Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis does not believe his criticism of the United Bahamian Party during his most recent majority rule address is incompatible with his decision to award Sir Roland Symonette a National Hero honour over the recommendations of his advisory committee, according to Press Secretary Anthony Newbold.
In January, Dr Minnis hailed the historical events that culminated in the first majority rule government in 1967, lambasting the era which preceded that achievement. Critics say his statements then conflict with his recent decision to bestow the country’s highest honour on the man who led the UBP.
During his January address, Dr Minnis said: “In the middle of the 20th century the House (of Assembly) was firmly under the control of an entrenched oligarchy, who maintained their stranglehold through unjust electoral laws and the brutal exercise of economic power. It was then that a new generation of political leaders rose up to challenge the old guard and to bring pressure on the colonial power for change.
“In the 1960s some of the worst aspects of the corrupt electoral system were changed and universal adult suffrage came to the Bahamas, with women voting for the first time in 1962.
“So it was that in 1967 the Bahamian people finally voted out the oligarchy and opened a new era of democratic government. We call that day Majority Rule Day. It is a day that should be celebrated by all Bahamians because, among other things, revolutionary but peaceful change had come to the Bahamas. A system that had to end one way or another, ended in peaceful and orderly manner, and of that all Bahamians should be proud.
“But majority rule did more than just bring an end to a patently unfair electoral system that prevented the majority of Bahamians from achieving true representation in the House of Assembly. In the words of former Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes, one of those who served in the forefront of the movement for equality and social justice, ‘majority rule removed the last psychological shackles from the minds of many. It shattered false notions of superiority and inferiority; it initiated the fulfilment of the promise of universal access to education; it created the foundation upon which to build a society with opportunity for all.’”
Asked if Dr Minnis sees a contradiction between these words and his decision to give a posthumous award to Sir Roland, Mr Newbold did not attempt to reconcile Dr Minnis’ words and his recent actions, saying: “Obviously he does not think there is any contradiction in anything he has said up to this point.”
Dr Minnis and his Cabinet have not publicly rationalised its award decisions. The honours advisory committee, headed by Fort Charlotte MP Mark Humes, recommended that Sir Lynden Pindling alone be awarded the highest honour for the inaugural year of the awards. Ultimately, Dr Minnis chose to bestow the honour on Sir Milo Butler, Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield and Sir Roland.
Asked if Dr Minnis will ever explain his thinking about the matter, Mr Newbold said: “The prime minister and his Cabinet may decide they want to do that. At this point they haven’t decided that they want to say what those discussions were like. He may well decide he wishes to do so. Up to this point, no.”
The Progressive Liberal Party believes the process that resulted in the awards has been procedurally flawed, not least because the awards go against the recommendation of the advisory committee.
“The prime minister and his Cabinet, the government of the Bahamas, they’re the ones charged with running the country,” Mr Newbold countered.
“On any number of occasions they will ask for and receive recommendations, suggestions, advice, from any number of people, entities or organisations. They may or may not take that advice. That is totally within their purview.”
Some are concerned the awards controversy has immediately caused the National Honours system to lose value and prestige.
“The Queen’s Honours been around for decades,” Mr Newbold said in response. “People complain about that. Whatever we do, whatever any government does, will in all likelihood find some resistance from within the community. And most certainly anything any government does will find lots of resistance from the opposition. That’s what they do. They oppose. National Honours, it’s for us and as the years go on we’ll do it again next year.”
According to the National Honours Act, people eligible for a National Hero honour should have made a seminal contribution to the Bahamas which has altered the history of the Bahamas in a positive way; should have given service to the Bahamas which has been exemplified by visionary and pioneering leadership, extraordinary achievement and the attainment of the highest excellence which has rebounded to the honour of the Bahamas and which service and attainment have been acknowledged as a source of inspiration by a significant portion of the nation; and have, through their “heroic exploits and sacrifice, having gone beyond their personal and historical limitations, contributed to the improvement of the economic, spiritual and social conditions of the nation as a whole.”