We never fully separated from the British system
There are three branches of government in The Bahamas: the executive, judiciary and legislature. The official executive is Queen Elizabeth II, the British monarch; the highest court in our judiciary is Her Majesty’s Privy Council; and the legislature is led by a speaker in the House of Assembly and a president in the Senate.
While the queen is technically the head of state, functional executive power rests with the Cabinet. However, in the case of the Privy Council, it remains our functional final court.
The Bahamas did not fully complete its independence in 1973. We retained elements of the British system. And there seems to be no appetite to remove the queen as head of state, or to end the Privy Council being our highest court.
The Queen’s New Year’s Honors were announced last month. Topping the list was Janet Bostwick, who was named Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of The British Empire. Secretary to the Cabinet Camille Johnson received the honor of Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. Others were honored, too.
Thirty-eight Bahamians received the first Bahamian honors last year. Father Sebastian Campbell has long championed a local honors system. On Wednesday he said it is “disgraceful” that The Bahamas continues to recognize the queen’s honors after creating its own honors system.
“When the national honors were passed into law, it was hoped that the colonial honors would have been done away,” he said.
“That was the hope of the committee at that time.
“Unfortunately, the then government didn’t see the need to take it off the books.
“The national honors, as we have them, is the supreme honor that the country can offer its citizens. So, it means that those who receive the colonial honors are receiving an inferior honor to the highest honor that this country has to offer.”
Campbell’s criticism misses a wider point. If The Bahamas voluntarily remains under Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and she is our queen, then the honors she bestows are not colonial. She is our sovereign and we are her people.
The real issue is whether we should sever the last vestiges of our past and become fully independent. Should a self-determining Caribbean country still have a European monarch in her 90s as its head of state? Or should in law and practice one of its own people, selected in some manner by Bahamians, be head of state?
Should a self-respecting country with educated people have to depend on British judges to be the final arbiters of justice or should we, as a free people, have our own judicial experts populate our highest court?
These issues are seldom discussed in The Bahamas. They should be. Truly independent countries, confident in their abilities and proud of their freedom, do not cling to foreign powers to lead branches of their governments, whether ceremonially or in practice.
As long as we choose to remain under the British monarch, then there is no issue as to whether it is appropriate to accept her honors. She is the queen of The Bahamas because we want her to be so. Her honors are our honors.
When we do not want her in that role, then she won’t be. And then, our honors system would be all that is.