By Malcolm Strachan
THE countdown clock has begun to the celebrations for Bahamian Independence – but as we reach that 49th anniversary, how is our nation faring?
On the face of it, we would seem to still be facing a host of problems – some of which have dogged our nation for generations.
As we mark the occasion when we took power for ourselves, for example, it seems we still cannot generate power – with BPL continuing to have to explain a series of widespread outages. Worse, as we sit in the dark waiting for the power to come back on, we do so in the knowledge we may soon have to pay more for the electricity we’re not getting! The rise in fuel costs is going to reach our pockets sooner or later, no matter how much government officials dance around the issue.
Then this week a new failure in basic supplies – water. Apparently a simple lightning strike, plus a power surge, was enough to disrupt water production at the Water & Sewerage Corporation’s Blue Hills plant. Customers in central, south and east New Providence saw a drop in water pressure as a result.
Drive the roads and you won’t need to be told how many potholes there are – so, power problems, water problems, road problems – our infrastructure seems to be creaking at the seams, same as it has for many years.
But what about our politics? Well, successive governments have been failing to go anywhere fast with reform of marijuana laws – the latest effort, we hear, despite the proposals moving at the speed of an iceberg, haven’t found time to properly consult the Rastafarian community. Then there’s the efforts to tackle issues such as marital rape, which have spent so long tiptoeing around the Christian Council I’ll be amazed if it ever amounts to anything. The Christian Council now apparently is open to protection against rape for spouses in the period between legal separation and divorce. But not, it would seem, for the period before separation – so if the husband rapes his wife repeatedly to the point that she finally flees the home, it’s only after she steps outside that door that she deserves protection, according to the council.
If all that seems as if we are paralysed in the structure of our nation and paralysed in moving forward with legislation that brings us into the same century as others around us, perhaps it’s because that’s the case.
What about our independence itself? Well, we’ve only recently had a visit from members of the Royal Family, in which we spruced up the roads our visitors would be driving on and put on fancy threads in which to bow.
The visit prompted the most minor of discussions about whether The Bahamas was ready to go all the way and become a republic.
The trouble is, too many people seem to like it the way it is. Government can always kick the thorniest of problems up to the Privy Council then shrug and say its hands are tied.
Even Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell seems resigned to the status quo these days. Back in December, as Barbados removed the Queen as head of state, he said he was still committed to a republic, but seemed to admit defeat. He said: “It is my life’s work toward deepening our democracy, but try as I might over my lifetime I have been unable to fire up the succeeding generations on this issue. Perhaps they have more important things to do.”
He couldn’t even convince his own administration’s press secretary, it seems – with Clint Watson saying soon after that becoming a republic was not on the agenda of this government.
Noting Mr Mitchell’s comments, he said: “You’ve heard a member of the Cabinet speak about his push to see it happen personally as an individual. It’s a conversation we haven’t heard a lot about in recent years until we heard what happened in Barbados. But it’s obviously in the hands of the Bahamian people to decide.
“It’s not on our agenda right now. However, the Bahamian people can change that if they determine this is what they want to do. It would have to be something the Bahamian people request and put on the government’s agenda.”
If the press secretary can so roundly dismiss the PLP chairman’s comments, how far do you think requests from the rest of the Bahamian people will go?
Look around Bahamian society and you’ll see plenty of people touting the honours they’ve received from the Queen – from knighthoods to MBEs, while honours bestowed by Bahamians come a distant second. There seems little desire for a change to that.
So with 49 years of age fast approaching, where are we? We’re not moving forward in terms of greater independence, and we’re facing the same old problems over and over again. How will we be any different in a year’s time, when we hit 50?
Will we be any richer? Any wiser? Will we be any more independent? Will our laws and finances be more transparent? Will our people have greater power to get answers from government?
What, at this stage in our country’s development, is our lofty goal? What is our ambition?
As we lift up our heads on Independence Day this year, maybe that is what we should be asking ourselves – where do we go next?
After all, the motto on our coat of arms says “Forward Upward Onward Together”. How are we living up to that goal?