Ingranomics Part 2
By Ian G. Strachan
Last week we noted that although the Ingraham administration steered us through a treacherous period in world economic history it has not completely come up smelling like roses. There have been some unpleasant consequences to the administration’s choices and there were, in my view, many missed opportunities.
CULTURE AND INDUSTRY
The FNM’s investments in tourism infrastructure (the harbor dredging, the port move and the new airport terminal), are largely making way for anticipated tourism growth in the medium to long-term. That’s not necessarily a foolish or irresponsible choice to make.
The problem is such investments won’t yield the desired results unless you seriously address some of the reasons The Bahamas is no longer a hot ticket.
We are facing ever diminishing returns in tourism. Despite the millions who come here on cruise ships, what we really need are stopover visitors and this is where we’ve been dead in the water. We have had more cruise ship visitors than stopover visitors since the mid 80s.
We are a far more expensive destination than many competitors south of us and that’s not about to change. But where we are also losing is that we are culturally far less interesting. Not enough of an investment has been made to actually make The Bahamas a more distinct and attractive destination. Beaches, casinos and sunshine can be found all over the globe and for a lot less than in Nassau. Are we going to be offering “1 flies-1 flies free” deals and cruise ship tax rebates for the rest of the decade?
Many of us believe that the answer lies in the marriage of tourism and cultural and artistic expression. Yet the government of The Bahamas refuses or is unable to act in a manner that encourages wider cultural entrepreneurship – entrepreneurship that can maximize local and tourist markets. And to be fair, the private sector is even less interested in investing than the government.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, Junkanoo is a Christmas festival not a spring festival like Mardi Gras or Trinidad or Rio Carnival. The western world is just not going to travel heavily to be in another country on Christmas night or New Year’s Day. So what does that leave here in the capital?
The Fry (Arawak Cay) is the best attraction in Nassau, outside of Atlantis’ casino, restaurants, clubs and water attractions. It features local food, live music and atmosphere (at affordable prices, prices which no hotel can match).
How can we expand or duplicate what’s best about the Fry? What would it cost to do so?
Let’s look at the FNM’s track record. They rejected Carifesta twice. They show contempt (like the PLP before them) for the run-down shell of a National Performing Arts Centre (which could be the year round home of the National Dance Company, Children’s Choir, Youth Choir, Youth Orchestra, Police and Defence Force bands and a National Theatre Company).
They have made a ghost out of the Junkanoo Museum. They don’t seem to know what to do with Shakespeare in Paradise. And they generally refuse to facilitate cultural workers in a sustained and comprehensive way in the tourist zones.
As a result, Nassau remains a dull, run-down, expensive place to visit. We absorb all sorts of tax breaks for resort development.
In this period why couldn’t we have been bold and taken some risks in an effort to improve The Bahamas as a cultural destination? Hotels aren’t destinations. Cities, towns and countries are, but we settle for a country where the only thing people come for is to walk around in Atlantis. And soon Baha Mar, I suppose.
But outside of the jobs these enclaves create, aren’t we losing out on opportunities to truly maximize the tourist dollars spent on the island?
Ingraham also flirted with legalizing numbers and then backed off, promising a referendum if he is re-elected. This is leading from behind, which is not his style.
The Bahamian government is broke and the numbers business is a quarter to half a billion dollar enterprise that goes untaxed and unregulated.
The government has a right and a responsibility to tax the daylights out of this business, to bring it into the light of public scrutiny and to use the money it gains to help build the country and strengthen the social fabric.
Ingraham should have used this recession to regulate numbers.
Instead, a magistrate has confiscated nearly $1 million and fined businessman Craig Flowers $10,000.
By now Ingraham could have collected as much in taxes for numbers as he got in the BTC sale. He should also have taxed alcohol more heavily as well.
I said earlier that if you are going to risk being voted out over something unpopular, you better make sure that the change you’re introducing is worth it all.
I’m sorry but Ingraham could have left the roads bumpy, focused exclusively on fixing the eastern district water problem, and tackled a real problem instead of going through all this madness with the roads all at once.
What he should have done, again under the cover of the economic crisis, is address our regressive and unethical system of taxation that burdens the poor and middle class and lets the rich and their companies get away with all their cash.
Ingraham should have been the man to introduce income tax. It’s the perfect time to do so. The pressure from the U.S. is leading us in that direction anyway. Would he lose this election if he did so? He may lose it over unfinished roads.
What I guarantee you though, is that the PLP would not have repealed it afterward. The government needs revenue. We have thousands of people on pension in the civil service who have contributed nothing to it but feel entitled.
The bubble will burst eventually. NIB is already automatically removing a percentage of my salary before it hits my bank account.
I may never make a claim at NIB but I accept that my contribution helps those who need support more than I do. Income tax is doable.
And thereby we can reduce these ridiculous customs duties that hamper the growth of Bahamian businesses because you are being taxed before you sell anything. I reject the argument that the government can’t handle income tax. It can and so can our people.
I could talk about the fact that after downsizing ZNS, it is still operating at the same quality level as before, or about the FNM’s refusal to touch Bahamasair despite the fact there are homegrown airlines who can pick up the slack.
But instead I wish to raise the question of right sizing the civil service. I don’t think this has to mean sending hundreds of people home and creating a social and economic crisis. I mean actually moving people from posts where they are under-performing or are really redundant and re-training them to help plug holes elsewhere in the system. I’ll give just a few examples.
I once interviewed Loretta Butler-Turner, Minister of State for Social Development, and she told me that the nation could use another 150 social workers. As you might imagine the social worker does crucial work that is essential to public health, public safety, crime prevention and the overall wellbeing of the society. Why not re-deploy and re-train some of your civil servants to fill this need?
Our schools are overcrowded. Every classroom could use a teacher’s aid. And what about the problem of truancy? Or the need for environmental health inspectors to check homes and businesses, particularly given the occurrences of dengue.
There were creative options available to the government that would allow it to shift the public service work force to meet the greatest needs. We need park wardens and after school mentors for our teenagers; we need these in every community.
The FNM just lacked a holistic, creative social vision and they failed to see how their economic choices and challenges could actually work for them not against them in the effort to build a stronger, better country.
They took the unemployed and had them cleaning the streets. And sure, that met a need, because New Providence is filthy. But in the same way, there were other serious needs that could have been met, not just with new hires but by properly utilizing the people you already have employed.
So overall, I’ll describe Ingranomics as an orthodox approach, lacking in innovation or experimentation. Ingraham played it safe, which can be a comfort in these unstable times. But sometimes you can play it so safe that you get fired by the people anyway, because the times demand more daring. We’ll see what happens.
Oct 03, 2011