A Conversation with the Attorney General of the Bahamas
with Dan Hickey ’04 | Director of Communications
You were the first of several Pinders to leave the Bahamas for Stony Brook (Holly ‘97 & Ben ‘01). How did you first hear about our school?
My family was looking at boarding schools. I knew David Maura ‘90, who was already there. It was not my choice to come to cold New York. I had never experienced freezing temperatures. One night I neglected to dry my hair well enough, and it froze on the walk over to the Dining Hall.
You’re operating at the highest levels of law and government. What about your growth, development, and preparedness for this work can you trace back to Stony Brook?
We develop elements of our character at a young age. Character Before Career is more than a mantra. It prepares you for world challenges. I ran three seasons for Mr. Lingle and spent a lot of time with him. He instilled discipline, integrity, work ethic. Those elements help define a person. Mr. Cohen struck a balance between being an authority figure and someone we could have a relationship with in the dorm. That is so important when you go away from home at 15. You can only be successful in governance and helping to run a country by having the qualities instilled at Stony Brook.
How did Stony Brook expand your understanding of the world?
It accelerated my worldly exposure. I came from a small country and didn’t have a lot of cultural experience. I remember, distinctly, participating in trips to New York City and Broadway shows–incredible experiences. Even trips to the shopping mall were eye-opening–we didn’t have those in the Bahamas.
When did you first become interested in pursuing law?
My father was a lawyer, so I always wanted to do something different–anything but a lawyer. I went to the University of Miami and studied International Business & Finance. I was drawn in by the football program at Miami and vowed to not leave until they won a National Championship. I studied International Tax Law in graduate school and got my national title. At that point, I figured I might as well try being a lawyer.
You just passed your year anniversary since assuming the Attorney General seat in Sept. 2021. What are you most proud of during your first year in office, and what are you focused on at the outset of your 2nd year?
Being the Attorney General of the Bahamas is different than being an AG in the U.S. I am the lawyer for the government. Commercial, civil, and criminal matters fall under me. I am the Minister of the Legal Affairs Cabinet. I am the constitutionally appointed #3 in my country. I vet all government matters and formulate laws and the country’s legislative agenda. My role is significant and wide-ranging, so I am busy (7 days a week of 14-hour days) but exhilarated and mentally stimulated.
I am proud of the way in which we hit the ground running with legislation. We pledged to lower taxes, which we did while increasing revenue. We were under a state of emergency when we took office due to COVID with curfews, travel restrictions, and shuttered businesses. We were able to open the country back up and passed laws to manage COVID better, helping us emerge from the state of emergency. Now the economy is doing well due to pent-up demand. The hotels are full.
We also have an aggressive climate sustainability platform and are the first in the world to develop blue carbon credits. This kind of forward-thinking framework will help our country to continue to advance.
In the National Address delivered in Oct., Prime Minister Philip Davis lauded the progress of the Bahamas since gaining independence in 1973, but was also clear about the economic challenges he desires to address, among them the wealth gap, unemployment, and a recession. Are there policies or legislation in the pipeline to help ease the economic strain?
We need to have a view of social consciousness and opportunity. Inflation hit hard here because 90% of what we have is imported. We are raising the minimum wage on Jan. 1, but we need to continue our efforts to broaden economic inclusion. Our two main economic pillars have traditionally been tourism and international financial services. We need to expand other opportunities.
We have an aggressive approach to agribusiness related to sustainability and an economic framework. We plan to regulate cannabis and industrial hemp. Poultry farms will broaden our economic base. We plan to move forward with a national investment framework. We have a narrow economy that is very service-based, which often requires an education to access. I am energized because in a small country, you can see the results of what you do in one term. That is very fulfilling.
In his National Address, Prime Minister Davis also mentioned crime and violence as a challenge and specifically mentioned drug and arms smuggling from the U.S. as a catalyst. What is your office working on to combat the problem?
We work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the U.S. to track firearms. The challenge for us is that we are made up of over 700 islands just 50 miles from the U.S., making us rather porous. There are also multi-jurisdictional hurdles with fellow island nations. For hundreds of years we have been a transit point for illicit activity as an archipelagic country. A cooperative approach regarding intelligence and defense treaties with the U.S., Turks and Caicos, and others are helping us with a stronger framework and a plan for criminal justice reform.
The Bahamas will celebrate its 50th year of independence next year. As your beautiful nation looks ahead to this milestone, what do you envision for its future, and what role can your office play in enacting that?
We really want to be a country that is not only prosperous, but that can develop educational and economic opportunities for our people. We want to properly prepare our people for a global environment through an educational framework and opportunities for when they leave school. This will help us avoid “brain drain” that brings our people abroad for more diverse professional interests. My daughter is at The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) doing digital animation. She can’t come back to the Bahamas right now to pursue that, but what if Pixar had a Bahamian office? We are losing nurses and doctors to the U.S. and Canada, where there is demand and better pay. So the work continues to provide enough opportunities for our people to stay in the Bahamas so that we can work together toward a bright future.