May I ask you at this time to remember our fallen member of the Fox Hill Festival Committee, Mrs. Paula Tynes and our late friends and brothers Frank Edgecombe, William Rahming, Charles Johnson and Eric Wilmott. May they rest in peace.
Today we mark the 181st anniversary of the emancipation of the slave trade in the British Empire. In 1834 when this act came into force, The Bahamas or the Bahama Islands as they were then known were part of the British Empire. The slave masters received compensation for their slaves in The Bahamas from the imperial parliament. The slaves got not a penny. Today we are still fighting the issue of reparations for the labour which was given up for free and without their permission.
The Constitution of The Bahamas tells us today that no man shall be a slave. That is absolutely prohibited, but words in a constitution do not stop slavery. Today we fight modern slavery in that many women, children and foreign workers are subject to the deprivation of their liberty by threats and by physical abuse in many places around the world. That is why we have a Trafficking In Persons law (TIP), to be sure that we have the tools in a modern society to fight this new scourge. We must be ever on the lookout for it.
George Mackey, my late predecessor, used to say that this day was perhaps the most important start of the journey toward the independence of The Bahamas. The next most important date he believed on the calendar was that of Majority Rule Day, now a public holiday celebrated on the 10th of January each year.
The two dates 137 years apart are significant in that they both were an affirmation that the humanity of the African man and woman and their families were indeed part of the human family in this territory. It has been a long journey and hard struggle.
In between there were many mileposts: the Burma Road Riots of 1942; the formation of the Progressive Liberal Party in 1953; the Citizens Committee and their fight to allow the first film of Sidney Poitier to be shown in The Bahamas in 1950; the General Election of 1956 that saw the first PLP representatives elected to office; the 1958 General Strike; the 1962 exercise by women for the first time to vote; Black Tuesday on the 27th April 1965 when the mace was thrown out of the window by Sir Lynden Pindling and then Majority Rule Day itself on10th January 1967. In 1973, we accomplished independence.
Her Excellency Dame Marguerite Pindling Governor General joins the religious and community leaders of Fox Hill for a group photo during the Emancipation Day Service held on Monday 3rd August on the Fox Hill Parade grounds. Standing to her left is the member for Fox Hill the Hon. Fred Mitchell.
Today the struggle continues.
We tell this story because it is important for us to remember. It is also important for us to know the history. We have to be able to tell it to our children.
For example, we need to demythologize the story that the news got to Fox Hill late about freedom of the slaves. Nothing infuriated the late Eric Wilmott, one of the former Chairs and a founder of this modern version of Emancipation Day than to hear that fact. It is simply not true.
This festival was started by Eric Wilmot and the late Lionel Davis in order to revive the tradition which had been tied to Fox Hill since Emancipation – that of marking the occasion with special songs and celebrations up here on this parade. In fact, the tradition of Fox Hill day can be found as early as the 1880s in the newspaper records of The Bahamas.
So I welcome you Governor General to this tradition.
We tell this story and the history of our country’s struggle not to have people bound by history but so that our children and each generation will know it when they see it.
The fact is the attempt to keep us bondsmen and slaves does not and has not stopped. It comes in new guises. We fight a struggle every day to prevent us from returning to that day.
Last week, there was the most extraordinary intervention in the press where an investor in our country dared to attack the Prime Minister directly, contradict him, accuse him of telling an untruth and sought to challenge the leader of our country on the political grounds. This is patently offensive.
This is the third time that I have addressed this issue. Not only is it offensive, it is entirely improper and on the face of it is incompatible with the status of someone who is not a Bahamian citizen.
It is part of a pattern of behavior for which there are increasing complaints by Bahamian citizens every week to the Minister for Immigration about abusive language by those who are economic guests in our country against Bahamians. They talk down to Bahamians. They criticize the politics of the country. They threaten to corrupt immigration officials to prevent their removal from The Bahamas. Countless times over the past years, I have referred to the Department of Labour investigations into this kind of abusive language and behavior toward Bahamians. It is like people want to invite us out of our own country; that the privilege which has been extended to them to work and live here has been abused
It is therefore no surprise then that an investor – because he has the word billionaire behind his name – would think, would have the temerity to believe that he can challenge the leader of our country on political grounds.
Imagine now, these work permit holders on their various jobs in The Bahamas, seeing this and hearing this; they must think well if one of their own (a work permit holder, permanent resident etc.) can attack the leader of the country without consequences, it will be open season on every Bahamian employee in these establishments.
The Prime Minister and the people of The Bahamas do not have to ask what the role of the Immigration Minister is where such abuse occurs. The answer is obvious and impatient of debate.
The late Clarence A. Bain used to say: we must not be weak kneed apologetic Negros.
This cannot stand.
It is at the very least important for an invitation to be extended to that individual to consider making the appropriate steps to live elsewhere if he does not wish to conform to the mores of conduct of those who are economic guests in our country.
There is a song which is often sung in the churches in Fox Hill and when the Prime Minister comes to visit on Tuesday next I wish the churches in Fox Hill to sing for us: “The Lord will make a way somehow”
I say that because we are all concerned about Baha Mar. It is an important project but money does not buy our silence and our subservience.
I was also offended by the letter which the developer wrote to the employees in which he seems to suggest that this is all the government’s fault, while addressing the employees of Baha Mar as “Baha Mar citizens”.
Let me get this straight. There are only citizens of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. That is the country to which we owe loyalty. Baha Mar is a commercial entity, designed purely for the profit of the developer. The developer cannot buy the young people of The Bahamas as it is seeking to do, and they should not succumb to it.
For 42 years, our children and we have been singing those words by Timothy Gibson: “pledge to excel”. Pledge to excel means that no matter what the exigency, we lift up our heads to the rising sun. We stand up for our country.
Yes the times will be tough, but if you look at this as a straight out commercial proposition – it works like this. The provisional liquidator who if appointed will sit in the shoes of the developer and the same deal that the developer refused to accept can be worked out by the provisional liquidator if he or she so decides and the entity goes on seamlessly. Do not let the developer frighten you into thinking that this is anything more complicated than that.
I received a call just around Independence Day from Pastor Mario Moxey who pastors the Bahamas Harvest Church in my constituency. He wanted to say to me that he was praying for us, the government, as we charted the course at this time with the Baha Mar issue. He said he wanted me to pass that on to the rest of the Cabinet, that we were doing what was best for our country at a difficult time.
I was gratified to hear that message. I hope it resonates in the country. This is not a partisan message. That is a message of national importance.
There is so much doom and gloom on social media and in the press about this matter with Baha Mar. People seem on the verge of despair. I assure you that it does not rise to that. People, we need to get a grip on ourselves.
In the first instance this is at one level a simple commercial transaction, just like any of us who have to make mortgage payments and default on those payments. If you default on the payments and you cannot make arrangements for the loan to be repaid, the Bank will exercise its right of foreclosure. That is all this is. The developer for the second time in this development is unable to pay its bills. The whole matter will go away if the developer will pay its bills to the Bank.
The problem is when one looks at the wider issue, they get frightened: that of the fate of 2,500 young Bahamian employees, the knock on effects of a failure of this project for The Bahamas generally and the fact that Government entities are owed in excess of 100 million dollars from this developer.
Further, the country’s reputation as a destination is at risk if the matter is not quickly brought under control. It is not a matter that can be left to the market to sort out. People look to the government to sort it out, and the government has no choice but to step up to the plate and solve this issue. I have no doubt that it will be solved.
The government has pledged that the development will be completed and our people will be put to work. That is our only interest. I congratulate the team leading the fight – our Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson and Senior Policy Advisor Sir Baltron Bethel.
I want to repeat this story here because it is necessary to dispel some myths about what independence for The Bahamas meant. It did not mean that all would go well. It simply meant that we would be the masters of our own fate.
I have told this story to Bahamans in Delray Beach, in Miami and in Exuma at our independence celebrations in those places: when the British packed up and left, they gave us a gift at independence, not operating money because we were paying our way all along. They built the police college for the sum of 800,000 dollars and that was their gift to us after 300 years and they said to do well for yourselves.
The people of The Bahamas have carried our country this year now for 42 years. We will carry it for many more years to come.
Here is what I told the people of Exuma when I spoke to them on 8th July:
Today [long after the British have gone] we have a thriving country with challenges to be sure but we have a high level of income and a generally healthy and well educated population and we chart our own course.
Today I sat in the Barber shop of Roosevelt McKenzie getting a haircut.
As people sat you could make certain general observations: people were confident; one of the leaders of the country could walk into a barber shop and not be hassled or afraid for security reasons; the children mixed with the adults without fear.
(I had the same feeling this morning as I mixed with the crowd at Junkanoo. Young boys and girls mixing with adults and they had not a care in the world)
I asked the barber in Exuma whether or not the little boys who came in who were all with bare feet whether this was bare feet because they had no shoes or barefoot by choice. He said they simply liked to run about without their shoes.
One youngster pushed his head into the shop and with an open smile, said to an adult sitting waiting for a trim: when you’re finished can I go with you. The man replied ‘of course but remember I am going home because I have work to do.’ The boy broke out into smile. Teeth well- formed healthy. Feet healthy. No issues. No malformed bones. No polio to worry about.
That is completely different from The Bahamas into which I was born. When I was a youngster in school we were given a cup of milk every day to guard against calcium deficiency. Polio vaccinations were the order of the day. And everyone got a small pox vaccination with a scratch on your side arm. Most people of my generation have the scar to show for it. Today much of that has disappeared.
You shouldn’t make too much out of just sitting in a barber shop but the general observation is of a healthy confident population—from the youngest to the oldest.
That is the confidence that we want to continue to build. I was struck when I went to the supermarket right next door and I was helped to find apples by a little girl who said her name was Jessica. Jessica was really confident herself and when she took me to the place, she asked if that was all I was looking for. And to her young male friend as I was leaving she asked if he knew who I was. She didn’t look to be more than ten.
I return then to today.
This juncture with Baha Mar challenges our sovereignty, our emancipation, in this respect, you cannot have some rich man who thinks that because he has money he can buy influence in our country, speak to our leaders in any which way or fashion and then seek to manipulate our young people to work against us.
The office of the Prime Minister is just that – the Office of the Prime Minister – not Perry Christie but the Office. It deserves respect. One day many a man or woman hopes to sit in that office, from the Leader of the Opposition, to Ministers like myself, to the little boys and girls running around the Sandilands Primary School grounds. If we allow it to be denigrated and not say a single word, we betray all that our forefathers and foremothers fought for. I believe the Prime Minister and I support what he is doing. I do not believe the developer. I do not support what he is doing. The Prime Minister is doing what is best for The Bahamas.
So today we gather on the Fox Hill Parade. We gather here to remember that we are a free people. We are the masters of our destiny. We are a small country. When something goes wrong, it is only we ourselves and God upon whom to depend. No America, no Britain, just the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, we ourselves. The Lord will make a way somehow.
We did not come this far over 42 years to let some fellow come into our country and talk us any kind of how. No sir not here and not now. Let the word be clear then: let him cease and desist. It is the wiser course of action. The old Bahamian proverb says: if you don’t hear you will feel.
The Immigration Act reminds us in Section 81 1 d of the Immigration Act that permission to live can be revoked where an individual:
“(d) has so conducted himself that in the opinion of the Board it is not in the public interest that he should continue to enjoy the privileges conferred by the certificate”.
I thank you all. I wish you all a Happy and safe Emancipation Day Holiday.