National Development Party wishes to echo the voices of thousands of patriotic Bahamians throughout our beloved country, who today have been given reason to raise the alarm that our political system is badly broken and to demand that in the interests of transparency and accountability, steps be taken to fix our system of democracy now.
As Bahamians, we take great pride in exercising our democratic rights whenever we are called to vote for a candidate who we wish to work on behalf of our respective constituency; to represent the collective interests of constituents; and, most importantly, to work on behalf of the greater national good.
Historically, we have trusted the Candidates Committees and the Leaders of the current mainstream political parties to decide for us who they feel should be given the opportunity to run on behalf of their political parties once elections are called. This is one of the major failings of our current political system: Politicians, since the inception of Bahamian Party Politics, have been primarily jockeying for the opportunity to represent these two political parties, instead of fighting for the privilege to represent the Bahamian people.
Both the case of Mr. Kenyatta Gibson, one year ago, and the present saga of Mr. Malcolm Adderley clearly demonstrate two recurrent themes:
1. Significant numbers of constituents complaining of being thoroughly dissatisfied with the level of representation they received from both men;
2. Being most hurt by their resignations from their political parties, because the only reason they voted for them was because they ran on that party’s ticket.
The approach of voting for a candidate because that is who the party gave us, not who we wanted to vote for, does not force our politicians and political parties to respect the sensibilities and intelligence of the Bahamian electorate.
We must begin a new era in Bahamian politics where we force political parties to give constituents – not Candidates Committees or Party Leaders – the power to decide which candidate will be nominated to run in their respective constituencies in a system of electoral primaries. This is a critical means by which we can fix our broken political system.
All candidates who subscribe to the principles and ideals of a particular political party should be openly tested in debates and made to give the electorate as much information about their individual character, goals for the constituency and grasp of the national issues which matter most to the electorate. If men and women seek to represent the Bahamian people, let them earn this privilege by winning the majority of votes cast by constituents in pre-election primaries, rather than giving it to them as a political favor, to satisfy a selfish interest or because of family connections.
Our political system is broken because we live in a supposedly democratic country governed by a constitution that offers very little in the way of checks and balances on the vast powers of the Prime Minister. In our system of governance, the position of Prime Minister is not designed to promote democracy – it is rigged to produce dictatorship.
Today’s series of events give clear evidence that our constitution is extremely vulnerable to abuse, since it is our constitution that permits the Prime Minister to virtually act alone in selecting the Chief Justice and two of the other sitting members on the five-member Judicial and Legal Services Commission – the statutory body responsible for deciding who becomes a judge of the Supreme Court; it is the Prime Minister that has constitutional authority to decide whether a sitting Supreme Court Judge will be allowed to receive a two year extension beyond the mandatory retirement age of 65; and it is the Prime Minister who decides when an election is called. Such examples of Prime Ministerial power effectively give the Prime Minister control of all three branches of our government – the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary – to unfairly stack the deck in his favor.
It is because our constitution was not designed to protect the citizenry from the abuse of power by the Prime Minister, that Mr. Malcolm Adderley is today causing the public to question whether he used his elected office as a bargaining chip in this game of political poker that has been played between the FNM and the PLP since May of 2007. In this game of political poker, the Prime Minister has seen fit to deny sitting Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Albury, the opportunity to receive a two year extension, thereby creating a vacancy on the Supreme Court for Mr. Malcolm Adderley to fill. It must be noted that both Mr. Adderley and Justice Albury are both 64 years of age and in light of the fact that Justice Albury’s tenure as a justice of the Supreme Court is not known to contain any blemish, what justification does the Prime Minister have for denying the learned justice the same right to serve beyond the age of 65 that is being granted to Mr. Adderley?
The National Development Party also questions whether Justice Albury’s recent judgement against the Ingraham administration, where she ruled that the administration had breached the provisions of the constitution in facilitating the acquisition of private property on behalf of the Albany development company, in any way harmed her prospects for receiving a two year extension from
Mr. Ingraham? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Even if no such considerations were involved in this particular decision, the mere prospect that such a possibility even exists, tears away at the notion of an independent judiciary. In a country where the outcome of the most recent General Elections were on the verge of being decided by the Supreme Court, how can we continue to take the possibility of judicial interference so lightly?
We, the National Development Party, believe that if this country is to ever succeed in excluding ourselves from the list of countries that fall in the category of being Banana Republics, we must initiate and complete a process of constitutional reform that will, among other things, put in place a legitimate system of checks and balances to prevent the possibilities of abuse of power by any one branch of government over the others. Such constitutional reform will ensure that the current constitutional provisions which give the Prime Minister absolute power are appropriately reduced.
In a Banana Republic, it would be possible for a sitting member of the opposition to not be held to account for actions which appear consistent with a quid pro quo deal – or in other words in return for this, I will give you that. We, the members of the National Development Party, believe that Mr. Adderley – or any potential judge for that matter – should be made to account for any perceptions or possible evidence which suggest that they were promised a judgeship in return for carrying out certain actions.
Bahamians should be made aware that such a scenario played out in the United States just two days ago, where former Mississippi state judge, Bobby DeLaughter, entered federal prison to serve an 18 month sentence following a trial where he was charged with promising to rule in favor of a lawyer in a court matter, in exchange for that lawyer’s promise to use his high-powered connections to assist DeLaughter in securing a more prestigious judgeship.
If media reports are true that Mr. Adderley was disgruntled with the leadership of his party for not appointing him to a cabinet post in the previous administration, it is not unreasonable to conclude that his interest in serving the people of Elizabeth was far less important than his desire to hold a more high-profile government office. Mr. Adderley’s reputation for being an absentee member of parliament, support the view that being the representative for Elizabeth was just not glamorous enough for him. Could knowledge of his desire for a more high-profile post have caused others to entice him with offers for a judgeship in return for a political favor? If the answer to this questions is yes, Bahamians should be incensed that the reward for Mr. Adderley’s poor representation and political treachery is to be given a promotion, higher salary and additional pension all paid for by the already suffering Bahamian taxpayer. It is no wonder that Bahamians have become so cynical towards our politicians, when their actions clearly show that they are far less interested in serving the interests of the people, than they are in serving their own self-interests and satisfying their inflated egos.
The Candidates Committee and Party Leader of the PLP had heard all the cries and voices of protest of the constituents of Elizabeth who said that Mr. Adderley’s heart was not with the people of Elizabeth, but they chose to dismiss them and now the constituents whose cries and voices of protest were ignored in 2007 are today bellowing even louder in the ears of the PLP leadership saying: “I told ya so!”
This is yet further evidence that our system is broken and demonstrates not just the need for electoral primaries, but also the critical need for local government in New Providence to guard against the strong potential for neglect by sitting parliamentarians, who are more interested in being cabinet ministers than they are in performing the duties of local representatives. Longtime U.S. congressman, Thomas “Tip” O’Neil – considered a champion of the American working people – once said: “All politics is local”. No persons better understand the concerns, interests and needs of a community than the residents who live in that community.
This Malcolm Adderley episode proves how critical it is for us to empower the residents living within the various New Providence districts, whose primary desire and interest it is to look after the welfare, growth and development of these areas. This would allow parliamentarians to be free to focus on national posts such as cabinet portfolios and the serious business of drafting, amending and passing the laws which govern the affairs of our nation.
We the National Development Party, say to Mr. Ingraham, it is high time that your administration get busy with honoring your 2007 campaign promise to bring local government to New Providence, instead of busying yourselves with playing games of political poker.
Fellow Bahamians, in a country gripped by the worst economic crisis in its history and where it is illegal for Bahamians to gamble, it appears that Mr. Ingraham and the FNM are determined to put all their political chips on the table and go for broke.
We know that every attempt will be made to entice the people of Elizabeth using every conceivable means, including the resources of the government, and it will be Christmas once again in that constituency. However, the men and women of Elizabeth must not forget that Papa Claus and his crew of gift-giving elves are not the real reason for the season. Our political system and country is now more than ever broken and we are in need of the true Savior.
It is imperative then that the people of Elizabeth use their vote to send a very clear message on behalf of all Bahamians, one that will be heard loudly by all politicians and their political parties, that will go down as one of the game-changing moments in Bahamian political history; a message that says: “No temporary job, no rent payment, no light payment, no car payment, no ham and turkey, no government house, no Supreme Court judgeship, no amount of money, is enough to buy the vote of the people of this country – Elizabeth is not for sale!”.