of the current economy involved significant “collaboration” between Sir Stafford and Henry Milton Taylor, the then-Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) leader and chairman. He added that the duo “travelled together on at least four occasions promoting the new paradigm” due to political consensus on the way forward - something lacking today.

“We have a precedent where there was bi-partisan co-operation during a period of massive transformational change,” the ex-attorney general said. “I think the Bahamian people are looking for that kind of collaboration on a vision and a new architecture for this new global economy we have to find our way in.”

Mr Sears argued that The Bahamas has little choice but to transform its economy given that its traditional tourism market, which has relied heavily on upper-end and middle class Americans to provide 82 percent of its visitors, will be “depressed for at least another two years” due to COVID-19’s “profoundly disruptive” effects on jobs and incomes in that key source market.

“I think the uniqueness of our country offers us the opportunity to pivot in some way where we do not have to completely invent architecture. The foundation is already here; we just need to have the strategic vision,” he added.

The former attorney general pointed to the creation of a Bahamian aviation hub as one such example, noting that the country was already blessed with multiple airports and international gateways plus its proximity to the US.

Advocating that it will help create jobs for aviation mechanics, engineers and administrators, Mr Sears said the development of such skills and competencies must be directly “tied” to The Bahamas’ ambitions to manage and control its own airspace. He added that such a hub would not only be based on logistics, but “training and capacity building”.

Mr Sears also urged the Government to allow web shop operators to export their services to other jurisdictions rather than just restrict them to The Bahamas, arguing that this would boost the foreign reserves by generating vital foreign currency earnings while also increasing tax revenues.

Arguing that the industry be allowed to benefit from its intellectual property, and coding and development of games, he told Tribune Business: “The Government, simply with a stroke of the pen, can multiply the revenue streams from gaming house operators by authorising them to license their games and offer their platforms to parties outside The Bahamas where gaming is legal.

“An example of a territory that did that is Malta. The gross gaming revenue (GGR) of gaming house operators in Malta increased exponentially. Here there is no free enterprise. Operators can only game or offer their services to Bahamians and legal Bahamian residents.

“We have a well-regulated domestic gaming industry with entrepreneurs who are... hand cuffed. I’ve not seen anything like it. Most jurisdictions want their entrepreneurs to be engaged globally as revenue comes back to their country or home base.”

Mr Sears then acknowledged that any Bahamian economic transformation would be impossible without lower-cost, more reliable and environmentally-friendly energy as he described the electricity industry’s current state as “literally a disgrace”.

“We’re one of the few countries in this region without any major investment in renewable energy,” he blasted. “Whereas in the past we said we can’t do this, now we must do this. To be competitive and enable people in the digital world to move to The Bahamas, and transfer knowledge to Bahamians, we need to have affordable and reliable power because the digital economy is 24 hours.

“We cannot be load shedding, load shedding. We’ve become accustomed to that inefficiency, but to be competitive in the future we need to address this issue of power. It’s a matter of the building code. In Barbados, every heater in every home is powered by solar.”

Comments

tribanon 1 month, 1 week ago

Mr Sears, who represents a number of web shop operators, also argued that the government could “with a stroke of a pen” boost the country’s export earnings and its own tax revenues by allowing local gaming providers to accept foreign providers while licensing their games to third parties overseas.

Mr Sears also urged the Government to allow web shop operators to export their services to other jurisdictions rather than just restrict them to The Bahamas, arguing that this would boost the foreign reserves by generating vital foreign currency earnings while also increasing tax revenues.

Here we see Sears as a de facto business partner of the organized spinning numbers thug Sebas Bastian of Island Luck taking advantage of Covid-19's crippling of our economy to press for more gaming related legislation that would greatly enrich his already super wealthy numbers boss while at the same time making The Bahamas the gambling banana republic of the Caribbean/West Indies. And Sears perversely thinks that Sebas Bastian becoming even wealthier by being able to expand his corrupt gambling operations will somehow benefit the vast majority of Bahamians. Now that's got to be the joke of the day.

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FrustratedBusinessman 1 month, 1 week ago

If any modern day Bahamian politician possessed a half of the foresight and vision that Sir Stafford Sands had, this country would be miles ahead. It is very telling that Sir Stafford decided to leave and never return after the PLP victory in 1967.

Anyone deluding themselves into thinking that another industry capable of replacing tourism is somehow going to magically appear in the Bahamas is completely ignorant of Bahamian history. The Bahamas has always been a boom or bust locale, this has held true through blockade running, the Prohibition-era, the drug craze of the 80's, etc. The Bahamas has never been an independent nation, and will never be one either. There are no natural resources that we export to other nations in amounts significant enough to power our economy, and the environment is currently not conducive to any modern industries being established. For all the hot garbage that I hear about creating a "Bahamian Silicon Valley", no tech company wants to set up shop in an area that cannot even provide consistent power and telecommunications infrastructure to be used. Even then, you know that Bahamians will readily employ the "muh foreigner" argument when work permits are given to bring in foreign developers due to the fact that most Bahamians cannot even understand a mathematical concept as simple as compound interest, much less linear programming concepts.

Far too many Bahamians have lived in lala land for too long, thinking that the cash cow of tourism would always sponsor the governments greed and corruption to give a little something something to their friends and family. Well the cash cow of tourism is over for the foreseeable future (3-5 years in my opinion), many are scared to invest money in the country due to the threat of dollar devaluation and further lockdowns, and the offshore banking industry has been completely destroyed. The Bahamas is up stink creek without a paddle for now, and the chickens have come home to roost regarding government spending, corruption, and fiscal waste over the previous decades. Bahamians have no one else to blame but the governments that they have elected over the years for the current predicament.

Selling the country out to the numbers mafia is not the solution either.... It pains me to see how many Bahamians think that more corruption is the answer to our economic problems....

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trueBahamian 1 month, 1 week ago

There are issues here that need to be fixed. We.live in chaos to some extent. However, I you made an interesting point about linear programming. They are actually quite a few of us who understand linear programming and a lot more mathematical concepts who are being discarded within this country because of small minded views. Some of us excelled with our respective universities only to return to have a non-Bahamian instruct us what we are worth. What is worse is that they're often with a lower aptitude, yet folks like you spew this nonsense of where we all sit in the intellectual food chain. While we are changing what's broken in this country, let's change the screwed mentalities. There are a lot of brilliant Bahamians out there who can compete with anyone else in the world. When you've written a few theorems or have figured a better equation to identify all the infinite Mersenne Primes, let us the Math folks know.

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FrustratedBusinessman 1 month, 1 week ago

Please do not misconstrue what I am saying, I know that there are many bright Bahamians out there. That being said, however, the vast majority do not have the mathematical skills to sell fruit pops much less understand complex algorithms. That is just the honest to God truth.

I know that there is a small programming niche in the country, but it will never grow to anything significant as long as there is no encouragement for the sector. As I stated earlier, you can have all the skilled mathematicians and programmers you could ever want in your country, but no one is going to invest in a locale that cannot even provide consistent electricity or water (and on top of that, astronomically bills you for the time that they have not provided service). Regardless, foreign developers will be needed to start up the industry, and the Bahamas will be a very hard sell given the garbage-tier infrastructure, low wages, and impending heavy taxation that will come by next May.

It is better to cut your losses and go sometimes in life, that is just the truth. Looking through the annals of history, these problems have always been here. The horrid power and water grids are not new problems, neither is government corruption, lack of vision, needing to diversify from tourism, etc. Besides that, most Bahamians have been known to have an "island mentality" for centuries. My point is, these problems are nothing new and will probably never be fixed in the future.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, I simply have no expectations anymore. I used to have a strong sense of national pride for the country myself, but I cannot deny that there are too many problems that have existed for far too long. We honestly have nothing to be proud of, and complacency has let these problems fester in our nation like a tumour. Sometimes an honest to God "come to Jesus" moment is needed in life, and the Bahamas has not had one until now. We will see what happens next, but history does not really shed a positive outlook on what will to come.

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Economist 1 month, 1 week ago

"Some of us excelled with our respective universities only to return to have a non-Bahamian instruct us what we are worth. What is worse is that they're often with a lower aptitude, yet folks like you spew this nonsense of where we all sit in the intellectual food chain."

I am tired of all the whining.

Then start your own business and hire Bahamains. If you are as good as you say, you should be able to compete. Besides with the ability to work in such a field you could sell your services overseas as well. as you say "There are a lot of brilliant Bahamians out there who can compete with anyone else in the world." DO IT

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TalRussell 1 month, 1 week ago

One Lynden Pindling. One Sir Stafford. Both man's forever reshaped The Colony. A colony if not careful goin' become a Third Word Colony!
Ma Comrade all 'em's economic roads lead back the numbers man's Alfred M. QC, has you thought first conducted an in-depth study of what precisely was the magic made Sir Stafford, tick? Nod Once for Yeah, Twice for No?

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FrustratedBusinessman 1 month, 1 week ago

For anyone interested, this is a great article. It is amazing how much Bahamian history they never teach in schools, most merely present a watered down "feel good" version of it to help students pass a BGCSE.

https://bahamianology.com/stafford-sa...">https://bahamianology.com/stafford-sa...

I could honestly care less about where Sir Stafford may have pulled his inspiration from, we would have been looking for wilks on the shore right now if the tourism/offshore banking industries didn't take off (may need to do that soon anyways lol). The funny part is all of the same natural advantages that we had back then apply now. We desperately need to revamp our tourism product, if Cuba-US relations thaw again (eventually they will when the D's get back in), we will be left out to dry. Shame we destroyed the offshore banking sector as well, it was always meant to be a two pillar economy for times like these.

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trueBahamian 1 month, 1 week ago

Some good ideas here. Interesting that the web shop idea is tossed in there. 🙂

We need leaders with vision for sure. Both sides of the aisle are clearly deficient. We have to start thinking 20, 30, 50 year strategies. However, we lack political maturity to have one guy start something and another continue as it is in the best interest of the country.

We believe that the leaders in the UBP and early PLP built what lies before is now. However, everyone after didn't seem to realize that the house only had a foundation and a few exterior walls. A lot of building is still left to be done. But, no one is building.

We can blame Covid-19 for our economic issues now. But, lack of diversification is why we're here. We're a dependent independent nation. We depend on the rest of world for income and for food. We're now hearing of challenges with our foreign reserves. This isn't rocket science. No plan translates to an automatic failure.

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tribanon 1 month, 1 week ago

Lack of diversification is not the root cause of why we're where we are today. Decades of political corruption from the top right on down is the root cause.

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SP 1 month, 1 week ago

Bi-partisan political corruption must be eliminated. What the Bahamian people are looking for now is alternative political parties not aligned with either PLP or FNM oligarchies that have purposely strangled economic empowerment of black Bahamians regardless of the useless so-called fantasy "black majority rule", which never actually materialized beyond a whole lot of baloney speeches given by empty barrels. Covid-19 has laid the proof bare through-out the country for ALL to "feel".

Bahamians have advocated the PLP and FNM for diversification of the economy and to pay more attention to our dying tourism product literally for decades, to no avail. Both parties proved equally incapable of removing UBP shackles that retards the growth of black Bahamians, and even maintain the shameful racist segregation practice of keeping black Bahamians from gambling in casinos 2020! How is that possible???

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TalRussell 1 month, 1 week ago

Ma Comrade SP, mind to let us in on your magical game plan brungs about elimination this so-called bi-partisan political corruption of which you project? Is such a thing even possible?
Would you not agree that Bran's DNA, had an early shot but still failed? There is little doubt as to the brilliance of Comrade Alfred M, and he must be encouraged to play a participatory role in moving The Colony, forward, onward.

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tribanon 1 month, 1 week ago

I long ago suspected you were closely tied to and aligned with the thug who has a controlling interest in the largest spinning numbers criminal enterprise in the Bahamas, namely Sebas Bastian. You always sing for your supper from him whenever his name comes up. LOL

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FrustratedBusinessman 1 month, 1 week ago

This is honestly my sticking point with a lot of people, there is not much else that we can do as a nation. Most of the natural resources that we have are already being utilized.

Salt is not going to pay our bills, neither aragonite, neither farming, neither crawfishing. History has always shown that the Bahamas is doomed to rough economic times unless the US has some strange "prohibition" going on (until the invention of tourism/offshore banking as the foundation of the Bahamian economy at least.) Tourism will eventually revive itself by 2023-2025, however, by that point the debt-to-GDP will be far over 100% (possibly 150-200%, the dollar will possibly be devalued in a worst case scenario, Cuba has the potential of opening up in the event of a Democratic victory November, and the Bahamas will have a certain stigma for international investors due to the lockdowns (how strong is anyone's guess). We needed answers way before all of this happened, but unfortunately, we had none, and have none yet.

I used to have strong partisan leanings, but the current iteration of Bahamian politicians is a direct result of brain drain affecting Bahamian society. Bright and visionary leaders will never return to the Bahamas when there is a much better life to be had abroad. Don't get me wrong, there is no place like the Bahamas, but it is simply not worth dealing with the garbage power and water services, inefficient civil servants, corrupt bureaucrats and politicians, rampant crime, etc of this country when other nations have basic utilities figured out (even the ancient Romans had aqueducts). The PLP/FNM in their current forms do not have much to offer, and Bran was only good for spoiling Ingraham's reelection in 2012. None of the other fringe parties offer hope either. I hate to be so pessimistic, but I consider myself a realist.

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tribanon 1 month, 1 week ago

@FrustratedBusinessman: You're a most insightful realist. There's very little you've written here today that can be quibbled about by Bahamians knowledgeable of our country's history who are capable of seeing the bigger uncertain picture going forward as it is at this time.

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FrustratedBusinessman 1 month, 1 week ago

Thank you. I honestly hate to be so pessimistic, believe it or not lol.

Honesty is a quality that I highly value in both others and myself, and there is not much hope going forward to be honest. I think the biggest dark horse factor that we have to consider going forward is the eventual opening of Cuba to US nationals.

A Democratic presidential candidate will eventually win an election (whether it be 2020/24/28 etc), and this will more than likely be a major foreign policy development that occurs during that time. We honestly cannot compete with Cuba, even by pre-Dorian/COVID-19 tourism standards. At the end of the day, most tourists want to have the most fun for as cheap as possible (value for their money), and we simply do not have a product that is worth the money what we charge for visitors to come here. We desperately need to look ahead, but recent governments have just been too reactionary instead of being visionary.

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SP 1 month, 1 week ago

@TalRussell....Your initial question in itself is an indictment undeniably confirming the bi-partisan political corruption that we have lived with for 50+ years!

Your "Comrade Alfred M" AND Branville speak nicely, however, they are part and parcel to the problem. Due to their lifelong affiliations, they would have absolutely no choice other than to exasperate bi-partisan political corruption because they would be just as obligated as all before them to maintain the status quo of protecting "dis one and dat one" across political aisles of bi-partisan political corruption.

Obviously, one thing we can now agree on without question. Now that COVID-19 has leveled the playing field, EVERYONE can now see and "FEEL" that what we were doing in the past failed and failed miserably!

We desperately need to stop the blind allegiances, put petty differences aside and quickly find a new direction, or we will all perish while the Bay Street and Sunshine Boys continue fattening their friends, family and lovers at the trough which they denied 99.9% of us to even smell!

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TalRussell 1 month, 1 week ago

Ma Comraade SP, few of us are students' of the birth of The Colony's tourism which in scope things, its dependency is still a fairly new experience for us which wasn't given a priority until 1957 which ain't that far back in tourism years. Although a few years earlier the former King of England, Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor was to become The Colony's very first Sir Stafford-like tourism booster.

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