The unravelling of Dr Arthur Porter’s life didn’t begin in the Bahamas. But it could be said to have ended here - more or less.
Porter is a leading cancer specialist. He became an international lobbyist, and an advisor to Bahamian, American, Canadian and African political leaders. His business dealings stretched across continents, and heads of state were his colleagues and friends,
He now resides in a Panamanian jail, fighting lung cancer as well as extradition to Canada on charges that he arranged $22.5 million in kickbacks, paid to Bahamian shell companies, during construction of a $1.3 billion hospital in Montreal.
Before his world collapsed three years ago, Porter had been the jet-setting chairman of the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee. He had served on a US presidential healthcare commission, had been appointed chairman of the Bahamas Stem Cell Task Force, and was a goodwill ambassador for Sierra Leone, the country of his birth.
“We don’t make choices in politics - others make them for us.” — Earl Deveaux
With less than eight months to go before the next British general election, the opposition Labour Party appears to be having buyer’s remorse over its choice of leader. In fact, there are some interesting parallels with the political situation here.
After Labour’s 2010 loss, the defeated prime minister - Gordon Brown - resigned as party leader and sank from view (although he continues to represent his Scottish constituency). Hubert Ingraham did the same here in 2012, but he also quit parliament, watching as his formerly safe Abaco seat was captured by the PLP in a bye-election.
A few months after the 2010 defeat, 40-year-old Ed Milliband (a former energy secretary) was elected leader of the Labour Party over his older brother David (a former foreign secretary). But the younger Milliband has been unable to galvanise his party.
Critics say he lacks style and authority, despite four years in the job. "What is the vision? What are the values? And more importantly, [what is] the narrative?,” asked one party leader recently. "Because quite frankly, the Tories have a narrative and we don’t."
As a writer in the Economist Magazine put it: "there is very little love for the government but perhaps even less enthusiasm for the alternative. And yet, there is a deep underlying disgruntlement with politics and a broad foreboding about the future.”
He could almost be talking about the Bahamas.
When the dispirited rump of the FNM gathered at the Holy Trinity Activities Centre on May 26 2012, they elected Dr Hubert Minnis, the former health minister, to replace Hubert Ingraham as party leader. He was unopposed. Loretta Butler-Turner was chosen as deputy, the late Charles Maynard as chairman, and Dr Duane Sands as deputy chairman.
The level of ignorance about our constitution is widespread and disturbing. The ignorance is particularly alarming on the part of those who pretend to know about such matters, including certain pastors who repeatedly demonstrate a stunning ignorance of constitutional issues as well as certain inveterate writers of letters to the editor, not to mention certain uninformed radio talk show hosts.
Despite such wilful ignorance, we are constitutionally a secular state. The preamble to the constitution has a Christian reference. But the preamble has no legal force and is not dispositive in deciding constitutional questions.
Chapter I Article 1 of the constitution does have legal force. It notes: “The Commonwealth of the Bahamas shall be a sovereign democratic State.” Not a theocracy, not a Christian state, but a democracy.
Ours is a secular state with a constitution dedicated to protecting certain fundamental rights and freedoms, not a theocratic state in which the doctrines of any religion or denomination reign supreme in adjudicating constitutional matters.
The constitution does not protect or advance any notion of Christendom, in which Christianity is the state religion, nor does it grant any religion the right to force its doctrines or force its will on other citizens.
My reading list recently has included two personal memoirs by individuals connected to the Bahamas.
Hermione Llewellyn was born to a wealthy Welsh family, which her father bankrupted by gambling when she was only 13. Leaving home in 1930, she got a job selling appliances, and later became a typist.
In 1937, she went to Australia to work as a secretary in the colonial administration (must not have been many typists in Oz back then), and met Daniel Knox, the 6th Earl of Ranfurly, who was an aide to the governor-general. They married two years later.
The Ranfurlys spent most of the Second World War in the Middle East and North Africa, where Dan - an officer in the 7th Armoured Division - was a prisoner of war for three years. In October 1953 he was appointed governor of the Bahamas for three years - on the aristocratic dole.
After he died in 1988, his wife published a memoir of their wartime experiences. And when she died in 2001 at the age of 87, their daughter, Caroline, published Hermione…the Continuing Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly, which covers the three years that her husband was governor in Nassau. Part proceeds from the book go to the Ranfurly Home for Children, which Hermione helped to establish in 1956.
As one reviewer noted, "The day-to-day concerns of domestic life and the constant visits of the same circle of friends can seem banal”. However, there is much in this book to interest the general Bahamian reader. It is a fascinating snapshot of life seen from the top of the social food chain just before everything changed.
Oddly, last week the head of government bared his soul in front of the press. It is important to note that in our system the prime minister is not the nation’s chief executive. In our parliamentary democracy the Constitution rests executive authority in the cabinet. Ours is not a US-styled presidential system.
Having abandoned his solemn promise to honor the results of the gambling referendum Perry Christie offered a confession of faith: “Faith tells me that there is no minister of religion in the world that can give me a passport to heaven and that ultimately that is where I want to be ... ”
We all want to go to heaven. But before the appointed hour, there is likely somewhere else that Christie wants to be after the next election, returned to the lofty heights of the prime ministership which has become his Cloud Nine.
Christie and God must sort out their affairs, with the Creator rendering final judgment upon him. Still, voters will render unto Caesar Christie their political judgment on his stewardship in office.
The gambling debate in the Bahamas has always been surreal - part of a weird fantasy world that is difficult to navigate with logic. And the weirdness continued in Parliament this week.
There are two zones to this strange world - one in which three or four hotel casinos operate legally as tourist amenities, and another populated by hundreds of illegal Numbers sellers catering to tens of thousands of Bahamian gamblers.
The casino zone originated in 1920, when the Bahamian Club began operating seasonally on New Providence, catering to a very restricted upper class clientele.
The Numbers zone has been thriving here since at least the 1800s. It is associated with poor communities worldwide, because punters can bet small sums of money and get credit from their bookies.
Our first anti-gambling law was passed in 1901, and was gradually strengthened to create an absolute ban on the operation of lotteries and gaming houses for profit. But in 1939 the law was amended to allow exceptions to this rule.