Access Denied (Disability Rights)

For years we have toyed around with the words access, inclusion and human rights, often dismissing them as if they were of little to no importance in our country.  Can we collectively now get serious about it?

The inclusion of all persons within our society in nation building is essential for the success of our commonwealth. There is absolutely no reason why in 2018, persons of all abilities should not have access to all buildings within the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. It was disappointing to witness the inconvenience and frustration that individuals with varying abilities were subject to at a recent event hosted at Mount Fitzwilliam – home to the highest office in the land. The fact that there is an elevator at Government House and the organizers were unable (or did not seek) to ensure that it was working is heart-breaking! A simple change in location, given the inaccessibility of the building, would have resolutely indicated that we are indeed thinking about inclusion, serious about accessibility and we as a nation understand basic human rights.  In the words of a local advocate, “It is an ironic mockery to honour someone and disrespect them at the same time”

It is simply unacceptable that children that are differently able are still having difficulties with getting to some of their classes because there is simply no access.   Further to the issue of environmental barriers, there are children with special needs that are still not able to access needed therapeutic intervention namely Occupational Therapy, Behaviour Therapy and Physical Therapy within the educational system.  The lack of provisions for students needing additional assistance is an impediment that extends beyond their immediate environment to potentially shutting them out of their future. It is high time that we got serious about access, inclusion and human rights in our nation.

Public transportation for persons in wheelchairs is non-existent, recreational facilities have substandard access and even though we advertise our beautiful beaches worldwide, they remain inaccessible to persons with limited mobility. These individuals are constantly subjected to choosing between the worst option and nothing at all, which is truly inhumane.  Successive administrations have pontificated much about this issue, but can we take the rights of ALL humans serious; especially in what has been termed ' the people's time'?

Can we include every human in the human experience and move beyond just pacifying dialogue? Mere sympathy does not provide access, inclusion, or human rights. Would you like to be subjected to what you see others suffer through? Would an “I’m so sorry” pacify you if you see students moving from the Science Lab to the Music Room, but you can’t because there is no ramp for a wheelchair? Would you like to know that you, your mother or your child was being honoured somewhere and you couldn’t attend because there was absolutely no way for you to get to the second floor of that building except by stairs you cannot climb?

Inclusion of people with disabilities in society means involving them in every aspect of participation others enjoy. Inclusion is something that must come from a desire to include them in the activities of the community, family, friendships and more.  Including people with disabilities is something that you cannot legislate into the hearts and minds of people, it is something that we must want. When all of a person's needs are met in an integrated way, each of the areas adds strength in their ability to achieve fulfilment in other areas. Inclusion is about meeting every one of those needs and maximizing a person's overall quality of life.   

Mohamed Jenmi, a Professor of ICT and Educational Technologies said it best in his TED talks presentation in 2013, “Disability is not the problem.  The accessibility is the problem.” Human Rights are not optional!

Charlis Robins

Spokesperson for Social Services & Urban Development, Democratic National Alliance


Grand Lucayan: Fundamental issues remain unaddressed

  • Fundamental issues with Bahamian economy highlighted

  • Parliamentarians must stop sowing seeds of discord

  • Administration lacks creativity, innovation, business and negotiating skills

  • Government fails to chart course for future prosperity of country's second capital

  • Grand Bahama pivotal to the overall success of nation’s economy

While many Bahamians have reservations about the Government's decision to purchase the Grand Lucayan resort, all right-thinking Bahamians are hopeful that this investment will bring relief to Grand Bahamians. There is no victory to be derived from a failure of the Government insofar as the economy of Grand Bahama is concerned. Therefore, many looked forward to the Prime Minister’s communication in Parliament with much anticipation.

Regrettably, the Prime Minister’s communication on the Grand Lucayan purchase was disappointing and raised more doubts about the Government's actions. The presentation provided no additional or visionary details to the Bahamian people. The communication fell short on substance on the strategic plan, business plan, operational plan, interim measures and a detailed exit plan for the resort.

Just like the decision to increase the VAT rate by 60%, this decision was not only lazy but also a display of a lack of creativity, innovation, business and negotiating skills of the current administration. After sixteen months of futile negotiations, the Government has taken the easy way out and expended taxpayer funds on a resort that has been described as not making economic sense.

The Prime Minister spent a significant and inordinate amount of time recounting the actions of the ousted PLP administration - an administration that was fired by the Bahamian people. Valuable time was wasted on political rhetoric, pandering, sensationalism and demagoguery. It is also shameful that the Government has chosen to foster a spirit of division by pronouncements aimed at pitting residents of Grand Bahama against their brothers and sisters in other Islands of The Bahamas; particularly inhabitants of New Providence. The Government must promote unity and camaraderie among the citizenry, after all we are one people united in love and service.

Comparisons between the total cost of the concessions requested by the Wynn Group (“Wynn”) and the purchase price to be paid by the Government for the Grand Lucayan seem disingenuous and misleading. The $159.65 million in concessions sought by Wynn appears to have at its core a fully functional Grand Lucayan with all three hotels operating as going concerns as opposed to the purchase of an asset with only one hotel in operation and without considering cost related to repairs and operations on an ongoing basis. A fair analogy can only occur when these additional costs and accompanying concessions are determined and communicated.

By all accounts, massive subsidies, concessions and incentives will be required to address the issues with airlift, room inventory and the high cost of doing business in Grand Bahama (which is reflected in the concessions demanded by Wynn). A frank discussion on these and the corresponding plans remain outstanding.

It is disturbing that we still do not know how much this venture will ultimately cost the Bahamian people with the Minister of Finance stating that current estimates put the total capital financing needs around $124M including the purchase price. The pontificating and grandstanding by Members of Parliament cannot substitute for a comprehensive plan for the Grand Lucayan and the economy of Grand Bahama. The Prime Minister’s communication reveals that the fundamental issues confronting the Grand Bahamian economy serve as a disincentive to investment and investors – that is, the cost and ease of doing business.  Wynn’s requests reveal that investors are concerned about the cost of energy, anxiety over increasing taxes, inefficiencies within the public sector and The Bahamas’ overall competitiveness when compared with our regional counterparts.

The Government acting as a buyer of last resort cannot become our modus operandi as a nation. Not only is this approach unsustainable, it deprives essential services such as education, healthcare, national security and disaster recovery of much needed funding and investment. We implore the Minnis administration to abandon its lazy approach to governance and chart an economic course that can inspire Bahamians and incentivize investors.


Arinthia S. Komolafe, Deputy Leader

Democratic National Alliance


Condolences: Inspector Carlos Blatch

I join with the Bahamian people in expressing my deep regret and sympathies upon learning of the shooting incident that took place on our streets here in the Capital, and the subsequent passing of aide-de-Camp Inspector Carlis Blatch, who succumbed to injuries sustained during the said incident.

On behalf of the Democratic National Alliance, our leaders, officers and members, I wish to extend sincere condolences to Inspector Blatchs' family and the Royal Bahamas Police Force family.

Further condolences are extended to our Governor General, the staff at Government House where he last served and all his comrades. May his Soul Rest in Peace.

Stephen Greenslade 

Deputy Chairperson

Democratic National Alliance 


A classic back-to-school letter

As my children returned to school this fall term after a long and eventful summer, I could not help but reflect upon the sentiments expressed in a letter that has been attributed to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

While there have been numerous debates about the authorship of the letter, which was supposedly written to his son’s teacher, the words of the letter express parental love and articulate the expectations of a parent in relation to his or her child. Implicitly it appreciates the fact that most of the child’s time will be spent in the presence of a teacher or an instructor, who will not only be responsible for his or her academic education, but also play a major role in his or her introduction to life’s challenges, perplexities and contradictions.

 

An inspiration for all

 

The referenced letter serves and should serve as an inspiration to teachers, parents and children alike. To the teacher because it re-emphasizes the magnificent role that teachers play in the development of students into fit and proper individuals of our society, who are able to contribute to the growth and success of our nation. To parents because it highlights how the formal education system fits into our value system and our dreams for the future of our children, which ultimately determines the destiny of our commonwealth. The letter brings to light the vital role of parents in their children’s education and the importance of a strategic partnership with their children’s teachers in the development of well-rounded citizens of tomorrow.

To the children and students who are the subject of this letter for all seasons, this note provides an insight into the thoughts of most parents regarding their offspring. It is de facto a window into the minds of their earthly guardians which reveals unconditionally and oft times tough love aimed at ultimately putting them on the right track towards a successful and fulfilling life. The letter unravels the true intentions of parents and guardians which go beyond merely sending them to school because the law mandates the same, to a genuine desire that they become the best and all that they can be.

 

The transcript from wise utterances

 

The letter is so profound and relevant to the current in our country that I found it desirable to share the full text with the populace at the commencement of the new school year. It is only fitting that we reproduce verbatim this self-explanatory letter that is attributed to Lincoln and in some cases described as “An Anonymous Father’s Letter to His Son’s Teacher” rather than provide an analysis. While there are varying versions of the letter, the crux of all the versions are the same. The letter is also meant to be gender neutral with the subject being a child; whether male or female. The letter reads:

 

“My son starts school today. It is all going to be strange and new to him for a while and I wish you would treat him gently. It is an adventure that might take him across continents. All adventures that probably include wars, tragedy and sorrow. To live this life will require faith, love and courage.

So dear teacher, will you please take him by his hand and teach him things he will have to know, teaching him – but gently, if you can. Teach him that for every enemy, there is a friend. He will have to know that all men are not just, that all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero; that for every crooked politician, there is a dedicated leader.

Teach him if you can that 10 cents earned is of far more value than a dollar found. In school, teacher, it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to learn how to gracefully lose and enjoy winning when he does win.

Teach him to be gentle with people, tough with tough people. Steer him away from envy if you can and teach him the secret of quiet laughter. Teach him if you can – how to laugh when he is sad, teach him there is no shame in tears. Teach him there can be glory in failure and despair in success. Teach him to scoff at cynics.

Teach him if you can the wonders of books, but also give time to ponder the extreme mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun and flowers on a green hill. Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong.

Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone else is doing it. Teach him to listen to everyone but teach him also to filter all that he hears on a screen of truth and take only the good that comes through.

Teach him to sell his talents and brains to the highest bidder but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul. Let him have the courage to be impatient, let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind, in God.

This is a big order, teacher but see what best you can do. He is such a nice little boy and he is my son.”

 

Going back to basics

 

Core moral values of hope, honesty, hard work, faith, fortitude, perseverance, self-control, self-worth and diligence echo throughout this letter. Parents must continue to uphold these important standards for their children. The standards must remain, and we must not compromise on the values that have helped us to build this nation. For a deviation from these principles will only destroy the work of our ancestors and render in vain the labour of our past heroes.

There is no doubt that the reproduced letter above will remain relevant and valuable for years to come. Hopefully, it will inspire you as it has done to so many individuals across the globe for many years and motivate you to create your own tradition of letter writing to your children’s teachers and instructors. A candid letter from the heart of a parent stating his/her expectations, aspirations and dreams for his/her child will go a long way to ensure the meeting of minds with teachers and encourage them in their pursuit of excellence.

The Bahamas will be a better place when most of our parents have the sentiments expressed in this letter and our teachers have the courage to follow through on the same. We wish all our school students and teachers a successful 2018/2019 school year and pray God’s blessings upon our children, parents, teachers and The Bahamas.

 

Arinthia S. Komolafe

Deputy Leader

Democratic National Alliance

 

Government Urged: Release Fiscal Forecast Details

  • Fiscal projections were in jeopardy before legal challenges

  • Budget impact analysis remains a secret document

  • Transparency and accountability continue to elude us

  • Details of projections should be released

  • Actions fuel suspicion that no financial modeling done prior

 

It was recently reported that the Minister of Finance believes that the legal challenges by the web shop industry will put additional pressure on the Government’s 2018/2019 fiscal projections. This is bearing in mind that the Government had supposedly anticipated an increase in revenue of between $30 million and $40 million based on changes to the taxation system for this industry.

The Minister further suggested that a cutback in the form of more austere measures may be on the horizon should the Government be unable to meet its revenue targets. This is unacceptable; the Bahamian people should not be subject to additional hardship and suffering due to the lack of proper analysis, planning and consultation prior to the implementation of new fiscal measures by the Government.

The Government has ignored repeated calls for the release of the economic impact assessment conducted to justify the significant hike in the VAT rate, other taxes and fees. Rather, the modelling and forecasts document that was referenced remains shrouded in secrecy and away from the Bahamian people. The Government has effectively chosen to ignore the people’s demand for transparency, accountability and good governance while seeking our empathy for potentially missing their revenue targets.

We note that there was significant resistance to the proposed revenue measures in the lead up to the budget debate. The duplicitous actions of the current administration in increasing the VAT rate after opposing the implementation of this tax while in opposition has been highlighted on numerous occasions. The Government was advised that an increase in the tax rate will not necessarily translate into a corresponding increase in tax revenue with potential consequences in the form of reduced consumer spending, confidence and purchasing power. The reality is that the risk of missing revenue projections was always present prior to the legal challenges referenced by the Minister.

The adhoc policy decisions on certain tax measures fuel the suspicion that no proper financial modelling was done by the Government prior to the preparation or implementation of the national budget. We are hopeful that this is not the case and urge the Government to dispel this notion by releasing their detailed projections to the public. The revised projections will ideally factor in the purchase of the Grand Lucayan, the tax revenue forgone for breadbasket items, VAT exempt implications for insurance products and medicines, the increase in the VAT exempt minimum threshold for BPL customers and reversal of the tax treatment for owner-occupied dwellings.

In releasing the economic impact analysis, the Bahamian people will be better informed on the anticipated impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), unemployment, the poverty index, inflation and consequently economic growth projections. The Bahamian people are intelligent and can decipher information for themselves. This is the least that we can expect from the people’s time government.

 

Arinthia S. Komolafe

Deputy Leader, Democratic National Alliance

Affordable Home Program: Another Case of Poor Planning and Execution

The recent revelation that only fifteen percent (15%) of the 60 applicants qualified for the serviced lots under the Government’s Affordable Home Program is a classic case study on poor planning and deficient execution. According to the Government, only nine persons were eligible for the $15,000 lots following the vetting process. This does not factor in the cost of construction with qualified applicants required to build within two years of purchasing the lots.

 

The comments attributed to the Minister responsible for this initiative that Bahamians need to get their financial house in order is rather interesting. We are hopeful that the Government will heed its own advice and demonstrate a true commitment to fiscal discipline while avoiding imprudent financial decisions on our behalf.

 

It appears that the Government via its representative has had an epiphany on the plight and reality of the average Bahamian; unemployment, underemployment and over-leveraging. The only problem is that this realization comes on the heels of a sixty percent (60%) increase in the VAT rate and the passage of a landmark budget of hardship. Coupled with selective austere measures and the absence of a cogent economic growth strategy, the disposable income and purchasing power of the masses has been reduced.

 

Bahamians were disappointed but not surprised by the lamentations of the Minister responsible for Housing. We submit that it is disingenuous for a sitting government to pontificate on predatory lending at commercial banks and other lending institutions without an accompanying solution aimed at addressing the highlighted issue.

 

Over the years, observers of the Bahamian economy have raised awareness about the macro and micro debt crisis confronting our nation. It is the expectation that the implementation of an effective credit reporting system and other meaningful reforms will stem this negative trend. We maintain that the optimum combination of monetary, fiscal, economic and social policies remains the best approach to our fiscal dilemma.

 

The initial failure of the Affordable Home Program is reminiscent of the failed Mortgage Relief Program under the former administration and is a case of déjà vu for disappointed Bahamians seeking to achieve their dream of home ownership. In this regard, the Affordable Home Program is a misnomer for the fifty one individuals who cannot afford these lots and consequently have had their hopes dashed. Once again, we have on display the result of inadequate analysis, a defective consultation process, flawed reasoning and a disconnection from reality.

 

Our leaders must reverse the trend of making grandiose announcements and adhoc decisions without underlying empirical data to support their assertions. We implore the Government to go back to the drawing board and properly design a program that is sensible, feasible and realistic. The DNA stands ready to assist in this regard.


 

Arinthia S. Komolafe

Deputy Leader

Democratic National Alliance