BY SENATOR FRED MITCHELL
THE BUDGET FOR 2000/2001
Mister President, I sat next to the Minister of Finance at the funeral
for Patrick Erskine Lindop on Saturday 17 June at Lyford Cay. And as I sat there
I thought to myself a penny for his thoughts as he sees at the end of his time
as Minister of Finance his preciously developed reputation as a master of
finance come crashing down all around him, and he does not even know it.
To say that the Opposition is alarmed about the recent turn of events in
this country with regard to our offshore sector is perhaps the understatement of
the year. We have been asking for months to get regular briefings from the
Government with regard to the current state of affairs in The Bahamas on trade
and a number of foreign affairs issues. The
Minister of Finance has been resolutely unresponsive.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs prefers to play petty politics and
threaten ambassadors into silence than work with the Opposition.
And so were it not for the fact that the country suffers because of the
arrogance of the FNM : its Prime Minister, its Minister of Finance, its Minister
of Foreign Affairs, we would leave them all to their own devices, but now is the
time for statesmanship, the time for bi-partisanship.
But statesmanship and bi-partisanship can only work if the Government
itself is interested in forging a consensus.
For example, there are people that we may know that you do not know.
There are contacts that we may have that you do not have.
The PLP wants a concerted effort to solve what is nothing short of a
crisis in the offshore sector. I
said in this place not two weeks ago that the private sector must share some of
the blame for this as well. Until
Ian Fair, the Chairman of the Financial Service Board spoke up some two weeks
ago and suggested some bi-lateral negotiations to work out this problem, the
private sector could well be classified as a bunch of cry babies.
Virtually, the only response to events was: look what they are doing to
We suggested from this quarter that there ought to be a national think
tank with the remit to advise on ways in which we ought to respond if the worst
case scenario developed and our second most important industry was shut down.
Again, silence from the Government.
Now according to The Tribuneís business report of 27 June, the Prime
Minister is no longer going to have an early recess to Parliament.
We are to remain in session through the early summer as he rushes through
legislation to amend the IBC Act; Legislation to Amend the Money Laundering Act;
and Legislation to Amend the Mutual Legal Assistance Act; the Trustee Act; the
Bank and Trust Company Act; the Central Bank Act and the Mutual Legal Assistance
Mr. Ingraham has also promised that action will be taken to address
delays in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the processing of requests
under the provisions of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties.
The bottom line Mister President is that the Government has been caught
flatfooted again on this question which has such grave importance to the
I wonder if there has been sufficient consideration given to these
issues? If the passing of
legislation is not what I like to call Government by knee jerk for which Mr.
Ingraham and his colleagues are famous. He never thinks anything through, rushes to judgment and
rushes to act without thinking. He
runs the Government with the largest percentage of oops factors of Government in
the history of this country.
I predicted when we did the last set of bills that the Government would
be back within weeks to correct some mistake or something that they did not
think about. And lo and behold, the Prime Minister is saying that we will again
be dealing with an amendment to the Money Laundering Legislation.
All of this has implications for the revenue of this country, grave
implications. And I would have thought that the Government would take this
matter even more seriously given this idle nonsense and propaganda that they
have been spouting about a balanced budget. I want the Bahamian people to know
that this Senator thinks that the claim of a balanced bugdet is an elaborate
hoax that will not stand the test of time.
The Minister of Finnace comes to this Parliament, supported by all the
troops, marching in lock step to have us believe that next year this time, the
budget of The Bahamas will be in the black by one million dollars.
Canít happen. In a budget
of a billion dollars, you can make a mistake in the addition or subtraction and
be off by a million dollars. In a
billion dollar budget, one million dollars is petty cash, pocket change. Nothing
to talk about and certainly nothing to brag about especially when it might not
even be there.
Then Mister Chairman, I am not sure that the Government of The Bahamas is
any better off than the Red Cross or the Ranfurly Homes for Children when it
comes to collecting money. We are
used to giving donations to the Red Cross and we are used to the Ranfurly Home
For Children collecting donations. But
the Government of the Bahamas is predicting that it will have a surplus of one
million based on some 5 million dollars in donations from the EU or European
Uniion and other international agencies. Under
Head 26 Ė Grants Ė the Treasury Department is listing 2.9 million which it
expects from the EU and other grants; another 1 million it expects to be
given for the rehabilitation of the airport at Inagua; a further 1.2 million
gift from the International Development Bank for a total in gifts of more than 5
all one of those international agencies has to say is we are not going to pay
you, and that million dollar surplus is more than wiped out.
So this budget prediction is not one for which we should hold our
We recommend what we have always recommended to solve this problem:
1. Improved bi-lateral relations with developed countries through the use
of our embassies abroad;
2. The use of think tanks, research and development to predict what The
Bahamas should do in tourism and financial services so that
are ahead of the curve.
3. A bi-partisan approach to foreign affairs and international trade.
And I would also add a word of advice to the private sector.
They need to start talking to the Opposition and stop relying on the
blandishments of the Government. We canít force you to talk to us, but I can
assure you that it makes good sense to do so.
The other word of advice I would give the Government is this.
Letís stop all this foolish talk about our sovereignty and foolish
pride about our national interests being affected.
That may be good propaganda for the domestic market but it does not get
us very far in international affairs.
It seems to me that we ought to dispassionately recognize what the
problem is. The problem is that the
developed countries do not like the fact that tax revenue is escaping their
jurisdictions. The IBCs allow for
the vast evasion of tax revenue by the use of bearer shares, by the use of
nominee directors and shareholders and by the absolute lack of regulation of the
use of the accounts.
That I believe is the main problem.
The adjuncts to that are money laundering and drug trafficking, but I am
inclined to think that these aspects pale in comparison to the evasion of taxes
in the developed countries. And The Bahamas profits from this avoidance of tax.
And the distinction which we seek to draw between avoidance and evasion is
increasingly ringing hollow in these developed countries.
Is there someone in the US Government or in the Congress of the U.S. or
in the Legislature or Government of the UK that the Government of The Bahamas
can call to get a handle on all of this. One
gets the impression from the way they are all flapping around that this
Government does not have a clue just what to do. They are hoping against hope
that it will just go away.
The French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius showed that the developed world
is not kidding around with this stuff when he said that the blacklisting of
countries like The Bahamas under the various OECD and G-7 proposals would lead
ultimately to the banking system of The Bahamas not being able to do business
with the outside world. So this
Government has to act fast.
more importantly the advice to the Government is to get real. I often make the
comparison of all this palaver we have about the one billion dollars we are
going to spend in this country over the next year, when the school board in New
York City has a budget which exceeds 8 billion dollars.
So we have to get real, what we are talking about is small potatoes as
far as the world is concerned. But
while we have one billion to superintend our whole system of Government, you
have hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions of dollars legal and illegal
passing through The Bahamas, and we do not know where it comes from, how it gets
here what it does when it gets here, and up to now we did not care to know.
In fact the very essence of our system is laissez faire. The Ingraham
Government came to office preaching that doctrine. And
has benefitted greatly a handful of people: lawyers, real estate agents and
accountants. The rest of us are suffering from land price inflation, and the
excitement of a lot of money being in the sytem but so far that has only gotten
our people neck-high in debt, being the object of predatory lending at
And just when we thought it was safe to go back into the water, the
American economy is slowing down. Our
savings are being depleted, and the offshore sector that is helping to create
all the excitement threatens to come crashing down, if this Government does not
What we are suffering from is greed, greed and more greed.
It has infected all the levels of our society, that canít get enough of
the money that is flowing around. That is in part why we have all the crime. At
the lower levels in society, you have young men who rob for a living because
they have no education to make the kind of money that this society demands to
live in. That is not an excuse that
is a fact.
Then we have in some sectors of the business community a complete lack of
feeling for anyone who is poor, dispossessed or who even works for them.
The Government again with out thinking is proposing to amend the law on
labour relations which if passed would effectively take away the lawful right to
strike. Trade Unionists would be
foolish to support such changes in the law. The business community is up in arms
because of the strictures that it will place on the ability to dismiss workers
at will, so they do not want the laws to change.
But as Opposition spokesman on Labour, I would advise the business
community to think again about the general tone of their opposition to this
legislation. While I agree that the
legislation is bad, they must come to accept that there has got to be some
intervention in the marketplace to ameliorate the power of capital against the
power of labour. Without it, the
law of the jungle will prevail. And
so the minimum wage must come, and so must unfair dismissal.
The business community must come to accept it.
Further, we support the removal of any requirement for finger printing
and especially the lie detector. The
lie detector is hocus pocus. The science is questionable, the results are
inherently unreliable and are not worth the paper they are written on; neither
are they admissible in a court of
Even in developed societies where many of the employers in this country
came from, the laws are strict as it applies to workers and how you can dismiss
them. But we should not be
surprised that many of the investors and their Bahamian friends take the
positions they do because they have come to this country to get away from
regulation and strict law enforcement.
Now I say that because we have a body about which we know little called
the Institute of Economic Freedom. You
see pieces from them in in the
press from time to time. They are
strict laissez faire capitalists. I believe that they are wrong, well
intentioned but misguided. I refer them to the Pope who tells us all that
unbridled capitalism is just as bad as socialism; that you can not have
capitalism without a moral conscience; that the unseemly collection of wealth is
wrong. The Institute of Economic
Freedom seems to promote an atmosphere of anything goes in the market, but that
can only be a prescription for disaster.
Prior to 1992, I think that the country went too far in one direction but
clearly the group has gone too far in the other direction.
And the result is the kind of lawless, insensitivity to human suffering
that is exhibited in public policy and in the private sector, for which there is
no remedy yet in sight.
The other thought that went through my mind is whether Bill Allen, born
in Grants Town, raised right across the street from Our Ladyís Church has any
feel for what poor people go through in this country from day to day.
I read his budget communication which I promised when he became Minister
of Finance I would never do, and I read the intervention when he moved the
matter in the House. And all
through both addresses was numbers, statistics and graphs.
The World Bank, the IMF and the Moodyís Ratings.
There was no feel for people. He
is a man of statistics and graphs, and dollar signs.
Does the Minister of Finance still know how to find his way to Grants
Town? Has he any feel for what his
constituents in Congo Town in Fox Hill feel about their life in todayís
Bahamas? Does he even care? My
guess is that he does not give a hoot, and now that he has accomplished all that
he thinks he must for the resume, he can go off into the sunset, claiming a job
His position is symptomatic of the FNM at its best, masters in the art of
It is clear, Mister President, that the private sector made up of the
offhsore sector, those in the Institue for Economic Freedom and their supporters
have much now to answer for in the face of this onslaught against our country.
They need to provide an explanation for the country.
Janet Bostwick said that crime would disappear when the PLP left office.
But not even in the darkest days of the PLP, just after the report of the
Commisison of Inquiry on Drugs, was this country blacklisted by developed
countries. Do your realize the enormity of this failure on the Governmentís
And then too the Government must explain how it is that the Caribbean
News Agency CANA as reported in the Nassau Guardian is able to say that the
Financial Action Task Force was able to give Antigua and Barbuda a completely
clean bill of health so that the Government there is happy.
We have always considered ourselves a cut above Antigua.
The Prime Minister roars out that we are not Antigua: what has he and his
colleagues to say now that Antigua has a clean bill of health from the Task
Force and we are on the black list?
There is an intellectual dishonesty which pervades the FNM and its policy
makers. I describe it sometimes as
silly season and in the midst of what should be sensible public policy by
otherwise intelligent poeple you will hear stupid suggestions like executions
for drug traffickers and money launderers.
Silly season indeed.
Is there any wonder that we have to face the kind of national and
collective sadness that we do this week wth the untimely death of Archdeacon
William Thompson. Mister President,
as a member of the St. Agnes congregation, I know what this man has meant to me
personally, what he means to me and a whole generation of persons in their
twenties, thirties and forties. With his death, a whole lot of school fees are going to go
unpaid. A whole lot of students
wonít know who to turn to and what to do next.
A whole congregation will be at sea. And why is that: because one man is
We have to carry on, on of course, and I am profoundly saddened.
Saddened because I cannot fully express my outrage at what has happened,
and that I am not permitted freely to express what I believe the ultimate
solution to these problems, but I have to listen to patent nonsense, passing for
Archdeacon William Thompson was relentless in his attack on sweet
hearting and all that this breeds. He
believed that the fathers in the country had failed their children, and that we
will continue to reap a bitter harvest until we are on top of that problem.
And further that we must stop using our African-ness as an excuse for
went to his grave saying: righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a put back to
any people. He never used the
Biblical word reproach.
I had hoped that he would have his funeral service in the Cathedral but I
see it is to be otherwise. And I
say that for a reason. I am a
traditionalist, and I believe that a prince of the church, an African who rose
to the top of the colonial masterís church ought to be afforded last rites in
the Cathedral. But of course one
must defer to the wishes of the family but clearly this prince of man deserves
the Cathedral, and a burial within the church walls of St. Agnes beneath the
In 1967 when his predecessor died, I attended the funeral of Canon Milton
Cooper. I recorded the service, and
decided then that journalism would be my field.
It is incredible to me that I should be around to bury yet another Rector
of St. Agnes, and for what. No good
cause or reason.
I venture this thought, and that is that the doctrine which he preached
will ultimately prevail and this society will see much too late that his was the
right way: compassion for people, a moral conscience; a forgiving spirit, and a
refrain from vengeance.
Indeed, when a parishioner of the Archdeacon pointed out to Dud Maynard
in the Bead Shop that if Father were alive and his assailant was found, Father
would say let the man go: Mr. Maynard responded, but we are going to string this
one up before Father wakes up. That was Archdeacon Thompson compassionate to a
I am interested Mister President, in finding out who this shooter is.
I am interested in knowing what his sociological background is and his
ancestral place of national origin. Because I am increasingly of the view
without impirical evidence that the population of The Bahamas has profoundly
been creolized; that the depth of our grief over these events is not shared by
many of the people of this country. Many
of the people of this country who are from the larger underclass in the country,
are not touched or are unaware about these events about which we are so sad and
The political scientists at the College of The Bahamas cal;ls our class,
the present ruling class of todayís Bahamas; the George VI negroes; in more
conventional terms, those whose social and political struggles in the 1940s
fifties and 60s led to taking over the country in 1967 and our allies.
Below us I am convinecd is an underclass of persons who are migrants to
this country who are fast outnumbering us, who we have no idea who they are,
whose names we cannot recognise, who we disenfranchised through the
constitution; who we have been unable to expel; and who are wreaking havoc in
this society because it is a society to which they do not belong and which
society apparently does not want them.
The society should not then be surpirsed nor dismayed that their lack of
resolution these matters causes us the kind of grief that we are experiencing
This is not a question of money, which this budget tends to make us think
is the solution to everything. This
is a question of leadership or the lack thereof by the Prime Minister who has
let his side down badly. This is a
question of national will.
We have an immigration policy which is wholly ineffective and for which
no effective leadership at the political level is being presented. We cannot be
surprised then at what happens all around us.
Mister President, I have touched on the three areas that are my
bailiwick: foreign affairs, labour and immigration.
It is clear that the Governmentís ineffectivenes is all around us.
And the blacklisting shows the paucity of their international policy.
So you will hear no pat of the table from this side for anything in this
is all inadequate: too little, too late.
I would however like to address those issues raised by the Governmentís
announcement yesterday that there is to be a new system of scholarships
available through The Bahamas Government.
First, it is long overdue that this country addresses the question of how it pays for tertiary education. The most heart-rending thing is seeing talented people not get a start because they donít have the money to pay for their education.