A country with no plan, pt. 2
Included in our country’s original development plan should have been practical ideas for the dispersion of the growing population into our constituent islands, and that is where foreign direct investment ought to have entered the development conversation and equation. Because, as social scientists have reinforced time and again, living like sardines in a can morphs very rapidly into a bombardment of social ills.
Included in the original plan should not have been tourism, which is not sustainable in its current or previous forms for long-term and diversified growth, given its near absolute reliance on external investment and external decision-making. The same applies to banking, particularly offshore private banks, but also overseas commercial franchise banks, whose ownership similarly originates outside of The Bahamas. But, we keep suffering the consequences of these old decisions and plans, because we keep clinging to something hoping it will continue to be what it can’t.
The idea to build an anchor project on every island was not a brilliant one, because anchor projects foster the same extreme dependence on outside investors. What happens when those investors – who could end up as the second largest employer in the land – withdraw, as they often and are well within their rights to do? And, since nothing lasts forever, what is the plan for when Atlantis folds or fails and 350 thousand people are confined to one island to battle for 10,000 jobs?
Implanted resort properties as a business model for national and economic development are not sustainable. What is sustainable is foreign direct investment in the form of joint partnerships only, primarily or solely in infrastructural development, and this should have been the plan from day one. As it was not decided then, perhaps it can be decided now: no more resorts, only infrastructural joint partnerships with direct domestic investment as a main feature, resulting in equal advantage to Bahamians, to literally build our country. The premise: If John Smith’s and Jane Rolle’s hard-earned money goes straight from their pockets into building a roadway, they are both more likely to have pride in it and take care of it.
We need foreign expertise most of all to build our infrastructure: roads that are sound; basic, reliable utilities, including clean water, renewable power and new communications technology; and ground, water and air transportation and ports on every habitable island, starting with the largest of them.
Above all, we need these things to be attained using methods that don’t include the Bahamian government borrowing money to fully finance entire projects, leaving the Bahamian people with unlimited, everlasting debt and zero financial interest in their own country. Enter bona fide joint partners.
Where we find ourselves today begs the question: “What more did we expect to happen, after putting all our eggs into this one, tattered old basket?” Did no one before now, presumably, have the foresight to envision that a diversified economy built on actual, measurable innovation and creative enterprise would move our country further along the path of development and in a more sustainable way?
Entertainment and sports/recreation notwithstanding, where is the innovative talent and creativity in tourism and banking? You can only do so much with natural resources before they become threatened, and you can only offer financial instruments proven reliable in other markets. To survive the developmental long haul and to remain on a growth track with a standard that is constantly elevated, ingenuity is vital. Have we done our people a grave disservice by disallowing – even discouraging – them to think innovatively and creatively for four decades, stifling their dreams before they take root or flight?
We have sold our sun, sand and sea year, after year, and this is the reason: we are a nation for sale. And we keep leaning on it as our staple, because, as some media and political pundits and industry warriors have expressed, it is our ‘bread and butter’. Well, enough already. Who is going to have the wisdom plus the vision to see beyond the illusion that tourism is ‘the goose that laid the golden egg’, or the other illusion that the banking industry won’t continue to be subject to the pressures of international markets and influences?
They are not irrelevant, but we are fighting to keep these two main industries afloat when they are what drag us down lower and lower, because of the chokehold we have on them, which we should have relinquished over time, while creating new industries with the same tenacity.
Restore pride and hope
When your people, since the 1980s, have been taught to keep The Bahamas clean (for tourists) and now the place is filthier than ever, what do you think is going to happen to tourism? Which tourists are we hoping will pay exorbitant travel costs to get here, followed by costly hotel rates, to see what? Garbage? We don’t want to see it; why should they? How dump-like do we have to become for it to register as filth?
I suppose a big part of this mental block lies in the fact that our people have lost Bahamian pride. It’s not difficult to imagine. They have little or no pride in themselves, because they have nothing to look forward to; why should they, when they can’t do or be anything much in their own country, because their country is not encouraging them to develop creative and innovative talents for good, or giving them the conduits necessary to utilize those talents to their greatest potential even beyond the borders of their country?
Economic welfare is and will forever be tied to social welfare, which means as long as we have little or nothing to look forward to in terms of economic gain, communities will degenerate and people will fine-tune their criminality to get what and where they want, in life.
Our economic and social health and well-being won’t improve if we are still dosing ourselves with expired medicines and methods to cure our modern condition. And the longer we wait to transform our nation in a monumental way, to take the gargantuan leap of faith – or whatever you need to call it to make it feel right – the poorer and more criminalized the nation will become.
• Nicole Burrows is an academically trained economist and a self-trained writer. She writes primarily on the economy and society, and her interests include economic growth and development and contemporary women’s issues: email@example.com
April 23, 2014