The Biggest User: A Culture Of Bill Ducking
Close your eyes and imagine for a moment. Wait, read this part first, then close your eyes. Because if you close your eyes now, you won’t know what I’m going to say. So, read this next sentence, then close your eyes.
Imagine living in a Caribbean country where gentle breezes flow through the windows of your unpaid government home; a place where you can have major surgery and walk away without paying a bill. A land where you can get a loan for college fees, use it to buy a car and not pay one red cent. Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it?
Ok, now open your eyes. Welcome to The Bahamas. Feel free to not pay your bills – ever.
Now that you can see, pull out your calculators. We’re about to crunch some numbers – not all of them, just some. I want to give you a taste of just how much yinna people owe the government.
Here We Go
Let there be Bahamas Power & Light. We owe dem between $90 million to $100 million. That’s what Desmond Bannister said. He should know. He’s the Minister of Works.
Ok, add that to $83 million. That’s what some of yinna owe the Education Loan Authority (ELA). You took their money, said you were going off to school and didn’t pay them back. That was nearly 20 years ago. Ok, so we’re up to between $173 million and $183 million. Yinna still with me? Good.
Add that to $194,246,667. That’s what yinna owe the Bahamas Mortgage Corporation (BMC). Yinna moved into dem people house and lived there for free. Then some of y’all run hot when the government kicked yinna out. So, now we’re up to between $367,246,667 and $377,246,667.
Now, you know we is get sick plenty, so we is go to the hospital a lot. And we don’t pay. So, how much we owe dem? Just $782,596,050.27. Well muddoes. Ok, we ga put a lil something on that bill next month.
Ok, so add that to the running tab. We’re now between $1,149,842,717.27 and $1,159,842,717.27. All of these numbers hurting my head, big man. I ga stop right there. You get the picture.
As you can see from this snapshot we owe a lot of money. Even government agencies owe other agencies money. Just ask Water & Sewerage.
I don’t know what’s wrong with us, but it seems Bahamians are genetically predisposed to ducking bills.
How else could you explain our propensity for avoiding our financial obligations. You see that big bill with the hospital? That was accrued from 1988 to 2018 – 30 whole years. Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands says nearly 90 per cent of patients don’t pay for services.
Meantime, BPL will likely have to write off the bills accrued by delinquent customers because they’ve been there for so long.
Successive administrations have coddled the citizenry for years, afraid to touch a political hot potato and hoping someone else will deal with it.
We owe plenty, plenty people. And we don’t like to pay. Then, when we’re forced to pay, we cry victimization and all of the other ‘zations’ we can think of.
We Is T’ief
I remember being a young reporter in the early 2000s and witnessing many people applying for and being given government-guaranteed loans. Students would show up on Collins Avenue for cheque disbursements.
Sadly, those monies never saw a bursar’s office. They were quickly spent at car lots and on the purchase of properties. In 2009, the government pulled the plug on the scheme due to its high delinquency rate. Despite the good intentions, it was an immense failure.
Individuals who cosigned on the loans were never pursued. Those guarantors should have been targeted the minute the loan recipient defaulted.
More than $83 million is now owed to the ELA, down from $100 million. It’s not clear if those funds were paid off or written off.
Education Minister, Jeffrey Lloyd says the government is now looking at garnishing the wages of civil servants who defaulted on their loans. My first thought was hooray. But, almost immediately I heard a very loud mental screeching sound that highlighted a major flaw in this plan.
The salaries of the majority of civil servants are beholden to the banks and furniture stores. In fact, 70 per cent of their salaries are servicing consumer loans. A former union leader once told me that there are some civil servants going home with $100 per month. Unbelievable, but true. I wish the government the best of luck in collecting, because it needs to. But, I don’t know how successful it will be.
Many people may be reluctant to call it what it is, but I’m not. It’s theft. If I approach a financial institution or any lender for that matter and use false pretences to obtain a loan, that is fraud. If I then use the money and never pay it back, it amounts to theft.
The government erred by taking too long to collect the debt. There should have been an internal collection department tasked with recovering the outstanding monies. We simply allow monies to stay out too long. Then, we experience challenges when it comes time to collect.
We also have a history of encouraging people not to pay their bills.
Slick politicians, quick to paint the government as the big-bad-guy-out-to-crush-the-small- man, are quick to side with bill duckers.
In the case of the ELA, the ones who will suffer, unfortunately, will be the many students who cannot afford to pursue a tertiary education, and won’t be able to receive a government loan or scholarship because there simply is no money there.
Time For Action
The time has come for the government to go after everything that’s owed.
I have no sympathy for someone who has not paid a bill in 20 years unless they were in a medically induced coma or bedridden.
The time has come for a massive crackdown. Politicians from all sides need to put up a united front, for they could inherit the same problem if they are elected in 2022.
We’re all going to have to do something if we want to get rid of our country’s debt, which hovers around $7.5 billion. That’s plenty zeros.
I told you. We is duck dem bills, brudda.