Last week, it was reported a woman was sleeping in a car with her children, including an infant. She was asked to leave her previous apartment after being allowed to live there rent-free for several months. She expressed concern about her children’s education, noting her daughter had fallen behind over the past year. She noted there were other people in the same situation, forced on to the streets.
As a result of the news story, a group of a people stepped in to assist the family. They secured a place for them to live and gave them food. They also said they were helping her to find a job. In many cases, community members have to work together to support others. One of the issues is that we rarely know what others are going through. Sometimes, we have an inkling there is an issue affecting a large number of people, but without a personal account, few are moved to take action. Pride and the expectation of condemnation prevents people from sharing their stories and asking for help. When we do hear a story, we begin to understand different realities.
Shortly after the news story of the woman and her children, there was a social media post about a man with two children who were homeless. The children were staying with someone during the day while he tried to make money by washing cars. If he earned money, he was expected to give some of it to the person keeping the children. The person posting did not have time for him to wash their car, so they shared the story to encourage other people to help him in any way possible. Several people responded, asking for his contact information. Hopefully, he is also receiving assistance.
People quietly give and receive assistance every day. Sometimes someone overhears their story or sees a need. They may notice the issue at work and, unable to help in their official capacity, refer them to the right person or organization. By whatever means, some people find the help they need, and the general public never hears about it. The stories we do hear are a drop in the ocean.
My friend and fellow advocate Erin Greene often talks about the impetus to solve our problems by throwing money at them as one of our biggest problems. It seems to be the way of many of our elders, likely because it was possible for them in times of plenty. Some of us have adopted the same method of responding to problems. We pay for it to go away.
The electricity keeps going off? Buy a generator! Public transportation is too unpredictable for your child, a university student, to use it to get to campus? Buy them a car!
Yes, we do have the right — and often the need — to use our resources to solve our own problems, but that’s a real problem. As Greene says, when we use our money to solve our problems, we only solve them for ourselves. The issue is still there, affecting other people, but we have bought our way out of experiencing or even seeing it. Those who cannot afford to buy their way out of the problem have to continue to live with it.
It is not inherently bad to seek comfort for yourself. The electricity outages are frustrating. They hinder productivity, damage appliances and other equipment, make it uncomfortable to be inside and affect our ability to properly care for loved ones. It is not shameful to put provisions in place to stop the outages from affecting your life. It is, however, important to recognize the issue persists and, should your personal solution fail or turn out to be unsustainable, you will experience the issue again.
Similarly, the assistance we give to a person or family is necessary and good, but the issues of homelessness, unemployment and the lack of a social safety net persist. People need to eat – now. They need a safe place to live – now. Children need to be enrolled in and attend school – now.
When we are able to step up and offer assistance, it is important we do not hesitate. Still, there is only so much help that we can give. The landlord in the first story was only able to help the woman and her children to a certain extent. The babysitter in the second story offered to help, but also needs income. There is a limit to the support people without financial wealth can give. We need to address the issues — the cycle of poverty, the fragility of the economy and the system that has cut people out and failed to provide support.
It is not enough to book a month-long hotel stay for a family. A fridge full of food for the week is only the beginning. A job is, of course, a more longterm solution for an individual or family, but without building wealth, the same thing can happen again. We saw it after 9/11, after Hurricane Dorian, and now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What about the people whose stories we do not hear? What about those who are turned away or receive insufficient support from the government agencies that are supposed to help? Our assistance to a few people does nothing to change the systems that create and sustain this unnecessary struggle. We need an approach that responds to immediate needs and reforms systems.
We need safe houses for survivors of abuse. We need shelters for the unhoused. We need rehabilitation programs and support services for people with addictions. We need a system that is properly funded and designed to meet the needs of the vulnerable including people who are unemployed, underemployed and retired.
People house family members in their living rooms for as long as they can. Others give money to help people to cover their rent. In cases of medical emergencies, there are cookouts, money transfers, and GoFundMe campaigns. We do what we can to help each other. We try to make a little bit of money go a long way. These are temporary, case-specific solutions. Our $10, $100, and $1000 contributions do not address the issue. Most of us are so busy dealing with cases that we do not have the time to think about, much less address, the systemic issues.
Our individual problems are symptoms. The money we use to solve them mask the symptoms. We need a real treatment plan.
We are now in election season. The Progressive Liberal Party and Free National Movement have both announced about half of the candidates on their slates. We should soon hear about the issues they claim to champion, but we do not need to wait for their charters and manifestos. We need to make our demands and not be moved by the empty, tired promises of thousands of jobs. We need an administration that is prepared to conduct critical analysis of government systems and resident needs, and to develop a plan of action for filling that gap. We not only need better solutions, but details on budget and execution. After cycles and cycles of being duped and ignored, we need to ask how election promises will be fulfilled. We need to demand that candidates, parties, and party leaders “make it make sense”.
In case you’re interested…
Dispossession by Tayari Jones. This Audible short story, from the author of the best-selling novel An American Marriage, is a story of motherhood, race, and loss. It has been so long since Cheryl has seen her son that when he promises a visit, she takes time off from work that she can’t really afford. She is a mover, and her job exposes her to the lives and possessions of other people. Her next job reminds her a bit too much about her own past.
Queen Sugar. The television will be back with season five this month. Now is a good time to start at the beginning if you have not watched the earlier seasons. The Bordelon siblings are very different — activist Nova, NBA manager and wife Charley and struggling Ralph Angel are all after something. They are brought together by a death in the family and have to work together to run the family’s sugarcane farm. If you’re a reader or want to become one, pick up the book by Natalie Baszile. The television series makes quite the departure from the book, so prepared for that.
Cardi Tries. This series, available on Facebook, is all about rapper Cardi B trying to do new things. She takes a dance class with Debbie Allen, tries race car driving, makes sushi, and practices basketball (yes, with the long nails) among other activities. If you’re looking for something low-stakes to watch and have a good laugh, this series is worth a try.
Published in my weekly column in The Tribune on February 10, 2021.
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We, the Bahamian people, are frequent victims of the bait and switch. Parties in opposition agree with us, promise to represent our positions, then forget about us once they have consent to govern on our behalf.
They repeatedly fail to show their understanding of the duties we’ve entrusted them to carry out. Good intentions, wherever they existed, seem to fly out the window as they face off with their opposition and each other, figuring out how to make the most of their sudden privilege.
Do we reap the benefits of their arrangements, or are they purely personal? How can the perks of life as a Member of Parliament trickle down to constituents in need?
What should we be thinking about now, particularly as salary increase for Members of Parliament continues to dominate national dialogue.
The Member of Parliament: Who, What, and How?
The Member of Parliament is the presence and the voice of the people. The vote of the MP is a reflection of the constituency’s position on the issue. The MP is committed to amplifying the voices of their constituents after actively listening to and understanding them. The MP is accessible to constituents. There is an office, staffed and open during reasonable hours that are made known to the public. There are phone numbers and email addresses that work and messages are answered in a timely fashion. The MP is in the constituency on a regular basis and not only knows the needs, but addresses them without being asked by dozens, scores, or hundreds of people, or being shamed on social media. The MP sees to it road repairs are done, tree branches on power lines are moved and people are connected with organisations and individuals who can help meet their needs.
The MP meets with constituency members on a regular basis. The MP reports on proceedings in Parliament, provides information on bills being debated, updates members on participation in regional and national events, welcomes feedback, answers questions and considers constituents’ points of view before arriving at a position. Constituents are the first priority of the MP, never eclipsed by personal desires or party pressure. The MP knows the salary and expectations of the position before running for or accepting it and is prepared for that reality for the duration of the term.
What we got for our votes
Do we have MPs who know why they have a seat, remember who gave it to them and treat their constituents like their employers? Is there a way to assess MP performance? Are we, as Bahamian citizens, voters and employers, working together to access and keep record of MP positions on issues and contributions to debates?
The current administration campaigned heavily on accountability and transparency, but we have yet to see it develop systems that align with those concepts. In fact, it looks a lot like their version of accountability and transparency are only retrospective. They are more interested in exposing and punishing the previous administration, giving the nation a series of spectacles.
It is as though current MPs intend to ride out this term the same way the rode out the last one — pointing fingers and hoping to be seen as the lesser of the evils because they think we have no other choice. Are we prepared to let them think that? Do we want to give our votes to (members of) the party that does the least damage simply by doing the absolute minimum? Are we ready to demand true governance and evidence of the accountability and transparency they claimed to value throughout their campaign?
What is good governance?
In May 2017, the Bahamian people ousted the PLP and defaulted to the FNM with the expectation of receiving good governance. Good governance is accountable and transparent, but also responsive, inclusive and participatory. We know accountability is responsibility for decisions and their consequences as well as reporting on and explaining them to the people.
We understand transparency is the ability to see the decision-making process and being able to see the information and consultative activity that led to the chosen action. This administration has not brought us either of these things with reference to its own actions. It has spent months looking back, working to convince us we did that right thing in May, and they are not the worst option.
Have we heard anything about the decisions being made in Parliament? Has any MP invited constituents to discuss bills or policies under consideration? Where decisions have already been made, have we been shown the receipts? Can we see how and why our representatives, our employees, acted as they did? Do we have accountability and transparency?
Can we justify a pay increase?
As employers, we are no clearer on the activities of our MPs today than we were in April. They are not responding to our needs, including us in the decision-making process or encouraging us to participate by making information accessible, conducting polls or surveys or looking to us for recommendations.
Accountability and transparency are still just words being thrown around, stripped of meaning and purpose. How, in this state, can the Prime Minister even hint at increased salaries for MPs? There is no need to get into what has already been pointed out, including the fact MPs hold other paying jobs and many Bahamians have lost their jobs in recent months. More to the point and in keeping with the theme of accountability and transparency, why should we increase pay for MPs when we don’t even know what they are doing? We do not receive reports. We are not invited to give performance evaluations.
We depend on the media to clue us in to what is happening in the country and, more specifically, in Parliament. We do not receive regular communication from our employees, but we are expected to pay them more. For what? Even better, with what? Where is the money supposed to come from? Would this be part of a larger exercise to address the plight of most Bahamian people in the labour force? Is this administration ready to talk about a living wage?
A few things must be made clear. Compensation must be commensurate with performance. The Bahamian people need to observe and participate in monitoring and evaluation. There must be a recall system. Sitting MPs should not be responsible for deciding on their own salaries. To go further, perhaps any raise in salary should come into effect at the start of the next term — in 2022. Until we truly have good governance — accountability, transparency, responsiveness, inclusivity and participation — we must reject all requests for salary increases. Let’s not forget who is really in charge here. It’s the Bahamian people who would have to pay. Can we afford it?
Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on November 15, 2017
https://aliciaawallace.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/20.jpg242568Aliciahttps://aliciaawallace.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/alicia-logo.jpgAlicia2017-11-17 17:56:042018-01-04 18:03:47Culture Clash: Mps, Prove Your Worth Before Even Thinking About A Pay Rise