Mr. Speaker Sir, First and foremost let me give thanks to Almighty God who has sustained me thus far and then to the good people of the great Constituency of Kennedy, who have sent me to this place to be their duly elected activist and advocate in this our Nation’s Parliament.
We in Kennedy continue on our path of community fellowship and community building. We are cognizant that even though these are not the best of times, that these are certainly not the worst of times and any manner of comparison reveals the axiomatic nature of that commentary.
For indeed Mr. Speaker Sir, the book of Ecclesiastes is right when the author pronounced that “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven, A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to tear and a time to mend.”
The Rastafarians say “the world is a cycle!”. This is our period for sacrifice and fortitude in this cycle. And Mr. Speaker Sir, I am certain that when weighed in the balance during this our period of sacrifice and fortitude, Bahamiankind shall not be found wanting.
Through the annals of history leaders have been called upon to make difficult choices. Whether it was Degaul or Kennedy rallying their respective peoples on, the familiar refrain of the philosopher can still be heard reverberating through the ages, that “to Govern is to choose, to be unable to choose is to be unable to govern.” This Free National Movement Government is a government that makes the right choices for the people of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. We make choices which may not be popular everyday, but are in the best interest of the Bahamian people undoubtedly.
That is why Mr. Speaker Sir, all objective observers of this particular budgetary exercise have been at pains to utter and declare their overwhelming support for this budget as “a necessity in this recovering economy”.
Mr. Speaker Sir, every Bahamian knows that James Smith, the current Chairman of CFAL was the foremost Architect of the Perry Christie’s economic policy from May, 2002 to May, 2007. Mr. Smith’s economic credentials are impeccable and unimpeachable. PLP’s from Inagua in the South to Grand Bahama in the North have heralded his genius in budgetary exercise after budgetary exercise since 2002. After the Progressive Liberal Party’s defeat in 2007, “the word often came down” to the general public that the Progressive Liberal Party was supporting sentiments expressed by former Minister Smith.
Now let us be clear Mr. Speaker Sir, I personally have a great deal of respect and admiration for James Smith whom I’ve known personally and professionally for a period in excess of fifteen (15) years. Amongst his numerous credentials are years of long service as a former Governor of the Central Bank of The Bahamas and a successful period as Ambassador for Trade and Investments. The Bahama Journal correctly classifies him as a financial expert. That is why I was astonished when the party opposite did not embrace Mr. Smith’s comments on this budgetary exercise with its usual eagerness and zeal.
I however, in this much would wish to adopt Mr. Smith’s arguments when he recently opined, “that both the public and private sectors need to appreciate that for the next few months, maybe even another year, it will be tough and everyone needs to tighten their belts. I think the budget reflected that tone.”
Fidelity Bank Bahamas Limited’s President Gregory Bethel, another noted, respected and revered member of the Bahamian financial community echoed Mr. Smith’s sentiments when they both opined that, “these are the right moves to get the country’s economy back on tract.”
Mr. Bethel went on to say “the Prime Minister has set the tone. He said that this is a time for sacrifice, service and reform and the Bahamian people must understand that it is not business as usual. Everybody in our society must share in the sacrifice, share in the pain and share in the reform”.
Mr. Speaker Sir, this is our age, indeed our time, indeed our call to sacrifice for our Country.
The Rt. Honourable Prime Minister so correctly and aptly put it in the introduction of his Budget Communication that Leaders must fully assess the reality of the circumstances in which they find themselves and Leaders who run from the difficult decisions only defer and double them for future generations.
Yes Mr. Speaker Sir after several decades of plenty The Bahamas has now come face to face with what Jacob and his sons endured as the several years of plenty gave way to the several years of less.
This is the cycle of world economics and it is a crisis which brings out Leadership and ingenuity.
The Right Honourable David Cameron the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has utilized a harsh economic environmental in the U.K. to explain to the British people why his Government has to impose a similar austere Budget and Mr. Cameron said this was the opportunity to explain to the people the purpose behind the pain. Because if the Members opposite call this a budget of pain, it must be characterized as pain for a noble cause. That cause being the continued viability of the nation.
But the Members Opposite deliberately missed that.
Mr. Speaker Sir we are all in this thing together. If you live in the Bahamas if you call yourself a Bahamian then you ought to know that The Bahamas your country cannot stop the world and get off. Please don’t sit at home non chalant when you see and hear on CNN how many auto factory workers have been laid off in the USA and think that President Obama just woke up one morning and decided to take their jobs. That is not true. Similarily when you hear about the cost cutting measures in The Bahamas do not be duped into believing that Prime Minister Ingraham does not care about you.
We are already cognizant that no man is an island. We are all a part of the whole. When the United States sneezes from a cold we have to rub down in Buckleys White Rub to prevent bronchitis. To mislead the people into thinking that this belt tightening Budget is a result of the FNM Governments inefficiency or incompetence is an insult to the people’s intelligence.
We have a duty as Leaders as the Rt. Honourable Prime Minister so nobly put it “not to avoid the difficult decisions”. We can’t pass these difficulties on to Bahamian generations yet unborn. It is now our watch and together as one Bahamian People we have to fix it.
The FNM Government did not cause the recent problems on Wall Street.
The FNM Government did not dismantle Lehman Brothers.
The FNM Government did not create the debate which occurred in the sub prime mortgage industry in the US.
The FNM Government did not drive up Oil prices to unprecedented levels in 2008 and 2009.
The FNM Government did not cook the books of leading US banking institutions.
The FNM Government did not defraud the SEC.
Mr. Speaker Sir, these are the easily verifiable facts but some persons true to their form, would prefer not to lead but to mislead and misguide and misinform.
The current economic crisis in which we like other countries in this region are plunged, can best be resolved and remedied where there is a concillatory atmosphere of understanding and cooperation of all concerned.
But if we create rancour and doubt and self pity and make people feel that someone did something to them and we know this not to be true, then we are guilty of the sin of omission and falsehood and are not worthy to be called Leaders of the people.
Mr. Speaker Sir, when we can rise above partisan politics especially in times of National crisis and danger, we shall together lift our country and our people to greater heights.
I verily believe and I am assured by some of the younger, more astute and reasoned persons drawn from the Side Opposite that they too long for a day when we can have this conversation.
Look around Mr. Speaker Sir at the faces of the persons in this place who once called the Side Opposite home. Look at how relaxed, happy and energetic we are. All fired up and ready to work for the Bahamian People.
Mr. Speaker Sir, as Leaders we have to prepare the Bahamas for the future. This often calls for change. A change from the old way of doing things which requires that we think outside of the box.
Time brings with her new ways at looking at things and realignment of priorities.
Twenty five years ago the Privy Council saw capitol punishment in the strict black and white lettering of the law, and certain human rights argument which now hold sway from Appellants could not be taken into account.
100 years ago the US Supreme Court upheld Separate but Equal. Today a black man occupies the Oval Office.
In our most developed fellow Commonwealth country in the north Canada, capital punishment has been abolished.
We do not have the luxury of cherry picking the issues and their solutions for the people of The Bahamas. Much energy has been generated by a constant and present concern in the country on the way forward in lotteries and Bahamians gambling.
As you know the current statutory law makes certain unregulated lotteries illegal.
It has become most necessary to revisit this position as the Bahamian People seem to be saying to us that they want the right to game.
To do so would generate much revenue for the Government and bring regulation to an industry on line with our sister Caribbean territories.
As has long been the cultural experience in the region and indeed The Bahamas special interest groups always seem to want to speak for the people. On the one hand we have organizations formed to promote the legalization of gaming and lotteries for Bahamians and on the other hand we have voices from the organized Christian faiths and denomination in our Country.
Part of our heritage of long ago allowed for the leaders of organizations and groups and communities to speak for all of the people. It is a part of the tribal experience of the chief and his people. It is just as irrelevant today as the concept of the divine rights of Kings but unfortunately we in The Bahamas are having a difficult time accepting the universal democratic function of one man one vote and not one organization and one spokesman for all the people.
Some groups have a history of being opposed to gambling and when they utter the word one can sense the pre Victorian horror in their utterances.
Time was long ago in this place when a famous churchman sat as Minister of Finance. His governing Party had decided to expand Casino Gambling in The Bahamas. His church was outraged. The Minister stood up in this place and choose his Church over his political responsibility as a Cabinet Minister.
“There is a path that honourable men must take, “he said. …The honourable gentleman resigned his Cabinet portfolio and in the subsequent general election his Party did not nominate him and he ran and lost his seat in what was then the South Beach Constituency.
My research shows me that at no time ever did the leaders of that Church mount a lobby of their followers to support the candidacy of this Honourable Gentleman in the general election.
Mr. Speaker Sir, the record will show that they abandoned him and quickly realigned themselves with the same political party which he had abandoned on their behalf.
Mr. Speaker Sir to complicate this issue many leading Churchman of the day then accepted positions of significance from the same political party which had expanded casino gambling. These Princes and Princessess now piously sat as Secretary Generals and Parliamentarians in the political organization which had ushered in the very same expansion, which they previously had vociferously argued against. This is notwithstanding the earlier cry that said institution would “find it difficult to support any government that utilizes gambling as a source of national income.
And so the question begs answer; what did they do for the Prince of their Church, Carlton Elisha Francis who sided with his Church on the gambling issue and gave up his Cabinet Portfolio. Absolutely nothing. the man could not even get the pastorship of a recognizable Church in this denomination.
Now we come to this place in history and the people of the Bahamas ought to pay close attention so the pain and despair visited upon modern day heroes like Carlton Francis are not allowed to be played out again in disparate political games.
Gone forever are the days when special interests groups and persons should hold sway and control over the direction of the lives of our people. The People, simply put Mr. Speaker Sir have an inalienable right to choose for themselves.
It is a God given right. God gave that right; even when he knew the people would choose Barrabas over his only begotten Son. It is a right that ought always be respected because it is a God given right free choice. Choose Ye this day whom you will serve.
The Sanhedrin or rulers of the Jewish faith agreed with the rulers of Rome on the fate of Our Lord.
I suppose Mr. Speaker Sir, that God set down these things in his ancient message handed down to us from the beginning of creation, so that we may know and forever record that while prelates and rulers of Churches should always have their say, the people are called upon to account for themselves. Indeed this was an overwhelming theme which guided the early reformers of the church.
We must in our enlightened and deepening democracy allow diverse schools of thought to contend. We must at the same time allow it to always remain just that! A National Debate. The people must be the final adjudicators.
In my beloved Anglican Church my Lord Bishop recently issued a pastoral letter dated the 12th day of May 2010 opposing the Government legalizing lotteries, or as it is co locally referred to as “the numbers business” for Bahamians.
His Lordship quoted Edward Rodgers from the new dictionary of Christian ethics where Mr. Rodgers opined “A small stake in a raffle for a worthy cost conflicts no conceivable hardship on the purchaser of the ticket and is motivated more by generous desire to help than anticipatory greed” His Lordship explained that this was the basis that the 108th session of the Anglican Diocese in Synod meeting in 2008 approved the allowance of raffles in the Anglican Communion as a means of fund raising.
His Lordship further opined that the numbers business is a completely different thing, and categorized his opposition as a matter of morality and of the moral responsibility which leaders have for those whom they lead.
His Grace the Roman Catholic Archbishop of The Bahamas, Patrick Pinder pointed out that “although the Church’s longstanding tradition that games of chance are not in themselves morally evil, “there is the tendency of human nature to go to excess and to extremes. Thus what may be harmless in the beginning can, without proper restraints become quite harmful later on. The wisdom of the law as it now stands seems to understand this reality”.
“The law as it now stands,” said the Archbishop, “appears intended to exercise an abundance of necessary caution for the good of individuals and the community as a whole”.
“Permitting the harmless use of games of chance while protecting against their harmful excess is indeed the value which the current law appears to protect and promote.”
Mr. Speaker Sir, I whole heartily and firmly agree with the editor of the Nassau Guardian who wrote “there are important religious-based ethical values and moral wisdom relative to gambling in general and legalizing lotteries, specifically. Some of these have been articulated by the heads of the Anglican and Roman Catholic communities and others”.
However I also agree with the learned editor when she writes “Political leaders should not be timid when making their own ethical claims about the public order and socially good aspects of regulating private lotteries.
For my part and speaking only for my part, I have no delicate moral objections to the exercise of free choice by any Bahamian citizen or otherwise in deciding to spend his discretionary income on numbers.
My views are not as harsh as Arthur Hanna’s were, as described in Michael Crighton’s, Pindling, The life and times of the first Prime Minister of The Bahamas”. Therein Dr. Crighton suggested that Mr. Hanna had a less than kind view of the opposition to casino gambling by the church when the issue was raised in the 1970’s.
However, I fail to see how a game of chance in which one wins an expensive car which is worth a substantial amount of money at the St. Annes School yard is any different from winning the five ball at one of our local number houses. But I am open to reason and someone might convince me, although I doubt it very seriously.
Reason does not permit me to distinguish between money won in a church bingo hall (as is practiced in many a Christian jurisdictions across the world) and money won via internet betting. Certainly, the principals of just treatment and equality must apply; for if the latter offends the principals of Christian Stewardship and promotes values that are harmful to the moral fiber of our communities and encourages a short cut approach to financial security rather than honesty, then certainly so must the former.
If they were writing today a Third Testament I would submit that the story of the late Reverend Carlton Francis would be a worthy candidate for a parable. Let he who has eyes to see … see and he who has ears to hear … hear.
The world will not stop and wait for The Bahamas to catch up.
The world will not settle up our national debt or make more efficient our balance of payments position.
The 15 cents spent out of every dollar earned by the Government to service our debt is not going to fly away. It must be paid away and we must in the words of the Master Himself render unto Caesar the things that are his.
Mr. Speaker Sir, in other developing countries they have found ways to direct monies earned from lotteries into Education and Health, the elderly and children.
Mr. Speaker Sir, I would venture to suggest that there are many more dangerous concerns that our society might wish to abolish or make illegal and that we might wish to apply our minds to. Certainly, and undoubtedly smoking is one of the most harmful activities known to mankind. There is incontrovertible scientific evidence of the damage it does not only to those who participate in the activity but also to innocent third parties who inhale smoke second hand. Indeed the evidence now suggests that second hand smoke, if not as dangerous might well be more dangerous to third parties than to smokers. Yet there is no huge outcry in our country about an activity that clearly has a major societal detriment. One major reason for this might well be that the people have settled on the fact that notwithstanding its harmful nature that smokers have free choice and the right to decide.
Perhaps the very words of the late Carlton Elisha Francis, a quote made famous by him in this place is a necessary reminder to all and sundry.
THEY WHO STAND ON THE SAND BANKS OF HISTORY TRYING TO HOLD BACK THE TIDE WILL BE SWEPT UP IN THE FLOOD GATES OF INSURRECTION.