This year I wore the badge of being one of the first Caribbean Global Shapers to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Latin America with pride. However in attending this forum I soon realized that I was the only representative from my country in attendance.
Flitting from plenary to plenary and hobnobbing with some of the world’s most elite business owners and politicians, even going so far as meeting the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, it was not lost on me that I was the only Bahamian there. There were no Bahamian speakers, presenters or other delegates. To be completely frank, this unsettled me. As the theme of this year’s forum was “Opening Pathways for Shared Progress,” I was optimistic in expecting that a SIDS country such as The Bahamas would have been front and center, ready and willing to take notes. Upon further investigation it was brought to my attention that every Caribbean head of state received an invitation to this year’s Forum. So why was there only one in attendance?
The curious cat in me simply wouldn’t let this fact go, so I went on the hunt for an answer that would adequately explain why the Bahamas, (a country whose government seems to be grasping at thin air for solutions to almost all of our problems) wouldn’t be in attendance at one of the world’s most elite forums.
I began my search with none other than the Government of the Bahamas itself. I made a call to the Office of the Prime Minister in Nassau, Bahamas and asked to speak to either their press secretary or anyone that would be able to give an official statement to the press. Our elected officials exist to represent Bahamians both in our country and on the world stage. The response however indicated otherwise. After 30 minutes of being transferred from desk to desk, public servant-to-public servant, speaking to people who had absolutely no idea of what it was that I was asking, I decided that I would call the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – surely they would have an answer. Right?
I was able to briefly speak with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who upon hearing the question gave a hearty chuckle to rival that of Gandalf the Grey. Mr. Permanent secretary then advised me to send an email so that he may be able to properly address the question at hand. Up until the release of this article there was still no response.
I was however able to catch up with Mr. Peter Turnquest, a well-respected member of the Grand Bahama business community as well as the Member of Parliament for East Grand Bahama.
“Honestly, I don’t know why we do not attend these gatherings of world and influential leaders. Truth is that we have always been late to these meetings or absent altogether. Whether it’s trade meetings or CARICOM meetings we have always had poor representation or none at all. I suppose it comes down to exposure and priorities” said Turnquest.
I decided to ask a few Bahamian young professionals in the financial sector the same question. Tanicia Pratt of Nassau, Bahamas gave fascinating insight into the benefits of participating in such a global forum, highlighting a controversial tax policy in The Bahamas, the value-added tax (VAT) that could have been discussed at the Forum.
“The government clearly needs assistance, clarity, and new innovative ways to manage government funds and the Economic Forum could have been a great opportunity to observe their counterparts and see how other countries in our region are creating new sources of revenue. Though it is not wrong to dream big, VAT is not a system designed for developing countries. The government cannot simply fabricate a source of income on an economy whose pockets are already stretched. With the Economic Forum on Latin America the Bahamas would be able to come up with better ways to tackle revenue matched by the size that we are” she explained.
Concerning Mr. Turnquest’s response the question is raised; what is the Government really prioritizing? It’s really not about whether the Bahamas was there or not. The real matter lays in how accountable are we holding our leaders, irrespective of which political party they represent.
It is my hope that in the future, the Bahamas will take up the invitation to attend the World Economic Forum, one of the world’s most elite platforms. Being a visible and vocal part of this forum puts us on the map and demonstrates that we prioritize shaping economic policy. The absence of the Bahamas at this year’s forum illustrates that we as a people need to hold the proverbial flame just a little bit closer to the seats of the people that were elected to represent us on a regional and international scale.
As the new curator for the Global Shapers Nassau Hub I want to ensure that young Bahamians are aware of these global events fostering a collaborative environment between young professionals and the government. I fully intend to attend next year’s Forum and I am hopeful to see elected representatives from the Bahamas in attendance as well.