FACING UP TO THE BRUTAL FACTS

• In the third of a four-part series, Hubert Edwards warns that The Bahamas must adopt a different mindset to develop its economy beyond the current model

LET us assume that the winning political party shows the deep will needed and ushers in, responsibly, the reforms to address the governance and the structural weaknesses that have perennially plagued The Bahamas. Let us accept that such moves will cause noticeable disruption, as they must if properly implemented. As a people, generally, would we be willing and prepared to support these changes? Are the segments of society with significant power and influence willing - and prepared - to support these changes? Given that such changes could radically disrupt the normal arrangements of The Bahamas, causing shifts in the power structure and the national social fabric, as well as disrupting what has become the settled way of doing and achieving things (the status quo), are we ready for the journey to a new reality? Where are we mentally in our outlook for the next ten, 15 or 20 years, recognising that the reconstruction of many aspects of The Bahamas can only be achieved over the long haul and will demand everyone giving up some of what was “normal”. This is a personal perspective but one predicated on the idea of real commitment and the willingness of all to sacrificially “invest” in the future of the country. It is my view that the time has come for The Bahamas, Bahamians and well-wishers to take a different look, as compared to that which we have embraced up to now, and accept that what is in front of us demands urgent personal, dedicated and effective action as much as it calls for sound collective, consensus-based efforts.

I believe that the American prisoner of war, Admiral James Stockdale’s, words ought to inform our approach going forward as we contemplate the growth and development of The Bahamas. He said: “You [we] must never confuse faith that you [we] will prevail in the end - which you [we] can never afford to lose - with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your [our] current reality, whatever they might be.” The current realities are many, well-known and stark, and for many persons they are very stark. The circumstances affect all of us differently, although the impact is likely to be less for most persons in the upper echelons of society. These are the leaders and captains of industries who others look to so they can maintain that hope which Stockdale speaks of. Nothing will be achieved over the next few years that will not require a hard look at debt, deficits and debt servicing. These are factors that I believe will impose significant pressure on governance and will be critical to framing policies. We can easily appreciate that unfunded mandates are never effective. The extent to which any administration is unable to find financing space for new plans is the extent to which we could see a lag in implementation of necessary changes and a loss of momentum, all of which could impose significant costs due to loss of time. Any policy initiatives that are not properly analyzed for cost and feasibility are simply positions awaiting costing to determine viability and, if viable, the extent to which they can be afforded, which may make the final decision radically different from the promised position. As a country we must remain hopeful about the ability to advance and grow the economy. However, we must normalise our expectations not because we do not desire more, but the brutal fact is that affording our desires is not as easy as we would like.

I believe the future calls for some very important focus in areas that may not be getting direct mention at this time, but which are critical for the advancement of the country. We may not always have ready answers but it is important that we frame honest questions that help to coalesce our thinking around what is necessary for balanced reform. Therefore, going forward, how will we afford and facilitate economic equity? The full potential of The Bahamas will never be realized until there is a greater distribution of not just wealth but the opportunities for wealth creation. Are we prepared for greater social equity and equality? How will we reduce the expanding numbers below the poverty line? How will we diversify and domicile more of the earnings from tourism? How will we expand the economy through development and growth of new or fledgling industries?

Are we prepared to take a broad-based look at diversification, or forward integration where the sectors allow? The agriculture and marine industries, for example? How will we address the inability of firms to scale up with limited internal markets due to population size, a fact that exerts adverse influence on innovation from the private sector? This area comes with its own set of complications, as matters affecting Immigration are inherently rich with growth opportunities but fraught with a minefield of cultural and historical challenges. How do we truly discuss broadening the country’s foreign earnings potential in a reality where we only have small, concentrated local markets and highly dispersed and remote population centers, all of which are challenged in facilitating appropriate incubation and growth of export-capable businesses or industries? How will we reduce the trust gap between leaders and the populace, a factor that will be critical to making positive advances? Finally, how will we as individuals conduct ourselves such that we are always adding to the betterment of the country? This latter question is fundamental in that it calls for a shift in the personal approach of how an individual manages all interactions such that we are focused on bringing value in the best interest of the country, always.

Beyond the limitations

In order for there to be growth in anything, it is necessary for there to be a surmounting of whatever limitations may persist, real or perceived. It is not difficult to speak of great performance, articulate world-class standards or consistently reiterate the expansive and unique endowments of the country. There are some clear limitations with which The Bahamas must contend, and overcoming these rest squarely on leadership guided by a carefully-crafted vision and mindset generally observed in thriving economies and countries. Permit me to share a few thoughts on why I think we have not always consistently found ready solutions to our social, economic and other national problems. These are matters that I believe must be addressed, and which will demand committed and dedicated leadership to achieve. First, there is a lack of consensus around a common national vision. There are simply too many people who hold the view that we cannot do better, and that the genius of the country is concentrated in specific groupings. This is very debilitating. Consequently, the brightest minds are not consistently leveraged. This is extremely limiting given the size of The Bahamas. There is no way the country will solve its major problems with only a portion of its capacity engaged at any point in finding the solutions. In fact, there is circumstantial evidence that suggests the lack of tension in idea generation may be a significant contributor to this state of affairs. The strongest oak trees are said to be those that faced the greatest winds. The process of charting a transformational course demands being exposed to, and becoming comfortable with, ideas being challenged rigorously. Intelligent and committed minds in open, honest but productively brutal engagement is the best means of achieving this. The idea of growth and innovation does not seem to be well understood as being an intentional process as opposed to the often-observed approach of near capitulation in the face of the last viable option largely because earlier possibilities were left to wither on the vine and lost to time. The economic system we have, as currently structured and unchanged for decades, is limited in what it can deliver and is likely close to the top of its potential if left unchecked.

To be continued…………