EDITOR, The Tribune
After Andrew Jackson won the US Presidential Election in 1828, Senator William L Marcy of New York coined the famous phrase: “to the victor belong the spoils.” That mantra had become the unstated policy of the United Bahamian Party (UBP), the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and to a certain degree, the Free National Movement (FNM). The generals of the two main political parties all expect to benefit from the spoils of victory. That’s the main reason for the rash of hirings in the public sector immediately following each election. These generals who canvass the constituencies for their parties are usually the recipients of lucrative government contracts or government jobs for them and their families. I know of several individuals employed at Customs and National Insurance due to political patronage.
The FNM’s 1994 Commission of Inquiry discovered that government owned corporations such as BEC, Bahamasair and BaTelCo were all grossly overstaffed with political cronies and operatives, many of whom lacked the basic qualifications for the jobs they had. Bahamasair had drained $121 million from the national coffers between 1975 and 1993. At one time, the national flag carrier had over 1,300 employees, despite its inability to turn a profit, let alone break even. For 25 years, PLPs enjoyed the spoils of victory. FNMs and elements of the defunct UBP were left out in the cold. The PLP, in my opinion, was simply emulating their white predecessors.
In the late Sir Randol Fawkes’ groundbreaking memoir The Faith That Moved the Mountain, the legendary statesman mentioned a Grand Bahamian unionist being patronised by a UBP operative. The Grand Bahamian was given the ultimatum of either having his members toe the UBP line or remain jobless. Members of the UBP executive council had a succession mindset. After their retirement from frontline politics, their heirs were slated to succeed them in governing The Bahamas. The wealth of The Bahamas was concentrated in the hands of these few white oligarchs who made up the executive council of the UBP. Sir Randol stated in his autobiography that UBP executives reasoned that they had been in power for over 200 years; and that the progeny of their former slaves dare not challenge their authority to govern.
UBP executives such as Sir Stafford L Sands never envisaged a scenario in which the black PLP would be governing The Bahamas. In a heated exchange between him and Sir Milo B Butler in a debate on labour reform in 1957 or thereabouts, Sands ominously blurted out to Butler that he would leave the country when the PLP takes over the government. Those words proved to be prophetic, for in 1967 immediately following the results of the January 10 general election, Sands abandoned his Nassau City constituency and went into a self imposed exile in Europe. The UBP, however, shockingly managed to retain that seat in the ensuing by-election when its black candidate, Cleophas Adderley, defeated the PLP’s standard bearer. There were a few black Bahamians who were beneficiaries of the governing UBP’s largesse. The white oligarchs had perfected the art of political cronyism. For instance, during the 1930s when the United States was undergoing the Great Depression, Percy Christie, Holly Brown, R M Bailey, S C McPherson, C C Sweeting, Sir Henry Taylor and Cyril Stevenson all advocated for the ending of formal discrimination and the open ballot; the implementation of higher minimum wages and an income tax. According to Michael Craton and Dr Gail Saunders in volume two of their Islanders in the Stream: A History of the Bahamian People, both Taylor and Stevenson had to be cautious with their political advocacy, due to them being employees of the Bay Street Boys.
Hubert Ingraham was a remarkable prime minister who angered FNM hardliners by attempting to establish a genuine system of meritocracy immediately following the general election victory of August 19,1992. These FNM hardliners wanted the civil service to be thoroughly purged of PLPs. Recalling the political victimisation FNMs suffered under the PLP for decades, they wanted their newly elected FNM government to implement a tit- for-tat policy, with the aim of retaliating against PLPs.
To Ingraham, such a move would’ve not only been unfeasible, but it would’ve set a dangerous precedent. FNMs, after languishing for 22 years in an economic wilderness created by former Prime Minister Sir Lynden O Pindling, wanted very much to enjoy the spoils of victory. I am convinced that the decision not to allow former Governor General Sir Clifford Darling to read the speech from the throne at the commencement of Parliament in 1992, was made due to tremendous pressure applied on Ingraham by powerful operatives within the FNM. Darling was sent off to Canada at the government’s expense in order to make way for Sir Kendal G L Isaacs, former FNM leader, who read the speech in his stead. Ingraham, having been an elected MP for 15 years at the time, understood fully the bipartisan role of the representative head of state. But FNM hardliners wouldn’t have it any other way. Sir Kendal was reading that speech come hell or high water; not Sir Clifford. The spoils of victory belonged to them. Darling probably went to his grave in December 2011 bearing a grudge against Ingraham for the humiliating manner in which he was treated. I don’t believe Ingraham was at fault for what had transpired. It was an arduous task reasoning with FNMs who bore the scars, marks and bruises of 22 years of political victimisation. Darling failed to take into consideration the fact Ingraham had yet to solidify his grip on the reins of power within the FNM. He had joined the party two years earlier around the time of the passing of FNM founding father Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield. The FNM hardliners who insisted on Sir Clifford not reading the speech, had been members of the organisation when it was called the Free-PLP. The hardliners pulled rank on Ingraham.
Today, The Bahamas again faces the same dilemma that the opposition, whether FNM or PLP, has to contend with after each election cycle. Several individuals who had bus contracts with the Ministry of Education in Grand Bahama are now accusing the Minnis administration of political victimisation, because their contracts were cancelled by the government in December.
Whether one was PLP or FNM or independent, if you were qualified, you should get the job. Ingraham was a prime minister far ahead of his time in a country deeply enmeshed in political tribalism. Political victimisation is an ingrained facet in our immature political system.
January 20, 2019