Thursday, December 27, 2012

A. Loftus Roker wants his freedom... ...even if he's starving

The road to freedom

Guardian News Editor

Even if he’s starving, A. Loftus Roker wants his freedom.

And so, when he attended the December 1972 Constitutional Conference in London, he was determined to stay into the new year, spending Christmas away from home, if necessary.

He was not returning to Nassau without the very thing the delegation had gone for — independence. Prime Minister Lynden Pindling led government members in that delegation, and Kendal Isaacs led the Opposition.

On December 20, 1972, the delegation signed the independence agreement, and on June 26, 1973, the British Parliament enacted the Bahamas Independence Order.

The official date for independence is July 10, 1973 when the Bahamian flag was raised for the first time. 

Roker was one of the signatories to the Bahamian Constitution.

The 40th anniversary of that signing passed quietly last Thursday. 

There was no recognition from the government or anyone publicly.

Roker sat down with The Nassau Guardian on the anniversary of the signing, and reflected on the kind of country we have 40 years later.

He is but a handful of Bahamian constitutional framers still with us.  Roker pointed out that he sat on every committee established to draft a new constitution ahead of independence.

“The real independence occurred when the British agreed for us to get independence,” he said.

“It felt good to me because I believed in freedom and that is what really distresses me because we don’t preserve our freedom.

“We take it for granted; we allow all sorts of things to happen, and I’m talking about leaders on every level — the politician, the preacher, the parents.  We all seem to take too many things for granted.”

The former immigration and national security minister expressed disappointment over the current state of affairs.

After all, it’s not the kind of Bahamas he and other founding fathers had dreamed of when they attended those talks 40 years ago.

But despite the national challenges — and there are many — Roker has no regrets about independence.

“Nothing will cause me to regret independence, nothing,” said Roker, who at 77 still has a quick step and a sharp mind.

“I say I want independence even if I’m starving.  I don’t believe I should be slave to anybody. So even if I’m starving.”

Sitting in his treasure trove of independence papers; other historic documents – many with Sir Lynden’s signature; old newspapers and cherished photographs – many with colleagues and dear friends who have passed on, Roker acknowledged some of the missteps the government made in the years after independence, but also the achievements.

“The Bahamas isn’t where I expected it to be in ‘72 when we signed the document, but I say the fault is all our fault,” he said.

“If I see wrong going on and I say nothing, I am as much at fault as the fellow who is doing the wrong because if I told him he is wrong, maybe he would stop.”

Pointing to one mistake he said the PLP made, Roker said, “We said to people who voted for us that all the jobs in the banks would be available to you. 

“What we didn’t tell them is that the garbage collection also belongs to you.  And so the people got the view that once the PLP came to power, I don’t have to do any dirty work.  I can get an office job.”

Speaking of the 1972 Constitutional Conference, Roker recalled that the British adjourned the conference for a couple days.

“In the midst of this, the FNM delegation decided that if they don’t leave now they may not get home for Christmas and they signed a blank piece of paper and left us to discuss important matters like citizenship, immigration and all of that.  They left the PLP alone to discuss that,” Roker said.

“I said no matter if they stay until next year, I wasn’t going to move from here.  I came for independence and that’s what I want.  Not one of them was left.

“I said that on the floor of the House a couple times.  They wouldn’t take me up on it.  They just kept quiet.  Now I have a sneaking suspicion that they may have said to Sir Lynden, ‘We’re going, but we’re with you’.”

The Bahamian delegation did not get all it wanted in those negotiations, but it got enough, he recalled.

“If you lived in that time, you would find that the white Bahamians and foreigners who were businessmen here at that time were saying once we get independence, the PLP will take over the courts and all of that, and there will be no justice and we will confiscate their property and all that kind of thing. That’s why the Privy Council was left there as the final court of appeal.

“We kept it because we wanted to give the assurance that we were not trying to run the judiciary, that you had a final court which we couldn’t control. 

“The same thing with the queen.  They saw [independence] as breaking off all connection with Britain, and we will have our own president and we will be dictators.

“That’s why we left the queen there.” 

With all the deficiencies in the constitution, Roker said he does not think it should be “tampered with”.

“If you think about it, if it is decided that anytime you don’t like anything in the constitution you can change it, the constitution would soon mean nothing at all and the young people would feel, that’s only a piece of paper, which it is.  But if you don’t respect that piece of paper [it means nothing].”

Ahead of the 40th anniversary of independence, Prime Minister Perry Christie has appointed a Constitutional Commission, headed by former Attorney General Sean McWeeney.

The Commission is scheduled to report by the end of March 2013 and the government has foreshadowed a referendum before the July observances.

Among other things, that referendum would seek to eliminate clauses from the constitution that discriminate against Bahamian women.

While Roker said he does not think the constitution should be changed, he added that at this stage in his life, he doubted his opinion on the issue really mattered.

For A. Loftus Roker, his role in the march toward freedom developed after a years-long focus on a good education.

Born in Delectable Bay, Acklins, to humble parents who were farmers, Roker said his father, Elkin Roker, who also had a fishing boat, saw the importance of a good education early on.

And so, as long as he was interested in staying in school, he could stay in his father’s house and he could eat.

Because studying was more important than learning to farm, Roker said he never really got into farming until about 10 years ago.

He splits his time between Acklins, his first love, and New Providence, where he bought his first home in his early 30s.

Roker came to Nassau at age 18, and it was then that he realized that he and his family were poor in Acklins.

“When I lived in Acklins I didn’t know I was poor.  I never figured that out until I came to Nassau because my parents always taught us to make do with what we have,” he said.

“…Other people believed that because of the way we lived that we also were well off.  But we had hard times too.

“There was no employment in Acklins then, and there is no employment there now.  The only people who are getting a salary are those who work for the government.”

While working at the Bahamas Telecommunications Department’s transmission station at Perpall Tract, he started thinking about a life in politics. 

At age 23, he went to London.  He spent a year doing GCEs.  Then started studying law.

Roker passed his exams in December 1961 and was called to the bar in May 1962.

At the time, there were just a few black lawyers in The Bahamas.

Speaking of The Bahamas all these years later, Roker lamented the blind loyalty many people have toward political parties.

“For some people, the party is more important than God,” he said.

“It’s either right or wrong and if you check my history, I criticized Sir Lynden, who did more for me than any other politician. 

“I criticized anybody when I thought it was necessary, but whenever it was about him, I never criticized him unless I went to him first, privately, and told him what my problem was. 

“When you heard me criticize him, don’t bother go to him and tell him what Roker said because he knew what Roker was saying.  He knew that long before you.”

Hitting out at blind loyalty, Roker said there are crooked PLPs and crooked FNMs.

“There are crooked Bahamians,” said the former immigration and national security minister.

These days, Roker leads a very private and quiet existence.

But back in the late 1960s, he was the first chairman of the Gaming Board.

While initially shying away for any current position on gambling, Roker explained why he thinks legalizing gambling for Bahamians would be a negative move for The Bahamas 40 years after independence.

“Part of our campaign in ‘67 was that we were against casino gambling,” he recalled.

“The problem was though once we came to power…we felt we did not know what effect the closure of the casinos would have on tourism.  We didn’t know how many people were coming here to gamble, therefore increasing the count.” 

And so, the Pindling administration allowed the casinos to remain.

“The churches and all that were against the thing.  What happened is we didn’t want gambling and we decided this is a tourist facility and Bahamians should not [gamble], and I supported that,” he said.

“The thinking was that if a tourist came here and gambled and got broke, he’s got a return ticket, put him on the plane and he goes back home.

“If the Bahamian gambles and he goes broke, he has to stay here.  And so he has to borrow from his friends because with gambling you always believe you are going to win on the next [try].”

Roker said if Bahamians are allowed to gamble in casinos, crime would increase “because you don’t win in [the] casino”. 

“The slot machine is the easiest thing to play,” he said.  “For every dollar you put in that slot machine, somebody will win 15 cents.

“Somebody, not necessarily you.  So you realize how profitable that is for the casino?”

Roker suggested it is laughable that the government is now in talks with numbers bosses about possible legalization of their businesses.

“Something is wrong with us,” he said.

“If the law says that that thing is wrong, why are we sitting down with the fellow discussing with him how we’re going to set this thing up.  I just wonder. 

“If he is doing something that is illegal now and is still illegal today because nothing has changed and you know who he is, and perhaps the police are helping him carry his money to the bank so nobody robs him, it’s unbelievable what we have come to in The Bahamas and I am saying there appears to be no law and order in the country.” 

Roker added, “I wouldn’t agree with it, but if they want it that’s alright with me.  And there are other antisocial things too that go on with gambling in casinos.”

Dec 24, 2012


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

...while undeniably entertaining, the public spat between the National Insurance Board (NIB) director Algernon Cargill and the newly appointed chairman Gregory Moss has some actual value beyond its qualities as political soap opera

Nib: The Real Lesson

Tribune News Editor

AMID all the sound and fury of the ongoing the National Insurance Board saga, one voice rang true last week – that of former BEC chairman Fred Gottlieb.

He reminded us that while undeniably entertaining, the public spat between NIB director Algernon Cargill and the newly appointed chairman Gregory Moss has some actual value beyond its qualities as political soap opera.

In response to claims by Mr Moss that he ran up more than $240,000 in charges on his corporate credit card over three years, Mr Cargill denies any wrongdoing and points out that a review found the card was not misused.

He in turn, alleges the existence of several unexplained charges on Mr Moss' own NIB card, including some for "large amounts of alcohol and food" at the Hilton Hotel, despite the chairman being provided with a $125 allowance whenever he is in Nassau.

But, asks Mr Gottlieb, regardless of who is telling the truth, why does either man – or any other member of the board of directors for that matter – need a government issued credit card in the first place?

"I served as chairman of several public corporations and, as such, did not approve credit cards being given to any board member (including myself) as I deemed it to be unnecessary and undesirable," he said.

According to the hefty affidavit filed by Mr Cargill last week, the card was approved for use in "business development and conduct of board business; as well as to execute purchases where credit card payment is required; and to mitigate against the inherent risk present when in possession of cash; and for use as and when required as is customary in today's business environment."

But would it not make more sense, in order to avoid allegations of misuse of public funds, both valid and false, that such individuals simply charge work expenses to their own credit cards, with reimbursement coming after proof they were engaged in legitimate company business?

Surely, we aren't expected to believe such luminaries of commerce and industry as Greg Moss and Algernon Cargill can't get a local bank to extend them credit.

How many other public service chairmen, directors, board members are currently packing government-issued plastic? At what rate is this privilege abused with impunity?

"But this is how things are done in the business world nowadays," some who are more accustomed to the corporate culture, may say. Well this isn't the business world, it's the Bahamas – which suffers at the moment from double digit unemployment and severe revenue shortfalls. We are in no position to let public funds slip away unaccounted for.

The credit card issue is, in fact, only one of several "undesirable" tendencies brought to light by the Moss-Cargill blame game.

Take for example, NIB's contract for property insurance with Bahamas First. Mr Cargill's affidavit alleges that during the application process for a replacement firm, Mr Moss ordered him to award the contract to one of the bidders, Star General Insurance, despite the fact that this would have been "improper" because the other contender had yet to issue a proposal.

Mr Cargill claims the Superintendent of Insurance confirmed "management's concerns to be material".

But how can the scenario alleged even enter the realms of possibility? Why is the process for selecting a company for a government contract not enshrined in law?

In the interest of transparency and anti-corruption, why is it not explicitly illegal for any public servant, right up to the prime minister, to arbitrarily choose the beneficiary of such a contract?

There is also the matter of Kenuth's Electric, which it is claimed received around $8 million worth of contracts from NIB.

Mr Cargill denies he is a friend and former colleague of the owner and asserts he was "not involved" in the decision-making process.

But questions of nepotism aside, why, under any circumstances, should it be possible for one company to benefit to such a great extent from a government department, to the virtual exclusion of the rest of the industry?

Mr Cargill's affidavit notes that during the renovation of NIB Headquarters beginning in 2009, the project manager recommended that "due to the specificity of electrical work required, NIB not engage a variety of electricians for various projects so as not to compromise the environment and to be able to determine which company was at fault" should anything go wrong.

All well and good, but in such extraordinary circumstances, the Minister for National Insurance should be required to bring the matter before the Cabinet – or better yet Parliament, so the public can know how its money is being spent.

The construction of the Fresh Creek Clinic furnishes a similar example.

Mr Cargill's affidavit alleges Mr Moss accused the director of intervening in a contract to award it to his cousin.

Saying the discussion to award the contract to HEW Construction came from the quality surveyor, not him, Mr Cargill claims the contractor being replaced was thought to lack the requisite building experience, was said to have asked other contractors to share NIB jobs so he could "receive a portion of the contract proceeds" and had been accused of requesting "kickbacks".

The affidavit also claims Mr Moss ordered that the notice dismissing the first contractor "be rescinded".

The immediate question that springs to mind is, if a contractor is suspected of illegal behaviour while on a government job, why is it not public service policy to report it to the police for investigation?

Such decisions could then be made on the basis of evidence instead of hearsay, and would be much more resistant to outside interference of the kind alleged.

Frequent interference is the essence of Mr Cargill's complaints against his new chairman.

For example, he claims Mr Moss directed him to surrender his full authority, including control of human resources, to newly appointed senior vice president Cecile Bethel.

Mr Cargill notes that "due to the sensitivity of HR matters" it is established corporate practice "to ensure that the executives who have legated authority for HR matters continue to exercise those functions while the CEO is out of office, to avoid anyone seeking to advance separate causes with the temporary authority held."

He asserts that Mr Moss attempted to direct him "in an operational area with respect to the management of NIB, without any support for the National Insurance Act or regulations and with total disregard for my position as director and CEO of the National Insurance Board."

He adds that Mr Moss "sought to control personally the day-to-day operations of NIB."

But, he points out, "My role as director and CEO of NIB, pursuant to Section 40 (1) of the National Insurance Act, provides that I shall be the chief executive officer of the board."

It does indeed, but the Act obviously needs amending so as to be more specific about what this means.

Better yet, the distinct roles of all CEOs and chairmen across the public service should be clearly defined and delineated in law, to avoid any future confusion.

In particular, because they tend to be political appointees, board members and chairmen should be barred from assuming any functional role, confining themselves to oversight and broad policy formation.

This would perhaps bring an end to the "we reach" attitude that seems to crop up on these boards whenever the government changes hands. Mr Cargill goes on to accuse Mr Moss of:

• Ordering that they switch offices and advising a staff member to "contract an interior decorator to ensure the former director's office, now occupied by the chairman, is decorated at a standard befitting of a minister."

• Seeking to have a $42,000 energy study of NIB's properties conducted by a newly formed Grand Bahama company of his choice, when a recent study of the same kind has cost the Board only $3,000.

• Pushing NIB to invest $10 million in a private venture, against the advice of management, by saying Cabinet ministers Ryan Pinder, Khaalis Rolle, Michael Halkitis and Prime Minister Perry Christie himself wanted it approved.

Whether valid or not in the particular case of Mr Moss, do these allegations not epitomise the behaviour of far too many whose positions see them straddle the line between politics and the public service in this country?

"Constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as it will go," Montesquieu wrote.

Whether or not anyone at the top of NIB fits this model is now for a court to decide. But the real lesson of Cargill vs Moss is precisely the existence of a grey area at the top which facilitates favouritism and corruption, and encourages all manner of overreaching and self importance.

If anything productive is to come of this argument, it will be a greater understanding not only that vague laws and lax regulations

have nourished a continuous squabble for power and influence at the top of our public institutions, but also that at the end of the day, the average citizen is the only real victim of this state of a affairs.

On the off chance Prime Minister Christie might be inclined to address the situation in a meaningful way, a fun place to start would be a public review of all cars, drivers, credit cards, expense accounts and other perks and privileges enjoyed by chairmen, directors and general managers in the government's employ.

What do you think?

Email questions or comments to, or join the conversation at

December 10, 2012

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Senator Jerome Gomez says that he plans to vote yes when the government brings a referendum on whether or not The Bahamas should drill for oil

Senator to vote ‘yes’ on oil drilling referendum

By Travis Cartwright-Carroll
Guardian Staff Reporter

Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Senator Jerome Gomez said yesterday that he plans to vote yes when the government brings a referendum on whether or not the country should drill for oil.

Gomez said that on the January 28 gambling referendum he is not sure how he will vote, but he is more than certain how he will vote on the oil referendum.

Gomez said he is “convinced that oil is in The Bahamas, having worked for an oil company in the past”.

He made those remarks during his contribution to the debate on the Constitutional Referendum Amendment Bill.  He voted in favor of the bill.

Before the May 7 general election then Opposition Leader Perry Christie drew headlines when he confirmed that he was a legal consultant for Davis & Co., the law firm that represented the Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC).

BPC wants government approval to drill an oil well in Bahamian waters by April 2013.

It was former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham who revealed Christie’s involvement with BPC.

Christie later said that his professional relationship with the law firm was severed “well before” the controversy erupted.

Gomez, who ran in Killarney during the election, was resident manager for BPC according to the company’s website.  He has never publicly commented on that relationship since entering politics.

Dec 07, 2012


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bahamian women have not sat by silently in the wake of the suffrage movement by any means ...but today’s calling is for more organisation, more mobilisation, and more united action... ...And importantly, there is a need to bridge the generational gap, to harness the wisdom of elders and the energy of youth... ...Today’s calling is for a movement that will inspire new generations of women to continue the good fight

Voices Of Women Must Be Heard

Tribune Features Editor

DURING the most recent general election in the United States of America, I came across an interesting online flyer captioned “The Republican Party Rape Advisory Chart”. It listed a set of talking points on the seven types of rape in the minds of a “Republican rape apologists.”

The “Gift-From-God Rape” was aptly described by Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock: “When life begins with that horrible situation of rape that is something that God intended to happen.” “Legitimate Rape” was described by Republican Congressman and Senate candidate Todd Akin: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Republican Congressman Ron Paul expounded on the category of “Honest Rape”: “If it’s an honest rape that individual should go immediately to the emergency room; I would give them a shot of estrogen.” Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon was the spokesperson on “Emergency Rape”: “It was really an issue about a Catholic church being forced to offer those pills if the person came in an emergency rape.”

The “Easy Rape” was described by Republican State Representative Roger Rivard, who said: “If you go down that road, some girls, they rape so easy.” Republican legislators sought to have “Forcible Rape” clearly defined in law under the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act”, which would prohibit federal funding of abortions except in instances of “an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest’.”

Republican Gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams is cited as the “father of Republican rape apologists” for his championing of the concept “Enjoyable Rape”. During his Gubernatorial campaign he publicly made a joke likening rape to bad weather, claiming that: “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.”

The results of the US election were widely panned as a rejection by women of the Republican platform on women. Calls have been loud and furious for Republican men to shut up about rape “forever”.

Liberal comedian and political satirist Bill Maher called Republicans “vaginaphobes” on his late night HBO series, asking the question: “For Republicans to do well in the future, they need the woman vote: Women out vote men by 10 million. Okay. Don’t the Republican men, even if they have these views, in the future, have to shut up?”

The answer from Democratic commentator James Carville invoked Southern culture: “You know, in order to get that boy’s attention, you got to hit him upside the head with a two by four. Well the sound you heard on election night was pine on skull.”

What has become increasingly clear in US politics is that women have power at the polls: not because of the demographic distribution that sees more women voting than men; because of their capacity to organise and vote for their own self interests, exerting their influence at the polls.

In the Bahamas, we are not so fortunate. For all of our efforts over the years, which have led to much advancement for women, today there is no women’s movement to speak of; we have many women voters, but no collective women’s agenda.

Speaking at a panel discussion held last week by the Bureau of Women’s Affairs in celebration of National Women’s Month, “Women in Leadership: the Untold Story”, women’s rights activist and gender specialist Audrey Roberts described a movement as a sustained effort of mobilising and organising around a set of issues that represent the collective voices of women, opposed to a series of disjointed single actions that respond to issues that arise.

The best model we have in the Bahamas of a women’s movement was the women’s suffrage movement. While much has been achieved since the 1960s – thanks in large part to the contributions of Bahamian women who became political leaders – it is questionable whether or not the movement has been sustained.

“We are at that time again when there is a need for a women’s movement,” said Mrs Roberts, speaking to the burgeoning call from the spirits of Bahamian women for power and agency in the exercise of their collective will. I agree wholeheartedly.

The recent discussion of marital rape revealed so much about where we are as women, and the patriarchal strong hold that still grips our society. It is very much relevant to the patriarchal psychology that runs so deep in the Republican Party, as described above.

In the Bahamas, the Republican Party is represented by fundamentalist factions of the Christian church, the most aggressive force working against the advancement of women in Bahamian society. Along with partisan politics, but even more harmfully so, is what Professor Olivia Saunders described at the panel discussion as the “religiousising” of women’s issues in the Bahamas.

Referencing the way in which partisan politics results in the politicisation of issues, Mrs Saunders invented the term religiousising to speak to the way in which religious dogma and religious doctrine is continuously used to undermine arguments for the advancement of women.

Mrs Saunders posed the point as a question to Rev Carla Culmer, Rector at Wesley Methodist Church, who was a speaker on the panel. I was very interested to hear a female church leader speak to the point; however, Rev Culmer opted for a conservative answer, encouraging women to ask their 
predominantly male pastors to speak from the pulpit about issues that are important to them. She also called for more education and mentoring, which would result in the empowerment of women.

Perhaps in more private forums, at first, it is important for women of the cloth to start speaking directly to the point. The rise of the feminine in church leadership must be accompanied by the rise of the female point of view. Women in ministry must play an important role in the women’s movement, and they must become vocal advocates of women and women’s rights in public spaces. They must contest the dogmatic views spouted by their fellow clergymen or church followers when those views are spoken in the interests of patriarchy and not righteousness.

Rev Culmer has had an interesting journey in the Methodist Church. In all of her leadership capacities, her appointment was a first for women in the church. And even as Rev Culmer continues to rise through the ranks of church ministry, the battle continues, as there are traditions in which people “expect the pastor to be a man.”

The view that men are ministers and women are wives is so entrenched in the church, for one of her parishioners it took him 11 years to come to church to listen to her preach, she said. The position of wife is a standard fixture in many churches with duly assigned responsibilities.

In Rev Culmer, the church was confronted with the image of a single woman, who in the context of religious patriarchy could never been seen as a minister of religion with the moral authority to be a spiritual advisor. The church is slowly moving along a progressive learning curve, but the journey remains long. After all the Anglican church recently voted against appointing female bishops.

“As a woman, you have to prove that you have a right to be there,” said Rev Culmer, speaking of the struggle.

She has had instances of officiating events in which the letter “a” from her first name Carla was dropped off her name by someone assuming they had received mistaken information. The senior pastor after all would surely be named Carl and not Carla.

Rev Culmer’s story is an important one to share and so are the stories of countless women who continue to battle against patriarchy and sexism in their respective spheres of influence, two central pillars standing in the way of gender equality and equity.

The sad reality is that women are not sufficiently creating their own platforms and using existing platforms to tell their stories; to let their voices be heard and to stand and be counted in a united front. Our stories are hidden under bushels and our voices are muted by our own private retreat.

To excuse themselves from having participated in the public debate about marital rape, politicians often say, the government never brought a bill to Parliament. Seeing Parliament as their primary platform, politicians use the opportunity to debate bills to speak to national issues, and when no bill is brought to the floor they hide behind that cover. And even when they do speak on the floor, much of what they say gets lost in the partisan hackery. Outside of Parliament, politicians can take advantage of existing platforms and create their own platforms, as can all Bahamians.

Women’s activist Michelle Miller spoke at the forum and lamented the fact that every time she turns on the radio she hears men talking; every time she turns on the television she sees male talking heads. “Women are not speaking and presenting our agenda to the public on a regular basis,” said Ms Miller.

“Where is the platform? We need to create a platform, a consistent platform that allows us to use the power of influence,” she said.

As far as engendering a movement is concerned, Ms Miller suggested that a critical need exists for women to create and utilise public platforms. She said young people model the behaviour of their elders, and young women need to see female leaders making representation on their behalf in public; they need to see the fire in the bellies of their female leaders to spark their own spirits.

I completely understand the sentiment. Such was my only real disappointment about the ceremony held last week in the House of Assembly to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement; our political leaders said the expected things, praising the legacy of the suffragettes and calling women to work together, but I did not see the fire in the bellies of our female parliamentarians.

I was hoping for a presentation from at least one of our political leaders to match the stature of the presentation delivered by Dame Dr Doris Johnson in 1959 on behalf of the women’s suffrage movement. In her delivery, PLP Senator Cheryl Bazard reminded me the most of what I imagine Dr Johnson to have been like, but all of the speeches lacked a certain audacity.

The event was truly commendable and inspiring nonetheless, based on the strength of the 1959 speech, which still holds such relevance today. It was a moving display of bipartisanship in ancestral remembrance. My critique is not to take away from that fact. The entire presentation was laudable.

But if there was one thing missing, it was the bold articulation of a 21st century agenda that could really light a fire in the consciousness of Bahamian women. The love fest we witnessed amongst the various government and the opposition members around the constitutional issue, which was the subject of the 2002 referendum, was welcomed. Bipartisanship on this issue is long overdue, but the current efforts are redeeming efforts on the part of the government and opposition.

The emphatic statements made by Dr Johnson in 1959, asserting the invincibility of womanhood, seem farfetched in the climate of conservatism that exists today, but that kind of leadership is exactly what is needed today, not only by our political leaders, but all of our women in leadership positions.

The achievements of the women’s movement over the past fifty years seem to have put women in the Bahamas into a comfortable stupor, which is so unfortunate because our work is not done.

“Today, invincible womanhood, mother of men and ruler of the world raises her noble head and approaches the courts of justice with the clarion call of equal rights for all Bahamian women… We women press this demand and ask such enactment on the basis of not who is right, but what is right for our country. We judge expediency only on this basis. We seek no compromise. There is no alternative. We abhor any delaying action. We women ask only that you gentlemen move now to secure the rights of 54,000 women, including your wives and daughters.”

The audacity of these words spoken from the mouth of Dr Johnson on behalf of the women’s suffrage movement in 1959 is truly moving. I admire the fact that Janet Bostwick, the first woman to be elected to the House of Assembly, had the privilege of sitting in the magistrate’s court when they were actually delivered. I am grateful that I was present last week when they were read again by the women of the House and Senate in a joint sitting of Parliament.

While the suffragettes were galvanised around the issue of enfranchisement at the ballot box, they were also clear on the wider women’s agenda. In fact, they asserted there are issues which specifically require the “insight and interest of women to investigate, report on and seek improvement”; they suggested men were not naturally interested in these issues. I wonder to what extent women still hold this view.

“We women wish to serve our country and assist your efforts in attending to such projects as housing schemes, slum clearance, establishment of libraries and museums, local welfare services, supervision of food and drug supplies and the establishment of reasonable and respectable lodgings for temporary visitors from our Out Islands,” said Dr Johnson in the landmark speech.

“Education in the processing and operation of school medical services and milk distribution, care of our many weed-covered cemeteries, registration of births, deaths and marriages, proper filing system of registration of voters, suppression of nuisances, maternity and child welfare, birth control information centres, jury service, notification and disinfection of infectious diseases, care of the aged, etc, are only a few of the areas to which women can make their contributions. This is a task so large that it takes the energies of everybody, men and women, to better conditions in our islands,” she said.

The suffragettes were clear about their agenda and specific in their demands. They were persistent in their pursuit, organised in their action and united in their efforts. They affirmed the value in their very womanhood and demonstrated their worth through action.

Bahamian women have not sat by silently in the wake of the suffrage movement by any means, but today’s calling is for more organisation, more mobilisation, and more united action. And importantly, there is a need to bridge the generational gap, to harness the wisdom of elders and the energy of youth. Today’s calling is for a movement that will inspire new generations of women to continue the good fight.

December 03, 2012