Recognizing Bahamian heroes
Published: Oct 21, 2013
National Heroes Day is now a holiday in The Bahamas replacing Discovery Day. The former holiday commemorated the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the New World – an event that changed human history. We have a significant part in that history in that Columbus’ first stop on his journey from Europe across the Atlantic in 1492 was at San Salvador.
Along with creating the new holiday, a new system of national honors now exists. This is a good step for The Bahamas. Independent countries should honor their own and not need to look to their former colonial masters to do the honoring on their behalf.
An advisory committee will help come up with the honorees. What we must ensure with this new step toward national awards, however, is that we do not over-emphasize politicians and political achievements while ignoring other Bahamians who have done much to build this country. We must also work to ensure that these honors are not just partisan gifts to those on the side of the governing party of the day.
With the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) being in power, for example, we would expect that the first batch of national awards will include a large number of the senior figures of that party from the majority rule and independence periods. No one would take away from their extraordinary achievements, but starting off this system in this manner would be a mistake and cause future non-PLP administrations to use the awards as honors to their people.
Though the committee is supposed to include viewpoints from the various political sides, and other non-politicians, we see frequently in The Bahamas how the independence of statutory bodies is compromised by political interference and favoritism.
Columnist and former PLP politician Philip Galanis takes up these issues in his column in today’s paper. He noted that if the committee constituted with coming up with honorees is made up of the minimum number of people provided by the act, which is seven, it will be dominated by the four politicians who are part of this body (likely two from the governing side and two from the opposition).
Galanis suggested that the prime minister, in exercising his power to appoint the group, should appoint at least nine people, ensuring that the majority of the committee is 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,” he said. “In addition, we suggest that the chairman of the committee should not be a politician.”
While this might help to reduce the partisan instinct in these matters, what really is needed is a mindset change. We must evolve beyond pettiness and tribalism when it comes to administering the affairs of state. We as a people must learn that the Commonwealth of The Bahamas as a whole is more important that any political party.
We can truly use these honors to highlight the great contributions of our educations, doctors, nurses, business people, civil servants, police, religious leaders, volunteers, etc. The elevation of truly deserving Bahamians through these honors would help to inspire a new generation of Bahamians to further the work of building The Bahamas.
We hope we as a people get this right.