EDITOR, The Tribune.
Former Prime Minister and Member of Parliament-elect for the constituency of North Abaco Hubert A Ingraham told his constituents that he will be stepping down as their representative on July 29. It was on that day 35 years ago that a 29-year-old attorney was first elected that area’s MP. He would go on to win seven consecutive elections in that area. In 1977 Ingraham received 892 or 69 per cent of the votes cast. There were 1,292 voters who cast their ballots on that day. In the May 7 General Elections, 4,130 constituents voted. Ingraham only got 2,235 or 54 per cent of the votes. After all that the former prime minister has done for that area, a staggering 46 per cent of the voters were firmly against Ingraham winning that contest against an unknown candidate, Renardo Curry. Obviously, Ingraham’s base in that area has eroded over the years. Moreover, his political opponents had pumped a lot of money into their campaign in an effort to humiliate the former prime minister at the polls in North Abaco. They were hoping for a major upset. The constituency of Cooper’s Town was an impoverished, backward area when Ingraham first became its MP. Today, it is one of the more economically vibrant constituencies in The Bahamas. I cannot understand why the 1,895 residents who supported the two opposing candidates would want to deny the former prime minister another term in office.
On the night of May 7, a teary-eyed Ingraham conceded defeat at his party's headquarters on Market Street after it became clear that the governing party had been crushed at the polls. This would be the second election loss that the former prime minister had suffered in two years. His candidate, Dr Duane Sands, lost his by-election contest in 2010. Perhaps that election defeat should have portend doom to the then Ingraham administration. The night of May 7 was first the time I had ever seen Ingraham near tears. I had become so accustomed to seeing him win elections. But this was not to be this time around. His political opponents worked feverishly in portraying him as an intolerable tyrant to the youths of this nation. It was this voting bloc that did Ingraham in at the polls. These young people cannot appreciate what Ingraham has done for this country. The overwhelming majority of them don’t read, so they know nothing about the reputation of The Bahamas being in tatters when Ingraham first became prime minister in 1992.
August 19,1992 was the day that Hubert Ingraham and the Free National Movement (FNM) defeated Sir Lynden Pindling and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). The PLP was the government of The Bahamas for 25 consecutive years. It wasn’t easy to defeat the PLP, which has for many years been considered the party of the small man and the black masses. Sir Lynden was called the Black Moses, who led the country to Majority Rule in 1967 and to Independence in 1973.
Many Bahamians, including myself, just could not envisage Sir Lynden not being prime minister. He ruled this country with an iron fist. In fact, this alleged dictatorial tendency of the late Father of the nation led eight PLP Members of Parliament to abandon the party in the early 1970s. These political dissidents, Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, Arthur Foulkes, Warren J Levarity, James Shepherd, Curtis McMillan, George Thompson, Elwood Donaldson and Maurice Moore, called themselves the Free-PLP party. They later formed a political party and called it the Free National Movement. The FNM was led by Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, who at one time was the Minister of Education in Sir Lynden’s young government. The United Bahamian Party (UBP) also joined forces with the newly formed opposition party.
History has proven that the move by the so-called Dissident Eight was a good one. Imagine not having a viable option to the PLP? The Bahamas would have never matured politically without the formation of the FNM. Granted, The Bahamas had several political parties during the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. A few of these parties were the UBP, the Social Democratic Party, the Bahamian Democratic Party, the Vanguard Nationalist and Socialist Party, the Labour Party and the Workers’ Party.
It was no secret that Sir Lynden had no intentions of ever stepping down. Even when he was encouraged to relinquish his post as prime minister after the Commission of Inquiry of the mid-80s, Sir Lynden dug in his heels and remained in his post. Sir Lynden and his PLP party were so entrenched in this nation as the government, that even after the shocking revelations of corruption in the 1984 Commission of Inquiry, the party still was able to hold on to the government in the 1987 general election. Amazingly, the PLP was able to capture 31 of the 49 seats in that controversial election. The FNM and its Leader, Sir Kendal Isaacs, won 16 seats. Despite this major setback, however, the FNM gained five more seats in Parliament. It only won 11 seats in the 1982 general election.
Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie both won as independent candidates in 1987. Both Ingraham and Christie were kicked out of the Cabinet for protesting the rampant corruption within the party. Instead of being applauded for their courageous stand by Prime Minister Pindling, they were both fired. Subsequently, Hubert Ingraham was expelled from the PLP. Ingraham had served as Minister of Housing, National Insurance and Social Services in PM Pindling’s Cabinet. He was also Chairman of The Bahamas Mortgage Corporation. In 1976, he was elected National Chairman of the ruling PLP government.
I have heard several former prominent FNMs stating on numerous occasions that had Sir Cecil been alive to lead the FNM in the 1992 election, the party would have still won. Perhaps they are right, but we will never know. Providence had other plans for this nation. Besides, if there was ever a time for the then FNM Leader Sir Kendal Isaacs and his deputy Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield to defeat the PLP, it was in 1987. There was simply no way the PLP should have carried that election. In my humble opinion, the two FNM leaders of the 1980s were not as charismatic and energetic as Ingraham. Had Hubert Ingraham been the leader of the FNM in 1987, the PLP would have been defeated.
After the 1987 election, Sir Kendal stepped down as leader of the FNM. Sir Cecil once again became the leader of the opposition. However, Sir Cecil became gravely ill with cancer. He died in May 1990 in a Miami hospital. He was 60. North Abaco Member of Parliament Hubert Ingraham became the new leader of the FNM following Sir Cecil’s untimely death. He had joined the party in April of that year. Ingraham was successful in leading the FNM to victory in the Marco City by-election which was held in June of 1990. Ingraham also led the FNM to a stunning victory in the historic August 19, 1992 general election, as was mentioned already. The FNM won 32 of the 49 seats. Sir Lynden, whose popularity had all but dwindled, held on to his South Andros seat that year. I was amazed at Ingraham’s boldness and charisma during the period leading up to the 1992 election. He was not afraid to challenge Sir Lynden. Back then I didn’t know that we had persons in this country who weren’t afraid of the then prime minister. The FNM’s victory in 1992 changed the course of Bahamian history.
In my humble opinion, the following decade, 1992 to 2002, was the greatest in this nation’s history. It was without precedent. Ingraham was able to attract hotel mogul Sol Kerzner to this country. Kerzner built a first class resort on Paradise Island, Atlantis Resort. This new resort has transformed The Bahamas’ tourism sector, which was dying in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. In fact, when the FNM became the new government in 1992, the unemployment rate was through the roof. Today, Atlantis is this nation’s largest private employer. Ingraham also privatised government-owned hotels. These failing hotels were a burden on the Treasury. Ingraham also ended the government’s broadcast monopoly. He opened up the airwaves. Now Bahamians can listen to other radio stations, instead of just ZNS Radio. He also brought cable television to New Providence and to several other Family Islands.
For years, the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas was the unofficial organ of Sir Lynden and the PLP. No one would have dared to criticise Sir Lynden on ZNS TV-13 and Radio. Anyone brazen enough to do this would have been either fired from their job or disfranchised by Sir Lynden’s loyal supporters. Ingraham had brought about sweeping changes to broadcasting. He has also deepened democracy in this country.
It is truly ironic, though, that the man who is responsible for deepening democracy in this country is labelled “The Dictator” and a tyrant by the PLP and his other detractors. Anyone could have gone on any radio talk show and lambasted Ingraham when he was prime minister and not suffer any political repercussions. I have even seen Ingraham’s critics on ZNS TV-13 lambasting him on many occasions. This country has matured politically under Ingraham’s leadership. The FNM under Ingraham had made a solemn oath to do away with political victimisation, which had allegedly become so common in Sir Lynden’s government. Ingraham has also cleaned up the image of this country, which had been greatly tarnished by the PLP administration in the 1970s and 1980s. He restored the international community’s confidence and trust in The Bahamas. That is why the Christie administration was able to attract several major investments between 2002 and 2007.
Ingraham also introduced Local Government to the Family Islands. Additionally, Ingraham was able to attract several major investments to Grand Bahama during his first decade as Prime Minister: Polymers International Ltd, the Freeport Container Port, Bradford Marine and the Grand Bahama Shipyard. Ingraham brought about a major economic boom in Grand Bahama and New Providence during the 90s. Ingraham has had his share of challenges during his final term in office, owing to the Great Recession in the United States along with high unemployment throughout The Bahamas; the grossly mismanaged New Providence Road Improvement Project, the sale of 51 per cent of BTC to Cable and Wireless Communications, the downsizing at the broadcasting corporation, the unrest at customs and immigration and the crime crisis in New Providence. There was the lingering possibility that the “Delivery Boy”, as Sir Lynden labelled him in the early 90s, might very well lose his first election as Leader of the FNM because of the myriad of problems facing the nation. The possibility had become a reality on the night of May 7.
Yet, despite all that has happened in his final term as prime minister, I believe that when future generations look back at this nation's first 38 years of independence, they will say that Hubert A Ingraham was the greatest Prime Minister of The Bahamas. Many Bahamians seem to have forgotten what this nation was like before Ingraham became Prime Minister in 1992. All of a sudden we have conveniently forgotten the deplorable depths this nation had descended to in the 1970s and 1980s. I for one refuse to play the role of an amnesiac.
May 7 has come and gone and many young PLP supporters are gloating over their victory by heaping scorn on the former prime minister. I for one will not dare show such unconscionable ingratitude towards a man who rescued this nation in the early 1990s. I would like to thank Mr Ingraham for all he has done for this country. Informed Bahamians will forever be greatly indebted to him. A Bahamian who is grateful to Mr Ingraham. Thank you!
May 14, 2012.