The Bahamas and the Legislative Curve

First Published: 2007-07-19

There are many circumstances where being behind the legislative curve is good, like less power for politicians for example; but here in The Bahamas we seem to be behind in areas that are detrimental to the good of all Bahamians, these areas are:

Education,
Accountability of legislators,
Health Care, and
Labour legislation.

Education

Something must be done to improve our abysmal educational system where about 50% of school leavers do not get a passing grade. They get a fancy prom, but a poor education.

A voucher system, or school choice, would certainly help.

Over fifty years ago the great economist Dr. Milton Friedman advocated school choice which is essentially parents receive a voucher for the amount of money the government pays from taxes to educate a child in the public system. This voucher is to be used by parents at a school of their choice. If they wish to pay the difference for their child to go to private school or even move them to a better public school, they are "free to choose".

Accountability of legislators

Many first world countries have legislation that clearly outlines breaches by legislators and the penalties associated with those transgressions. Canada for instance has had a Code of Conduct for several years now. Britain has had one for even longer, not to mention the strict enforcement of their Parliamentary Conventions.

While both major political parties have discussed the issue here at home, nothing of consequence has happened where legislation is concerned.

Health Care

Here again, The Bahamas has started down the road to socialised medicine by copying the Canadian model. A programme, that after forty years, is being rejected by Canadian's themselves. In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the single payer system there is illegal and private clinics and hospitals are being opened once again.

Hopefully the many people that are now denied care because of government rationing will be able to stay home for their health services rather than being forced to travel abroad.

Of course The Bahamas has had a form of socialised health care for many years in the public system. Unfortunately this has been a miserable failure in many respects. Even so, the Blue Ribbon Commission proposed that the government expand this system and fund it by implimenting an income tax.

Labour legislation

This is an area that is sorely lacking in legislation that encourages productivity. And productivity is an important ingredient for the advancement of a nation and her people.

Yet some people would wish to see the country implement the International Labour Organisation's sixty seven (67) year old Convention 87.

The "Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, of 1948, commonly referred to as Convention 87 is being pushed by the newly appointed labour minister and some of the labour unions.

According to the Bahamas Employers Confederation's (BECon) news bulletin of June 2006 there is a belief that Convention 87 would allow "general unions", rather than industry specific representation, and from this a very powerful union could materialise. BECon says this "could effectively stop commerce in the nation through the industrial action of a general strike that would result in devastating economic ruin to the country."

So there seems to be consensus among employers and some unions alike that Article 24 of The Bahamas Constitution adequately covers the requirements of Convention 87.

This begs the question, why should The Bahamas bother taking this initiative any further? After all, should a branch of the United Nations be writing public policy for The Bahamas that is fast becoming outmoded elsewhere?

Right to Work Laws

Lawrence Reed, president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy suggests in The Wall Street Journal that the right-to-work is the way forward to employee advancement.

In this op-ed column, Mr. Reed, a Michigan resident notes:

"Making Michigan a right-to-work state would quash with one powerful blow the nagging perception that our labor climate is too hostile and costly for business. It would provide freedom of choice in labor representation for workers and a temporizing influence on union leadership."

Right to work laws in the US counteract "Closed Shops", which means one is forced to be a union member if a bargaining unit exists. In The Bahamas we have what is referred to as "Agency Shop" where non-union members are forced to pay union dues even if they are not a member. That is coercion, not a fundamental right to association. Everyone should have the right to join a union and pay dues if they choose, or the right not join a union and not pay dues if they choose. That is what will provide the "fundamental right of association".

So right to work laws are appropriate for The Bahamas as well.

Conclusion

In closing, it is fair to say that The Bahamas is consistently behind the legislative curve. Implementing legislation and programmes that are in some cases almost 70 years old does not cut it. The legislation and programmes we tend to copy are so old that other countries are amending or removing them to make them more useful to life in the 21st Century.

Hopefully, The Bahamas can change course before it's too late.

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