The Dog Days of Summer

First Published: 2003-09-10

The dog days of summer are traditionally the hottest days of the year, but this summer it would appear that the heat is affecting the decisions of the country’s leaders.

1. There are reports that the Police picked up several Chinese people for no apparent reason.

2. The Public Utilities Commission have apparently taken an action that in effect reverses their own action of granting a business licence, and

3. Cabinet continues to involve itself in labour matters.

When people are reportedly indiscriminately picked up and herded off, when contracts with and the written policy of government are perceived as not worth the paper they are written on, and the Cabinet involves themselves in the day to day affairs of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, citizens need to take serious notice.

Rounding up the Chinese

According to The Bahama Journal (Thursday, August 28, 2003), 20 Chinese people were picked up by the Police and taken off to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, on the assumption that they were illegal aliens. When the dust settled, it was determined that all but two of them had legitimate work permits, one had permanent residence with the right to work and another was a Bahamian citizen.

The Commissioner of Police has apparently apologised to the president of the Chinese-Bahamian Association for this erroneous action. Initially there were concerns that this was a deliberate police action, but reports are that an Inspector of Police took the initiative all on his own.

While the Police and Immigration departments have their hands full with illegal immigration, the practice of rounding people up under the lens of the ZNS news camera, treating the “people like dogs,” if not illegal, is certainly unethical.

It is unsettling when the police can take action like this on a whim in the 21st Century Bahamas, and this must be a contravention of Chapter III, clause 15. (a) and (b) of the Bahamas Constitution that guarantees certain freedoms. All citizens of the country must discourage actions like these.

Certainly, it leaves the community uneasy with the fear that they could be picked up next because someone in authority dislikes them.

The PUC and DigiTel

Another “peculiar” decision is that of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) toward DigiTel. Allegedly the PUC have taken away the means of DigiTel, a new, private telephone company, to exercise their rights granted under the terms of a licence issued to them by the PUC.

Reports suggest the dead hand of Cabinet was involved despite:

1. The PUC issuing a licence to DigiTel to offer a service, and

2. The allegation that the PUC’s new action, in setting regulatory policy, appears contrary to the Telecommunications Sector Policy issued by the Government.

It was perceived that if DigiTel were allowed to offer the services under the licence it would hurt the chances of privatising the Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation.

Also, it is important to note that the PUC is not a policy making arm of Government, it should merely enforce government policies and the law as it relates to the telecommunications industry.

Cabinet’s Micro Management

The other episode of meddling by the Cabinet is their involvement with the day-to-day operations of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation when the Management and Board made the tough decision to fire a senior employee of long tenure. Union, management and government procedures for contesting the wrongful discharge of an employee under the law will apparently be completely circumvented. Such political meddling destroys the managerial drive to increase productivity and in this particular case reduce the high cost of electricity.

A discussion of these issues separate and apart of each other, might not lead to the conclusion that the country needs to sit up and take notice of their diminishing freedoms. However, together they demonstrate an unsettling pattern.

It looks like rain!

For a country on the precipice of bankruptcy, and in need of investor, business and community confidence, these actions only engender fear and mistrust.

The short answer is the Prime Minister and his trusted Cabinet need to speak to these issues and let the community know these are not actions approved by them, transparency will be the order of the day, and the culprits will be dealt with. The country cannot afford to be perceived again as one where civil rights do not exist, or a contract is not worth the paper it is written on, or the Cabinet is perceived as circumventing the labour legislation Parliament put in place to resolve labour disputes.

To paraphrase Eeyore, the sullen donkey from the Winnie the Pooh stories: “oh my, oh dear, it looks like rain”. Maybe the best thing to hope for is the rain will help cool the authorities off long enough to help them think straight once again.

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