Condolences from the Bahamas Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Singapore following the death of the country’s founding father and first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, observed: “The late Prime Minister was a contemporary of the late Sir Lynden Pindling ... Sir Lynden often said that he wanted The Bahamas to be the Singapore of the Caribbean.”
There is much that the Bahamas can learn from Singapore and the legacy of Lee. But there are two major attributes required to replicate Singapore’s success, the absence of which makes such success difficult. The two attributes are the personal discipline and work ethic of citizens, and the quality of political leadership.
Bahamians generally lack the discipline and work ethic of Singaporeans. And for all of his gifts and contributions to national development, Sir Lynden, a leading founding father, lacked the strategic vision and commitment to personal incorruptibility and intolerance for state corruption that characterized the rule of Singapore’s Lee.
One of the reasons for Singapore’s success was the example of the incorruptible Lee, who had a fierce commitment to the rule of law and launched a massive anti-corruption program after becoming his country’s leader.
Given his role and person, and the progressive movement’s desire to turn a page from the vast corruption of the white oligarchy and its political instrument the United Bahamian Party (UBP), Sir Lynden had a singular opportunity to foster a new political culture, an opportunity he quickly squandered, setting the country back for generations as the PLP became synonymous with corruption.
There was a certain level of nepotism in Lee’s Singapore. But the Singaporean system remains largely corruption-free and meritocratic, with a highly efficient civil service and government.
There are hardworking, capable and incorruptible civil servants at home who have offered tremendous service over many decades. But ours is also a system that is often quite inefficient with many slack and lazy public officers who are quite happy to grease their palms through all manner of schemes.
Many in our political class are not there through merit. In a recent survey only eight per cent of Singaporeans believe their government is corrupt. By contrast Bahamians believe there is widespread corruption among their political leaders. There is a long history of how political leadership at home has responded to corruption.
In her column in the March 16 issue of a twice-weekly tabloid, a columnist laments the parlous state of the country and complains about a host of problems including corruption. She asks where we first learned this behaviour and goes on to answer her question: “It all began in 1973 with an independent Bahamas ... ”
The citing of 1973 as the genesis of all our troubles is a cute trick which fools no one. Perhaps the columnist could not bring herself to say 1967 when black Bahamians formed the majority in parliament and the government.
In any event, the writer is quite wrong. She would have a hard time convincing anyone that her knowledge of Bahamian history pre-1967 or pre-1973 is a total blank and that she is unaware of our history of corruption stretching back over many generations.
The writer must have read about the Bahamas as a haven for piracy and of our criminal history of ship-wrecking and also boot-legging when some of our prominent, white, affluent families accumulated their first ill-gotten wealth.
All of this was well before black Bahamians took control of the government, and even before the Bahamas gained international notoriety as the seat of an openly corrupt, greedy, arrogant, undemocratic, racist, classical oligarchy known as the “Bay Street Boys”, all of whom happened to be white.
The columnist may even have heard of the mockery of democracy practised by the Bay Street Boys and countenanced by the British Government over many years, features of which were crude gerrymandering, massive intimidation, open voting, and vote-buying with rum, flour, rice and money.
Indeed, back in the 1950s the crusading editor of a leading daily wrote a series of 30 damning editorials outlining the corrupt activities of just one Bay Street politician during the time of the Boards.
The columnist would have heard talk about a very popular, very rich expatriate who did a lot for the Bahamas but who was bludgeoned to death because, some people say, he was opposed to casino gambling in the Bahamas. And how, with the connivance of a Royal Governor and two Miami cops (all white) they attempted to stitch up the man’s son-in-law for the murder.
The writer talks about the three black prime ministers but she must have heard of the white first premier who took office in 1964. The very next year, 1965, this white premier presided over a mammoth Bahamian scandal of corruption, sell-out, conflict of interest and bribery.
His government was exposed in the international press as having done a deal with the American Mafia to bring Las Vegas-style gambling to the Bahamas. The Minister who drove the deal got a million dollars and others in the oligarchy were paid off with “consultancy fees” in varying amounts according to their importance.
The corruption of the Bay Street Boys was vast. They carved up entire commercial sectors among themselves, got vast tracts of Crown Land for next to nothing, and afforded themselves exclusive rights in the selling of various goods including basic necessities.
If the columnist remains unconvinced there is a lot more that can be said about corruption and other negative aspects of Bahamian society of which she complains but which were entrenched long before 1967 and 1973.
Corruption in the Bahamas is not a white or black problem. It is a Bahamian problem and even more so, a human problem. Any notion that a white prime minister will be less tolerant of corruption is a racist fantasy by those who may still be pining for a “great white hope”.
Just as there are black Bahamian politicians and businesspeople engaged in greedy and corrupt practices today there have been white Bahamian politicians and businesspeople involved in similar practices.
It was precisely the widespread and entrenched corruption of the white oligarchy that the PLP fought mightily against, promising a new day for the Bahamas.
It was a promise that Sir Lynden and his cult of personality spectacularly betrayed in an endless stretch of scandals and schemes culminating in the drug scandals of the 1980s, which are responsible for much of today’s culture of criminal violence.
The difference between pre-1967 and the years following is that leading political figures have actually resigned in the face of various scandals and malfeasance post-1967.
As Lee understood, state corruption retards national development, often leading to ineffective governance and draining of state resources.
With the PLP having betrayed its progressive roots, including the fight against corruption, and having lost office in 1992 in great measure because of the culture of corruption within the party, Perry Christie, the newly elected leader of the PLP, promised a new day for the country.
Though he declared that he would be a new kind of leader, we now know conclusively that Christie has doubled down in terms of some of the excesses of PLP misrule.
At a 2002 rally at Clifford Park Christie promised:
“ ... Believe me, then, when I say how resolutely determined I am to lead the way in creating a new PLP for our times. ... Victimization is an evil I put on par with corruption in high places. Neither will be tolerated under an administration headed by Perry Christie. Of that you can be assured.”
After nearly eight years as prime minister over two non-consecutive terms Christie has mostly been a failed prime minister, despite his laughable claims that he will be a “defining” prime minister and, as reported in The Tribune, that “his government’s performance will not be matched ‘in the history of this country’.”
We have known for some time that the prime minister is highly delusional. We now know the extent of the ever-growing level of delusion, which is alarming and frightening.
One of Christie’s greatest failures was his inability or unwillingness to create a new culture of transparency and accountability, with less tolerance for corruption within the PLP.
The scandal at BAMSI is a near perfect example of the “all for me baby” culture of the PLP. The government refuses to provide the full details of the $20 million dollars in untendered contracts given to PLPs, some of whom were not even contractors. Are we witnessing a major cover-up by the Christie administration?
Christie admitted that the majority of contracts at BAMSI should have been earmarked for PLPs, which clearly reveals his desire that the vast majority of contracts awarded by his administration should be earmarked for party supporters alone. So much for a new PLP.
After the Deputy Prime Minister misled the House of Assembly with a false narrative about insurance for the fire-gutted dormitory at BAMSI, Christie still refuses to fire him, demonstrating the complicity of his government in the false narrative.
Christie has finally fully revealed the “all for me baby” culture and mentality that is a hallmark of PLP rule since the time of Sir Lynden. He is now the unmistakeable face and symbol of this culture which is steeped in cronyism.
Christie, the former oil company consultant with a corresponding glaring conflict of interest, who has allowed the operation of the National Intelligence Agency with no legal footing, has thoroughly demonstrated his contempt for the rule of law, his contempt for transparency and accountability and his contempt for parliamentary authority.
He refuses still to fire Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister V. Alfred Gray for having, by his own admission, interfered in a criminal case before the courts. He is now complicit in the matter.
Whereas Lee sought to uplift his country by example, Christie is dragging the country to hell as he angrily denounces others rather than looking in the mirror and seeing the true cause of many of the country’s woes, including a culture of corruption which he has not helped to stem.