By Malcolm Strachan
This past week potentially marked former Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Brent Symonette’s last time in the Cabinet - and if we are brave enough to look ourselves in the mirror, it may be an instructive moment in our history.
Symonette’s decision to resign - though inconceivable when looking through the prism of political biases - was no doubt tough. This isn’t to suggest he is enamoured with the pomp of being a Cabinet Minister. Rather, because anyone that nets the kind of bottom line Symonette does in private life has to have a true dedication to service to put up with how brutal Bahamian politics can be.
There will be many who offer a more sinister motive for Symonette’s decision to re-enter frontline politics after falling back from the scene in 2012 when the PLP dethroned the FNM. But one has to wonder why anyone would subject themselves to such abuse, if not for a passion to see the country move forward.
Symonette, to his credit, has had to shoulder a huge burden being the son of the nation’s first premier, Sir Roland Symonette – a figurehead still to this day, symbolic of the disenfranchisement of black Bahamians.
However, the question which still looms is: how long are we going to use this excuse for successive governments’ failings to expand the distribution of wealth in the country?
Has it not been 52 years of the government being composed by an emphatic majority of black Bahamians? Hasn’t a black Bahamian dethroned the Bay Street Boys as the majority owner of businesses on Bay Street? Aren’t the oil barons in the country black?
Yet, Brent Symonette’s existence in the political arena is still somehow a sign the ‘white boogeyman’ is coming to take over and send us back into an era of segregation.
It’s absolutely preposterous thinking.
Have we stopped to think how the average standard of living has plummeted in the last half-century? We would be fooling ourselves if we believe Symonette is solely to blame. Rather, we should all replace the political kool-aid with some truth serum and realise we were duped by many of our black leaders. While the Pindling-led government that defeated the UBP executed a memorable feat, how has life changed for common Bahamians?
They promised us every black Bahamian would be wealthy and live abundantly. However, we can look around us today and see that was a farce.
The white oligarchs were simply supplanted by black ones. And as for the common Bahamian, we know their story too well.
Incessant murders. Record unemployment. Record cost of living.
Every time another murder occurs in the inner cities, it is a young black man dying. The excruciating screams we hear are those of the black mother staring down at the blood-soaked body. And each election cycle, it is usually a black man who walks up to their front porch and asks for their vote.
Who’s to blame?
Certainly, the times have not been kind to the average Bahamian. The power company is an abysmal laughing stock – which is led by majority blacks within the portfolio of a Cabinet Minister who is also black. Yet, rather than performance, race too often becomes the topic of discussion.
That, friends, is the bigger problem. Brent Symonette, on paper, is exactly the kind of person we want to see offer themselves for service in public life. His resume speaks for itself. In addition to him being a shrewd businessman, he has also been recognised as a hardworking minister in each Cabinet he’s served in - rising to the rank of deputy prime minister in the Ingraham administration.
It’s unfortunate his skin colour overshadows what should otherwise be a decorated career in politics. Moreover, if we were to lose sight of the larger picture and only focus on Symonette’s race or the wealth he’s amassed, we would be missing the forest for the trees.
“I think if I had run as leader of the FNM there would have been a barrier, if I tried to run as PM, but I’m Bahamian. You see the backlash against my resignation and all the comments, maybe The Bahamas isn’t ready for it,” Symonette said in a recent interview.
It’s sad to say it, but he may be right.
The reality is we live in an overwhelming majority black country, and the likelihood we will have a white prime minister in the near future is minimal at best. Some may even say it is more likely we will have a female prime minister before one that is white and male. Certainly, this is the case with so many backward mindsets around the country - many of whom are members and supporters of the PLP that are responsible for promoting such divisive thinking.
It is a crying shame what one would do for a vote – infecting the minds of impressionable voters just for the pendulum to swing on election day – with total disregard for how all of the hate that is spread leaves us.
Can we honestly say our black leaders have done such a great job that it is okay for Brent Symonette to become the poster child for pre-independence and UBP rulership?
Sadly, the inaugural PLP government were responsible for transforming the culture of Bahamian politics into another kind of ugly – one where friends, family and lovers would benefit. Such a system is what has proliferated Bahamian society today and has been the most injurious to our existence as a people.
While many would point to the poor optics of self-dealing in government as the reason Symonette is vilified, he alone cannot award himself a contract. The Cabinet made the decision to select the Town Centre Mall to house the new post office. Bahamas Hot Mix was judged the most qualified bidder for the water improvement projects on the Family Islands and extensions for the runway at Linden Pindling airport. The facts are these were decisions made by Cabinet, yet somehow Symonette walks away being the evil villain. That says a lot about where we are as a society.
Whether we agree with Cabinet’s decision or not is a matter for another debate. Today, we must have an honest conversation and no longer ignore the elephant in the room.
The truth is there is a huge issue with race in the country that we must confront. By exhibiting attitudes that say to white Bahamians they’re not allowed – we limit what we could become by alienating diverse thinking in the political directorate.
Subsequently, as the country grows a year older, our politics still fails to mature. And this is perhaps the greatest impediment to our evolution as a society.
It’s been 52 years and we’re still carrying the baggage of unresolved race-related issues. It’s time for us to grow up.