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With honor and dignity

“We have tolerance, respect and equality in our written laws but not in the hearts of some of our people.” Ruby Bridges

We recently learned about the home burglary of former Governor General Sir Arthur and Lady Foulkes, while they were asleep at home. We are eternally thankful that no harm came to any of the occupants of their home during the burglary.

That single event begs important questions regarding the scope of state-sponsored security that is provided to our national treasures, those individuals who have devoted their energies and sometimes their lives to creating this Bahamas.

Therefore, this week, we would like to consider this — do we treat our national treasures, icons and heroes with the honor and dignity they deserve?

The former governor general’s home burglarized

According to press reports and a personal conversation with Sir Arthur Foulkes, he and Lady Foulkes were asleep when their home was burglarized last Wednesday.

At the time of the burglary, his housekeeper was also asleep in their home. They learned about the burglary the next morning after waking. Fortunately, none of them was hurt.

In recounting the experience after the fact, Sir Arthur observed: “It’s not a good experience. You feel shaken to know that, while you were sleeping, there was an intruder in your house. That’s a very unpleasant feeling. My wife was very shaken up by it.”

“They took a laptop…a cell phone and some cash… and then they let themselves out through the kitchen door. It was as simple as that.

How did we get here?

Sadly, this event is symptomatic of the general collapse in our value system and social order.

That value system once defined an inimitable Bahamian spirit that was personified by a peace-loving people who display respect, honor and dignity to people from all walks of life.

Somewhere along the way, we have lost those values, and with them, our respect for others and their property. Those qualities were supplanted with a general deterioration in how we view, treat and interact with each other.

Growing up in The Bahamas in the 1950s and 1960s, it was unthinkable to display a scintilla of disrespect for our fellow citizens. Instead, we showed a level of civility and respect for others by saying “good morning” or “good afternoon” – even if they were strangers – whether we were walking to or from school or church, in the food store, or wherever we met someone.

There was a time we said “yes, ma’am” or “no, sir” when we were asked a question. There was a time when we expressed a level of respect for our elders by treating them with the honor and dignity they deserved simply because of the length of their years.

But somewhere along the way, things went awry.

Identifying our national treasures

With the ushering in of Majority Rule, our local heroes developed in greater number and accelerated alacrity. Those heroes included iconic individuals who principally excelled in political, religious and sporting activities. Independence in 1973 ushered in yet a new reality that we were now masters of our fate, architects of our destiny and engineers of our national development.

During this period, the architects of Majority Rule and the fathers of the nation radically altered the political and social landscape. In the decades following those transformative events, we recognized but did not honor our national treasures in a manner befitting their contributions to our national development.

An era of transition and turmoil

During the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) 25-year rule, after repeatedly winning one election after another for two-and-a-half decades, our political culture became irreparably divisive.

During that time, the nation was irrevocably marred by the illegal drug trade. As our values deteriorated, we became less connected to each other and exceedingly more materialistic. Conspicuous consumption replaced serene civility as the order of the day.

Irreparable damage to the national psyche

The year 1992 will always be remembered by many Bahamians as the beginning of a new era, the post-Majority Rule and independence epoch. It was the year that interrupted the PLP’s quarter-century rule.

It was also a year that greatly exacerbated a deeply fractured and already highly divisive political culture.

Shortly after the change of government on August 19, 1992, the newly elected Free National Movement (FNM) government made a catastrophic error that was perhaps the most divisive action taken by any government.

That error has had far-reaching, decades-long adverse implications for our political culture.

It was the year that the FNM government exiled Sir Clifford Darling, the then PLP-appointed governor general, to Canada to prevent him from reading the Speech from The Throne, in order to afford a prominent FNM the privilege of performing that honor.

There are occasions in history when seemingly innocent, apparently innocuous and ostensibly well-intended actions have horrific consequences for years to come. That was one such decision.

It was the beginning of the ill-conceived and flawed notion that every time a new government is installed, the sitting governor general should demit office and be replaced by a party faithful of the incoming government.

Nothing can be further from the truth or the initial intentions of our founding fathers.

We must break this cycle of replacing governors general shortly after the inauguration of a new regime, a practice that fosters and deepens the political division that has confounded us for decades.

The governor general is supposed to be a unifying symbol of our Commonwealth, one who sits above the political fray. The governor general is supposed to be a non-political figure who salves the nation’s fissures, be they political, social, or spiritual, similar to the manner in which Queen Elizabeth performs her duties in the United Kingdom.

Protecting our national treasures

The time has come for us to genuinely honor our national treasures with no consideration of from which side of the political divide they come. We need to recognize exactly what these individuals embody and represent for our society as a whole. They are a repository of great know-how and knowledge, of expertise gathered by the unique experience of having lived through some very challenging times, notwithstanding their political or social affiliations.

For the good of our society and its future well-being, we need to ensure that these people are afforded a level of security of tenure to which their office is entitled.

We tend to place greater emphasis on those who have rendered public service and are, therefore, singled out more than any other category. We should reassess how we define our national heroes – separate and apart from the work done by the official heroes committee — and include many more in this designation than are presently provided for by the definitions.

Furthermore, we should prescribe a high honor for those living persons who stood apart from the crowd and led the charge for Majority Rule and national independence.

Theirs should be a uniquely identified place of national honor, and they should be recognized for their superlative contributions to national development in both of those endeavors.

Those two singular accomplishments only come once in the history of a country and those who worked to make them the stunning successes that they were should be honored for their powerful participation before they pass into the pages of history.

In the meantime, we should extend a level of honor and dignity to those who have held the highest offices in the land.

That would include our former governors general, former prime ministers and former chief justices of the Supreme Court and former presidents of the Court of Appeal.

Without exception, we should ensure that when they retire from office, they are automatically afforded a degree of honor and dignity of the office that they previously occupied.

Among other things, we should ensure that they are always provided with an appropriate security detail, and certainly at nights.

The police should regularly and systematically patrol their homes, especially at nights.

Furthermore, the government should install closed-circuit television cameras on their residential property that is directly connected to a 24-hour security monitoring team. This technology would provide constant vigilance and a recording of any infractions on their property to ensure that trespassers are discovered and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Our society’s overall failure to regard with respect and honor those who have labored to build our Bahamas, regardless of any political affiliations, after they have left the front lines is a systemic problem.

It is an overall disrespect for work done, time spent and lives dedicated that is often dictated by the loud braying of political animals who thrive only on the thrill of victory, never considering that by sending the defeated out “to pasture” we are wantonly wasting great national resources. We will examine this ill-advised attitude more fully in another column in the coming weeks.

Conclusion

The time is long gone to rectify the shortcomings of the past relative to those who superlatively contributed to our national development. It is never too late to do the right thing. The moment has now come for us to do the right thing and provide honor and dignity to those who contributed so valiantly to the development and growth of our Commonwealth.

• 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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