Political consensus required on appointments of GGs
Having congratulated Dame Marguerite on the conclusion of her four-plus years as governor general and Cornelius Smith at the beginning of his term as head of state of The Bahamas, we record our concern with what has now become the practice of appointing governors general for what amounts to terms of four years.
The office of governor general is supposed to be a mirror of the monarchy which it represents. The monarch who heads the Commonwealth and who serves as sovereign of The Bahamas is a constitutional monarch who exercises authority in accordance with The Bahamas’ written constitution. In the exercise of that authority, the monarch must be without political affiliation. The same applies to her representative in our country, the governor general.
With the sole exception of former Governor-General, the late Sir Gerald Cash who, though a former member of Parliament, was not especially viewed as a “party” man, each Bahamian appointed to the post of governor general in an independent Bahamas has been former members of Parliament and or Cabinet ministers and, in one instance, the political activist spouse of a former prime minister.
Without exception, each gave stellar, unbiased service as the head of state of The Bahamas. Each carried out their duties as mandated by the constitution, on the advice of the government of the day. Each welcomed people of every political stripe to Government House. There has never been an instance when a governor general, a known sympathizer of one political party, demurred from acceding to the decisions of the government of the day led by some other political party.
Given our experience, then, there is no justifiable reason for political parties to feel obliged to replace a serving governor general on the basis of politics.
Moreover, the appointment of a new governor general, simply because of a change in the political party leading the government, is neither affordable nor sustainable if we are to continue the generous and appropriate retirement packages now granted to governors general.
It cannot be lost on the government that, in 46 years of independence, we have had 11 governors general. Of these, 10 have been Bahamian citizens, each entitled upon retirement to a gratuity and subsequently a pension both equal to their annual salary of $75,000.00, plus the service of a police aide and nowadays, a maid and a gardener. Over the same period of our independence in 1973 to today, Jamaica has had only four governors general.
At present, there are five retired governors general: Sir Orville Turnquest, Dame Ivy Dumont, A.D. Hanna, Sir Arthur Foulkes, and Marguerite Pindling. And surviving widows of governors general are entitled to 3/4 of salary pension.
We are also aware of the creeping growth in the cost of maintaining governors general in office which should be curtailed before it becomes entrenched.
The Bahamas public service makes provision for the assignment of a senior public officer to fill the post of secretary to the governor general. The secretary to the governor general is an advisor and administrative head of the governor general’s office. For reasons never explained to the Bahamian public, the government began to engage a consultant to assist the governor general in the execution of his responsibilities beginning with the appointment of A.D. Hanna in 2014. That practice was continued during the appointment of Dame Marguerite and we understand that the intention now is to continue the practice.
At an annual reported salary of $60,000, plus the use of a government-owned and maintained motor vehicle, and a gratuity payment at the end of each contract, the engagement of a consultant to the governor general is an unnecessary, expensive undertaking. To date, such consultants have been retired permanent secretaries who receive public service pensions.
In this age of less than robust economic performance in the country and given the stated intention to cut wastage and ensure prudent management of the government’s finances, we strongly recommend to the government and to all future governments, that the practice of appointing a new governor general with each change in government be discontinued.
And, we strongly recommend that the governor general be afforded the services of the capable civil servant secretary to the governor negating any need for the engagement of additional administrative staff. Such practices create an unacceptable costly burden on the public purse.