Constitutional reform, pt. 2
By Alfred Sears
The preamble of a constitution is supposed to state the most basic principles and aspirations of a nation state. It provides those guiding principles after which a people in a democratic state will strive to realize through their collective endeavors. The purpose of the preamble is to underscore a sense of national identity and to express the core values and principles of the state and the people. It must therefore be refreshed from time to time to reflect the evolving expectations and aspirations of the state and people.
The Bahamas Constitution is introduced by a preamble, which asserts that the rediscovery of the Bahamian islands, rocks and cays heralded the rebirth of the new world. It continues that the people of The Bahamas recognize that the preservation of their freedom will be guaranteed by a commitment to self-discipline, industry, loyalty, unity and an abiding respect for Christian values and the rule of law.
The preamble then declares that the people of The Bahamas are a sovereign nation founded on principles, which recognize the sovereignty of God and faith in the fundamental human rights, and freedoms, based on moral and spiritual values, in the following words: “We the inheritors of and successors to this family of islands, recognizing the supremacy of God and believing in the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, do hereby proclaim in solemn praise the establishment of a free and democratic sovereign nation founded on spiritual values and in which no man, woman or child shall ever be slave or bondsman to anyone or their labor exploited or their lives frustrated by deprivation, and do hereby provide by these articles for the indivisible unity and creation under God of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”
The preamble of the Bahamian constitution, I submit, has a number of weaknesses. First, there is no reference to the historical fact of 300 years of slavery of African people in The Bahamas, or the genocide of the Lucayan/Arawak people by the European presence, two critical aspects of the historical evolution of the Bahamian polity and society. Second, the preamble mischaracterizes the incorporation and colonization of The Bahamas into the triangular slave trade, initiated by and for the benefit of Europe, as “...rediscovery of this family of islands, rocks and cays heralded the rebirth of the New World.”
Unlike in 1973 when the constitution was founded, The Bahamas today is more of a multi-religious society with, inter alia, Muslims, Bahaʾis, Buddhists, Rastafarians, etc. Therefore, the preamble of our constitution, as a historical and aspirational statement, should elaborate upon the inclusive term of “spiritual values” to better reflect the spirit and thinking of all of our people and the common identity and values of all Bahamians. Therefore, historical accuracy and the norm of non-discrimination and inclusiveness should be the guiding principles of a revised preamble of the Bahamian constitution.
Since 1973, The Bahamas has rapidly evolved into a full-service economy, with a highly urbanized population. The population is cosmopolitan, multi-racial and multi-ethnic. The contemporary African-Bahamian population comprises those who are descendants of the slaves who came with or were purchased by the loyalists and settlers, freed Africans, more recent West Indian immigrants and Haitian immigrants. All of these groups have blended to create the contemporary African-Bahamian population. The Bahamian population also comprises other ethnic groups such as the descendants of the loyalists, colonial administrators and settlers, and more recent immigrant groups such as the Greeks, Syrians, Chinese, Jews and Lebanese. All of these groups have made a significant contribution to the development of the modern Bahamas mosaic. Their descendants have been assimilated into the Bahamian society and reflect the multi-ethnic character of the contemporary Bahamas. Therefore, the preamble of our constitution should recognize the contributions of all the significant ethnic groups who have shaped our reality.
In order to better reflect the ideals and aspirations of our multi-ethnic Bahamian society, I propose that the preamble of the constitution be amended to include the following elements:
a) Affirm our commitment to the continuing observance of the principles of individual freedom and democratic government as our inalienable heritage.
b) Acknowledge that we have been blessed with leaders of vision, with artists, writers, musicians and athletes who have carried the name of our country with honor and glory throughout the world.
c) Salute the founders of the independent state of The Bahamas.
d) Acknowledge the progress which has been made in the post independent Bahamas.
e) Honor the contributions of the Lucayan/Arawaks, settlers, loyalists, Africans in slavery and freed Africans and more recent migrants to the development of The Bahamas and celebrate the survival of the African people in The Bahamas, as part of the African Diaspora, and affirm our relationship to the African continent.
f) Pay special tribute to our national heroes such as Pompey, Sir Milo Butler, Sir Lynden Pindling, Dame Doris Johnson, Sir Stafford Sands, etc.
g) Pay special tribute to the Suffrage Movement of The Bahamas, namely Mary Ingraham, Mable Walker, Georgianna Symonette, Eugenia Lockhart, Albertha Isaacs, Grace Wilson, Mildred Moxey, Ethel Kemp, Gladys Bailey, Madge Brown and Dr. Doris Johnson.
h) Reaffirm that the sovereignty of the Bahamian people and nation is founded upon principles of the dignity and worth of the human person, fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, social justice, the fundamental role of the family in a free society based on spiritual values.
i) Rededicate ourselves to the building of a democratic society founded upon respect for moral and spiritual values and upon the rule of law, in which the power of the government springs from the will of the people, legitimated by periodic free, fair and publicly financed elections based on universal adult suffrage.
j) Resolve that the national assets of the nation shall be preserved and used to promote the general welfare by fair access, with a proper regard for ability, integrity and merit.
k) Resolve to provide maximum opportunities for the development of the creative imagination and intellect of all Bahamians, based on entrepreneurship, innovation and employment opportunities under humane and just conditions.
l) Affirm that our Bahamian nationhood is nourished by our roots in the wider spiritual and cultural reality of the Caribbean region, and undertake to seek the closest forms of community with our sisters and brothers in the Caribbean.
m) Commit to cooperate with other nations in the quest for international peace and security and the promotion of universal respect for human rights and freedom.
I suggest that the foregoing statements may better express the current expectations and aspiration of the Bahamian people. The preamble should be inclusive and affirming of the racial, ethnic, religious and cultural diversity and pluralism, which now make up the Bahamian civil society, and declare aspirations to guide us into the future.
• Alfred Sears is an attorney, a former member of Parliament and a former attorney general of The Bahamas.
Aug 23, 2012