Candidates for the upcoming national election were invited to individually address the directors of the Abaco Chamber of Commerce on their vision for Abaco’s future. The intent was to understand the winning candidate’s position on important topics to be able to keep him or her focused on those goals. These private sessions were attended by all the candidates with the exception of the two PLP candidates.
It was universally accepted that Abaco does not get a fair share returned for what its economy contributes to the Treasury. It was conceded that more authority needs to be given local government.
Improvements to the educational system were prominent with emphasis on vocational training and better opportunities for college education. Students in the islands who seek government’s educational facilities must find a compliant relative willing to house them or pay for accommodations. It was suggested that student dormitories be provided much as government has done at the Andros Bamsi operation.
The Baker’s Bay development was faulted for providing only menial work or limited contractor opportunities for locals.
Central government was faulted for not being open with its intentions with Abaco developments. Too many projects are made public only after final government approval is given. Insufficient follow-up on promised mitigation by developments was also noted.
Concerning our immigrant communities, all felt that there were enough laws now but they are poorly enforced. This is particularly evident as relates to adherence to the building code for hurricane resistant buildings. The immigrant communities seem to operate without regard to accepted civil, moral or legal standards. It was noted that government agencies seem to work independently of each other but a single unified authority would provide better results.
Some wanted land dedicated to relocating the shanty towns elsewhere while others felt more effort should be made to assimilate these residents into accepted townships and comply with legal and civil requirements. More effort should be made to grant citizenship to those born and raised here. Although they can apply for citizenship at 18, the process often takes many years beyond the initial application.
It was noted that it is often immigrant students who have top grades, but society then turns its back on them, allowing and encouraging them to succeed elsewhere.
Concerning the ease of doing business, it was universally stated that the tax and business license system must be simplified as the present regulations are a serious impediment to the small mom-and-pop businesses as well as the larger, medium-sized business community.
It was suggested by several that each island should be studied for its economic potential and be encouraged by government to pursue viable options. Aragonite mining and processing along with appropriate agriculture should be attempted.
Candidates acknowledged that government’s present agenda of laws and regulations appropriate for Nassau are not always in the best interests of Family Island developments and progress.
Concerning police and crime issues, it was urged that Abaco police operate independently of Grand Bahama and report directly to Nassau. Since Abaco’s economy is said to be more robust than Grand Bahama, it was questioned why the police are under Freeport’s authority. Abaco’s 120-mile length and archipelagic nature coupled with its robust economy needs more police on the ground and must be better equipped with vehicles and up-to-date technology.
It was often said that our social values need serious attention although specific details were not given. Single mothers need to work to support their children. Consequently, children left to themselves are bringing up children which does not bode well for their becoming law-abiding citizens.
Other items the candidates focused on included the need to encourage focused tourism activities such as bird watching and trips to view our parrots. It is activities like these that improve our tourism numbers as well as provide employment.
The numbers business was criticized as a major proportion of the earnings of many low-income persons are spent with them. But this money is going to a dozen individuals with very little being returned to the communities for social improvements. Several suggested nationalizing a lottery.
Government’s use of Crown Land for political expediency was also criticized. It was felt that reasonable Crown Land requests should be given more attention and applications should be removed from the political spectrum.
It was noted that government does not spend wisely with much room for improving government’s spending habits.