The Hamilton Report…an oxymoron?

First Published: 2002-09-17

The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce should be given credit for trying to stimulate debate on finding ways to optimise the “Benefits From Trade Liberalisation.” Unfortunately, the Hamilton Report does not answer the fundamental question of what Trade Liberalisation really is; nor do the government officials who are not willing to provide insight into their negotiations.

The main fears expressed by Bahamians are:

a) Foreigners will be allowed in, taking jobs from Bahamians.

b) International companies will have the same opportunities as Bahamian companies, and,

c) Income tax will be established because government will have to do away with the import duty regime.

The government has refuted only one of the above points; they will not turn to income tax. Does this mean that workers and companies from other countries will be allowed in and have equal access to jobs and business licences? That would be consistent with “free trade.”

It appears that Dr. Hamilton spent too much time talking with government officials on what needs to be done to benefit from trade liberalisation, rather than discussing the issues with the private sector. After all, the private sector trades…not the government. Accordingly the recommendations cover a wish list normally found in Socialist states, where citizens turn to the government for handouts and protection from individuals or companies that are more efficient than they are. Unfortunately these policies will not help the country compete…they will only make people more dependent on the government and its services…which will have to be paid for with higher taxes.

So how do we compete?

If the Bahamas and her citizen’s will have to compete with first world nations it should logically follow that demands must be placed on improving the results of our educational system. No longer can students be pushed through the system and enter the work force being deficient in the three ‘R’s of Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic.

Franicis Fukuyama, professor of public policy at George Mason University, provides some interesting insight in his new book titled The Great Disruption:

“This world of abundant low-skill, blue-collar work disappeared during the 1970’s and 1980’s. As a result of international competition, deregulation, and (most important) technological change, many new high-skill jobs were created and many low skill jobs began to disappear.”

As the Bahamas economy continues to adapt to this new world of competition, deregulation and technological change, so must the citizens and educational system.

In January 2001 The Nassau Institute made recommendations to improve education, and they are no less relevant today. They included: Developing a voucher system; selling schools to teachers and interested investors; reducing Summer vacations to three or four weeks; extending school hours from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm and segregating fast learners as in the early 1900’s. (See www.nassauinstitute.org for details).

In addition to these recommendations, technical programmes offered at the tertiary level, should insist that entrants attain satisfactory grades in basic studies…the three ‘R’s. These basic skills are mandatory in this technological age.

Bahamians can compete.

Many Bahamians are doing well in spite of the deficient educational system, but these numbers can and should be dramatically increased. The Bahamas already participates in the global marketplace in tourism, banking and fishing, and Bahamians have emigrated to first world countries where they compete and enjoy successful careers. This should create a sense that Bahamians can do well in other areas as well, and the powers that be should be cheerleaders encouraging Bahamians. But as usual, the political concentration of power will probably win out over common sense until it is too late.

The wish list should be reconsidered.

So, solutions to the country’s fundamental problems are not in empowering The Industrial Tribunal to enforce its rulings or creating pools of money for displaced businesses, among the many other laws Dr. Hamilton recommends. These represent a wish list from the people interviewed and will not make the Bahamas competitive in the year 2005. In fact, the welfare aspects of many of the programmes recommended will make the country less competitive.

Therefore, The Hamilton Report appears to provide numerous recommendations that contradict competitiveness. Hopefully Dr. Hamilton will consider revising his report…this time taking the private sector in mind.

The Nassau Institute

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