The shadow of COVID-19 hovers over our Independence Day.
For the first time, our independence celebrations will not be centered at Clifford Park.
Hence, no inspection of the guard of honor and no taking of the salute on the field; no Royal Bahamas Police Force Tattoo; no march-by of the police and defense force bands and no pass-by of the uniformed branches, customs, immigration and prison services.
No cheer will rise from the bleachers or from those poised far atop Fort Charlotte at the re-enactment of the flag raising at the stroke of midnight.
There will be no concert and no fireworks, no Junkanoo rush out, no Independence Day church service, and no reception at Government House.
No celebratory gatherings will happen at beaches on New Providence, Paradise Island or Grand Bahama. They were arbitrarily ordered closed until Monday.
Yesterday, two new COVID-19 cases in Grand Bahama were offered from the floor of the House of Assembly by our authoritarian prime minister as justification.
Today, the strains of our national anthem, pressing us to march on to lofty goals even though treacherous shoals threaten our progress have never been more fitting.
Our borders were closed to incoming international passengers for almost three months. For almost as long, travel between Bahamian islands was also prohibited. It shut our schools, businesses and churches for weeks on end.
Some business offices, including the public service, have not yet returned to full operations.
Tens of thousands of individuals have been furloughed, laid off or fired.
Thousands are being fed by charitable food kitchens.
This has been a particularly rough time.
The COVID-19 pandemic made its appearance just six months after Hurricane Dorian leveled large swaths of Abaco including its principal township, Marsh Harbour, and caused incalculable damage to settlements throughout the island and its cays.
It caused extensive damage also to parts of Grand Bahama, destroying its international airport terminal, leveling much of East Grand Bahama and causing a serious oil spill at Equinor’s South Riding Point terminal.
The official death count from the storm stands at 74, including 55 unidentified victims who were finally buried in Abaco in late May. The true number of the dead from the storm may never be known.
No list of the missing has ever been made public.
Some, displaced by the hurricane, are fending for themselves.
At this time of crisis when the nation most needs to trust and rely on the integrity and honesty of its government, we have the most inexperienced leadership and government in office since independence.
Instead of expanding our rights, they are curtailing them.
Instead of telling us the truth and trusting that with the truth we will act responsibly, they treat us with contempt.
Government accountability and transparency have become meaningless phrases uttered by a government that routinely decides and acts in secret.
It abides no criticism. It takes no advice.
We think Clement Bethel’s anthem is perhaps our best Independence Day advice to The Bahamas:
“when the road gets rough…
… don’t cry, wonder why
Just keep on trying…
Look beyond the present way
This time will pass
Tomorrow’s another day.”
We believe that we will thrive and prosper once again.
We have accomplished much in 47 years of independence.
Since July 10, 1973, progress has been achieved in all areas important to an improved standard of living.
Access to public services has significantly improved. The country has been electrified. Telephone, including cellular service, internet and cable television are accessible in even some of the remotest parts of the country. And piped access to potable water has become a reality for residents on nearly all Family Islands.
Universal free access to primary and secondary education has been realized and access to free tertiary education is growing.
A high standard has been attained in child and maternal care. And, a public health system is making access to quality health care available to Bahamians.
Our housing stock has improved even as home ownership has increased exponentially.
And, Bahamian ownership in the economy has increased.
Indeed, in many ways it is better in The Bahamas. For this and much more we must be grateful.
Happy Independence Day, Bahamas.