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Columns : The New Bahamian - Joseph Gaskins Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

Grand Bahama and The 2012 Elections Part 2: Policy Promises and So Called “Party Differences”
By Joseph Gaskins
Mar 1, 2012 - 11:41:36 PM

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If you bought my argument in the first installment of this series—that this election will be one of the most important in Grand Bahama’s recent history—then I would imagine a few questions naturally followed. If, for example, this election is of such importance, for whom should I cast my ballot? I am inclined to agree with my friend, Erin A. Ferguson. This question is dangerously reductive and no good can come of it. Instead of asking, “Who ya votin’ for?” in Grand Bahama, it is time we examine what we are voting for.

In Part 2 of the “Grand Bahama and the 2012 Elections Series,” I will attempt to summarize and compare policy initiatives proposed by each of the political parties as they concern Grand Bahama. It is not my intention to conclude this piece by telling you which policies are the best to vote for—that is a decision only you can make. I have worked to cull together information from various mediums, all of them public, to conduct this assessment. I’ve focused particularly on the information provided publicly for voters—speeches, information on websites and news reports. Just as it is not my intention to instruct readers how to vote, I am not interested in laying out the platform of any political party that is not readily available for the benefit of voters who are interested in finding it.

Let’s be honest, political discourse this election has been short on policy discussion and long on speeches about “leadership,” “change,” “hope” and “personality.” I want to suggest that this imbalance is symptomatic of a larger problem—something that I’ve suggested before in the column. Our political leadership is bereft of ideas and if you happen to wade through the distracting discourse of “who” and focus on the “what,” you’ll find that whatever ideas they do have are remarkably similar.

In an election year where three political parties have fielded a full slate of candidates, you’d think they’d be busy distinguishing themselves. Grand Bahamians, unfortunately, aren’t so lucky.

In all three cases, each party’s policies concerning Grand Bahama can be characterized by three specific thrusts: tax incentives, higher education and training institutions, and—to a lesser extent—tourism. The Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP), “ Project Grand Bahama,” is an 11-point plan with minimal details, despite talk by Mr. Christie of a “detailed plan for the revitalization of our nation’s second major population and business centre.” The Free National Movement (FNM) has yet to produce its manifesto for the coming election, so my insight on their initiatives comes from Prime Minister Ingraham’s speech at the Marco City campaign office opening. I could find no information readily available on the Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) website concerning Grand Bahama specifically, so I’ve turned to a speech given by party leader, Mr. Branville McCartney, at the Grand Bahama candidate launch to fill the gaps. In fact, looking at the candidate listing on the DNA website, only one Grand Bahama constituency is represented: West Grand Bahama & Bimini.

Admittedly, if I didn’t do this as a hobby I would’ve given up before finding anything of value. For now, I will focus on the initiatives concerning tourism first, examine the focus on bringing institutions of higher education and training to Grand Bahama second, and last, I will look at the reliance on tax incentives and subsidies.

From what I could bear to read through, the only policy initiatives that are tourism focused, promising direct action, and that do not rely on incentives come from the PLP and the FNM. In his speech in Freeport on the January 27th, 2011 Mr. Christie suggested that, “…we should support Bahamians who want to build bed-and-breakfast guesthouses, boutique hotels, and small resorts, and those who want to get involved as entrepreneurs in faith-based tourism, eco-tourism, and medical tourism.” To do this, Christie said that we need to revamp our nation’s lending institutions to make this a reality. Similarly, Prime Minister Ingraham promised that if given another term he would work with tourism stakeholders across the island to develop new and attractive tourism facilities. What those facilities will be is up for discussion, but I imagine the list will closely reflect Mr. Christie’s. Under the FNM government, Bahamas Air will also take over Vision Airline’s routes, a change which the Prime Minister hopes will lead to the reopening of the Reef Resort.

I, for one, am glad that our political leaders are finally realizing Grand Bahama can no longer rely on only sun, sand and sea in the competitive global tourism market. One would think that the construction of a monstrous, Las Vegas-like resort, modeled after a mythical underwater ancient city to boost tourism in the capital would’ve made that clear. Increasing air transportation and cruise ship docking to the island is a positive step but when passengers aren’t interested in leaving the boats, it becomes less about getting people to the island and more about making them interested in staying. As the Minister of Tourism, Vincent Vanderpool Wallace has conceded, such a solution is not “instant coffee.” I guess we all arrive to conclusions in our own time.

The establishment of Grand Bahama as a center for tertiary education and technical training features prominently across party lines. Mr. McCartney proposes investing in a flagship School of Science and Technology in conjunction with either the College of the Bahamas or an upgraded Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI). He has also advanced the idea of a flagship School of Film and Creative Arts in East Grand Bahama. Speaking of BTVI, the PLP’s “Project Grand Bahama” mentions expanding the training institute as “a part of a major new investment in technical and vocational training,” as well as developing a public-private partnership to establish a Technology Centre for education and training, and provide a free laptop to every 7th grader. The FNM will work to seek offshore medical educational research and manufacturing facilities, as well as build a marine institute for the training of mariners and a diesel mechanics’ training institute.

I am a huge proponent of education and I’ve practically made a career out of educating myself. However, there’s a problem here that everyone seems to be missing. Who will attend these schools? With males comprising only 14% of those graduating from the College of the Bahamas and the poor performance of students on their BGCSE exams all around, what can we expect admission criteria to be like at these new institutions? What about the failing primary and secondary education systems where only 50% of students are actually leaving high school with a diploma, as the Nassau Guardian reported in 2008? And, when the students from these flagship institutions leave with their own diplomas, where will they work? I have friends who are currently jobless in Freeport despite having finished advanced degrees and previously establishing relationships with companies in Grand Bahama. Many of my other friends refuse to return because of the lack job prospects. In this instance, I think reversing the order of cart and horse might be of some interest to all parties involved.

Tax incentives feature heavily in the PLP’s, “Project Grand Bahama,” representing five out of the eleven points in their plan. The PLP has proposed incentives and subsidies for departures at the airport and harbor and for airlift of tourist to Grand Bahama. Local entertainment such as restaurants, nightclubs, music festivals and craft markets will be supported by incentives. Duty-free concessions will also be extended to East and West Grand Bahama. The DNA would also extend concessions beyond the Port area and lower port taxes to attract greater numbers of air and cruise visitors. From what I can gather, the FNM platform does not rely extensively on incentives or subsidies, however, Prime Minister Ingraham has promised to charge a committee to review the Guide to Customs Duty Exemptions and Procedure for Freeport—to insure it is doing more to facilitate business than harm it.

I am not an economist and so in researching this article I took some time to read up on how effective government incentives are in stimulating economic growth. The reliance on incentives and subsides to promote growth seemed to depend a bit too much on a causal relationship between lower taxes/higher subsides and increased economic growth. I came across Terry F. Buss’ article in Economic Development Quarterly, “The Effect of State Tax Incentives on Economic Growth and Firm Location Decisions: An Overview of the Literature.” Buss’ research focused on distilling all the research literature on the use of state tax incentives in the United States and what they meant for economic growth. While the political, social and economic situation is obviously different than our own, I think there are some lessons we can learn from Buss’ work.

As a radical progressive, tax incentives and subsides are corporate welfare as far as I’m concerned. As Buss makes clear, tax incentives are good politics because if they don’t seem to work, politicians can blame general economic conditions and if they do, even if it’s because of other economic factors, politicians can cite their tax policies.

The only way tax incentives can work is if they increase consumption and this can only happen if incentive causes a net increase in total investments. The thing is—we are often left in the dark about whether or not tax incentives actually provide the kind of investments and the increase in consumption that makes the cost of providing the tax incentives worthwhile. When was the last time anyone’s done a cost-benefit analysis on incentives and subsidies offered to private enterprise?

The literature challenges the simplistic causal equation that tax incentives/subsidies, equals company relocation/investments, equals economic growth, equals job opportunity. Policy makers must consider the individual decision making processes of corporations, the industries which they are hoping to target and other variables.

I must also point at that when taxes are lowered so is the quality of public services provided to communities. After all, taxes pay for government programs. Are Grand Bahamians willing to sacrifice public services and the social welfare programs that have keep their communities afloat to gamble with tax incentives in the hopes that they create jobs?  We are planning to give companies breaks in the hopes that those trickle-down into job opportunities. Trickle-down economics is Regan’s failed neo-liberal legacy, the fruits of which we are currently reaping.

I am not suggesting incentives are wholly inadequate. Buss’ remarks, “Public policy makers must intervene with incentives in different ways, at different times, for different industries.”  He argues that policy makers must require a cost-benefit analysis and periodic evaluations of tax incentive programs. They should also require truth and disclosure in financing provisions for private enterprises, legally binding performance contracts penalizing firms receiving incentives who cannot meet their goals, and eliminating incentive entitlements to just any business that wants them—all while diversifying the industries given such entitlements. If we’re going to do incentives, let’s do them correctly!

Unfortunately, the above is representative of the majority of policy proposals laid out for Grand Bahama during this election season. In addition, the FNM has proposed invigorating Grand Bahama’s real estate market by promoting it as an island for second homes. Prime Minister Ingraham has suggested making Grand Bahama the capital of alternative energy in the Bahamas—an idea of which I am particularly fond. How this will come about and what kind of alternative energy the island produce will, though, are unanswered questions.

Generally, manufacturing has also been mentioned without any specific terms. I’ve always thought the promotion of Grand Bahama as a manufacturing hub was a job for the Grand Bahama Port Authority, but like I said previously, I intend to deal with that in my next column.

If I’ve missed anything I place the blame squarely on the various parties. As a voter, I should not have to synthesize your party’s platform on your behalf. 

Dear reader, if it hasn’t become clear to you while reading this then allow me to conclude by making it clear for you: these parties and the men who lead them may claim they are so different but their policies suggest otherwise. We can talk about personalities all day, but as I’ve said elsewhere, that’s just an argument about who will lead us down the same path more vigorously than the others. In the end it’s the path that is the problem and no one seems to want to get off of it and propose a new trajectory. Not to be all doom-and-gloom, but if you did indeed buy my argument at the beginning of this series then you know—as well as I do—that this poses a grave problem for Grand Bahamians.

Grand Bahama and The 2012 Elections Part 1: An Island of Two Tales

Joey Gaskins is a graduate of Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY with a BA in Politics. He was born in Grand Bahama Island and is currently studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where he has attained his MSc in Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies and has begun a Doctoral Degree in Sociology. Joey also writes for  the Nassau  Liberal  
www. nassauliberal. webs.com  and the Tribune . You can reach him at  j.gaskins@lse.ac.uk


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