EDITOR, The Tribune.
Most Bahamians would agree that the Bahamas has made significant progress since becoming an independent country in 1973. The past forty-nine years as a sovereign nation has tested the national unity and political leadership of the country. There have been remarkable achievements and many disappointments over this time, but the Westminster system that the Bahamas inherited from the British, together with a national will to respect the core values of the system, have brought relative stability to the Bahamian body politic.
I believe that as we approach the 50th anniversary of independence it is a good time to consider some modernisation to the social, political and economic fabric of the society. The political leaders of the country historically have been very conservative as it relates to the modernisation of the governance of the country. The legacy of Bahamian political leadership is that it has been late in making fundamental upgrades to the democracy. Whether it has been the institution of the Secret Ballot, repeal of plural voting, extension of the right to vote for women, ascension to independence or the grant of equality for women in the Constitution, the Bahamas has trailed behind the larger English-speaking countries in the Caribbean.
The reticence to introduce the requisite upgrades to the democracy demonstrates a selfish, slavish determination to retain the status quo. This fundamental conservatism saps vitality and innovation from the youth and from the entrepreneurial spirit, leaving in its wake a spirit of dependency and despondency.
But all is not lost! The urgency of digitalisation promises a Bahamas where greater ease of doing business will become a reality. In so greeting the digital age we should not be too callous to forget that a sizeable part of the population is not computer savvy and will continue to require the human touch.
The Bahamas seems headed to be a leader in the world of cryptocurrency exchange, especially in this part of the world. The Davis administration is wisely crafting the legislative and regulatory framework for the expansion of this fast-growing industry, and already FTX, a leader in the industry, is relocating its headquarters from Hong Kong to the Bahamas. There is general excitement and expectation that this new push by the government could lead to many additional crypto businesses relocating to the Bahamas. If this new policy direction is managed successfully, it could have the effect of finally beginning the process of diversifying the economy and adding a new revenue stream to the national finances.
In the same vein, the House recently passed the Climate Change and Carbon Market Initiatives Bill, 2022 to encourage and facilitate the sale and monetising of carbon credits. If successful, this piece of legislation should add extra revenues to the treasury while at the same time serve to protect our natural resources.
I wish to suggest a few additional areas where we can modernise the Bahamian patrimony.
• Let us begin with the Oath of Office. Officials are still required to swear allegiance to the Queen Her Heirs and Successors. In a sovereign Bahamas officials of the state should be quired to pledge their fidelity to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. All it takes is a repeal of/or amendment to the Official Oath Act. Let’s get it done.
• Transforming the Bahamas to a Republic is more complicated, but we need to start the process and make it happen. This will require an expansive education programme throughout the Bahamas followed by the legislative process culminating with a referendum. It needs to be done.
• There needs to be a modernisation of the legislative process. Complex legislation such as the Procurement Act, the Fiscal Responsibility Act and any legislation dealing with cryptocurrency should be sent to parliamentary committees after first reading of the Bill. These committees which could be joint committees to include Senators would bring in experts on the subject matter who would give deeper insights into the proposed legislation. The information gained from the committees would better inform the debate in Parliament. After the committee hearings individual Members of Parliament should then hold town hall meetings in their constituencies to better educate constituents.
• A fully functioning and modern democracy should involve having two levels of representation; at the community level and at the national level. It is now time to introduce community or local government to New Providence. This would necessitate dividing New Providence into four or five districts. Each district would have its own local Assembly elected from within the relevant district. The assembly members would debate and pass Resolutions on issues which impact the various communities within the district. This secondary parliamentary institution would offer communities greater involvement in how the community is managed and developed and would assist in developing leaders in the communities and at the national level.
• It is past time for the Bahamas to adopt the metric system in its weights and measurements. The Bahamas and the United States may be the only two countries in the world who have not officially adopted the metric system. Most Bahamians have no recognition or appreciation of size, distance or other measurements when these are discussed globally. The rest of the world has been using the metric system since 1790. Come on man it’s the 21st century!
The Bahamas holds tremendous potential and is poised for growth in its social, economic and cultural development. That potential needs to be harnessed and energised. Modernising key areas of the democracy and economy is one way to start the process. There are many other areas that cry out for modernisation such as a modern tax regime, a more modern education system and the road traffic laws that I did not have time to explore in this letter. The number of students choosing not to return home after completing tertiary education abroad needs to be addressed.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of independence, modernisation of the democracy and economy could very well be the vehicle to slow down this brain drain.