What time is it? Relay time

The day has arrived: the first annual IAAF World Relays will start this afternoon. Jamaica is represented by a team of 40 of our best runners, and will face stiff competition from opponents coming from some 43 countries. Unplanned, my daughter and I became honorary team members, when we travelled to Nassau squuezed together with stars like Yohan Blake and Warren Weir. They’re members of our reigning 4×100 metres World Championship gold medal team. My daughter had not missed her photo opportunity with ‘The Beast’ at Kingston’s airport.

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Beauty and The Beast

She spent most of the flight tongue-tied whenever he turned to speak to her. I wanted her to appreciate that great athletes are just ordinary people, like us, but she had him elevated on a pedestal.

At the airport, we’d seen, however, that Jamaicans feel their athletes are ordinary. Kerron Stewart, one our finest female sprinters, was sitting alone, quietly making some phone calls. I prodded my daughter to say hello. Just as we were doing that, up strode another lady. Bold as brass, she looked at Kerron and said “I like you, but yiu run all wrong. You need to push your foot out so.” She motioned with her leg. My daughter and I looked quizzically at each other, then at Kerron, whose eyes were looking a bit worried. “But, we love you just the same,” added the lady, who then walked on. I don’t want to be size-ist, but the lady looked like a black Tamara Press with a waddle. “Does that happen often?” I asked Kerron. “Yes,” she replied. We gave no running advice just a warm encouraging word and walked away, shaking our heads. Apparently, Jamaicans are all qualified coaches and commentators. That’s what friends of our close to the team told us. What a people!

Well, the runners have trained hard to represent their countries. The fans have supported or suffered loyally. The Bahamians have been starved of major relay successes, compared to Jamaica. But, if noise matters, they’ll come to succeed on the support side, with goombay drums booming and cow bells clanging. I wonder how others will support. Vuvuzelas have gone international. Will Germans and French have accordions? Will Canadians croon like Justin Bieber? Please, no. The British? No stop ‘Rule Brittania’? I will let you know. I have my whistle.

My biggest fear for the meets is conflict between the fans. My wife and her family are true-true Bahamians. They bleed aquamarine. But, their son-in-law has clear Jamaican roots, though he’s been adopted as a Bahamian over the years. The boy even rushed in Junkanoo one year, something his wife cannot claim. His mother-in-law has nursed roast turkey neck for him many times. Surely, they can count on him this weekend.

Well, relationships have hit rocks before. The boy has an array of black, green and gold colour to choose from in his shirts. He has a cousin high in the Jamaican team administration. He’s just gone back to his birthplace. He’s feeling his Jamaican rise. He’s noticed he bleeds green and gold when he shaves. I feel a CARICOM regional disintegration moment coming.

That he may side with Jamaica may have to be accepted. But, will he tempt some defectors? His daughter? Already, a Jamaican team hugger? Her cousin, who claimed loudly between tearing into BBQ ribs and chicken that “Blake in the M.A.N.”? It could get messy, like his sauce-covered fingers.

I can hear the lawyers now: “Your honour, our client admits irreconcilable differences began to appear during the heats of the relays…He begs for yiur honour’s understanding and let him keep his golf clubs, while relinquishing all other assets…”

VAT is your problem?

The Bahamas is standing at the top of the Caribbean version of the luge run

: it’s planning to introduce a value added tax (VAT), from July 2014. I’m not holding my breath. It’s been talked about and hovering in the air for a while. Most Bahamians are frothing at the mouth, incensed that their lives are about to be upturned, and prices hiked. The papers have been full of articles from the business sector that higher prices and administrative burdens and more will herald the death knell of the economy.

Experience from countries that moved from tax-free status to VAT should be an example. The UAE had plans to be the first Gulf state to introduce VAT in 2008. Then, things slipped, and slid, and twisted and turned, and now the plan is to introduce the VAT there in…2014. My understanding is that the Gulf Cooperation Council countries were not ready, for what should be a unified tax system. Whatever the reasons, six years on and VAT is still off the table.

Bahamians need to understand what the tax really means, but that may take more than what the government plans to do by bringing in experts from the New Zealand government, due in January 2014.

I watched a very clear PowerPoint presentation prepared last November, that set out many of the important points:

  • Current tax system unbalanced and overly reliant on customs and excises
  • VAT preferred as superior to sales tax in terms of efficiency and collections; replacing some Customs duties and excises
  • Poor culture of tax compliance; business records-keeping poor
  • Government needs raise B$200 million; proposed rate (15%) high to help correction of fiscal gap

The problem is that most Bahamians wont see or read this little primer. A lot of hand-holding is needed and much talking at the very basic level, and in language that is plain and simple.

I spoke with a couple of senior citizens today about VAT. One, a retired lawyer, thought it was too burdensome for most of the small economic agents, like the ‘little man selling conch salad’, who would not be competent to comply with the reporting needs. Another, a retired nurse, was focused on what and who would be exempt. Now, these are two caring and intelligent people, who keep themselves well-informed. I showed the presentation. They are at least better informed about the principles.

Bad preparation is often at the root of bad implementation. I wonder if The Bahamas is setting itself up to fail.