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Columns : Who is in control? - Joseph Darville Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM

"In The Bahamas some 43,000 living below poverty line in 2014"
By Joseph Darville, VP, Grand Bahama Human Rights Association
Jun 13, 2014 - 10:47:36 AM

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Poverty is defined by Webster’s as “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.” In our context, then, who are the poor? Looking at the wide world perspective, we may more easily recognize the poor as those who are lacking in the minimal necessities such as water, food, clothing, basic health services, housing or a decent place to call home. Absolute poverty takes on a gruesome description as given by Robert Macnamara: “A condition of life so characterized by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to be beneath any reasonable definition of human decency.”

There are some radical questions to answer, like is it bad to be poor. Certainly that cannot be the case, since God’s own son was said to be born in poverty and the Christ always had and advocated preferential treatment for the poor. St. Paul writes : “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for you sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Unfortunately, some religious leaders use this passage to justify their own accumulating of worldly riches. But long before the coming of Christ on this earth, the God of Israel implanted in the minds of his people and especially the prophets the significant and cherished place the poor enjoyed. “He who mocks the poor, insults his Maker.” (Proverbs 17:5).

There are some one hundred and seventy-six references to the poor in the Bible. And nowhere does Jesus teach or indicate to us the need to eradicate poverty. He, however, always advocated supplying the needs of the poor. Time and time again he encourages a condition of detachment from earthly things, even those that bring basic comfort. Even if one would be ‘fortunate’ enough to be “rich,” he still advocates poverty of spirit. As a matter of fact, it is only in one of the beatitudes that he directly promises the Kingdom as a reward, when he says:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

What are we to do then, in this seemingly contradictory injunction, where we are, on the one hand, exhorted to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and on the other, to value and even yearn for the attributes of the poor. It seems then that the poor may even exist for some salvation purpose. Or it may just be that divine logic which has for so very long confused the minds of men. However, even within the context of some dilemma, we are called to experience first hand the poor around us, for wittingly or unwittingly, we have established the environment in which they exist. Institutions of society and individuals have worked overtime to tear down the traditional standards of virtue in order to satisfy the egotistical needs of the few. It is not surprising then that there are those who suffer deprivation and live in anxiety.

The term ‘eradication of poverty’ is heard frequently these days, especially at the level of the United Nations which had proclaimed the year of 1996 as the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty. And it is most likely that they will again declare not too long a “Decade for the Eradication of Poverty.” There seems, however, to be no immediate remedy to the persistent scourge of world hunger. Even the compassionate deeds of many individuals, as well as the political and judicial action of governments have done mighty little to ameliorate the problem. From time immemorial this seems to have been the problem and almost every civilization has had some form of welfare. At this very moment almost five hundred million people in the world are starving or are malnourished and do not know whether they will be living this time next week. Absolute poverty has a grip on about one billion people; that is nearly one sixth of the world’s population.

In such a state of affairs, we may look to employ the attitude of Mother Teresa who was not debilitated by the enormity of the problem. Her mission was to feed on hungry person at a time. Her action, however, entailed much more than the passing on of a morsel of food. It was the total recognition of the image of God in each individual and to touch that life in every way possible in love and grace. For her, life was a feast according to Jesus’ admonition: “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind.” How many of these have we had in our homes or at our feasts lately? How many of us have, literally or figuratively, washed the feet of the poor. As Sarah Ann McMahan reflects: “Foot washing is messy business; it means getting down on your knees to mingle with the dirt of the human condition, and doing whatever is possible to try to clean it up with our own hands. It means to be intimately, personally involved in life-giving, compassionate ways in the suffering filth of those who must walk without shoes on the bare paths of meaninglessness and pain.”

What does this all mean in our context. Let’s take a cursory look at our situation. A very small percent of our population owns and controls over half of the wealth of this nation. The vast majority of our people, those who can find work, live from pay cheque to pay cheque. Nevertheless, we are , because of our gross national product, classified as one of the richest small nation in the region, with an enviable per capita income.

The inherent inequities in our system can easily permit the strangling hold of poverty or near poverty to reign in our small nation. It is socially and morally dangerous for any society to permit such differences. Statistics indicate that the chances that a child from low income, near poverty level, will grow out of this and become successful is only one in four; whereas, the chances for one from a high level income to drop to a low level of success is one in fifty. The predominance of this state of deprivation impacts most negatively on the young.

Particularly on Grand Bahama and on New Providence, mothers, who are the sole providers for their children, cannot supply their basic needs. Consequently, their male off-springs get caught up in nefarious activities to supply their needs. The young girls, as young as eleven years, prostitute themselves, in some cases even with the tacit approval of their mothers, in order to provide basic material needs. Many of them cannot attend school in proper uniform were it not for their male suppliers. Then, of course, no one is ignorant of what takes place upon leaving school. The situation is perpetuated, only now they begin to bear children for these ‘good’ gentlemen. And thus the vicious cycle continues. Many of our children lose for they are never given a chance to win.

Then, some of us, simply out of political expediency are so ignorant and insensitive to suggest that there is no correlation between unemployment and crime. What crime is more heinous and detestable than that where our young girls and boys prostitute themselves for bare necessities. These silent victims hardly ever have their day in court.

Why can’t we do something about this societal plague? Simple indifference! Why does our government do something more about this obvious poverty which drives our children to start on a path of crime that leads them to jail and probable death before the tender age of twenty? Lack of money, we hear, and the resulting lack of job and programme opportunities to enhance the quality of life for our young. But then, what do we know? Right at this moment there sit over three billion Bahamian dollars in Bahamian banks! Now there has to be a colossal degree of profiteering going on at the corporate level and elsewhere. Remember the small percentage of those who own the majority of wealth in the nation? This same wealth has been accumulated, by and large, through the sweat and blood of the poor, whose children are now destitute and dispossessed by the state.

Consequently, thousands of our young are unemployed and many little children, both in Nassau and Grand Bahama, still trek to the public dumps, not in search of scrap metal, but more basic needs for survival. Without an equitable system of tax, the government cannot get at these enormous deposits. They sit stagnant (except for the amassing of daily interest), and so the frightening inequities continue. But there must come a day and a way to cause , motivate, or even coerce the possessors of these inordinate riches to free up some of their wealth for the creation of jobs and meaningful programs for the youth of this nation.

Vatican II reminds us that God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity. In our use of things we are to regard the external goods we legitimately own not merely as exclusive to ourselves but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as ourselves. There is then the universal destination of earthly goods and every man has the right to possess sufficient amount for himself and his family.

There is a simple, direct and immediate way to eradicate poverty from this nation, where not more than ten percent now exist below the poverty line. National Insurance, is not a contribution; it is a tax, for it is legally established to be taken out of salaries. Presently, the destitute poor man or woman pays the same percentage as the super rich and multi-millionaire. This system has to change, keeping it under the NIB, but establish it based upon the income of each individual, where the rich will be taxed on their enormous income, and the poor on their little. There has to be a sliding scale.

Those who earn near or below the minimum wage would be require to pay not more than five percent of their earnings; and let’s establish that at or around the minimum acceptable wage per annum. In the range of $20,00.00 to $30,000.00, they would be taxed seven percent; $35,000.00 to $50,000.00, tax them ten percent; $50,000.00 to $75,000.00 twelve percent; $75,000.00 to $100,000.00, fifteen percent; and any one earning a salary of more than one hundred thousand per annum would be required to pay twenty percent in taxes. With this system of NIB (or if you wish to call it income tax) poverty would disappear overnight in this small and rich nation of less than 400,000 souls. Everyone would then enjoy the level living commensurate with their human dignity. Even our Beloved Jesus will honor such a societal transformation!

If we continue on the present course, poverty, in its most deepest and most abject state, will be the heritage of our future generation unless we as adults in this nation assure everyone of our young men and women meaningful occupation as they exit the halls of our high schools. Without this assurance, we have failed them miserably and have set the stage for future, certain and guaranteed criminal activity. Just imagine the social, psychological and even spiritual frustration in the hearts and minds of the thousands of graduates, who will enter upon the course of dire uncertainty this very month. Devoid of financial opportunities for further education and with the scarcity of jobs, they can so quickly lose that pristine grace of youthful enthusiasm and motivation as they tread the beat of the unemployed and the dispossessed.

We need to be eternally mindful of the poignant warning given by Marian Edelman when she writes: “ Inattention to children by society poses a greater threat to our society, harmony and productivity than any external enemy.” We are presently smack in the midst of this reality with the daily birthing of more and more internal enemies of the state. Yes, our children are the ‘darlings’ of the nation. But they can so easily become the demons unless they are properly nurtured and cared for. Call then ‘darlings’ only when we have done everything in our power to assure that every child in our land becomes an esteemed, proud, loved, cherished and cared-for individual. When we have made certain he/she is securely set on the path of self-esteem, self-worth and productivity, then and only then, claim then as our darlings. It is nothing short of criminal to believe that our responsibility for our children ends at the age of sixteen!

But this is not just the sitting Government’s call to action. It is essentially a national call to wage “Holy War” on all those areas in society where the Spirit of Christ is encumbered by the strangling hold of abuse, neglect and abandonment of our children, the callused indifference to the mentally ill, the old, the physically handicapped, the imprisoned, the afflicted, the AIDS sufferers; and all the other ills already spelled out which breed violence, teenage pregnancies and poverty among our youth.

It may be, at the moment, that poverty is the inevitable result of the free market economy. However, in a small nation like ours, blessed with so many favors, potentially productive, we may be able, nevertheless, to provide a quality life for all our citizens second to none in this hemisphere. God did create all men and women equal and we would hope that some day we could live in an equitably just and fair world. Jesus may not have directly proposed the eradication of poverty, stating, in fact, that the poor we will always have with us. But certainly these same poor were the ones dearest to his heart. We work then with the God who “raises the poor from the dust and lifts up the needy from the dung hill.” Thus, by caring for and feeding them, we are in perfect obedience to the will of God that all men, all women deserve to live a dignified, joyful and fulfilling life. And I end with this powerful admonition of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who witnesses daily the scourge of absolute poverty:

A church that is in solidarity with the poor can never be a wealthy church. It must sell all, in a sense, to follow the Master. It must use its wealth and resources for the sake of the least of Christ’s brethren.” And who is the church? WE ARE THE CHURCH!

About the Author:   Joseph Darville is a native of Long Island, Bahamas and a resident of Freeport, Grand Bahama. He is the founding member and past president of the Bahamas Counselor's Association; past president of the Bahamas Mental Health Association and the Grand Bahama Mental Health Association; founding member and past president, and presently Vice-President, of the Grand Bahama Humane Rights Association; founding member and presently co-chairman of the Bahamas National Drug Council; a founding member of the Caribbean Human Rights Network; past VP of the Caribbean Federation of Mental Health; founding member and chairman of Operation Hope, [volunteer drug prevention, education & rehabilitation program]; and an administrative VP of the Freeport YMCA. Joseph is a past VP of the Bahamas Union of Teachers and taught at the St. Augustine's College in Nassau as well as at Queens' College, where he was also a guidance counselor; principal of Grand Bahama Catholic High School from 1977-1997. He is an advanced master/teacher in Reiki training, a natural energy healing method, as well as a teacher of Transcendental Meditation. He has received many awards for outstanding service and achievement in teaching, communication, and citizenship, including the 25th year of independence Commonwealth of the Bahamas Citizen’s Award. He now serves as a director of the Coalition to Save The Bays, and presently Board Chairman for the Grand Bahama Humane Society. Joseph is married to Melanie and they have two children, and two grand children. Joseph can be reached at jdarville2002@yahoo.com






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