THANKING GG FOR SPEECH FROM THE THRONE
Mr. Speaker, I wish to offer my sincere thanks to the people of
the Fox Hill constituency for causing me to be elected to this place.
I claim like many of my colleagues to have been elected by a coalition
of interests, which crosses party lines. The support was therefore less
ideologically based and more based on the judgment of electors from across
the spectrum that this representative was the best person for the job.
Having been elected with almost 65 per cent of the vote in Fox Hill, I am also conscious that they’re some 35 per cent of the people of that constituency who did not vote for me. I also know that I represent them too. Party affiliation is not the determining factor for representation in my books. Representation means representing all of the people. I pledged to use my best endeavours to do just that.
May I also congratulate you Mr. Speaker on your unanimous election to the office of Speaker. I join with all colleagues who have spoken previously in those words of congratulations and praise. I know that the people of The Bahamas and Eleuthera will be well served by your time in this place. And similarly to our colleague Anthony Moss who accomplished a remarkable victory in Exuma. I shall be happy to be able to serve with him here and I congratulate him on his election to the office of Deputy Speaker.
May I add that if there is anything that I can do to make your jobs in this place easier I shall happy to accommodate to the extent of the resources at my command.
It has been 28 years since I first started this journey to elected office. And one of the markers along the way was a speech that I helped to draft in 1977 for the election broadcast of the now Prime Minister. We were both born in the Centreville constituency. It is a great honour to be able to serve with him and as a part of his Cabinet. And in that regard I believe I have a special responsibility as a Valley Boy to succeed.
Mr. Speaker Shakespeare writes in As You Like it: “All the World’s a stage/ and all the man and woman merely are players: They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.”
I have used this quote many times over the past three weeks as I have visited with the people of the Fox Hill constituency. It is to make me consciously aware that there is only a short time on the public stage. And that while I am here for that short time, I have a responsibility, no matter for how long, I am the stage to give the best performance that I can. I pledge to do that.
It is also a reminder that we are not here to stay. That there is no divine right to rule. That in a free and democratic society it is the people of the country that decide. And having accepted the position of Minister, there is an even more special responsibility to remember that it is the people of Fox Hill who elected me. Not the country as a whole. And while I serve the country as a whole, there must always be time for the Fox Hill constituents. Otherwise I will not see this place again. It is already proving to be a challenge, with the demands of a public office clashing with the justifiable demands and expectations of constituents. There must be a marrying of the two.
The number one issue today is the request for jobs. There is a flood of requests for jobs and not just any jobs but Government jobs. And this at a time when there is a virtual freeze in hiring in the Government service, given the financial resources of the country. The expectations are high but all I am able to say right now is that one must hold on a little longer, the times are indeed tough. The Minster of Finance has a challenging job to meet all these expectations but that is why we have been elected to meet those expectations through the art and science of public policy.
I do not look at this as an obstacle to progress but rather an opportunity to do good and the right thing.
The Fox Hill constituency like so many other areas of New Providence needs attention and investment to its infrastructure: the parks, the roadsides, crime and safety issues. But I have started out apart from all of these things with a social issue in mind. I have quoted these statistics, which are more or less current, and I think the country will get the point.
In jail today there are some 40 women, fifty per cent of whom are not Bahamian. There are some 1500 men. The ages range mainly from 17-30. The exact opposite is the case with the same age group in the College of the Bahamas where there are approximately 600 men to about 1600 women. That is a startling statistic and a wake up call to all of us. In our ordinary life we find that there is a high drop out factor in male participation in organized social events and increasingly we find that there is a lag in academic in other developmental achievements of boys. The World Health Organization has sent around a circular called Boys in the Picture. And I now lay a copy of that report on the table of this House. In it, there is a call to action for all countries in their region because we cannot continue for this to go on.
In a very stark way, I have said that your daughters will have to marry one of the young men or partner with them. We see the domestic violence component in society and there is no doubt that this is directly related to the inability to resolve conflicts peacefully. It is that same pathology that causes the drop out factor amongst males in school and from life generally. This must be reversed and we as a society must borrow from the women’s rights movement and its successes over the past fifty years in order to assist in the development of functional young males. It requires a decision of society that this is the way we are going to go.
I do not support many of the expressions that border on misogyny. And it is clear that girls and boys must be socialized together with regard to their respective roles in society but special attention must be paid to the pathologies that are surfacing in boys and the later problems that arise in adulthood.
This is seen nowhere more clearly than in progress on the job. Too many young males of 15, 16, and 17 have dropped out of school and want to find work. Yet they have no skills to market. And we expect this society to have a huge demand again for construction workers. And after all the criticism that we in Opposition gave about bringing in foreign workers, the investors are insisting that we do not have the manpower to meet requirements. That means that agencies like BTVI must go into over drive to ensure that we meet the manpower commitments for a growing society. And males must get their share of what is there. The question is we must explore why the girls are being dropped off to school and the boys are refusing to go to school. Public policy must intervene.
I am not a sociologists but I know the nature of the problem. And for some time now I have been working with the persons at the Adolescent Health Centre of the Ministry for Health. It is an underutilized unit. But I saw the excellent work that the unit did when it was called into L. W. Young High School following the arrest of some 33 students for violent offences some three years ago. They have done a map of the emotional health of the school and it is revealing that it shows about anger management skills and self esteem. And so we have the capability to address the problems but we need a sustained effort. And I think that if we make the investments and let the professionals do their work, we will see the results in the lessening of violent crime and in the increased participation of young males in society.
In the Fox Hill constituency, I have raised this with the Ministers of the gospel and those who run the schools and I hope to be able to convene all of them together in a constituency conference with a view to planning away forward. And so if I leave anything to Fox Hill as a constituency, I hope it is to turn the tide of this and that a fresh course will begin of a more dynamic and inclusive social atmosphere where both genders successfully and fully participate in the full life of the community.
I have two responsibilities Mr. Speaker. One is for the public service, the other is in foreign affairs. I would wish to deal with the public service first.
Let me say that I have already visited all of the offices of the Department of the Public Service and met with its senior management. A meeting with the Public Service Commission is planned shortly. The speech from the throne did not announce any new initiatives for the public service but that was because of time and editing constraints. The speech from the throne is one of these rituals of public life that is required to give a start to the legislative session. And in Opposition and today, I have always said that the former Government used the occasion to put political polemical statements in the mouth for the Governor General. The Governor General is a neutral political figure in our country and I think that this speech is an example of how it ought to be done. You try to keep political statements out of the mouth of the Governor General.
It is a short statement of what the legislative agenda is going to be. And my colleagues know that another pet peeve of mine is the length of public ceremonies in this country. Too many of them are simply too long and in a modern country and there is no reason why public ceremonies can not be shorter, crisper and to the point so that we can get on with the business of running the country. I would like us to get to the point where we can dispose of our public ceremonies within an hour and get back to work.
But that is a personal view. I also hope that we can return to the day when the ceremony takes place in the Senate building itself where it used to be in the old days.
But notwithstanding the fact that there was no mention of the public service in the speech, the public service is very much on the agenda. In particular, I wish Wendal Jones and the Bahama Journal to note that I have noted the comment about the public service in their newspaper of last weekend. We share similar concerns.
Here is what he had to say in his column of 24-26 May 2002: “ The Public Service of The Bahamas does not serve the public well. This is due largely to inefficiency borne out of poor training. With the new Government settling in, the challenges of dealing with the public sector are overwhelming.
“Many civil servants are looking to new Ministers for promotions, since they believe they were bypassed and in some instances ostracized by the former Free National Movement government. We understand that 94 persons in the public service were made Under Secretaries just days before the general elections. We must be curious about the justification for these promotions.
“No day passes when members of the rank and file of the public service do not openly complain about the structure of the service or the frustrations in dealing with the provision of General Orders. ..”
General Orders is the document that is the manual of procedure for personnel matters in the public service. This is augmented by the Public Service Commission rules. And now superimposed upon that is the Employment Act that makes the Government’s workers specifically able to access the structures of the Trade Dispute procedure and the Bahamas Industrial Tribunal. It appears that the Public Service Commission rules will have to be rewritten in light of this competing jurisdiction for disciplinary matters. It is not clear whether the former Government gave any thought to the costs and the necessary changes that would have to take place as a result of that change in the law.
With regard to Mr. Jones' assertion that there were 94 promotions, I would only say that the numbers will have to be checked but shortly before we took office, there were scores of promotions at the senior levels in the Public Service. Those promotions were backdated and confirmed. Once confirmed it means that these cannot be reversed by the next administration. Further, a new Chairman of the Public Service Commission was appointed for the full three-year term shortly before we took office. At this point we would not want to go beyond the present comments to the effect of that. But suffice it to say that the last Prime Minister came to office in 1992 with the promise that he would not make decisions that would have the effect of acting outside his term of office. He did that in the case of the appointment of a Governor General and he has done that in the case of the Public Service Commission chair.
Here is what the Bahama Journal had to say in its editorial of the same date under the headline REAL CHANGE NEEDED: “ Today many thoughtful observers of the national political scene are anxiously waiting to see whether Prime Minister Perry Christie and his team will move decisively and resolutely to translate their political victory into something more substantial than the appointment of Ministers and Senators. Currently there are worrying signs and signals, which suggest that the Christie team, is reluctant to shake up the system of appointments they met in place. Indeed, we have been fairly reliably informed that former Prime Minister and leader of the FNM Hubert Ingraham, knowing full well that his party was in deep trouble with the electorate, set off in the weeks and days prior to the last elections – on a last ditch effort – to stash some of his cronies in certain high offices in the public administration… Today some of Mr. Christie’s most ardent supporters fear that he might not move decisively enough and quickly enough to reverse some of the bad decisions made by former Prime Minister Ingraham, a number of them involving high level appointments to the public administration.”
I would only say to the Journal that I hear you. But the fact is that in a small country, change has to be made with sensitivity, particularly since notwithstanding the fact that we won a large number of seats, the popular vote was just about 53 per cent and so we must govern with that in mind. The public service must be judged by its ability to act in a politically neutral manner, and before one embarks on widespread change, you have to be clear in what direction you are headed. But suffice it to say that all colleagues and this Minster understand the mandate for change.
But more importantly than a simple change in personnel, there has got to be change in the image of the public service as a place where people got to work, if they want an easy life. I adverted to the fact of the popularity amongst people of the Bahamas for Government jobs. In fact, many people who ask for jobs came already working but they say they want a Government job instead. And that’s fine except that it must not be because you want to be in a place where little work is expected.
The problem too is that the productivity of public servants is in my view affected by a number of factors. First, the Government Ministries and Departments do not have properly developed personnel or human resources departments. Secondly, the manuals of procedure and rules of the service are outdated and inappropriate for the present models of personnel management. Thirdly, the disciplinary procedures are too slow and there is a lack of proper due process in the hearing of complaints. I know in my practice of cases of prison officers that have been interdicted for years on half pay. They cannot work by the rules but they cannot make it off half pay either. So their family life is destroyed. This is wrong and must be corrected across the service.
Fourthly, the processes of being hired, transferred or promoted leave much to be desired. And a particular problem is the number of week-to-week workers who are not yet on the establishment who according to the service’s own rules ought to be on the establishment. And then there is the question of acting appointments that can’t be confirmed and the supercession in promotions, which appear in many cases to be blatant discrimination.
The Management levels of the service are aware of these problems. The Bahamas Public Service Union headed by William McDonald and his team met with me on Friday last with a view to raising the issues of importance to them.
I also said to them and to the senior management at the Ministry and in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that what really concerns me is the environment in which public servants have to work. The buildings that they work in are not properly maintained and there is not adequate space for them to function. People are literally sitting on top of one another. Filing systems are a fire hazard and the environment just seems to be unhealthy. The problem I face is that our predecessors have left us in huge financial bind and now the question is who how do we address all of these issues including new hires having regard to the financial resources that are available to us.
But I say again that is the job that we have been hired to do.
Now to foreign affairs matters. The speech from the throne spoke to the early establishment of a Foreign Relations Council. And I have already moved subject to Cabinet approval and budgetary constraints to constitute that body in an interim form so that their work may begin. The role of that body which was foreshadowed in the platform of our party is to advise the Government on international issues. It will meet from time to time, sponsor seminars and speakers and meet with the Minster from time to time to point us in various directions in foreign affairs.
Over the past weeks since I took office, I have met with all of the representatives of foreign Governments that are resident here and reaffirmed our commitment to peaceful relations based on the United Nations Charter and the Declaration on Human Rights. Human rights are a particular and personal concern of mine. That together with the environmental matters will inform all the policies that this Minister advises the Government on. They must, in my view, be an integral part of the Bahamas’ public policy.
We have affirmed the primacy of our traditional relationships with the United States, the UK and our Caricom partners. Minister Allyson Gibson will travel on my behalf to Barbados to a Caricom and OAS meeting to reaffirm this commitment in those forums. A preexisting appointment for my annual physical prevents me from going.
You can expect the Bahaman people to hear more about foreign affairs in the future. The profile of The Bahamas must be raised in the international arena. On a basic level, nothing disturbs me more than to go to another country and be asked so how are things in Barbados or be introduced as a public official from Bermuda. And so one wants to raise the awareness and identification of a country that is not just a playground but a place where there are serious people who have a contribution to make to the development of life in the world.
That must be based on a proactive foreign policy.
Our relations with all states are excellent. We have an excellent personal relationship with all Ambassadors and all States with resident ambassadors in this country. And I am pledged to arrange a series of meetings at regular intervals.
I wish to thank the U.S. Ambassador Richard Blankenship for the continued help of his country as we struggle through the refugee crisis that we now face and say that this country is committed to the high level of cooperation between our two states on all matters of mutual interest.
Nevertheless, I would not want Bahamians to think that I am more powerful than I am. This has recently come to the fore with the interventions being made in the public arena by one of the resident diplomats. We from this side do not wish to be publicly confrontational on any subject of diplomatic relations. That is antithetical to the notion of diplomacy. Suffice it to say that a protocol has now been established about interventions of this kind and about the way access to Ministers is arranged by foreign diplomats. But it is not the intention in a free society to impede any one’s access to Bahamian citizens provided of course that it is compatible with the status of the person who is making the contact or intervention.
There will also be an early request for a Select Committee of this House and the Senate on Foreign Relations. I have personally asked the Leader of the Opposition to indicate who will be their principle spokesman on Foreign Affairs matters. To the extent that convention and law allows, the Government would wish to keep the Opposition involved in matters regarding our foreign relations.
The Select Committee will be a Committee of the House and Senate that from time to time will review matters of the conduct of foreign relations and allow the public an opportunity to air their concerns about foreign relations matters.
The Bahamas is part of Caricom and our international obligations are mainly managed through that forum. We have a say in world affairs, small though we are. And it is matter of moral suasion. A powerful country can do as it wishes, but what we have is the force of moral suasion and the rule of law. And it is of increasing concern to me that international relations in the world of one preeminent superpower that as Maureen Dowd said recently in the New York Times that the philosophy seem to be because I believe I am virtuous my policies are necessarily virtuous. We are small and are necessarily dependent but Pope John Paul reminds us that all human life has equal and intrinsic value and that is the moral principle that we will bring to the great questions world affairs: the right of the weak to have a say and to live in this world with respect and dignity.
In this regard, I would recommend the book just out by Joseph Nye, Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School and my alma mater. It is called: The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone. Oxford University Press publishes it. Max Frankel writing in the New York Times had this to say about it: “ Maybe pre-September 11 America still needed Nye’s main message the “ paradox” that although the United States will long remain militarily and economically supreme, it will become increasingly dependent on other people to defeat terrorism, protect the environment, control weapons of mass destruction, regulate trade and deal with a host of other borderless problems.”
I hope that on a practical level, we can make some progress in our relations with other countries on visa abolition agreements. It is particularly inconvenient for travel to Europe, and while the pre clearance lounge for the U.S. virtually allows visa free access to the U.S. from The Bahamas, Bahamians complain about accessibility to visas for United States when no visas are required for Americans to travel here. It is my hope that the issue of visas is a matter that can be raised by all Caricom partners with the United States at the FTAA forums.
Further, there is an urgent need to review the question of countries with whom we have diplomatic relations and to increase where possible the number of resident diplomatic missions here in Nassau and the resident missions we have abroad. For example, the technical work has largely been completed with a view to the establishment of a consulate in Cuba. We have increasing issues of a consular nature with Cuba: the prisoners there, the students there, the tourist there, those who go for medical care and Bahamian businessmen there. The British at present handle consular matters for us but this arrangement is untenable and we need to have representative there. The issue is to be put before the House, once the Government has indicated that this is the direction it wishes to go. A similar appeal is being made for a resident Ambassador to China or at the least a Consulate to deal with the issue of visas to The Bahamas. At present there is considerable business coming from Mainland China that the Consulate in Hong Kong is not able to adequately to address. Last week we passed the fifth anniversary of our diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China and we reaffirmed our commitment to the one China policy but also the peaceful pursuit of all national and international goals of all states.
Our relations with the British Government are excellent, and we have hoping that as the relationship develops there will be additional educational aid from the British Government for Bahamian students.
Our most difficult foreign relations problems is that of the Haitian refugee crisis. I believe that the Bahamas and I have so indicated to the Haitian Charge d’ Affaires that a more aggressive posture must be taken with regard to this issue. He is consulting his Government and an inter agency task force at Ministerial level including the Ministers of National Security, Immigration, Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General has been appointed to explore what further steps can be taken to stem the tide of illegal immigration from Haiti.
The Passport Office is in urgent need of new quarters. The place has been determined to be a fire hazard in its present sate, the environment is unsafe for its employees and the working conditions are deplorable. The public complains about the condition, the timeliness of service. In fact there are no restrooms available for use of the public in such highly trafficked facility. It is believed that new space will be available later this year but substantial repairs will have to be done to the premises to make them habitable. Further, there is an international obligation to have in place machine-readable passports by the year 2003. Much of the technical work has already been done on this and we hope to be able to fulfill that obligation within the specified time. It should be noted that we are having complaints about Bahamian passport fraud particularly out of Canada. The idea will be to make Bahamian passports tamper proof. If we do not solve this problem then countries will then seek to impose visa requirements on us that will be directly opposite to what we want to develop as a country.
I will revisit foreign affairs matters more particularly when the Select Committee request is made.
I want to say in conclusion that this Minister and indeed all of the Government realize that it is now our time on the stage. And for that limited time on the stage we will play our part. It is not my intention in this forum to deal with invective or rancour except to the extent that it is necessary to defend myself.
I intend to utilize the skills that this country’s money both the private sector and the public sector invested in my education to ensure that we have a better life. Many of us thought in 1992 that would have happened but the atmosphere soon soured on the heels of bitterness about what had gone on before. And with this Prime Minister describing himself as a healer, perhaps we have our best chance now to move forward in our respective roles. It is the Leader that must set the pace. And I am certain in that in this new dispensation we will prove that nay saying Nobel Laureate wrong when he wrote in his essay the killings in Trinidad that the black man must always have a political messiah. I expect this to be collegial governance in its classic sense. I expect that there will be the slow if not quick death of anti-intellectualism in Government, an embracing of the means to at once comprehend the things that we cannot change and the wisdom to change what is necessary.
Not like bulls in a china shop but in full concert with the Bahamian people.
I expect the Opposition to oppose. I do not expect them to apologize for having to oppose. I am confident that any Opposition that they bring can be met with fair and well-thought and adequate policies for the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. The last thing we need is a tame Opposition. Our system is an adversarial one. Out of the clash of wills comes better public policy. I question no ones loyalty to the country because they Oppose the polices of the Government. I am confident that this Government will do what is best for the country, always bearing in mind that while the minority has its say, the majority has its way.
At some point in a small society, someone has to say enough of tit for tat, who said what and who didn’t say what. We must move forward. And I believe I have skills to lend to the country that will in fact make a better life. But I do not for one moment accept or believe that I am the only one with good and common sense. This is not pie in the sky, nor do you need to take out the violins. I expect to have productive session in this House. As a boy in St. Augustine’s College, I decided to make the Commonwealth of The Bahamas my life’s work. I renew that commitment today.
I thank you Mr. Speaker.