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Bahamian national heroes pt. 2

Consider This...
PHILIP C. GALANIS

Published: Oct 21, 2013

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“My own heroes are the dreamers, those men and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones.  Some succeeded, some failed, most had mixed results... but it is the effort that's heroic, as I see it.  Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.”

– George R.R. Martin

Two weeks ago, on October 7, in part one of this series on Bahamian national heroes, we asked whether it was time for us to bring into force a national honors system for Bahamian heroes.  Two days later, on October 9, the prime minister delivered a communication to Parliament announcing that the government would bring the Majority Rule (Public Holiday) Act 2013 into force, ushering in the long-awaited recognition of the day on which majority rule was achieved in The Bahamas, January 10, 1967, as a public holiday.  Accordingly, the first public holiday to commemorate that singularly important event will be celebrated next year on January 10, 2014.

In the same communication, the prime minister announced that the National Heroes Act 2007 would also come into force on Friday, October 11, 2013, replacing the day that was previously celebrated initially as Columbus Day and later as Discovery Day as National Heroes Day.  And so said, so done!

This week, we would like to Consider This… is it time for us to complete the process of bringing into force a national honors system for Bahamian heroes?

A step in the right direction

Without a doubt the official recognition of these public holidays is a gargantuan step in the right direction.  And for this, Perry Christie and his administration should be applauded.  These two important holidays on the Bahamian calendar will forever concretize Christie’s legacy in the annals of Bahamian history.  However, these are first steps and much more is required.

In his communication, the prime minister stated that “National Heroes Day” will be a national holiday to “be observed on the second Monday in the month of October of each year”.  That is not technically correct.  The National Heroes Act specifically states in section 11 that “the 12th day of October”, not the second Monday of October, “will be commemorated as The Bahamas National Heroes Day”.  It is a distinction with a difference, one that, we are certain, will be clarified in the fullness of time.

The advisory committee

The National Heroes Act provides for an advisory committee that will make recommendations as to persons who should be recognized as national heroes.  According to the act, the advisory committee “shall consist of not less than seven members appointed by the prime minister” and be comprised of two senators and two members of the House of Assembly.  In his communication to the House of Assembly, the prime minister correctly observed that, “It would certainly be my wish, Mr. Speaker, that there be one nominee from the government and one nominee from the opposition in each of the House of Assembly and the Senate.  This will ensure optimal balance and parity.  We really do need to take partisanship and political prejudice out of the selection of our national heroes.  To do otherwise would be to debase the whole process and to detract from the sense of national unity and patriotism that should always be exclusively in view when we approach a matter such as this.”

However, if the advisory committee is constituted with the minimum number of persons provided by the act, which is seven, then the advisory committee will be dominated by the four politicians and the majority vote will be able to be cast by those politicians.  Given the profoundly partisan polarization and seemingly intractable political tribalism that has developed in the country over the past decade, this could defeat the objective of removing “partisanship and political prejudice out of the selection” process.  For far too long, an elongated and dark shadow of politics has been cast over most things in our society.  Because, as Christie put it, “this group, this ‘Order of National Heroes’, will be exceedingly small – the rarest of the rare, the greatest of the great”, the selection process must be scrupulously meticulous and not obscured by that shadow – or any other – so that Bahamians, present and future, may be confident in the impartial choices of these exceptional individuals who will carry this extraordinary title and the term “national hero”.

We therefore believe and recommend that, in order to accomplish this objective, the prime minister, in exercising his powers of appointment under the act, should appoint an advisory committee of at least nine persons, and ensure that the majority of the committee will be comprised of non-politicians.  We can only assume and hope that the non-politicos on the committee will be broadly drawn from civil society in such a manner that would firmly instill the public confidence that must be maintained in the selection process.  In addition, we suggest that the chairman of the committee should not be a politician.

The National Honours Act 2007

The National Honours Act 2007 which has not yet been brought into force, provides for the establishment of national honors, including:

• The Order of The Bahamas

• The Order of Excellence

• The Order of Distinction

• The Order of Merit

• Other honors constituted by the governor general after consultation of the advisory committee established under section 13 of the Bahamas National Heroes Act.

It will be critically important to clearly define the criteria that must be satisfied for each of the aforementioned honors and once completed, to begin identifying those deserving souls and to commence conferring such local honors upon them.  As we develop our own criteria, we can draw on the experiences of some of our neighbors: Jamaica’s National Honours and Awards Act, established in 1969, and the National Heroes Act, passed by the Parliament of Barbados in 1998, just to name two.

Conclusion

As we noted in part one of this series and as we celebrate 40 years of Bahamian independence, the time has now arrived for us to complete the process and to honor those among us who deserve to be recognized as Bahamian national heroes.  We should do so in the grand and respectful manner that Bahamian honorees rightly deserve, finally joining our Caribbean counterparts in celebrating our own, in our own way, and showing the world how much we value ourselves and the contributions of our countrymen who have helped to build this 21st century nation.

• 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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