“Everybody stumbles across a golden opportunity at least once in a lifetime. Unfortunately, most people just pick themselves up, dust themselves down, and walk away from it.”
— Winston Churchill
We are rapidly approaching the 50th anniversary of Bahamian independence, attained on July 10, 1973. Those old enough will recall that historically momentous occasion at Clifford Park when the Union Jack was lowered over our islands for the last time as a British colony, and the Bahamian flag was raised for the first time, giving birth to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
Therefore, with less than a year to go before we celebrate our golden jubilee, we would like to Consider This … will we take full advantage of the golden opportunity that lies ahead for our nation?
Here at home, Bahamians had occupied a front-row seat to momentous changes in a civil society structure initially established by the British and perpetuated by the Bay Street Boys.
They saw the abolition of the nefarious property and company votes, which led to one-man-one-vote. Then there was The Burma Road incident, the General Strike of 1958, and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, only a few events culminating in Bahamian women’s right to vote in 1962, Majority Rule in 1967, and political independence in 1973.
At the dawn of a new nation in 1973, we witnessed the establishment of the Central Bank of The Bahamas and the launch of the national flag carrier, Bahamasair, which ensured that the residents of our archipelagic nation were afforded unprecedented ease of mobility across the 100,000 square miles of water over which these islands are strewn.
The current of change reached a crescendo in the second half of the 20th Century with the establishment of institutions like the National Insurance Board, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, and The College of The Bahamas, which attained university status several decades later, to name a few.
The last 49 years provide an opportunity to review many of the institutions we established, the natural metamorphosis of a nascent nation. We witnessed an explosion in education for all Bahamians at private and public schools, both at the secondary and tertiary levels.
With the rapid development of an unprecedented opportunity for Bahamians to study abroad, we also gradually but progressively developed the twin pillars of our economy.
We witnessed the transformation of a country that was once a sleepy fishing village into a thriving tourism hub and financial services industries center, where today many of the businesses in those sectors are headed by sons and daughters of the soil.
A golden opportunity lies ahead
As we approach our golden jubilee as a nation, we should recognize that a golden opportunity lies ahead. It is within our grasp if we are seriously committed to doing so. In preparing for our celebrations on July 10, 2023, pressing matters must be addressed.
First, we should honor the heroes of the quiet revolution, beginning with those who came to these islands as victims of the nefarious slave trade. We should proudly celebrate heroes like Pompey, who boldly rebelled against his enslavers in Exuma.
All Bahamians should know his story and the stories of the valiant souls who challenged that insidiously virulent strain of inhumanity. Our 50th anniversary of independence should present an opportunity to educate our populace about those heroes.
We are confident that a superlative list of honorees will be selected by the committee that has been appointed to identify the heroes who should be honored for the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of independence.
Second, we should also honor those bold heroes of the trade union movement and their contribution to Majority Rule and independence.
Third, we should use this opportunity to actively involve our constitution’s living signatories. This can be accomplished by encouraging the University of The Bahamas to host a Distinguished Lecture Series to explain what transpired at the Independence Conference in 1972.
Fourth, The Bahamas government should invite the British government to provide us with the documents, memoranda, and Independence Conference notes which should be transferred to The Bahamas.
Those documents should be housed in The Bahamas Department of Archives so anyone who wants to review them would have access to the actual discussions during those meetings in the waning months of 1972.
Copies of those documents should also be donated to the University of The Bahamas for students and researchers to access this information readily. This information is so vital to our history that it should be posted online for anyone who wants a first-hand account of what considerations informed the decisions that led to our political independence and statehood.
Fifth, updating and completing the National Development Plan (NDP) should be aggressively pursued. The NDP should be a non-partisan exercise representing a national agenda to which both political parties will be committed, irrespective of government changes.
Sixth, the government should undertake a national beautification program to ensure that anyone visiting The Bahamas during our 50th anniversary will be mesmerized by the beauty of our native flora and fauna. We should also beautify and rejuvenate our highways and major transportation routes inside and outside the city limits.
It is essential to rejuvenate the City of Nassau. We need to identify the owners of our downtown’s derelict buildings and work with them to either raze them or refurbish and paint them, so these buildings add to the ambiance of downtown Nassau.
This initiative should also include all our major Family Islands. The government could invite and encourage corporate sponsors to participate in this national beautification exercise.
Seventh, the government should consider convening a national conference of our private and public schoolteachers to review the national curriculum to ensure that the revised curriculum addresses the improvements that are urgently needed to implement a curriculum that is relevant for the next generation.
Eighth, we should invite Bahamian artists to participate in a competition to develop an official coat of arms for each of our Family Islands that represents the distinguishing features of those islands.
Ninth, we must recommit ourselves to renewing the progressive movement. To this end, we must earnestly and honestly address our country’s poverty level. We must also uplift and assist the downtrodden. While the government has begun this process by increasing the minimum wage and ultimately moving to a livable wage, we should continue our journey on the road to universal health care.
Tenth, we should honestly assess what steps we can take to further deepen our democracy, which can only be achieved by greater participation in the development of patrimony. This suggests that we should no longer pay lip service to local government and begin the process of how we can implement local government in New Providence.
We can no longer wait for politicians to define our future or set our national agenda. This exercise must have as much input as possible from our citizens. They are generally more aware of the requirements of our developing society, more informed than those who seek to lead us, and more experienced in running organizations than those who seek to use their outmoded, archaic and unresponsive bureaucracies to advance our society.
That our society is working well now is not enough. That we can do better is precisely the reason for doing so. In the final analysis, the success of our country in the next 50 years will be measured more by what we do than by what we say. To that end, to create the nation we want and the prosperous future we deserve, we must continue to encourage others to recognize that now that we enjoy a government of the people and for the people, we must strive daily to develop a government that is driven and directed by the people.
Our 50th anniversary of independence represents a defining moment in our history. There is much that can be accomplished through public-private partnerships.
We can look back with pride at our many accomplishments of the last 50 years while futuristically focusing on our challenges and an unfinished agenda, chief among which must be greater equity participation in our economy by an increasing number of our citizens.
As we approach 50 years of Bahamian independence and peer through the kaleidoscope of time, we should celebrate this anniversary as not the end of 50 years, but the beginning of the next, even more glorious, half century. We must recognize that this golden anniversary represents a golden opportunity to make The Bahamas the best country in the world.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Bahamas, Advisors and Chartered Accountants. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.