By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE process for bestowing National Honours, which leaves the final say up to the prime minister, should be revisited, Anglican Archdeacon James Palacious said yesterday.
At the same time he said he agreed with many that Sir Roland Symonette’s posthumous award of National Hero did not fall in line with the National Honours Act 2016.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, the acting Christian Council president further knocked the decision to award the late Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield the same award. He said if anyone should have been honoured a National Hero outside of Sir Lynden Pindling and Sir Milo Butler, it should have been former Governor General Arthur Dion Hanna. He stressed these were his personal views, not necessarily those of the Christian Council.
Mr Hanna received the honour of the Order of the Nation alongside 11 other people.
Nonetheless, the controversy that has erupted over the conferring of the honour to the former premier signals it is time for the country to have a discussion about race, Archdeacon Palacious said.
“It’s extremely unfortunate that the first time we are having a shot at these Bahamian awards, it is shrouded in such controversy,” he added. “
“I’m extremely sad. I wish we could have gotten it a little more right and, of course, this is an area where there is a lot of politicisation and polarisation.”
“(Sir Roland’s) was obviously a regime that did not consider properly the rights, goals and aspirations of the masses of the Bahamians.
“And notwithstanding the many good things that Sir Roland would have done, I believe that he should not have been included and quite frankly I don’t see where Sir Cecil would have been included in this either.
“If anybody else was to be included in this, if you had to make it more than than Sir Lynden, then it probably ought to be A D Hanna in terms of somebody who fought specific policies (and) worked hard through the ‘Bahamianisation’ process. And, of course, Sir Milo, we all know his contribution.”
While many have been incensed by the decision to name Sir Roland a national hero, Archdeacon Palacious said Bahamians may have already forgiven the former United Bahamian Party leader for what some have termed the racist positions of his regime.
He said: “With respect to Sir Roland I want this to be emphasised: in 2007 the country voted for the son of Sir Roland to be deputy prime minister, deputy leader of the party and consequently deputy prime minister.
“Please include that because that tells us who we are as a people. At that point the Bahamian people determined that they would move beyond what had happened in the past. Not that it is not a fact, you can’t rewrite history, but in terms of forgiveness and permitting a Symonette to serve in the second highest position... the Bahamian people voted overwhelmingly for that to happen. It has happened and Brent Symonette served very well then and he’s serving very well now.
“So while his father presided over a regime that did not work for the liberation of the masses, Bahamians generally, I would like to think, have moved beyond that but the realities of the past are still the realities.”
Asked if he thought the process should be revisited after it was revealed Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis made the decision to award Sir Roland as the National Honours Advisory Committee did not receive an application for the former premier, Archdeacon Palacious said: “Yes I think it should and this is a good reason for it to be.”
His arguments in this regard fall in line with Section 9(5) of the National Honours Act 2016.
It states: “In determining the eligibility of a person…the Advisory Committee shall have regard to whether that person has made a seminal contribution to the Bahamas and which contribution has altered the course of the history of the Bahamas in a positive way; has 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 redounded 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; has through that person’s heroic exploits and sacrifice having gone beyond their personal and historic limitations, contributed to the improvement of the economic, spiritual and social conditions of the nation as a whole.”
Further, he said comments made by Dr Minnis during the most recent Majority Rule holiday further gave weight to the argument that Sir Roland should not have been considered.
At the time, Dr Minnis said: “In the middle of the 20th century, the House of Assembly was firmly under 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.”
The first recipients of the Bahamas’ National Honours were announced on Independence Day. Sir Roland received the top honour with Sir Lynden, Sir Milo, former governor general, and Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, former leader of the Free National Movement.
Sir Roland was elected to Parliament in 1925 before there was party government in the Bahamas. The PLP was founded in 1953, followed by the UBP in 1958. Sir Roland headed the UBP and became the Bahamas’ first premier in 1964 after internal self-government was introduced. He gave up the leadership of the UBP in 1970 because of ill health, but continued to represent the Shirlea constituency in the House of Assembly eventually as a member of the FNM. He was one of the “Bay Street Boys,” a wealthy group of merchants that opened up the Bahamas to tourism, investment and casinos. When he died in 1980 he had been the longest serving member of Parliament, having served for 52 years. His record of service has not been broken.
Sir Lynden and the PLP formed the next government of the Bahamas in 1967.