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A response to Philip Galanis on ‘The PLP at 60’, pt. 1

KIRKLAND TURNER

Published: Sep 06, 2013

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Philip Galanis picked the wrong day to publish his piece on the Progressive Liberal Party’s 60th anniversary. Its publication in The Nassau Guardian coincided with the publication of Rupert Missick Jr.’s thoughtful article in The Tribune entitled “The Cuban Detainees and the Long Awaited Revolution”.

Galanis’ piece regurgitated the PLP propaganda line that “God gave The Bahamas to the PLP”. These words were actually spoken on the floor of the House of Assembly by a former member – a minister no less – and stand as stunning testimony to the frightening culture of entitlement and exceptionalism that has long corrupted the PLP.

It is a sickness with multiple delusional aspects that leads them, for example, to believe that rules which apply to other people do not apply to them, that ‘taking care’ of PLP cronies at the public’s expense is alright, that nobody loves their country as well as they do, that victimization of their opponents is justifiable, and that branding fellow citizens as traitors is also justifiable.

It also accounts for the persistent lie perpetrated against the FNM that that party was against independence when, in fact, the leaders of the FNM were passionate advocates of independence but were convinced that Sir Lynden Pindling was not the right person to lead an independent Bahamas. The Bahamian electorate thought otherwise and elected him and the PLP.

The FNM came to this conclusion for a number of reasons including the fact that while they were still members of the PLP they were beaten up in broad daylight by PLP goons who were ordered not to allow them to speak at a meeting in Lewis Yard. Their judgment that Sir Lynden was not the right person to lead an independent Bahamas was vindicated by events, some of which I shall refer to here.

 

A nationalist party?

In his column Galanis describes the PLP as “The Bahamas’ first and some would argue only nationalist party”. The most recent reference to the PLP and nationalists was by its current leader, Perry Christie, who termed his party a “black nationalist party”. He has not chosen to so describe his party since its re-election as government last year.

Perhaps that would be offensive to one of his Cabinet ministers and to the many wealthy white local and international sponsors whom he and his party so ardently court, in some cases with generous gifts of Bahamian land and other special considerations.

The dictionary offers a number of views on the term nationalist, ranging from the simple “an ideology which is pro-independence, pro self-rule or pro-separatist” to a more complex “an ideology that creates and sustains a nation as a concept of a common identity for groups of humans”. Nationalism, it is said, “seeks the preservation of identity, features and promotes the well-being, and the glory of one’s own fundamental values”.

While the PLP can justify itself as a political party that sought and achieved political independence for The Bahamas, the jury is certainly still out on whether its policies in government have served to create a common identity for the groups of humans living in The Bahamas and entitled to citizenship on July 10, 1973. Many would assert just the opposite.

Still others might claim that PLP policies facilitated the infiltration of a violent drug culture into our country in the late 1970s and early 1980s, contributing to the destruction of traditional family and social values, branding The Bahamas internationally as a “nation for sale”, and compromising the government which suffered the humiliation of being disparaged and criticized in the international community.

Two PLP Cabinet ministers were forced to resign their posts in the face of serious allegations of corruption, and then two other Cabinet ministers were fired because of their stance against corruption in high places. The government suffered a final humiliation when the serving Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Leader of the Party A.D. Hanna resigned his posts not wishing to be aligned with so compromised a government. Surely this was not leadership by nationalists interested in promoting the well-being and the glory of our fundamental values.

As The Bahamas’ reputation suffered, the government’s pronouncements about our sovereign independence and our nationalism became more strident, even shrill. There are echoes of this in recent hysterical charges of “siding with the enemy” and “treason” belching from members of the present Cabinet.

Missick’s article goes straight to the heart of the matter. Speaking of aspiring revolutionaries who missed the “first revolution”, Missick suggests that some in this generation of imitator revolutionaries are satisfied to mouth “frothing, hyperbolic defense of nationhood and national identity” when in fact their noise is of a “generation desperate to fight a revolution, only it’s not the one that is actually theirs to fight”.

The sad reality is that when The Bahamas joined the international campaign against the illicit drug trade it was not from a position of principle or even one of strength but rather from a position of weakness, the PLP government and its leaders were so compromised as to be forced to accept the dictates of the world community.

Some may argue that The Bahamas’ agreement to “Hot Pursuit” and “Ship Rider” anti-drug trafficking arrangements agreed with the United States of America by the Pindling administration was the first surrender of Bahamian sovereignty. While positive developments, it is a sad reality that they were entered into by a compromised government anxious to demonstrate, even though late, a willingness to join the international anti-illicit drug war.

Similarly, a compromised Bahamas government was forced to negotiate and conclude the terms of the lease of the AUTEC Base in Andros from a less than ideal position.

Throughout the decade of the 1980s The Bahamas had only one profile internationally – drugs. It would take the election of the FNM to government in 1992 before The Bahamas could become a respected voice in the international community on a host of issues important to wider Bahamian national interests and national aspirations: protecting the environment, drawing international attention to the human, political and economic crisis in Haiti, achieving the Millennium Development Goals and campaigning to address and contain the epidemic of non-communicable diseases afflicting and killing too many in our population.

 

Strayed from founding principles

As to the bona fides of the PLP as a nationalist party, an objective look at the history of the PLP reveals that it was created by mixed race men, mostly out of Long Island. These men, but particularly Henry Taylor, had studied the formation and organization of political parties in the United Kingdom.

In writing the constitution for their new political party the founders adopted what they believed to be tried and tested rules and regulations for political parties including, for example, a requirement that the party meet in convention annually. As a result of the diligence of its founders the PLP had without a doubt one of the best institutional frameworks for political association in a modern democracy.

The past 60 years, regrettably, has demonstrated that a constitution creating a strong political party framework is not enough. In fact, it has proved inadequate to ensure that those who came to lead the party in government would be progressive or liberal. And, it proved, sadly, that the party’s name and constitution were inadequate to keep the party’s leadership transparent, accountable or dedicated to good governance.

Galanis should not be surprised that the PLP decided to jettison their constitutional requirement to meet in convention annually. The PLP has often enough jettisoned its principles – particularly when principle interfered with self-aggrandizement, personal advantage and privilege.

Galanis makes a plea for his party to remain progressive and liberal ignoring the fact that those labels are anathema to a party whose primary interest is securing place and position for a selected few connected individuals.

 

Party history vs. the record

Galanis was careful to list the development of virtually every national institution during the 25-year leadership of Lynden Pindling as PLP accomplishments without acknowledging that these were quite simply the basic requirements of nationhood.

To call one’s country an independent nation and to seek to interact with other nations on the world stage without establishing a central bank, a defence force, a national social security scheme and a tertiary level learning institution would be to contradict the meaning of nationhood.

Galanis, in a glib piece unworthy of the training he received as a chartered accountant and once aspiring leader in one of the most prestigious international public accounting firms, seeks to erase from the national memory the terrible damage to this country caused by visionless, self-interested and corrupt leadership in the PLP.

In a contrived sentence which may or may not actually admit to the official corruption that sullied The Bahamas’ reputation internationally throughout the 1980s and which fatally wounded the legacy of the first prime minister of an independent Bahamas, Galanis said that the Pindling era came to an abrupt end in August 1992 when the PLP government was defeated by the FNM led by Hubert Ingraham.

 

Democracy stifled in the PLP

Galanis chose to ignore a history that records that following political victory in 1967 but before independence in 1973, the dictatorial self-interested obsessed leadership of the PLP had long dispatched the founders of the party. Perhaps they were inconveniently neither black enough nor educationally refined enough for the young black barrister who wrested control of the party soon after its founding.

By 1965 two free-thinkers among that British-trained lawyer group – Paul Adderley and Orville Turnquest, together with U.S.-trained engineer Holland Smith and businessman Spurgeon Bethel – made their exit from the PLP already concerned that they could never influence or change their party’s leadership. Adderley would return to the PLP, married to the “ideal that could have been” and incapable of aligning himself with others who had made the difficult decision to stay the course in a new party committed to true democracy.

By October 1971 the Dissident Eight – Cecil Wallace Whitfield, Arthur Foulkes, Warren J. Levarity, Maurice Moore, Dr. Curtis McMillan, James (Jimmy) Shepherd, Dr. Elwood Donaldson and George Thompson – also exited the PLP. Given the political environment of the time, their departure from the PLP meant almost certain political death. Most would never see the inside of the House of Assembly as sitting members again.

They left nonetheless because the dictatorial traits they saw growing in their charismatic leader and the personality cult being nurtured around him troubled them to the core of their democratic souls. Cecil Wallace Whitfield famously echoed the U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in his address to the PLP convention during which he announced his resignation from the party proclaiming: “Free at last! Free at Last! My soul is dancing!”

With much of the democratic soul of the PLP having been forced out, the PLP led the country into independence with one of the most conservative (read least progressive or liberal) constitutions agreed for any former British colony in the Caribbean.

The “progressive and liberal” PLP delegation to the Independence Conference rejected an opposition proposal to give Bahamian women full equality and opposed it again in 2002 when the FNM government attempted to correct it. Also, no other Caribbean constitution is so encumbered by requirements for referenda to amend entrenched clauses.

 

• Part II will be published tomorrow.

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