Tuesday, July 9, 2013

From July 10, 1973 to July 10, 2013... ...Reflection on The Bahamas 40 Years of Political Independence from Great Britain

Cecil, Lynden and Milo

By Philip C. Galanis

“Pressing onward, march together, to a common loftier goal…”

 On Wednesday, July 10, 2013, The Bahamas will celebrate 40 years of political independence from Great Britain. This week, as we reflect on the developments in the country over the last 40 years, we would like to Consider This... what would three giants who were intimately involved in the Bahamian march to freedom say about this day? Imagine these three giants, Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, Sir Lynden O. Pindling and Sir Milo B. Butler, looking down from where their spirits are resting and marveling at the progress of these past 40 years. We can imagine the conversation going somewhat like this:

Lynden: I see that the fellas are getting ready to celebrate the 40th anniversary of independence. My, how time has flown!

Milo: It surely has. It seems just like yesterday that we were all fighting for majority rule. Lynden, you and Cecil were very young when I ran for the House of Assembly in July 1938. I believed that the Western seat was safe because it was in a largely black constituency and was traditionally won by non-white candidates. I ran against Harry Oakes, the multimillionaire.

Cecil: Milo, I heard that that was a rough campaign because the white Bay Street oligarchy worked tirelessly to derail you.

Milo: That’s right. They tried every trick in the book to win. First the Royal Bank of Canada, under pressure from the Bay Street Boys, suddenly cut off my credit. Then, on Election Day, Oakes’ representatives distributed money and liquor in a shameless – and successful – attempt to buy votes, right in front of the police who were right there to prevent any disturbances. When it became apparent that I was going to lose, I promised to lodge a protest against the blatant bribery. When the polls closed, a drunken and disorderly mob attacked the police, hurling missiles that injured two officers and two of my supporters were arrested, convicted and jailed for six months.

Lynden: But, Milo, that was a defining moment because the next day you and 40 of your supporters went downtown to the office of the colonial secretary to voice your grievances, causing the colonial secretary to order an investigation of the whole matter. As a result of your petition to the governor calling for a secret ballot, the creation of an Election Court of Appeal and a fairer representation of the black population on all public boards and in the civil service, great changes were to come.

Cecil: Milo, it was your actions that convinced Governor Dundas that the secret ballot was the very least that should be done to defuse the situation. He announced plans to dissolve the House of Assembly and threatened to call a general election in support of the secret ballot. Of course, the members of the House were afraid that the issue of color would be predominant in such an election, so they decided to take a softer approach. In June 1939, they passed an act for a five-year trial period for the secret ballot, but only in New Providence. The Out Islands were where only one third of the voting population resided but they returned two thirds of the members of the House, so Bay Street was very reluctant to tamper with what was, for them, a winning situation. The secret ballot, therefore, did not come to those Out Islands until 1949, 10 years later.

Milo: But that was just the beginning of the long, hard-fought battle for majority rule. It took the Burma Road Riots, the General Strike and Lynden and me throwing the mace and the hour glass out of the House of Assembly to get Bay Street’s attention. We even had to go to the United Nations to make our case against unfair election practices that kept Bay Street in office for so long.

Cecil: And then our prayers were answered by the people on January 10, 1967 when majority rule was finally realized. And what a glorious day that was! We all celebrated with the people.

Lynden: True, but that was the beginning of so many other challenges. Cecil, it wasn’t long before we started to fight among ourselves. You and the other seven left us and formed the Free PLP and then the FNM. The biggest battle that we fought though was based on our decision to seek political independence.

Milo: And what a battle that was! It nearly destroyed our march to a common loftier goal. I remember in 1968, Roland Symonette said that independence was not in the best interest of the people of the Bahamas Islands. Geoffrey Johnstone, the leader of the UBP, said that there was no enthusiasm for independence anywhere. And, Cecil, in May 1971, you told a large gathering that independence now would only serve to break this country into small groups and that there would be countries like Abaco, which would not want to associate with the rest of The Bahamas simply because there had not been sufficient preparation.

Cecil: That is true. I also said that independence should not be sought then, nor any time before the next two general elections. We believed that independence should be a unifying force among Bahamians, not a dividing force among our people.

Lynden: It’s interesting that the newspapers also opposed independence. In September 1970, a Tribune editorial announced that every political organization in the colony outside of the PLP was opposed to any plan for moving into independence. Then, in January 1971, the Tribune editor also wrote that an independent Bahamas would become a threat to the security of the United States and as such, a menace to the Western Hemisphere and that the whole world would become embroiled in conflicts that might arise from an independent Bahamas.

Milo: Yea, Lynden, they always hated you. And The Guardian also opposed independence and wrote that the assumption of independence seemed nothing less than an act of madness. It maintained that at this particular period, with the government still in a state of immaturity and myopia, with the economy still sick, with a substantial amount of investment capital having fled to safer climates, it was hardly the time to be talking of independence.

Lynden: Even some in the church opposed independence. Rev. Murillo Bonaby, pastor of Christ the King Anglican Church, said that the church was scared stiff of independence. But the voices against independence were drowned out by the results of the September 19, 1972 general election when a vote for the PLP signified a vote for independence. The PLP won 29 of 38 seats – the people were loudly and clearly stating their support for independence. At last, once the people supported independence, we all attended the Constitutional Conference in London in December 1972 with a determination to draft the best constitution for our new nation. I have to say that during my entire Parliamentary career, the single most satisfying event was the lowering of the Union Jack and the hoisting of the Bahamian flag at midnight on July 10, 1973.

Cecil: And I have to agree that the constitution has served us well these past 40 years. Despite our intense disagreements and bitter political battles, we have done well as an independent country. I regret not being there on August 19, 1992 when my party won the election. But Lynden, I was happy to see that your erstwhile son, Hubert (Ingraham), finally had an opportunity to make some important changes we had fought long and hard for over many years.

Lynden: I am also pleased to see how well Perry (Christie) led my party to victory in 2002 and again in 2012. I believe we should all be proud of the legacy we left. I am disappointed, though, that, while we achieved political independence for our people, greater economic independence and empowerment of our people still eludes us. That must be the next major challenge for the fellas we left behind.

Milo: True, but look at what has been accomplished in the last 40 years. We established a national insurance program, a College (soon to be University) of The Bahamas, a Central Bank and a defence force and so many other institutions that serve our people. And look at the vast number of Bahamians we educated in so many professional and skilled occupations. Can’t wait to see what will happen in the next 10 years as we approach the 50th anniversary of independence.

Lynden: I agree. You know, when you look at it, we really did build a firm foundation that, year after year, ensures that the nation we left behind will undoubtedly continue pressing onward, and marching together, to a common loftier goal.

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

July 08, 2013