HUBERT EDWARDS: Is PM’s ‘economic dignity’ focus the clue to reform?


Hubert Edwards

In the first article of this series, I raised the question as to whether “economic dignity” is an emerging philosophy with potential for spillover into the wider Caribbean. Here I raise another question as to whether there are leaders who have the conviction to act in this direction. Both, I believe, are important questions to contemplate.

As we look to the future and anticipate individual Caribbean countries, and the region as a whole, having greater economic influence and geo-political relevance, we must look at the extent to which people will experience sustained economic and social advances. This possibility, without question, will turn on the efficacy of leadership and the path such leaders pursue.

So when Prime Minister Philip Davis KC speaks to a particular approach or philosophy, it should not be ignored. The question that needs to be answered is the extent to which there is a full commitment and conviction to these ideas, and on what basis can such commitment be reasonably assessed.

Convicted by Experience

The Prime Minister, like others in the region, comes from reasonably humble beginnings. He currently enjoys the reputation of being a great personality with the ability to connect to the ‘ordinary man’s’ circumstances. How committed, therefore, should one anticipate he will be in marshalling the transformation that will lead to a better day for such persons?

In leadership and public speaking, you learn that personal stories are the most effective means of connecting with an audience, developing credibility and authenticity. The Prime Minister, in common with others across the Caribbean, tells his personal stories often.

One such occasion was upon being sworn into office. He shared then: “As a young boy growing up in Cat Island, I faced many hardships and obstacles… As a young man trying to find his first job, I faced doors that seemed always slammed shut.. As a lawyer trying to build a practice, I missed out on many opportunities because I didn’t have the right connections. I know what it is like to be on the outside looking in...I am determined to take the wisdom gained from these experiences and use it to help others...”

Without question, this is a powerful overview of humble beginnings and life’s challenges. Given such life experiences one would reasonably anticipate there will be significant policies targeted at championing the cause of the people and, objectively, charting initiatives and programmes that help create a new environment, which will tackle the obstacles Mr Davis himself had to overcome.

The Connection

The pillars of “economic dignity” loom large when one considers the life experiences that the Prime Minister shared. These are experiences that lesser-resourced and less capable individuals are often unable to overcome. It is therefore not very difficult to understand why there is an attraction to the concept, and why it has seemingly become a central element of the Prime Minister’s economic discourse.

The Prime Minister has outlined what I believe to be the desired outcome for his leadership. This is a desire to create circumstances in which there is greater economic equity, a greater focus on human dignity, and a set of outcomes where, as he often states, “the many” benefit.

Seemingly, this is a desire to create circumstances built on the principle of government being facilitative, with the individual responsible for their own heavy lifting, all heading towards greater economic equity. “Economic dignity” appears to be the philosophy of choice to guide this effort.

If “economic dignity” as a concept is to become a reality, it is my view that it will serve The Bahamas well to have a broad framework against which development can be forged, managed and measured to thus ensure a more balanced social and economic advancement.

While we must remain mindful that “economic dignity” is largely an American concept, and is premised on a fundamentally different social and taxation framework, there is no doubt it strikes at the core of a number of critical factors present in The Bahamas from pre-1967, which are still actively at play and are debilitating to national development.

In his University of The Bahamas lecture, the Prime Minister recognised that elements such as the Government’s failure to fully support the private sector and an entrenched status quo have existed for more than 50 years. This honest acknowledgement should feature prominently in considering how to chart the way forward. It will be important, therefore, that the values driving future performance are effective in countering the obstacles to more persons benefiting from The Bahamas’ continued development.

It is critical that the country realise greater equity in opportunities for persons across all socio-economic groupings to pursue their individual dreams and thrive. It is only when the broadest swathe of citizens and residents have opportunities to reach their full potential that The Bahamas’ growth and development will be optimised.

This clues us in on the fact that the Prime Minister might have a view that reform is necessary, and this is to facilitate wealth creation among Bahamians who have previously been locked out of such opportunities.


Would it be reasonable to conclude that the Prime Minister’s intent is to change, or at least influence, the trajectory and output of governance in The Bahamas? Gene Sperling, when challenged on the idea that Obama’s focus on healthcare was a distraction from focusing on the economy, asked whether “the fear felt by millions of Americans of being one serious illness away from financial ruin was not considered an economic issue”.

Sperling often speaks to the fact that we measure economic success by metrics such as GDP, instead of determining whether the economy is succeeding in lifting up the sense of meaning, purpose, fulfillment and security of people. No doubt The Bahamas and wider Caribbean could easily align with this ideal.

By invoking the idea of “economic dignity”, is this a clear signal of how the trajectory will change? Have the Prime Minister’s personal experiences rendered him sufficiently convinced to follow through on these ideas and thinking?

Are there clues to be gleaned from his closing statement, when he said: “National development needs us all to pull together for the betterment of everyone. By working in partnership, we can spend the next 50 years building the kind of Bahamas that each of us knows in our hearts, is ‘Better’”?

Certainly a Bahamas where the wider masses can readily declare that they enjoy, commensurate with their efforts and commitment, equitable chances of success. Social and economic advancement must be at least a part of the foundational prerequisites for future growth. Growth that truly uplift the masses. Moreover, certainly such an outcome would be a clear example that the wider region would be attracted to.

NB: Hubert Edwards is the principal of Next Level Solutions (NLS), a management consultancy firm. He can be reached at info@ nlsolustionsbahamas.com. He specialises in governance, risk and compliance (GRC), accounting and finance. NLS provides services in the areas of enterprise risk management, internal audit and policy and procedures development, regulatory consulting, anti-money laundering, accounting and strategic planning. Hubert also chairs the Organisation for Responsible Governance’s (ORG) Economic Development Committee. This and other articles are available at www.nlsolutionsbahamas.com.


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