New political capital city of The Bahamas in Andros, pt.1
Sir Lynden Pindling, speaking at the National General Convention of the Progressive Liberal Party in 1981, declared that: “I have a dream. I have a dream that one day the capital of The Bahamas will sit on the broad plains of Andros. New Providence will boast our financial capital, Grand Bahama will host our industrial capital and Andros will nurture our political capital with much more land to spare.”
I submit that Sir Lynden’s declaration has an urgent relevance for The Bahamas today. To achieve a GDP in excess of five percent, The Bahamas must begin a fundamental redesign of its colonial and inadequate political infrastructure, incentivize Bahamian ownership, reverse its almost total reliance on foreign direct investment and expand economic activity to the Family Islands.
The weak, inadequate and archaic physical architecture in which the political administration of The Bahamas operates is in crisis. The 19th century physical infrastructure of our national institutions contributes to inefficiency, discriminates against persons with special needs, inhibits economic development and does not reflect the sovereignty of a striving independent country that takes itself seriously. The quality of governance in The Bahamas is compromised by the obsolete physical architecture. We take more pride in foreign touristic enterprises and resorts structures than in the national institutions to manage the public goods and services of The Bahamas and provide social, economic security services for Bahamians and residents.
Nassau, the political capital as well as the financial and commercial capital of The Bahamas, lacks the space to build out a modern political capital architecture to meet current and future needs, population growth and sustainable living for the next 50-plus years.
This critical infrastructural crisis in the public administration gives The Bahamas a unique opportunity to transform itself. The Bahamas can use this need as an opportunity to create, for the first time since independence, an internal stimulus for economic growth, by exercising the Bahamian sovereign imagination and political will, through the construction of a new purpose-built political capital city on the island of Andros.
Brazil, in 1980, constructed a purpose-built capital city of Brasilia where it relocated its legislative, judicial and executive branches of the federal government from the old coastal capital city of Rio de Janeiro. Brasilia is now Brazil’s third most populous city with the highest GDP per capita. Brasilia, designed by Lucio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer and Joaquim Cardozo, with the hotel sector, banking sector and the embassy sector, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its modernistic architecture and unique urban planning. It has played an unprecedented role in the development of the interior of Brazil and has been designated as the City of Design by UNESCO in October 2017 and part of the Creative Cities Network since then. Brasilia was built in 41 months.
Similarly, Nigeria, in 1991, moved its political capital from Lagos and constructed a new political capital city in the centrally located and ethnically neutral city of Abuja. Lagos, the capital from 1914, had been favored by the colonialist regime due to its location as a coastal town. By the time of Nigeria’s independence, Lagos had grown in an unplanned manner. It became overcrowded and chaotic. With the construction of Abuja, Lagos remains the business capital of Nigeria. General Murtala R. Mohammed appointed a panel to decide where a new capital should be, after the Biafran civil war, where all people would be equally represented, with plenty of land and abundant water. Abuja was patterned after the wide boulevards of Paris, and Washington, DC, for its design of public spaces, not dominated by any one ethnic group, a symbol of oneness and unity. To avoid land speculation in the area, all land was vested in the federal territory in the federal government.
Nigeria sponsored a competition for design of the master plan for the new city. The competition was won by International Planning Associates, a consortium of firms, which proposed a central zone with government buildings, national university campus and cultural institutions, with water supply, airport, schools, healthcare facilities and public transport on broad avenues, and residential and shopping zones.
Abuja was built in the 1980s and opened on December 12, 1991. Abuja’s population grew by 139 percent between 2000 and 2010, with a population of six million residents in 2016; whereas, the 2006 census had the population at a mere 776,298. Abuja has increased the geo-political influence of Nigeria. Diplomatic embassies have been relocated to Abuja, while they have left their consulates in Lagos. Abuja is home to the Headquarters of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and a popular location for international conferences in West Africa.
Crumbling Bahamian political physical infrastructure: An opportunity Legislature
The House of Assembly, the core institution of representative democracy, is empowered by the constitution to make laws for the peace, order and good government of The Bahamas. The physical plant of the House of Assembly and the Senate is grossly inadequate for a modern democratic state. The flamingo-pink House of Assembly and the Senate buildings were constructed in 1815 by the Loyalists.
These buildings reflected colonial architecture, modeled after the old capital of North Carolina. The Queen Victoria Statue was erected in front of the buildings in 1905. The House of Assembly lacks legally mandated access for physically disabled persons, proper library facilities, cafeteria facilities and office spaces for members of Parliament, parliamentary draftspersons, the parliamentary clerk and staff.
Currently, in the House of Assembly there is only one toilet for men and one for women respectively, for single use, for use by legislators, staff and the public. Members of Parliament, who represent Family Island constituencies, are particularly disadvantaged, as they have no office facilities in the Parliament to meet with constituents who travel from Family Islands to bring their petitions to Parliament.
There is no parliamentary draftsperson on the staff of the House of Assembly; therefore, backbenchers and members of the official opposition, who wish to table a member’s bill, must beg the attorney general to have a draftsperson from the Office of the Attorney General or the Law Reform Commission to draft the member’s bill.
A customized parliamentary complex to accommodate the legislative process, with adequate research, drafting, dining, support staff support and audio-visual facilities will improve the quality of representative democracy in The Bahamas.
The constitution vests executive power in the Cabinet, which has the general direction and control of the government of The Bahamas and is collectively responsible to the Parliament.
The facilities of the Cabinet are inadequate for a modern democratic state. The Cabinet Office is located in the Churchill Building in Rawson Square. Apart from the Cabinet room and an office for the prime minister, the Cabinet lacks any conference facilities for Cabinet committees; there are no dining facilities, press briefing room, library and security facilities for the efficient operation of the Cabinet.
Office of the Prime Minister
Relocated, to accommodate the construction of Baha Mar Resort, into a bank and trust building, the old Coutts & Co. Building, it lacks the basic amenities of a prime minister’s office, such as secure passages, private entry and exit passages, dining facilities and secure conference and meeting facilities, with proper and secure communication systems.
As head of government, if the prime minister wishes to host a head of state or official from another country, he most likely will have to host the event at a foreign-owned hotel, as there is no official residence of the prime minister with hosting facilities.
The judiciary, the guardian of the constitutional guarantees and the means by which the law is applied for an ordered society, is a co-equal branch of the government. The independence of the judiciary is, therefore, a fundamental requirement for the proper discharge of its functions.
Inadequate physical plant maintained by the Ministry of Works, control of non-judicial staff by the Public Service Commission and need for financial clearance from the Ministry of Finance to access its budget may constitute restraints on judicial independence.
The main Supreme Court building in Rawson Square, built by the Loyalists in 1815, has been the location for the Supreme Court since 1921. While the Supreme Court Library is located in the main Supreme Court building, justices and registrars of the Supreme Court operate from several other rented buildings at Saffrey Square and the Euro-Canadian Building.
These rented facilities were not designed for the unique judicial junction. Therefore, court files must be moved from one building to the next; thus, exposing files to loss and misplacement.
The security of judicial officers is compromised, as they must traverse the same passageways as the public going to and from theirs chambers and courtrooms. Jurors cannot be effectively sequestered during jury deliberations; witnesses and family members of accused persons are forced to be in close proximity to each other in the small court rooms, creating opportunities for witness intimidation. The absence of a modern purpose-built judicial complex, with the buildings, staff and budget under the exclusive control of the chief justice, may compromise judicial independence.
The Bahamas is a major international financial center in the Caribbean, where complex insolvencies and commercial disputes are adjudicated in its courts. The Bahamas has also passed legislation to position itself as a major arbitration center. Therefore, the judiciary, apart from its role in maintaining an ordered society, is a key component in boosting the global competitive ranking of The Bahamas as a place to do business, choice of law for international contracts and for efficient resolution of disputes.
Therefore, the national interests of The Bahamas require a modern purpose-built judicial complex to adequately and securely accommodate the 16 Supreme Court justices of the Supreme Court in Nassau and the seven justices of Appeal, with proper research resources, conferencing spaces for justices, dining facilities, humane custodial facilities for persons on remand, audio-visual facilities, secure premises and IT infrastructure.
The chief justice should have adequate resources, with complete control over the judicial physical plant, the judicial staff and a judicial budget commensurate with the critical role of this co-equal branch of government.
• Alfred Sears is a former member of Cabinet and a Queen’s Counsel.