By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
PROMINENT businessman Sir Franklyn Wilson has hit out at former Cabinet minister Brent Symonette for his comments on race, calling his views narrow and emotional.
Sir Franklyn suggested any perceived political barrier erected against Mr Symonette was not due to skin colour but his character.
He cautioned sitting Cabinet ministers to view Mr Symonette’s comments as a lesson of their own political mortality, and to be merciful while in positions of power.
“A lot of Cabinet ministers today are making decisions that are bringing a lot of hurt to a lot of families and I want them all to remember that the day will come when they no longer have that power,” Sir Franklyn said.
“Mr Symonette says he has a lot of wealth, the country knows he has a lot of power for a long time. Yet still today his public comments suggest some hurt, some not being at peace.
“Mr Symonette’s experience drives home the point. Don’t care how much power he had, how he been the son of the first premier, how much wealth he has today. We see hurt, we hear hurt, so those who seek peace for themselves and otherwise take an opportunity from this high profile example.”
For comparison, Sir Franklyn referenced the struggle faced by the Anglican community when it deliberated over the appointment of Reverend Angela Palacious as the country’s first female priest.
“There were a lot of people who previously would have thought they could not support a woman but when they looked at the Reverend Angela Palacious they saw sufficient of Jesus Christ in her to say I could support her.
“So Brent’s comment about a barrier may be in his mind, because people are saying not that ‘I’m against white people being prime minister.’ Maybe they’re saying I’m against you.”
Sir Franklyn continued: “That may be hurtful for someone to come to accept but that may be the barrier to which he refers. I believe that Mr Symonette’s experience should be a matter for reflection before talking, just individual reflection.”
Mr Symonette grabbed headlines this week over a race narrative spun in exit interviews concerning his decision to step down as a Cabinet minister mid-term.
On Wednesday, the former deputy prime minister suggested the country was not ready for a white prime minister and reiterated his call for a national discussion on race and wealth in politics.
Yesterday, Sir Franklyn said he interpreted Mr Symonette’s call for a national discussion on race as a financial commitment to fund the research needed to fully ventilate the issue.
“I assume that by that (Mr Symonette) means that it’s a discussion which will reflect research and intellectual rigour. It won’t be grounded on emotions and I interpreted his saying he’s out to facilitate the discussion as a public financial commitment to fund that research.
“And if that is what he means then I think he is to be commended and I look forward to him making that serious financial contribution towards that cause,” Sir Franklyn said.
“Beyond that a discussion grounded on just his experiences would be too narrow to be either helpful or accurate.”
Sir Franklyn also took aim at Mr Symonette’s intent for returning to frontline politics after his retirement in 2012, stating he believed a significant achievement for the former Cabinet minister was to have his father recognised as a national hero, an honour he received in 2018.
Mr Symonette is the son of Sir Roland Symonette, the country’s first premier and leader of the defunct United Bahamian Party. Sir Roland was part of a group of white businessmen known widely as “The Bay Street Boys”.
Sir Franklyn was part of “The Sunshine Boys”, a group of black businessmen founded by the late Bradley Roberts in the 1970s. Mr Roberts was a former Cabinet minister, parliamentarian, and long-serving chairman of the Progressive Liberal Party.
During Wednesday’s interview, The Tribune asked Mr Symonette whether backlash he experienced could also be linked to attitudes surrounding wealth disparity in the country.
Mr Symonette replied that the same disparity existed throughout the world.
“The wealth in the Bahamas is controlled by the people who control it,” Mr Symonette said.
“You’ve got me, you’ve got Franklyn Wilson, you’ve got Tiger Finlayson, some very successful lawyers and bankers and doctors, that’s what it is. So let’s have that discussion.”
“Any country in the world you can use the ratio that ten percent of the population controls 90 percent of the wealth,” Mr Symonette added.
Yesterday, Sir Franklyn rejected Mr Symonette’s attempt to draw a parallel between them on the matter of wealth disparity, and pointed to a stark contrast between their economic philosophy.
“I don’t consider myself to be an elite nothing,” Sir Franklyn said. “His economic philosophy is fundamentally different from mine. I don’t believe this thing. The fact of the matter is if you look through my history, I was in groups like UNICOLL that was about advancing the concept of egalitarianism, of sharing, spreading.”
UNICOLL was founded by former Prime Minister Perry Christie and the late Dr Bernard Nottage in 1966 as a forum for Bahamian college students who were studying abroad to engage in dialogue about national development. It was changed to UNICOMM to reference “community” in 1968 in a bid to be more inclusive.
Sir Franklyn continued: “I have no bones about it. I support the Progressive Liberal Party because progressive is in the name. I hear him drawing the parallel about himself and myself. You only go around that road when you have, in my humble view, the wrong concept of wealth. Like somehow it’s all right because Frankie Wilson, but he is very different from me.”
Sir Franklyn noted the impact Mr Symonette’s views had on public policy.
“The most serious thing he will go down in public policy for is the Commercial Enterprise (Act) - which I fundamentally oppose,” Sir Franklyn said.
“When he was minister of tourism he threw away the ‘It’s Better in the Bahamas’ campaign, made the change for senseless change sake.
“One of his first shows I remember as a politician on Wendell Jones show talking about market forces. I don’t believe that. These are things in his public life he is best known for.”