The Minister of Trade & Industry, Mr. Leslie O. Miller, made some “interesting” statements while on two radio talk shows recently. If Mr. Miller wishes to be anything more than a populist spouting propaganda, he will have to re-examine his ideas. Let’s look at some of them.
The instrument of harm?
Mr. Miller intends to set up a consumer tribunal that as he says “will have powers to send for persons and people to deal with matters that affects us.” The Minister states that with the passing of a Consumer Protection Bill in September Bahamians with complaints about business can turn for help from the state. While it appears that Mr. Miller will be the defender of Bahamians, what he is actually proposing is an instrument of harm.
A Tribunal has a way of destroying democracy by using the force and power of Government to get what it wants to achieve politically at the expense of the Judicial system and the rights of the individual ascribed in the Constitution. They are quasi-legal set-ups having no place in a free-enterprise market economy.
Improve the court system
Mr. Miller further says “Our judicial system is a waste of time when it comes to getting fair play for Bahamians…”
This statement was made in relation to people getting redress from the courts when they believe they have been taken advantage of by the construction industry, (a group of people that the Minister states “most of whom should really be jailed,”). For a Cabinet Minister to be publicly attacking the courts and suggesting that a section of the business community should be jailed is descriptive of a dictatorship and it is hoped the Prime Minister and Parliament would not permit the Minister to continue with these pejorative comments.
No one doubts the need for improvement in the administration of justice and the protection of property. The courts require justices well instructed in the law and the knowledge that they are not there to make the law, or to serve any political need, but to adhere to impartiality based on the law. But to suggest that his Government needs to work around the court system by appointing a tribunal is disturbing. One of the reasons courts were established was to prevent individuals (kings and politicians) making decisions for their own ends. Is this the “fair play” the Minister would like to see reincarnated?
More price control
Mr. Miller states “We might just put more items on price control.” There are Bahamians and Haitians “scavenging on the city dump. The merchants must have a conscience. Listen, everyone cannot afford the same straight across the economic spectrum.”
Intervention in the market by controlling prices nullifies the very existence of economics. The free market should prevail – where buyers and sellers mutually agree on the price of goods – to their own advantage. It is offensive to both buyers and sellers for Mr. Miller to determine what level prices should be held at. It is paradoxical, but price controls reduce the competition that is vital for better prices and the availability of goods and services. Examples of failed price controls can be found in all ages: the ancient Nile (2830 BC), Sumeria (2350BC), Babylon, ancient Greece, India, Rome and in the 20th century in the Communist Bloc and even the presidency of Richard Nixon.
The Minister should have to produce evidence for Parliament showing that price controls work to the benefit of the consumer before the price of any item is controlled.
A dramatic point the Minister makes here is that merchants cause people to scavenge at the city dump because they do not have a conscience and everyone can’t pay the same amount for food items. Certainly this remark is designed to confuse the issue of pricing, as merchants have no control over people deciding to live at the garbage dump.
On the other hand a “caring” government minister could start a private foundation to help these people return to a “normal” life.
Bank Inspectors v/s Government inspectors
Mr. Miller contends that organisations that finance building homes “should have on their staff competent persons that could go and do an evaluation for stage payments on the banks property.”
Presently stage payments are released by banks and mortgage companies after an inspection by a private quantity surveyor or architect. Why should they have to engage another full time position for this purpose when they can contract this work out to companies that are licensed by government for this purpose?
Are we to assume that the building inspectors at the Ministry of Works serve no useful purpose? Are they another government bureaucracy that has failed its mandate?
Mr. Miller contends that people selling goods by the side of the road are earning money using “slight illegal means.” This is a curious statement indeed. Maybe women can now be slightly pregnant!
Either a person is breaking the law or not. Selling goods without a license is against the law. If this is impractical to enforce, Government should do the sensible thing and remove it from the books.
Demonisation of business and the judiciary
The anti-business utterances of the Minister of Trade and Industry do not go unnoticed by both Bahamian and foreign investors in business in the Bahamas. To take on the role of demonising business people and the judicial system is most unfortunate as the standard of living of every Bahamian is directly related to the health of the Bahamian business community and an effective judicial system. This is not a practical approach for solving our nation’s ills.
In his book HIDDEN ORDER: The ECONOMICS OF EVERYDAY LIFE David Friedman put is this way:
While some regulations, such as compulsory vaccination, may make sense as attempts to force consumers to act in the general interest, many more seem designed to serve very narrow private interests – at the expense of those being “protected.”
Attempting to protect Bahamian consumers from themselves by passing another Law or forming another Tribunal may seem politically correct for the moment, but there will surely be unintended consequences that our “protectors” will not envision.
Businesspeople are ordinary members of society who work to make a living, and in doing so create jobs for other people. They are no different in terms of vices like greed, selfishness, arrogance, or dishonesty than any other sector – including politicians, lawyers, employees, union leaders, or clergy. And in any event, the minister himself is a businessman and employer.
It begs the question…is the Minister honestly concerned about Bahamians or is he more concerned with demonising a very important part of our community for political gain?
The Nassau Institute