St. Anne’s MP Brent Symonette, who has called for a national discussion on race, wealth and politics, should pledge to fund the conversation, businessman Sir Franklyn Wilson said yesterday.
In a Tribune article, the politician was quoted as saying The Bahamas is not ready for a white prime minister.
Wilson was among the names Symonette mentioned when he acknowledged that a small number of people control significant amounts of wealth in The Bahamas.
“I assume that is a public pledge for serious financial contributions to this purpose,” Wilson said.
“You can’t just go on radio and talk.
“To have a serious conversation, I assume that’s what he means, and if that’s what he means, I commend him for that, because the country could benefit from that if the discussion is grounded on historical realities and intellectual rigor, and that will take funding.
“So I interpret his remarks as a public commitment to fund serious research on the subject.
“It cannot be a conversation just grounded in emotions and his individual hurt.
“I say that because, for example, today’s newspaper quotes Mr. Symonette as saying that the country is not ready for a white person to be prime minister.
“And he backs that up by total reference to himself. No one’s interested in a public conversation like that, because that comment is too sweeping and too grounded in emotions to be either accurate or helpful.
“The fact of the matter is every time one is elected to Parliament, you meet the fundamental requirement to potentially become prime minister. Just being elected to Parliament, you meet an important constitutional requirement to be prime minister.”
Symonette resigned from Cabinet on Sunday amid controversy surrounding the award of government contracts to companies affiliated with his family. However, he insisted that his resignation was unrelated to those contracts.
Speaking to The Nassau Guardian earlier this week, he strongly dismissed the perception some Bahamians have that he was in Cabinet to facilitate the further enrichment of himself and his wealthy friends.
Symonette, who is the youngest son of Sir Roland Symonette, the first premier of The Bahamas, declared a net worth of $156 million ahead of the most recent election.
These facts, along with his color, make him a lightning rod for attacks, he said, adding that there needs to be an honest national conversation about race, wealth and politics.
“Unfortunately for me, if you want to throw in the Bay Street Boys and whatever else, rolled up in me is the epitome of everything people hate, despise, whatever word. So I’ve already received a hate call. A person calls up and says, ‘I hate you.’ I told them, ‘Ma’am, I don’t hate you. I don’t hate anyone.’ So that’s a non-issue.”
Bahamas Hot Mix, which is owned in part by his children’s trust, was awarded a $20 million contract to carry out rehabilitation work on a runway and taxiway at Lynden Pindling International Airport.
The company was also awarded three contracts for water improvement projects on Long Island and Crooked Island. Public Works Minister Desmond Bannister defended the decision last week, saying the other bids were disqualified for not meeting the requirements of the Caribbean Development Bank — a determination that was made by an independent firm out of Jamaica.
Wilson insisted that race is not a barrier to entry for the post of prime minister, and that there are lessons to be learned from Symonette’s experience.
“That’s not the barrier,” he said.
“The barrier had nothing to do with that. He got elected to Parliament, and if you’re elected to Parliament, you meet the constitutional requirement.
“There’s nothing in the constitution to talk about race. The constitution talks about being a member of Parliament.
“I want the Bahamian public, I invite the Bahamian public, to consider the merits of this experience with Mr. Symonette, to go beyond what he is expressing, to see if there may be other valuable lessons for the society from this.”
He added, “…Rev. Angela Palacious became the first female Anglican priest at a time where there were many people in this country who never thought they would live to see the day.
“She was supported in large part because many people who may have had problems with the notion struggled with, ‘Why not her?’
“They thought they saw sufficiently positive in her that they said, ‘Let me overcome my concerns about gender to support this woman.’
“So, if Brent feels there’s a barrier, maybe the barrier is in part in his own mind, because people may be saying they don’t see him, not white people, him.”
Education: Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish