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Majority Rule revisited

(Author’s note: Portions of this article were published nine years ago, on January 10, 2011, under the topic: ‘Does the majority rule?’)

Fifty-three years ago, a new era was ushered into Bahamian history. For the first time in more than 250 years of parliamentary government, the voice of the majority of Bahamians was represented in the House of Assembly.

The date of that momentous election, January 10, 1967, is referred to as Majority Rule Day.

Despite the dismal disappointment of successive governments to officially observe this date as a national holiday, until recently, January 10 will irrevocably and irreversibly mark the trajectory of a people toward liberation and independence from the white oligarchy which for centuries had dominated and directed their lives.

Therefore, this week, as we now officially observe Majority Rule Day as a public holiday, we would like to consider this — in light of the social, political and economic changes that emanated from Majority Rule, 53 years later, what does the majority rule really mean?

The momentous, historical day

The foundation that was laid by the first Majority Rule Cabinet foreshadowed a new Bahamas.

It was that first Majority Rule Cabinet that unabashedly announced that the education of a people would be its primary focus and articulated a vision for a modern Bahamas where Bahamians should assume the premier positions in their country.

It was those first fathers of freedom who declared that their Bahamianization policy would ensure equal opportunity for Bahamians, regardless of their race, religious or political affiliation, or social standing.

The dividends earned from that investment in Bahamians are undisputed.

Consequently, today, the legal, medical, accounting, architectural, engineering, nursing and teaching professions, to name a few, speak volumes to the visionary and enlightened leadership of that initial Majority Rule Cabinet.

Today, Bahamians of all backgrounds not only occupy but actually own offices and stores on Bay Street, once the sole domain of the chosen few.

Today, commercial banks and insurance companies which eluded and, in some instances, prohibited employment for the majority of our people are now, almost without exception, headed by persons who could previously not even gain admission to their doors before Majority Rule.

Similar commentary can be made about the institutions established by some of the first fathers of freedom, including, among others, the establishment of the Central Bank of The Bahamas, the National Insurance Board, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and the University of The Bahamas.

And while there were severe personality and philosophical differences of opinion about the direction that the country should take, and despite the seismic schism in the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) not long after Majority Rule, there is no doubt that the first fathers of freedom, on both sides of the political divide, were motivated and guided by a deep love, devotion and commitment to a better Bahamas for all Bahamians.

Does the majority really rule?

Therefore, with the passage of 53 years since that momentously historic day, we can appropriately ask: does the majority really rule?

The answer to the question is complex.

While no one can dispute that we have made considerable progress in many areas, we are constantly confronted by colossal challenges. The progress for many Bahamians has indeed been impressive.

Within a single generation, the country was transformed from a quiet and peaceful seasonal tourism archipelago into a year-round vacation destination, which now accounts for 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, employing more Bahamians than any other industry. The same can be said for financial services, which accounts for 20 percent of GDP and is also a major employer.

However, despite the advances that we have made as a nation, we are essentially a country of jobseekers and employees.

Don’t get me wrong; there is absolutely nothing wrong with being an employee.

As a developing nation, the creation of jobs is an essential ingredient to wealth creation and financial, economic and social stability.

However, it often seems that we overly emphasize job creation as the litmus test for our national success.

Fifty-three years after Majority Rule, many Bahamians are concerned that they have not taken a greater stake in the ownership of our economy, especially in those areas that are vital for sustainable growth and development, namely tourism, financial services and the industrial sector.

Bahamians must have greater ownership in our economy, because, until we do, we will not be able to significantly determine our economic future.

Time and again, we have seen persons come “across the bar” and take ownership of our major industries. They are no smarter than Bahamians. They are no more gifted than Bahamians. What they have are two very essential factors that assist them in their ventures.

First, foreign investors have been repeatedly greeted by successive friendly governments, who are overzealously prepared to roll out the red carpet and grant them concessions that are not equally as readily available to Bahamians.

Secondly, sometimes those investors arrive in The Bahamas with the necessary financing to ensure that their projects are favorably received.

An uneven playing field

In the meantime, in addition to being confronted by red tape, many Bahamians find that some of our commercial banks are unreceptive to perfectly viable and feasible projects.

Sadly, those banks are sometimes willing to provide only enough funding to get borrowers into trouble, although often, they are unwilling to fund such projects at all.

On the other hand, those same banks seem to be very willing to fund projects brought by those same “investors” from “across the bar,” sometimes with projects so questionable that those venerable financial institutions are left regretting their decisions.

What also concerns many is that given the jump start that was provided by the first fathers of freedom, would they recognize what The Bahamas has become today, and would they be pleased with the progress we have made?

Back then, the voices of the majority of voters spoke loudly and forcefully in support of the men who were elected to govern.

Back then, the voices of the majority were raised in support and encouragement of those who, like the voters, had been a part of a disenfranchised group struggling to take their place as first-class citizens in their own country. Back then, there was more of a connection between the voter and his representative. Back then, the majority and their representatives in the Parliament spoke more often with one voice, expressing the same dreams and desiring the same goals for themselves, their families and their nation. Back then, the majority enjoyed greater participation in governance.

The great divide

Today, the divide between Bahamians and their leaders is far more marked with the voice of the majority too often ignored or drowned out by that of those whose five-year term in office seems to bestow on them a kind of god-like wisdom, a condition that seems to set them apart and deafen them to the voice of the majority.

Today, the chasm separating the majority from those who have won their vote is larger than ever.

Unlike yesteryear, when the people were an integral part of the lives of those who represented them so that they could better speak on their behalf, today, many of those who govern do not interact with the majority of the people to closely align their goals and aspirations.

Today, it is almost as if the governed and the governing were not two parts of a whole but more like two separate entities with two different agendas.

Sadly, neither the legacies of successive administrations will make their antecedents proud that the former have raised us to new heights.

With few exceptions, post-Majority Rule administrations have failed to build on the dreams of the first fathers of freedom to enhance greater Bahamian ownership of our economy.

Conclusion

It is a sad fact that 53 years later, while we have achieved Majority Rule in the political sphere, we are disappointingly far away from the economic independence and ownership that could have been achieved had the inheritors stuck to the script that the first fathers of freedom drafted, and overwhelmingly approved by the voice of the majority first at that election of 1967 and then at subsequent polls.

Perhaps the next generation of leaders will be more successful and will listen more attentively to the voice of that majority, allowing them to, once again, be more connected to those who govern to foster a more united nation that was foreshadowed and anticipated by those who ushered in Majority Rule.

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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