Happy 46th birthday Bahamas
Forty-six years ago, The Bahamas became an independent country. There was no national consensus for independence from Great Britain.
The move to independence was led by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). The official opposition, the Free National Movement (FNM), was opposed to the move.
At the constitutional talks in London in 1972, fearing the power of the majority, the opposition sought and succeeded in causing to be entrenched certain protections in the independence constitution.
Changes to entrenched provisions such as is the case with citizenship and the mandatory retirement age of justices of the Supreme Court, require super majority parliamentary approval and affirmation of the electorate in a referendum.
As a consequence of the entrenched provisions, articles in the constitution relating to a married woman’s right to confer nationality on her children remain unchanged; two referenda to change this by two administrations failed miserably.
Similarly, notwithstanding the improvement of general health statistics and the increase in life expectancy from 66.28 in 1973 to a projected 73.84 today, the electorate refused in referendum to increase the retirement age of Supreme Court justices from 65, an age approximating the life expectancy in 1973.
The Bahamas was slow in building unity of spirit and patriotism around the symbols of nationhood. Some teachers recall that as late as 1975 many students did not know the new national anthem; even now people say that the pledge of allegiance to the flag is not yet universally known amongst us.
At independence, our fledgling new nation was rooted in more than 200 years of democratic institutions, a Parliament since 1729 and universal adult suffrage since 1962. We moved easily to cement the institutions of nationhood already in place — representative government, a professional civil service and a disciplined police force.
Within the first decade of independence, the Central Bank of The Bahamas had replaced the Bahamas Monetary Authority, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force was established and the Development Bank and the Mortgage Corporation were created with a view to widening Bahamian business and housing ownership of Bahamians. And the National Insurance Board was brought into existence, formalizing for the first time a mandatory social security net for all in the society.
The government entered the private sector purchasing hotel properties in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and Andros and building a new hotel, the Cable Beach Hotel. By 1992 the V owned 20 percent of the hotel room inventory in the country.
Internationally, The Bahamas became a member of the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the Caricom Community. We acceded to a growing number of international treaties and conventions which govern the relationship between independent states and established diplomatic relations with a growing number of countries near and far.
At home, impressive progress was achieved on the education front. The government-operated school system was expanded around the country and the College of The Bahamas, today the University of The Bahamas, was established as was a tourism college. And the technical institute was expanded. Now we have a law school and a division of a medical school both of the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Early progress of the new nation of The Bahamas was threatened in the second decade of independence by the fall out of the illegal transit of narcotic drugs, which overwhelmed its law enforcement capacities and which continues now to feed a too-high level of crime, particularly violent crime, in the country. Indeed, today The Bahamas has one of the highest per capita rates for murder in our hemisphere.
We will return to this subject tomorrow.