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Giving national service

Love of country is typically instilled in young people if not in their homes, in their schools where national history and national symbols are extolled.

The ambivalence of a significant per centum of our country’s population toward independence meant that we were slow to develop a unity of spirit and patriotism around the symbols of our nationhood.

At the time of independence, the governing Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) colors were the same or similar to those of the independence flag. For many years, therefore, many of those in opposition to that party were reluctant to own and display what were in reality national colors.

It is unfortunate but not surprising that for many years following independence, official recognition of national service carried political overtones with honorees coming in the vast majority of instances from the governing political party.

The knighthoods of Alvin Braynen in 1975 and of Randol Fawkes in 1977 were exceptions to that norm. The exception was not repeated until 1989 when Free National Movement (FNM) founder Cecil Wallace-Whitfield was knighted.

It was not until 20 years post-independence that a still new FNM government posthumously placed the image of a Bahamian leader, the first Bahamian governor general in an independent Bahamas, Milo Butler, on the Bahamian $20 bank note, replacing the image of the queen.

In subsequent years, the images of other political leaders would also be posthumously placed upon our bank notes: Cecil Wallace-Whitfield ($5); first premier of a colonial Bahamas, Roland Symonette ($50); former Minister of Finance and Tourism Stafford Sands ($10); and first prime minister of an independent Bahamas, Lynden Pindling ($1).

Hindrances to national unity notwithstanding, hundreds of Bahamians dedicated their lives, without regard to personal gain, to the advancement of the country and its people.

They did so leading up to and after independence in fields ranging from politics and government service, to education, sports, labor, medicine, culture, law, local government and community building and religion. And many individuals engaged in the business community have, through achievement and philanthropy, made significant and important contributions to the advancement of our national life, putting service above self.

Official recognition of deserving citizens has traditionally been given through recommendations from the government of the day for their inclusion among awards granted by the queen annually to mark either her birthday or the new year. This tradition continues today.

In 1998 on the silver jubilee of independence, government awarded more than 250 gold and silver medals struck to mark the occasion to a cross section of individuals from all walks of life and political persuasions who were recognized as nation builders.

The following year, The Bahamas Order of Merit was established and a number of Bahamian nation builders recognized; again the awardees came from across political lines.

The plan for a more formal Bahamian honor system became and remained topical in the years that followed and a draft bill was tabled in the House of Assembly but was not advanced.

In 2016, a redrafted bill for a national honor system was enacted by Parliament and regulations adopted in late 2017. The act stipulates that individuals considered for appointment to a national order must have shown “considerable achievement in the service of The Bahamas or the Bahamian people”.

The first honors were awarded on the 45th anniversary of independence in July 2018, at which time four national heroes were declared, being four of the five leaders whose images grace our bank notes.

In 2018, awardees were again drawn from across political lines. In addition to politicians and former politicians, they included members of the clergy, the media, civil servants, trade unionists, athletes and members of the medical and legal communities.

This year’s recipients marking the 46th anniversary of independence include once again former politicians, religious leaders, public officers, an historian and the authors of the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance.

We commend all awardees and recommend their service as worthy of emulation by the nation.

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