• Bran: ‘Certainly better’ than web shop gaming
• 30% of pharmacy clients can’t afford full meds
• And law firm’s receivables increase 25-28%
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A former Democratic National Alliance (DNA) leader is urging the Government to revisit the creation of a National Lottery as a means to assist vulnerable Bahamians struggling with the cost of living crisis.
Branville McCartney told Tribune Business in a recent interview that despite suggestions a National Lottery and web shop gaming cannot co-exist there was no doubt the former would "certainly be better" for The Bahamas as a means to redistribute monies to those with the greatest food, clothing and shelter needs.
Calling on the Davis administration to "be brave" and "take some risks" to rescue The Bahamas from its post-COVID economic and fiscal crisis, he argued that the National Lottery's purpose would not be to erode the web shops' profits although some observers believe there is insufficient funds to support both.
"Although Bahamians might still play the numbers, go back to a National Lottery. I would revisit that again, the development of a National Lottery," Mr McCartney told this newspaper. "If we do a National Lottery, the proceeds would right now go to social assistance.
"It's certainly not to take away from the web shops, but the bottom line is that a National Lottery would certainly be better for the economy as a whole." He cited the National Lottery as an example of initiatives that would help break the status quo, adding that The Bahamas needs a fresh "mindset" backed by the necessary political will if the country is to move forward post-COVID.
Besides his Halsbury Chambers law firm, Mr McCartney said his other business interests in retail pharmacy, education and real estate are all witnesses to the daily struggles an increasing number of Bahamians are suffering to make ends meet.
He revealed that around 30 percent of customers at his family's Wilmac Pharmacy, located opposite the University of the Bahamas, are unable to pay for their full prescriptions. And, at Halsbury Chambers, accounts receivables have jumped by between 25-28 percent as Bahamian clients find it increasingly difficult to come up with the necessary retainers and expenses to cover legal fees.
"We have to be bold in our approach to looking at things," Mr McCartney told Tribune Business. "We can't be doing the same thing over and over again, and expect different results. We have to be bold and, almost like a business, the Government has to take some risks. You'll win some, lose some, and hopefully the wins will outweigh the losses.
"Let's move forward. It is time now for us to look at being a first-world country. We have to. We have enough here to be a first-world country. We just need the mindset and political will to move in that direction. I've travelled extensively, and love my country, but I get so frustrated when I go to different places and see they're much more advanced than we are. That shouldn't be."
Conceding that the COVID-19 pandemic imposed "a terrific strain" on the Bahamian economy and society, and that "we haven't caught ourselves since", Mr McCartney added: "We're trying to rebound, but gas prices have increased and the cost of food has increased. I think it was a mistake to have added VAT to breadbasket items and medicines; I see it every day.
"Just this morning at the pharmacy, people were coming in there and just barely, those on the National Prescription Drug Plan in particular, were they affording life saving medications as simple as high blood pressure pills. They may have medication to be refilled after three months, and they're coming in and only getting three to four pills because that's all they can afford to deal with at that time. Then they come back after four days for another three to four pills
"We see that every day, and it's been going on for some time. I would say that about 30-odd percent of customers are in that position. We have to try and give assistance, especially with those patients that have been with us for 25 years. And the same thing sometimes happens in the legal profession."
The Halsbury Chambers principal added: "I've been in law for 32 years, and have some clients that have been with me for that long. When they have legal issues, what are you going to say? That you cannot deal with it because they cannot pay the retainer? You try to work it out with them.
"I'm talking primarily about local clients where persons, for the most part, cannot come up with the retainer that's necessary. Retainers not only cover legal fees but expenses they have to part with to get the matter started. You have to pay the Government, and you have to pay to have documents served and filed.
"You say to clients: 'Put a certain amount down and come back to get it sorted'. Many times you say: 'Pay the expenses to get the matter started, and we will work it out on the back end'. Inevitably you end up with receivables that are out of this world. All businesses have receivables, but in these circumstances it's bit more. We're looking at a 25-28 percent increase in receivables, and when you don't work it out they have to be written off."
Mr McCartney also called for a tougher crackdown on littering and environmental pollution as a means to ensure Bahamians take greater pride in their country. "Bahamians need to stop being so damn dirty and nasty," he blasted. "I would really encourage the Ministry of the Environment, the police and what have you to crack down on people dropping mattresses by the side of the road, dropping KFC wrappers and abandoning wrecked vehicles on the roadside.
"Let's take pride in our country, and the only way to deal with that is to look at the laws that deal with littering and make them as stern as possible where people will think five times' before they throw gum out of the window or a car."
Mr McCartney suggested that The Bahamas follow the example set by Singapore and its former ruler, the autocrat Lee Kuan Yew, which he argued had successfully achieved "first world" status by focusing on educating and providing opportunities for its people as well as a harsh approach to law and order.