“The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.”
– Charles de Montesquieu
The incompetence and venality of the government is a constant drip from the lips of the citizenry of any country, and The Bahamas is no different than any other country.
We bemoan whatever government holds the seat of power at the time for their lack of vision and the ways in which they continue to make life more difficult for “we the people.” We talk amongst ourselves of how worthless they are and how many promises they have broken or have yet to keep.
And it drones on.
We are a country of pundits and political experts but we enjoy a good talk all the while nothing ever comes of all the expertise we share with our friends and opponents. But it was a good show after all.
Yet here we are.
We face, as a country, a crime problem that, while we are told ‘the numbers are down’, continues at an alarming rate. We have an out of control illegal immigrant problem that spans decades that has faced practically no opposition from multiple government administrations. We have an economy that is slowing from external and internal pressures and the fallout has left many seeking jobs while others have given up.
We have myriad issues and we have so few answers from politicians on these issues. Some issues are never addressed and others get cursory mentions as if the solution is on its way only to never arrive.
While we seek answers we never press the right persons. We are far more comfortable reading or watching the news and discussing our disgust over whatever failures have happened with our friends and co-workers.
In short our apathy has deprived us of the government we believe we deserve.
Our lack of addressing our representatives and demanding their accountability to “we the people” is why we are where we are today. As the Bible tells “We have not because we ask not.” Likewise we lack a government that is responsive and accountable to the people because we have not required them to be.
Now 40 years into Independence I see growth in us as a people and I have some hope for the future as we are now broader in our thinking; however, we are far from where we could be. We are beginning to find ourselves as Bahamians but we are still seeking our voice.
Though Franklin D. Roosevelt was a president in a different style of democracy his words still ring true:
“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
While we tend to set these men and women on pedestals above the citizenry we must temper that with the idea that those elected by us are sent to the House of Assembly to do our will. They are our employees at the end of the day and are subject to us.
I get the feeling that government does not recognize the fact that they are public servants and honestly they get that feeling from us. We have given them power to act on our behalf and as they act without the requirements of transparency and accountability it is no wonder that many end up serving themselves and the rich and powerful while consistently neglecting the needs of those who elect them.
When we decry the actions or lack of activity of our members of parliament we ought to be scolding ourselves. If it were not for the lack of accountability that we demand they might have done something for those they were elected to represent.
So we are upset with government? So what? Why should they care when come next election they will be reelected anyway (at least a good many will) and many were not elected for their ability to do anything and many have no record to run on; but they are reelected anyway.
Much of our problem as the electorate is that we are apathetic. We are upset but one would question if we cared enough to do something about it. Just like the illegal immigrant issue stirs a lot of emotion but nothing is ever done.
Former Prime Minister Sir Lynden Oscar Pindling said once that if Bahamians are “not prepared to fight for your country you don’t deserve to have it.” Today we have a country that is progressing toward turmoil and unless we lose our complacency and stand up for our country we will likely have very little left worth fighting for.
So how do we move from turmoil and complacency to government accountability and national progress?
We must be willing to seek information – we need to seek facts about our country and the issues we face – and armed with truth speak to, call, email and write letters to our representatives and tell them what you expect from them. Share your thoughts on local and national issues. Request town meetings to regularly allow your voice to be heard.
Demonstrations and protests are necessary for representatives who are not listening. We need our representatives to know we demand their attention and that we require them to follow the will of the ones who elected them.
In the end the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt are again useful:
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
The cries of the crowds of people who make up this country must be tempered with wisdom and as the electorate vote and seek accountability we must seek to be well informed and make sensible demands of government.
The beginning of the journey must begin with a demand for accountability and transparency and this road starts with the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The FOIA was passed by the previous administration but not enacted. This administration has taken it off the table promising to adjust it and enact it before their term is done.
This crucial legislation must be demanded by all of us. The Prime Minister has alleged that he wants to deepen democracy yet while many pieces of legislation and numerous contracts make their way through the House of Assembly and on to the Senate we – who these acts and deals are signed on behalf of – have no idea what is being done in our name and where our hard earned money is spent.
FOIA is paramount to a free and democratic society and if the government is as corruption free as they claim to be it should be no problem for them to enact this legislation at their next sitting! We must demand it if we demand a corruption free government.
Beyond this and other relative legislation for the transparency and accountability of our public servants is the need for education reform. As quoted by President Roosevelt – “The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” The need for education is also vital to national progress.
An educated electorate is less susceptible to manipulative politicians and is more open to being an active cog in not only the democracy of a nation but the progress of the nation as a whole.
Let us seek to take those first steps toward building a better nation by demanding our government enact the FOIA and even demonstrating publicly if they do not get it done in a timely manner.
We are the ones who can save our nation and move our country in the right direction toward a common loftier goal!