A modest proposal toward a truer emancipation and a truer independence, pt.3
Published: Sep 18, 2013
Part 3 of the address delivered by Patricia Glinton-Meicholas on the occasion of The Keva Marie Bethel Distinguished Lecture at The College of The Bahamas.
Democracy, freedom and independence are irrevocably bound up in the nature and quality of the education and information afforded a people.
It is these factors that largely inform productive citizenship, a crucial precondition for sustainable socio-economic development and social cohesion.
Critical to productive citizenship are knowledge and acceptance of self and one’s obligations to neighbor, community and nation. It requires good problem-solving skills, the ability to make sound decisions and produce not only goods but value.
Productive citizenship demands the ability to work in harmony with others. These are the prerequisites to popular freedom and the norms and values that the education system of a nation craving a truer independence has an obligation to foster.
It is apparent that Bahamian education is doing the reverse. The system has conspired in the creation of a people too extensively lacking in personal discipline, civic and economic intelligence and the ability to perform at the higher levels of cognition – application, analysis, evaluation and synthesis or creation.
The unappetizing truth is that many teachers do not themselves possess these skills and too many others, who possess a greater competence, feel no vocation to impart it. No need to defend this point – the evidence was emblazoned in the headlines of both major dailies recently. (“Exam results graded a D”, The Tribune and The Nassau Guardian, both published Friday, August 16, 2013.)
Thousands of young Bahamians leave school incapable of reading beyond the most basic levels of comprehension, performing simple arithmetic, writing a coherent paragraph or filling an application for employment successfully.
How does one self-liberate when held fast in the net of such voids? It should not be surprising that we produce citizens ignorant of the privileges and duties of citizenship and unable to conceive of futurity, a people whose zeal for productivity often stands in inverse proportion to their aspirations.
Forward, upward, onward, together
I present now a modest proposal for moving forward, upward, onward, together. It is important to emphasize, first of all, that my proposal has no politically partisan motive. It is premised on four notions.
Firstly, we must accept responsibility. The societal and economic ills of The Bahamas are systemic and each of us – parliamentarians, Bahamian citizens, permanent residents, investors – carries a strand of the DNA of the virus, which is infecting the body politic.
Secondly, our planning for change to date has been hallmarked mostly by incoherence – a failure to articulate the necessary and several underpinnings of desirable change.
Thirdly, all that we do should be purposed to creating a productive, equitable and free society toward the formation of a productive, peace-loving and happy people. Governance, economy construction, law and justice, education, religion, cultural and environmental activism – all should be directed to this end. Herein lies the very substance of freedom and independence.
Fourthly, it will take all of us working in concert to recommence the journey to freedom and independence. It will require that we abandon rhetoric and recriminations and scraping even the potcake from the pot of opportunity in our egocentrism and greed.
Instead, it is incumbent upon us to identify, to the greatest extent, all that can hinder the achievement of our goals and identify and articulate all the factors that promote them. Integration must become the watchword or our endeavor. It is imperative to institutionalize the tenets of liberty to ensure a more stable and rewarding new day.
Let us begin by accepting that the tail should not wag the dog. Sustainable development is not achieved by building up economic/physical capital alone. While these elements are essential, they cannot long survive without complementary levels of social and natural capital, all closely articulated and mutually nourishing.
As regards the freeing of our natural heritage to serve us through the ages, time’s long past for passing and enforcing an Environmental Protection Act, backed by early lessons in environmental stewardship for our children, by setting aside more nature reserves, and by training and empowering more environmental wardens.
In building social capital, we must give urgent priority to telling a truer story of ourselves. Comic books provide enough fictional heroes; we must do a better job of identifying and celebrating people who present models worthy of praise and emulation. Our selection process must be unhindered by partisanship, racism and family and group attempts at self-aggrandizement.
We must tell the story of the Bahamian people, which privileges their honest and sacrificial struggles to free themselves. We must write of a democracy that is still incomplete while there are still minorities that struggle not just for equity, but for survival and dignity.
How else can our society find healing, if we persist in erecting smokescreens to hide our societal disabilities?
It serves us ill to write narratives of national unity and progress when women’s rights are still being crushed beneath an obdurate patriarchy that secretly wonders why all the fuss about domestic abuse and rape.
Through well-researched and truthful writing we must unmask the covert racism that is practiced by and against all racial and ethnic groups. We must lay bare discrimination against the disabled, Bahamians of Haitian descent and gays, who are still denied some of the most basic of rights of belonging.
Writing plays a vital role in the development of people and state. It needs to be actively promoted to speed up the building of a credible national literature. We can do so by awarding grants, institutional residencies and commissions to serious writers, provisions which will require setting up independent committees to scrutinize applications and make awards according to merit and not politics or cronyism.
It’s time also for national, juried awards programs for writing in various genres. There must be a systematic, critical assessment of published materials to identify those that can be used in the schools or acquired for the collection of the National Library.
Shoring up democracy
To begin the process of shoring up Bahamian democracy, we need to remind ourselves of what democracy consists or should consist:
• Sovereignty of the people;
• Government based upon consent of the governed;
• Free and fair elections;
• Majority rule;
• Minority rights;
• Equality before the law;
• Guarantee of basic human rights, including the rights of those put under arrest and held in police stations, even or those justly convicted and imprisoned;
• Due process of law and timeliness of process;
• Constitutional limits on government;
• Social, economic and political pluralism;
• Values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise.
What The Bahamas chiefly needs in this instance is an institutional watchdog to champion human rights to which all humankind is entitled, regardless of history, creed, physical attributes, culture, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability or penal incarceration.
We are in urgent need of a civil liberties union, a non-governmental institution, not posited on emotion or political agenda, but dedicated to observing, conducting scientific research in the field, gathering information, archiving documentation and educating Bahamians as to their rights under the law.
With the establishment of such a body, when a person or group is challenged to back up a claim of human rights abuse, there would be recourse to a non-judgmental ear, expert assessment of the merits of their issue and advice and support in pursuing the matter through the justice system, if the case has merit.
A caution here: Without institutionalized vigilance, such institutions can, over time, become predatory and defeat their purpose.
It is essential to require and enforce greater accountability at all levels of public engagement. If Parliament does not yet have a code of conduct, one should be written with full public participation.
Among the areas of focus must be strict rules against conflict of interest. If we are serious, we will specify percentages of ownership and interest, which will decide a parliamentarian’s ability to vote or speak on a matter.
The code should enforce the notion that members of Parliament are servants of the people, who are paid to work for their benefit and must give a strict accounting of their stewardship like any responsible employee. They should decidedly not draw pay for arrogant non-performance.
There should be obligatory training programs for new parliamentarians to familiarize them with the Constitution, particularly as relates to their parliamentary mandate. They must be exposed to seminars in ethics, standards of performance, etiquette, dignity and statesmanship.
The most fundamental lesson must that ‘Parliament’ and ‘government’ are among the institutionalized constructs of independence and freedom, which must be held sacrosanct and not used as dice in the political crapshoot.
• Patricia Glinton-Meicholas is a Bahamian author, educator and cultural anthropologist.