Monday, January 7, 2013

There are numerous benefits that can be derived by voting YES in the impending January 28, 2013 referendum

Why vote? Why vote yes?


This year, as we begin to celebrate 40 years of independence, the Christie administration is determined to focus the nation’s attention and get its input on several important matters that have either been present in our lives for the past four decades, or that may become an important part of our future.  In order to accomplish this objective, Mr. Christie has foreshadowed three instances in which his government will invite the populace to express its views on issues of national importance.  The first will be a non-constitutional referendum on regulating and taxing web shop operations and establishing a national lottery on January 28 of this year.

Secondly, a constitutional referendum is foreshadowed sometime before we celebrate our 40th independence anniversary. The government also plans to conduct another non-constitutional referendum on the issue of whether or not to permit oil exploration in our pristine waters sometime thereafter.

This week we would like to Consider This… in the upcoming referendum on January 28, should Bahamians vote and how should they vote?

An historical first

This month’s referendum will be the first time in Bahamian history that a non-constitutional referendum will be held.  We have heard the objections of some who ask: Why do we need a referendum on these matters?  The simple answer is that a referendum is not really required.  However, unlike his predecessor in office, the current prime minister is a consensus builder, a quintessential democrat who believes that such fundamental policies should be informed by public discourse, debate and deliberation, not just the Cabinet or prime ministerial directive.

The religious argument

There are some in our society who have sought to reduce their opposition to the regulation and taxation of web shops and the establishment of a national lottery to Biblical precepts.  However, they are hard-pressed to support their tenuous positions.  There is not a single, direct Biblical text which posits that participation in gaming activities is either sinful or offensive to God.  Not one!  Sure, there are some references that can be “interpreted” as tangentially supportive of such an hypothesis, but as regards a specific divine prohibition, the Scriptures are silent.  The infinitely more learned theological scholars who head the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist congregations in our community have themselves resisted such an untenable translation of the Holy Scriptures.  It would be instructive for the uninformed to read the pastoral letters that were recently issued by the Roman and Anglican prelates on this subject.  So much for a firm basis for a religious argument against the subject of the referendum.

The economic argument

If we accept the assertions of experts in The Bahamas, the gaming industry here is just that – an industry.  The web shops, by their own admission, account for an annual turnover of $300 to $400 million and employ more than 3,000 Bahamians, arguably our third largest industry after tourism and financial services.  This revenue, however, remains outside the real economy because we have chosen, like the proverbial ostrich, to bury our heads in the sand and quietly pretend that it does not exist.  The unfortunate reality is that such denial has the effect of criminalizing the activity of at least 50,000 participants, keeping it in the “underground economy”, unregulated and untaxed.  The same can be said for the operators who have personified an entrepreneurial spirit.

If we conservatively accept that the taxes that we do not collect from this industry represent at least $10 million annually, an extremely conservative estimate by any stretch, then, since our independence 40 years ago, the government has failed to collect a minimum of $400 million in tax revenue during that period from this underground economic powerhouse.  Imagine what could have been accomplished by having that kind of revenue stream in our public coffers over the past four decades.  Imagine what kind of good could be done for our future by introducing that kind of revenue stream now.

This injection of revenue does not include other benefits such as payroll, contributions to National Insurance, telecommunications and electricity income, rental income and stamp taxes from financial and real estate transactions, just to mention a few.

The ethical argument

There are ethical considerations that should be factored into the gaming equation.  The current state of affairs criminalizes persons – both operators and participants – who engage in such gaming activities.  On the one hand, because of the existing legal construct, we have accepted that it is perfectly permissible for Bahamians to participate in lotteries and other gaming activities when we travel abroad.  However, the minute we return to our shores, we are instantaneously morphed into criminals if we wish to engage in the very same activity in which we participated abroad.  This reality represents the highest form of hypocrisy and is symptomatic of a severe case of national schizophrenia.  Such behavior results in a form of national insanity that borders on the idiotic.

Why vote? Why vote yes?

There are numerous benefits that can be derived by voting yes in the impending referendum.

• A yes vote will legally recognize a reality that has been an integral and ingrained part of our community and culture for many decades.

• A yes vote will positively contribute to our national coffers by providing additional revenue that is presently beyond the reach of the government.

• A yes vote will enable us to truly diversify our economy.

• A yes vote will foster a well-regulated industry that will emerge from the shadows into the light.

• A yes vote will open a new industry not only for the present operators, but also for those who qualify for future operations.

• A yes vote will open this industry to also include groups of entrepreneurial Bahamians as well as companies who could finance their gaming enterprises by offering shares to the public, making this industry truly open and owned by the public.

• A yes vote will enable the government to have additional funds to allocate for education, sports, culture and public health initiatives.

• A yes vote will open the possibility of creating a school of entrepreneurship established by these Bahamian entrepreneurs who can also impart their industry experience by mentoring young Bahamians.

• A yes vote will prevent us from having to continue to expend exponentially large funds in policing an illegal and unregulated industry.

• A yes vote will enable us to prevent the possibility of falling into the trap of having our country blacklisted by powerful forces beyond our borders who will surely insist that we are contributing to money laundering and the funding of terrorist activities.


In the upcoming referendum on January 28, it will be important to exercise our right as citizens to be heard when our government asks our opinion.  If we do not use this, our very first opportunity to be heard in this manner, we endanger ever being asked again.  This is an expensive exercise that government will not likely undertake again if the citizens do not respond.  Should the turnout be small, history will see this as a setback to the broader and more inclusive new democracy we are being offered with this referendum.

On referendum day, it will be important for us to vote and to vote yes.

Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament.  Please send your comments

January 07, 2013