THE CASE FOR REPLACING THE WESTMINSTER FORM OF GOVERNMENT IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS
A government’s mandate is primarily the physical world, the material world.
However, the spiritual domain is no less important and it clearly is the province of the
church. Bahamians needed a vision to come this far and, from the day Prince William
landed in The Bahamas and founded Bethel Baptist Church 200 years ago, the church has
played an important role, spiritually strengthening our people for the battle for freedom
and equality. Your generation will need a vision of its own, a vision for the 21st Century,
a vision of the kind of society in which you and your children will want to live. Your
vision may be a new one but, in planning your life and the society you want to build, you
will find that the foundation of your vision will be the same as that which fortified your
forefathers before you. Their foundation was built on three very important things: God,
Family and Country, and I can tell you now that you will not be able to find better ones.
I CARE NOT WHAT PUPPET IS PLACED ON THE THRONE, THE MAN THAT CONTROLS THE MONEY CONTROLS THE EMPIRE.
I would like to preface my remarks with the following: SIR LINDIN PINDLING ONCE SAID
MISSION TO THE UNITED NATIONS: 1965
Sir Lynden Pindling – Address to the United Nation’s Special Committee on
Decolonization, August 23rd & 24th, 1965.
“Mr. Chairman, I and my delegation consisting of Mr. Cecil V. Wallace-
Whitfield, Mr. Clarence A. Bain, Mr. Milo B. Butler, Mr. Arthur D. Hanna, Mr. Arthur
- Foulkes, Dr. Doris Johnson and Dr. H. W. Brown
“All ministers in the Bahamian Cabinet are Bahamian born, with the exception of
one who was granted a special status roughly equivalent to that of being Bahamian born.
They all belong to the merchant oligarchy which has been in control since 1729 and are
of European extraction. Ministers own large blocks of shares in the majority of local
enterprises and benefit from Government contracts, all with the tacit approval of the
United Kingdom government. For example, the Prime Minister is perhaps the biggest
road-builder in the country. The Minister of Maritime Affairs is a major supplier of
lumber and hardware goods to the Government and perhaps the biggest ship-owner in the
country. The Minister of Agriculture has large farming interests and supplies air-
conditioning material to the Government as does the Minister of Electricity. The
Minister of Finance and Tourism is the head of a food chain, an insurance company and a
law firm which often represents his Ministry and his clients at the same time.
“That state of affairs has always existed. Before ministerial government was
introduced executive government was shared by public boards, whose chairmen and
members acted in the same manner as the present ministers. At the time of the 1963
Constitutional Conference the point was raised by both the representatives of the
Progressive Liberal Party and the Labour Party. The United Kingdom representatives
were appraised of the situation and although they agreed that such conduct was not
entirely satisfactory, they still considered that in the circumstances it might be advisable
for them to leave things as they are. The matter of conflict of interest was also discussed
in great detail in the House of Assembly after ministerial government was introduced in
January, 1964 but no action has been taken.
“Every single member of the Government engages in business, and receives
lucrative government contracts at the same time. The United Kingdom is aware of this
and the fact that because of such a system, it is easy to imagine the abuse and corruption
to which it might give rise, yet nothing has been done. While the ruling group is
accumulating great wealth, it is also maintaining an iniquitous method of taxation; and
the wealthy are by no means bearing their fair share of the tax burden.
The over-all picture of the present situation in The Bahamas
is that the country is literally, economically and financially, in the very same hands that
exercise political control. Moreover, for three centuries, the British have never
introduced any development plan for the islands to improve the situation of the people
both socially and/or economically, and we are now paying for centuries of neglect.
“In these circumstances, we are convinced that the Opposition can no longer fulfil
its functions; it cannot lend itself to what is in fact nothing more than a dictatorship
disguised as a democracy.
In the not to distant future the Commonwealth of The Bahamas will be embarking on 50 years of independence as we enter our Jubilie. The Westminster model as part of a larger ‘independence pact’ was designed to maintain the status quo in the English-speaking Caribbean, and is responsible for the major challenges facing the Bahamas today. We therefore, of The Kingdom Government Movement advocate for a broader conceptualization of sovereignty and calls for the invention of a new democracy.
Unlike most modern states, THE UNITED KINGDOM does not have a codified or written constitution, but an unwritten one formed of Acts of Parliament, court judgments and conventions.
The politics of colonialism is the politics of exclusion; the politics of Independence would be the politics of participation. This has nothing to do with the Westminster model.
The ‘Independence Pact’
In my reading, Westminster was an element in a package – the Independence Pact in the British Caribbean. That pact was not about Independence; it was about preservation of the status quo. Its essentials are:
- First, the entrenchment of property rights in the Constitution.
- Second, entrenchment of the two-Party system.
- Third, preservation of the laws, institutions, and symbols of the colonial state.
- And fourth, alliance with the Western powers in the Cold War.
I will illustrate this by sharing some factual recollections and observations.
Though the father of our nation Sir Lynden Pindling, was advised against the retention of the Monarchy, he declined to do so in order to appease a select few. He was advised that it would be contrary to the psychological necessities of nation-building that the Queen of England would be the Head of State of an Independent Bahamas. Even though Sir Lynden advised the late Hon. Paul Adderley and Mr. Tynes to oversee a select committee, to abolish the Monarcy system of government, the full support was not given and therefore, it never surfaced again. Looking back, I have to confess to a feeling of grudging admiration for this ingenious device. It had the effect of embedding the core symbol of colonial governance into the institutions and rituals of the Independent Bahamas. It connoted continuity rather than rupture. And I would argue that it institutionalized a fractured psyche of political allegiance among those who were to be responsible for running the affairs of our country. What does it do to the state of mind of the Governor-General, Prime Minister, ministers of government, parliamentary secretaries, members of parliament and of the judiciary when, as a condition of assuming and holding office, each is required to take an oath ‘to be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her Heirs and Successors according to Law’?
This feature of the Constitution confers upon our political leaders a cynical betrayal of the masses, we declare that we have been ‘Brainwashed in the British culture’
The template of the Constitution was, I presume, supplied by the Colonial Office. The details were negotiated by a Joint Select Committee of the House of Assembly of The Bahamas, the two main political parties. It is structured in such a way that the two are virtually guaranteed an indefinite duopoly of political power. It is almost impossible to change the Constitution without the agreement of both parties.
The implanting of colonial ways of thinking into native elites was one of the outstanding successes of British policy in the Caribbean. It was key to the entrenchment of the Westminster government in the soon-to-be-independent Bahamas.
Reading the Constitution of the Bahamas today is a surreal experience. There is great difficulty in thinking of it as the Constitution of an independent Bahamas. The document is actually a Royal Order in Council. You will not find anything in it remotely like a reference to the sovereignty of the people.The final judicial authority – including on matters concerning the interpretation of the Constitution itself – is the British Privy Council.
The Independence Pact was made between the British and the Bahamian political and elite class that had emerged. The Bahamians would exercise formal political authority; the economy would remain in the hands of foreign firms and the local oligarchy. American, British, and Canadian firms were entrenched in banking, and finance; while local landowners and merchants controlled the best land, tourism, and import trading. A key element would be a security apparatus with close links to the imperialist system.
Looking back over the past 50 years, we see both continuity and change.
At one level, the colonialists’ strategy succeeded very well. The population has been diverted from any agenda of revolutionary transformation. Politics is a perpetual game of alternating ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ and Winner Takes All. It is characterized mainly by mudslinging, sensationalism, and pursuit of trivia. Every five years, a cornucopia of election campaign promises is routinely made. Few are kept. People participation is limited to cheering at election rallies and a ten-second act of voting every five years. Government is reduced to Prime Ministerial dictatorship. Long-term issues of development are hardly ever on the agenda of popular political discourse.
Let us look at the Jamaican case. In the 1970s, the government of Mr Michael Manley introduced wide-ranging social reforms; redistributed income; and expanded state control over the economy. He took steps to address the social debt that was the legacy of 300 years of colonialism, slavery, and the plantation system. The Empire and the local oligarchy struck back. Mr Manley’s experiment was crippled by capital flight, shrinking export revenues, and International Monetary Fund (IMF)-mandated austerity. By the end of 1980, he had been voted out of office. It was back to business as usual.
In the governance of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas allegations against both political parties of Corruption, lack of transparency, and accountability are concerns everywhere the Westminster System is used today.
. To summarize these concerns:
- First, corruption – the plunder of state resources by politicians and their cronies.
- Second, the insidious and largely invisible influence of money in politics and in the determination of state policy. (Lack of transparency and accountability;
- Third, the problem of unchecked executive power.
- Fourth, emasculation of the legislative branch.
- Fifth, weakness or non-existence of avenues for citizen participation in governance. (Participation is reduced to voting at five-yearly intervals.)
- And sixth, weakness of local government.
I will not try your patience by reciting a whole lot of facts and figures. A convenient way to sum up the situation is to report on our regions, globally, on a number of indicators.
- Debt burden – more than twice that of Latin America;
- Migration rates – between two-thirds and 90 per cent of the annual output of skilled manpower;
- Economic dependence on remittances – fastest growing source of foreign currency earnings, greater than [Overseas Development Assistance] and [Foreign Direct Investment]; ;
- Murder rates – over 30 per 100,000 and highest of all the regions in the world;
On a brighter side, we do have the highest per capita production in the world of medal-winning athletes. And we have probably the highest per capita production of carnivals.
In analyzing the effects of these phenomena, it is customary to compartmentalize.
A lot of money will be needed .You are not going to find the money domestically, when the country is already heavily indebted. Neither can you borrow abroad commercially, for you are no longer creditworthy. And this comes about because the IMF has been preparing The Commonwealth of The Bahamas for compliance under World Trade Organization rules. When you can no longer service the debt, you have no recourse but run to the IMF. That means budget cuts; further depletion of resources to fight crime, adapt to climate change, build up your human and physical capital, and pay your teachers and policemen adequately. More professionals leave. You are into IMF trusteeship.
Make no mistake about it. Our Bahamas is in the throes of the greatest crisis since independence. The specter of evolving into a failed society is no longer a subject of imagination. How our country will crawl out of this vicious vortex of persistent low growth, crippling debt, huge fiscal deficits and high unemployment, no diversification of the economy, is the single most important question facing us at this time.
Our beloved Bahamas is in a state of crisis … Our post-colonial state has collapsed … . (There is) is a feeling of lost hope … This is not what our forefathers fought and died for, a state of crisis; manifesting itself in various forms. The system of governance itself has failed. Our post-colonial state has collapsed the country seems to be spiraling out of control, degenerating into barbarism. This is not what our forefathers fought and died for … . They did not fight to create a society based on individualism. They did not fight for self-governance so that some politicians can pillage and plunder the treasury, enriching themselves. They certainly did not fight to build a country where party financiers reign supreme. This is the kind of country we see being constructed.’
Economic realities have turned national sovereignty into an illusion; a legal formality that is increasingly devoid of substance. We have not managed our sovereignty well and the first requirement of sovereignty is the ability to manage your own affairs and pay your way in the world and we haven’t done that well.
Can the national project be rescued? What is the meaning of sovereignty to countries like ours in the new global order? And where does the Westminster system fit into all of this?
Terms such as Food sovereignty. Energy independence. The endogenous capacity to manage and adapt to climate change. The capacity to secure your borders and your people. The ability to speak knowledgeably and convincingly in global fora; and to be taken seriously.
Above all, sovereignty means the capacity of a society and its citizens to think for themselves. It begins in the mind.
And what about the Westminster system? Here again, there is the issue of form vs. substance. We are searching for a theory and practice of true democracy that break free from the shackles of Westminsterism. We need forms of political participation, informed citizen engagement with the urgent issues of survival and with the kind of society that we wish to create. Forms that promote the building of social consensus across the cleavages of class, color, ethnicity, gender, and political tribalism.
The colonial system has existed in the Bahamas for 300 years, and is still intact. Either the colonial system must go, or democracy must go. The two cannot co-exist. The colonial system, in its essence, is intact; and democracy has been degraded. NOTHING HAS CHANGED, ONLY THE PARTICIPANTS. I would not be so bold as to make predictions for the next 50 years. I would only say that we have a lot of work to do, that the challenges are great, but exciting, and that the possibilities are endless.
But we of this new Joshua generation possess more creativity, ingenuity, tech-savvy, and the skill set in every sector of our society, more so than any time in our nation’s history, prior to and after independence.
I INVITE YOU TO COME ALONG WITH US ON THIS JOURNEY TO BUILD A NEW AND BETTER BAHAMAS, FOR THE TIME IS NOW.
BE THE VOICE OF CHANGE AND THE PARADIGM OF PROGRESS
WE ARE THERE FORE MOVING, FORWARD, UPWARD, ONWARD, TOGETHER ON A PATH TO A PURITY OF PURPOSE.