On Friday, March 14, 1997, I was elected the member of Parliament for the constituency of Fort Charlotte. I was elated. At twenty-nine years old, me, the son of a straw vendor who became a senator and a hotel worker, would come to serve as a legislator in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas Parliament, which had been in continuous sitting for more than two hundred and fifty years. As happy as I was to be elected a member of Parliament, that was not my greatest joy. Even being appointed a member of Cabinet thereafter, the youngest in our history, was not my greatest joy. No, my greatest joy would come much later.
While visiting Albury Sayles Primary School, which was in my constituency on Nassau Street, I was speaking with some parents of the school who lamented that, unlike Woodcock Primary School, another school in my area on West Street, Albury Sayles had not been upgraded and the children of the school felt badly that their school looked so poorly in comparison with their sister school only a short distance away. They felt discriminated against. Woodcock had been renovated and upgraded only a year or so before I was elected. Woodcock Primary did look quite upstanding I must admit. The children used to call it “the palace in the ghetto”.
Following my conversation, I was determined to do something about the parents’ and students’ concern. A few days later, I had an opportunity to speak with Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham about it, stating earnestly my belief in the authenticity of the case the parents, and subsequently principal and teachers had put to me. To my delight, the Prime Minister acknowledged that they had a legitimate complaint and that something would be done about it. Sure enough, funding was placed in the next budget period for an upgrade to the school and I was able to announce the same to the delight of parents, principals, teachers and students. In time, a two-story block and necessary repairs and renovation was done to the school. On the day it was finished, I stood in one of the classrooms feeling a sense of accomplishment that I had responded to a felt need of my constituents. This was the happiest day for me as an MP.
Rightly, one might ask: Was there no other achievements that brought you more joy? The answer is no. The reason for this is that on that day I learned that, if you are focussed as an MP and you set about to make a real difference, not only can you get things done but you can make big things happen; things that last a long time. I learned that being an MP was not merely having the privilege of speechifying in the House of Assembly but being a consequential leader in your community.
I went on to do other notable things in my constituency like setting up a computer lab, a community centre, a scholarship programme, improved parks, youth programmes, a mini library, etc. in both Fort Charlotte and Marco City that I represented. I also put my stamp on several sound legislation and programmes in our nation. I can look around our nation and see where I made a difference for sure; that makes me happy. However, I have never been happier than when I learned for the first time in power how to use that power to make a real difference; a big difference.
I drive pass Albury Sayles often, and each time I do, I hope to myself that my effort made a difference to the pride and motivation felt by its students to as good as they could do to be better than their school’s upgraded physical facilities. I hope that it inspired them to strive for better. I truly hope that it did.
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.