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By the people

Consider This...

Published: Jul 15, 2013

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“… and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

– President Abraham Lincoln

This week, The Bahamas celebrated its 40th anniversary of independence and what a celebration it was. Those who are old enough to recall that historically momentous occasion on Clifford Park in 1973 still remember where they were as the Union Jack was lowered and the Bahamian flag was raised as vividly as they remember the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November, 1963 – 50 years ago.

In the same month of November, 150 years ago, another American president who would be assassinated, Abraham Lincoln, delivered his incomparable Gettysburg Address during which he observed: “... that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.” Therefore, on the heels of our own independence observations, we would like to Consider this... do we really believe that the role of government in the Bahamian context should be shaped by the people in the same sense that we appreciate that government is a creation of the people and established for the people?

There is a perennially paternalistic perspective that some Bahamian politicians entertain regarding elective office. Some elected officials believe that once they are elected to office by the people every five years, citizens should just sit back and let them govern, without bothering them with too much input from those who elected them. There is a pervasive sense that once they have been elected, citizens should abdicate the responsibility of government to the governors. To paraphrase a former Cabinet minister: “You elected us to govern; now get out of our way and let us govern.”

Implicit in that statement is a misplaced sense of omniscience on the part of the minister and the Cabinet, a belief that is unsubstantiated by some of the unfathomable and ineffective decisions that emanate from the Churchill Building. We maintain that the aforementioned assertion not only reeks of myopia; it violates the essence of democracy.

The historical record

That participatory democracy is the best form of government – that is, a government that is informed by the people – is borne out by the historical record. The voices raised by the people even pre-date the form of democracy that we have adopted from Great Britain. The Magna Carta, which was signed by the barons in the meadows at Runnymede in June 1215, was the first document that was forced onto a king, in this case John of England, by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit the king’s powers by law and to protect the privileges of the barons. This was an early expression of the people, by the people, and for the people, albeit a somewhat narrowly defined group.

Throughout the second millennium, anno Domini, tremendous strides were taken by the people. The religious Reformation, led by the Catholic ‘maverick’ Martin Luther, unleashed the voice of the people which resulted in changes by the people that reverberated throughout Europe, first in the church and then in civil society, forever changing the course of history.

Later actions taken by the people unsettled the established French society, culminating in the French Revolution. This upheaval in Europe was preceded by the discontent in the 13 British colonies in the New World whose people decided that they would take no more abuse from their English overlords. The actions that were taken by those people climaxed in the American Revolution and the founding of the United States of America.

 Modern developments

The 20th century is replete with examples of the sweeping changes that transpired across the globe because of the actions taken by the people. Early in that century, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin harnessed the ire of the Russian proletariat against the privileges of the Tsarist royalty. Once again, revolutionary actions by the people established a new social order, in this instance a communist regime, that eventually inspired the Chinese under Chairman Mao, many Eastern Europeans and not too long ago, the Cubans under Fidel Castro to rise up against the established order in their respective countries which was fraught with privilege, excessive abuse by the power elite and systemic corruption.

The current of change crescendoed in the second half of the 20th century, which witnessed the will of and actions by the people to establish more countries than had previously existed before the turn of the 20th century. We saw the establishment of countries like Israel, India, and Pakistan, along with scores of independent countries on the African continent and the Caribbean. Much of this was prompted and implemented by the people.

Most recently, we witnessed in real-time on the cable news networks irreversible changes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt that were instigated and forced to fruition by the people in what is now popularly referred to as the Arab Spring.

The Bahamian experience

Here at home, we occupied a front-row seat to momentous change in a civil society structure that was originally established by the British and perpetuated by the Bay Street Boys. The Burma Road Riots, the General Strike of 1958, the women’s suffrage movement, which culminated in Bahamian women’s right to vote in 1962, majority rule in 1967 and independence in 1973 could not have been achieved without the will of and active support and involvement by the people.

The next 40 years

Having celebrated 40 years of Bahamian independence, we can look back with pride at our many accomplishments, while futuristically focusing on our challenges and unfinished agenda, chief among which must be greater equity participation in our economy by an increasing number of our citizens.

Equally important must be a further deepening of our democracy, which can only be achieved by greater participation in the development of public policy by the people.

We cannot wait any longer for the politicians to define our future or to set our national agenda. That must have as much input from our citizens, who are generally more aware of the requirements of our developing society, more informed than those who seek to lead us and more experienced in running organizations than those who seek to use their outmoded, archaic and unresponsive bureaucracies to advance our society.

That our society is working well now is not enough. That we can do better is precisely the reason for doing so. In the final analysis, success of our country in the next 40 years will be measured more by what we do than by what we say. To that end, in order to create the nation we want and the successful future we deserve, we must continue to encourage others to recognize that now that we enjoy a government of the people and for the people, we must daily strive to develop a government that is driven and directed by the people.

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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Last Updated on Monday, 15 July 2013 19:55


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