Saturday, May 24, 2014

Brain of the Bahamas - brackets, failed

“Brain of the Bahamas, brackets failed”, Rob the friendly cynic used to call me, after I’d come fourth in the final of the local Champion of Knowledge competition in Nassau in 1970. Dave the friendly librarian was appalled that I had missed an easy question about the Dewey Decimal System. Tchah! A mental blockage, under the pressure of a live audience on live radio. Fourth prize was a Larousse encyclopedia, which is actually quite informative about the bloody Dewey Decimal System.

I did better in the National Spelling Bee, the same year. My second-place finish there, won me a free return-flight for two on Bahamas Airways. Yee-hah! We had already flown to several of the Bahamian Out-Islands, and we planned to use these tickets for a trip down to the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI), the furthest we could go on the airline. We would wait for the next long-weekend, to make it worth the while.

Unfortunately... The airline chose that weekend to go broke. We never got past the check-in desk, and never did get to the Turks. Twenty years later I came second in a British-FCO competition to take charge of those Islands’ offshore tax-haven administration. Not as Financial Secretary, but the office below that, I think it was; I don’t recall the title. They flew me to London for the interview, but that was as close as I got.

It’s fun winning competitions; but sometimes it’s better if you don’t win. Life is a series of small competitions, isn’t it? Small victories, small losses. John Lennon should have called his song, “All you need is luck”. He knows that now, of course.

I knew the chap who got the job. Derek was the safer choice, but he failed to raise the profile of the offshore sector much; and I might have failed too. Who knows? TCI is a strange collection of sparsely settled islands. The islands themselves are nice enough, but the politics are wild. The FCO clerks ignored the burgeoning corruption for decades, just as they did Cayman’s. TCI’s shit just happened to hit the fan first. Its former Leader of Government Business is in Brazil fighting extradition as we speak; ours is merely under arrest.

At the time I applied for that job, our local political establishment was trying to give me the bum’s rush for my part in establishing the Chamber of Commerce as an independent force for good in the community. As the Chamber’s manager, I was instrumental in fighting off the politicians’ attempt to impose an Income Tax in our little fiscal paradise. By the end of the battle, there was blood all over the carpet, and much of it was mine. The dirty story is briefly told in my blog-post Confessions of a Subversive, in October 2012.

My chances of survival in Cayman were slim, so I began applying for jobs in other tax-havens. One of them was the position of Registrar of Companies in Liberia. I wasn’t ecstatic at the prospect of living in such a place, but who could tell what fortune the CIA might pay me? In the event, not nearly enough. They flew me up to Langley, but the wage was too silly, and I turned it down. I met the Scottish fellow who got the job after he’d done his three years – a Hamish Somebody. It wasn’t bad, he said, except for the civil war.

Here at home, I got by with a little help from my friends and the FCO in London, although I was blacklisted for employment forever more, and had to be stamped in as a tourist every month for the next two years. Bastards!

Was it worth the agony of winning that battle, that competition? Only just, on a personal level. But Cayman is still free of Income Tax, these twenty-seven years later; so my community has benefited mightily. And, I’m still here. There’s a few million dollars less in the bank account than I would have had, had the bullies allowed me to earn a proper living again. Ah well. Sometimes the prize for winning isn’t exactly what it says on the ticket. That's just the way it goes, right?