“Policies must be consistent with the national will of the people”. Malcolm Adderley M.P. speaking to the press about his Parliamentary Select Committee on banks.
“The rhetoric which is currently being employed in the local and international newspapers over the issue of Haiti and Caribbean relations with the US is misdirected and overblown”. Fred Mitchell M.P. & Minister of Foreign Affairs.
On the face of it, these statements by politicians seem well-intentioned, but the reality is that they are pure rhetoric designed to confuse Bahamians. So what lies below the surface?
Select Committee on Banks
Mr. Adderley appears to be suggesting that government policies or rules relating to banking should be consistent with what Bahamians want. Taken literally, responsible Bahamians would probably agree. However, those Bahamians that wish to take advantage of banks would be leaping with joy at the prospect of not having to repay their debts.
While there are legitimate circumstances that might affect one’s ability to repay a debt, banks are generally understanding and classify loans in various categories or refinance them to help clients when their payments are past due.
However, as Mr. Adderley knows, this does not give people the right to ignore their debt, and his statements are being interpreted to mean just that.
The reality is that banks are obligated to protect the interest of their depositors and the tyranny of the state should not be utilised to support delinquency.
In Mr. Mitchell’s case, his commentary seems more of an effort to save face because of a failed foreign policy with regard to Aristide and Haiti. As with many governments, when things are going badly at home, they often become preoccupied with foreign policy.
While there is no problem with trying to assist Haiti, as this can be seen both as a noble cause and one that is clearly in our own interest, we should take care that our efforts do not make things worse for ourselves and the very people we are trying to aid.
There is no doubt that President Aristide enjoyed massive and enthusiastic support from the Haitian people both in and outside Haiti when he was first elected. However, he has clearly lost that support. The country was turning to chaos again and the foreign powers who could underwrite a settlement were no longer willing to do so with Aristide at the helm.
It makes no sense for the Bahamas and Caricom to swim against the tide. It is not constructive and it has earned us a rebuke from our most important foreign partner – the United States. Diplomacy is about achieving one's objectives – not flying in the face of reality.
The reality is that investigations are underway in Haiti and preliminary allegations are reportedly astounding, and place Aristide in the same company as the Duvaliers.
It is most unfortunate for The Bahamas that, in recent years, we continue to fall on the wrong side of history in our zeal to pretend that we can lecture the United States. No country is perfect in its pursuit of foreign policy, but we have to work with what we have, and generally speaking the American system does not support corrupt leaders…either political or commercial…to the detriment of the entire nation for very long.
Will reality set in?
Hopefully the reality of both the banking and Haitian situations will hit home with Messrs Adderely and Mitchell before too much more damage is done.
The Nassau Institute
March 21, 2004