Majority Rule: Fifty years later
PHILIP C. GALANIS
Published: Jan 09, 2017
“In a democracy, the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme.” – Aristotle
Fifty years ago tomorrow, a new era was ushered into Bahamian history. For the first time in nearly 250 years of parliamentary governance, the voice of the majority of Bahamians was represented in the House of Assembly. The date of this momentous election, January 10, 1967, is referred to as Majority Rule Day.
Despite the dismal disappointment of successive governments to officially observe this date as a national holiday until three years ago, January 10 will irrevocably and irreversibly mark the trajectory of a people toward liberation and independence from the white oligarchy that for centuries had dominated and directed their lives.
Therefore, this week, and as we begin a new year, we would like to Consider this... Considering the social, political and economic changes that emanated from majority rule, 50 years later, does the majority really rule?
The foundation that was laid by the first majority rule Cabinet foreshadowed a new Bahamas. That first majority rule Cabinet unabashedly announced that the education of a people would be its primary focus and articulated a vision for a modern Bahamas where Bahamians should possess prominent positions in their country. It was those first fathers of freedom who declared that their Bahamianization policy would ensure equal opportunity for Bahamians, regardless of their race, religious or political affiliation or social standing.
The dividends earned from that investment in Bahamians are undisputed. Consequently, today the legal, medical, accounting, architectural, engineering, nursing and teaching professions, just to name a few, speak volumes about the visionary and enlightened leadership of that majority rule Cabinet.
Today, Bahamians of all backgrounds not only occupy, but also own offices and stores on Bay Street, once the sole domain of the chosen few. Today, commercial banks, which eluded and in some instances prohibited, employment for most of our people, are, almost without exception, headed by persons who could previously not even have gained admission to their doors prior to majority rule.
Similar commentary can be made about the institutions established by some of the first fathers of freedom including, among others, the establishment of the Central Bank of The Bahamas, the National Insurance Board, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and The College, now University, of The Bahamas.
There were severe personality and philosophical differences of opinion about the direction that the country should take back then. However, despite the seismic schism in the PLP stemming from these differences that took place not long after majority rule, there is no doubt that the first fathers of freedom were motivated and guided by a deep love, devotion and commitment to a better Bahamas for all Bahamians.
With the passage of 50 years since that momentously historic day, does the majority really rule? The answer to the question is complex. While no one can dispute that we have made considerable progress in many areas, we are constantly confronted by colossal challenges, many of which seem to be intractably insoluble.
It is true that some Bahamians have done well. Within a single generation, the country has been transformed from a quiet and peaceful seasonal tourism archipelago into a year-round vacation destination, accounting for 55 percent of our gross domestic product and employing more Bahamians than any other industry. The same can be said for financial services that accounts for 20 percent of GDP, and is also a major employer.
However, despite the advances that we have made as a nation, we are essentially a country of job-seekers and employees. Don't get me wrong – there is absolutely nothing wrong with being an employee. As a developing nation, job creation is an essential ingredient to wealth creation and financial, economic and social stability. However, it often seems that we overly emphasize job-creation as the litmus test for our national success. Fifty years after majority rule, should we be concerned that Bahamians have not taken a greater stake in the ownership of our economy in the tourism, financial services and the industrial sectors, areas that are vital for sustainable growth and development?
Crossing the bar
It is essential that Bahamians have greater ownership in our economy. Until we do, we will not be able to significantly determine our own economic future. Time and again, we have seen persons come "across the bar" and take ownership of our major industries. They are no smarter nor more gifted than Bahamians.
What they have are two very essential elements that assist them in their ventures. Firstly, they have been greeted by successive friendly governments who are prepared to roll out the red carpet and grant them concessions that are not as readily available to Bahamians. Secondly, sometimes they come with the necessary financing to ensure that their projects are favorably received.
In the meantime, in addition to being confronted by unfriendly red tape, many Bahamians find that some of our commercial banks are unreceptive to perfectly viable, feasible projects, while being receptive to financing items that feed our insatiable appetite for conspicuous consumption and consumerism. Sadly, those banks that are sometimes willing to provide funding for entrepreneurial ventures lend borrowers only sufficient funds to get them into trouble by being undercapitalized.
On the other hand, those same banks are very willing to fund projects brought by those same “across the bar” investors, sometimes projects so questionable that those venerable financial institutions are left regretting their decisions.
What also concerns us is, given the jump-start that was provided by the first fathers of freedom, would they recognize what The Bahamas has become today, and would they be disappointed in the progress we have failed to achieve?
Clearly, back then, the voices of most voters were speaking loudly and forcefully in support of the men who were elected to govern. Back then, the voices of the majority were raised in support and encouragement of those who, like the voters, had been a part of a disenfranchised group struggling to take their place as first-class citizens in their own country.
Back then, there was more of a connection with the voter and their elected representatives. Back then, the majority and their representatives in the Parliament spoke more often with one voice, expressing the same dreams and desiring the same goals for themselves, their families and their nation. Back then, the majority was a big part of governance.
Today, the divide between Bahamians and their leaders is far more marked. The voice of the majority is too often ignored or drowned out by that of those whose five-year terms in office seems to instantly bestow on them a kind of god-like wisdom, a condition that seems to set them apart and deafen them to the voice of the majority.
Today the chasm separating the majority from those who have won their vote is larger than ever. Unlike yesteryear when the people were an integral part of the lives of those who represented them so that they could better speak on their behalf, today many of those who govern do not interact with the majority of the people to stay in close touch with their goals and aspirations. Today it is almost as if the governed and the governing were not two parts of a whole but more like two separate entities with two different agendas.
It is sad but true that neither of the recent administrations would make their antecedents proud that they have raised us to new heights. Unfortunately, they failed to build on the dream of the first fathers of freedom to enhance Bahamian ownership of our economy.
At the end of the day, it is a sad fact that, 50 years later, while we have achieved majority rule in the political sphere, we are disappointingly far away from economic independence and ownership. This could have been achieved had the inheritors stuck to the script that was drafted by the first fathers of freedom and overwhelmingly approved by the voice of the majority, first at that election of 1967 and then at subsequent polls.
Perhaps the next generation of leaders will be more successful in this regard and will listen more attentively to the voice of that majority, allowing them to, once again, be more connected to those who govern. This would enable them to more perfectly become a government that truly reflects the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the majority, reflecting in every decision made for our nation that a revered and respected majority does, once again, rule.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.