Author’s note: Since independence, The Bahamas has appointed more governors general than any other major Caribbean state. What has contributed to this phenomenon?
Last week, Part 1 of this series on the Bahamian governors general examined the role of the governor general. This week, we will review the persons who served and their tenure in this office from Majority Rule to independence. Next week, we will review the governors general from 1992 to the present. In a few weeks, we will conclude the series by examining whether the founding fathers intended for the country to appoint a proliferation of governors general as we have experienced in our first 50 years of independence.
This article was first published on April 28, 2014. We hope this series on governors general will inspire our readers to honestly question and critically examine whether this important role has been abused by successive prime ministers since our independence on July 10, 1973.)
In Part I of this series, we reviewed some of the qualities that we should expect to find in the holder of the high office of our governors general.
This week, we would like to Consider this…what special considerations were made in selecting our governors general in the years between independence and 1992?
Sir John Paul
Sir John Paul, the last governor of the Colony of the Bahama Islands, became the first governor general in an independent Bahamas and served in that office for the shortest time, from July 10, 1973 to July 31, 1973. It is reasonable to assume that with the attainment of political independence from Great Britain on July 10, 1973, the Pindling administration purposely decided to allow Sir John to become the first governor general of The Bahamas in order to symbolize the continuation of our commitment to the British Commonwealth.
Sir Milo Butler
On August 1, 1973, Sir Milo Butler became the first Bahamian governor general. He had been a member of the House of Assembly and was one of the first six Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) members of Parliament in 1956.
A strident social activist, Sir Milo was a powerful icon in the struggle for Majority Rule who symbolized and embodied the hopes and aspirations of generations of Bahamians who actively engaged in the long struggle for equality, human rights, and universal suffrage, which ultimately culminated in Majority Rule and later political independence.
For reasons of illness, Sir Milo was unable to fully perform the functions of governor general from September 2, 1976, until his passing on January 22, 1979, during which period Sir Gerald Cash served as the acting governor general. Sir Milo officially served as Governor-General for a total of 5.4 years.
Sir Gerald Cash
Sir Gerald Cash was a natural choice to succeed Sir Milo, having “acted” for several years during Sir Milo’s illness. He became governor general on January 22, 1979, and served until July 25, 1988 – a total of 9.5 years – serving the longest period in that capacity.
Sir Gerald brought panache to the office, and his effervescent personality brought a level of poise, charm and savoir faire to Mount Fitzwilliam.
Although he represented the qualities of the Bahamian social elite, he also possessed the uniquely natural flair that enabled him, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, to “talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch”.
Sir Henry Taylor
Sir Henry Taylor, one of the founders of the PLP in 1953 and a former chairman of that party, became the nation’s third Bahamian governor general on March 1, 1988, and served in that office until to January 1, 1992, for a total of 3.5 years.
Sir Henry was perhaps the most prominent symbol of party politics in The Bahamas to serve in that post. He possessed a wide-ranging knowledge of the people and islands of The Bahamas, having traveled extensively throughout the archipelago in the early days of the march to Majority Rule.
Sir Clifford Darling
Sir Clifford Darling, the former Bahamas Taxi-Cab Union president and prominent leader of the General Strike in 1958, former PLP member of Parliament for Englerston, and speaker of the House of Assembly, overcame several disappointments in his public life. Slated to succeed Sir Gerald Cash as governor general, but preempted by Sir Henry’s appointment to that office, Sir Clifford never allowed his disappointment in Sir Lynden’s unfulfilled promise to appoint him to that office to overshadow his commitment to the Bahamian people.
Sir Clifford was finally appointed governor general on January 22, 1992, eight months before the historic victory of the Free National Movement (FNM) on August 19, 1992, and served until January 2, 1995, for a total of three years.
Sir Cliff, as he was affectionately known, recalls how thoroughly hurt and disappointed he was when, after the FNM victory, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham “invited” him to leave The Bahamas so that one of his FNM party leaders, Sir Kendal Isaacs, could read the Speech from the Throne at the convening of Parliament in September 1992.
Sir Clifford recounts how Ingraham offered to pay for him and Lady Darling to “go anywhere in the world at the government’s expense” because the prime minister wanted an “FNM faithful” to read the speech.
Sir Clifford acquiesced to the prime minister’s request and traveled to Canada during the Opening of Parliament and spent the entire time in his hotel room on that occasion, bitterly disappointed at his ostracism.
Because of his marginalization on such an important day, Sir Clifford would, more than once, threaten to offer his resignation, only to have the prime minister refuse to consider accepting it.
The experience of Sir Clifford being unceremoniously banned from performing one of the most important duties of the governor general was the first time in the history of the country that the office of governor general was so blatantly politicized, a pernicious precedent that was set by the FNM administration.
Up to this point, with the exception of Sir Gerald Cash, the officeholder was a prominent political hero of the “quiet revolution” of Majority Rule and independence.
As a result of that politicization of the office of governor general, the PLP members of Parliament and their supporters refused to attend the reading of the Speech from the Throne in September 1992.
By his actions, Ingraham set a very dangerous precedent of inculcating in the minds of Bahamians that the governor general should change with the change of government.
The prime minister’s actions fomented a feature in our political culture that contributed to diminishing the sacrosanct principle that the governor general should rise above the political fray and represent all the people without reference to partisan political preference.
At Sir Clifford’s funeral at Zion Baptist Church on January 4, 2011, our current governor general, Sir Arthur Foulkes, eulogized Sir Cliff in the following words: “There was no shortage of flamboyant politicians, but Clifford Darling was more of a fixed star than a shooting star, an inspiring presence, the perfect mix of necessary patience and steely determination.”
The tenure of the governor general
During the Pindling era, which ended in 1992, four Bahamian governors general served an average of 5.4 years.
In Part III of this series, we will examine the other governors general who served from 1995 to the present day and look at how the average term of our governors general decreased appreciably during that period, following the trend established by Ingraham of politicizing the office.
In the final installment of this series, we will examine the tenures of governors general in other major English-speaking Caribbean countries with a view to learning from their experience how to, once again, depoliticize this office simply by refusing to change the holders of the office each time the government changes.
• 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.