To many the Caribbean is synonymous with a life of ease and relaxation. So it comes as something of a revelation to read the New Year’s Message issued by Branville McCartney, the Leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA). Few outside the Bahamas will be familiar with Mr McCartney, and yet the content of his message elucidates much of the mood that is abroad in the seemingly idyllic islands. The country would appear to be riddled with “crime and the fear of crime” a fact that according McCartney is exacerbated by institutional corruption and the apparent impotence of the ruling party. For all the catalogue of woes McCartney appears quite happy to vent his spleen and certainly any tourist reading this communiqué would have second thoughts about visiting The Bahamas. Did this party leader really intend his press release to further undermine confidence in the country’s economy?
For a document that has been produced by a qualified and practicing barrister this makes fascinating reading. If for a moment one puts to one side the excessive and inaccurate use of the exclamation mark the language deployed is both colourful and at times redolent of some bygone age. McCartney does not hold back in what he sees as the remedies required to cure the country’s apparent ills; “Enforcement and administration of the cat-o-nine-tail – in Rawson Square, no less – must be reintroduced.” A firm advocate of capital punishment and here is a fully paid up member of the ‘hang’em and flog’em’ brigade. His message to “My Beloved Bahamians” censures the current administration for being reactive as opposed to proactive, but in advocating a portfolio of draconian and in some cases simplistic and discredited solutions the Leader of the DNA is in real danger as coming across as a reactionary of the first order. Some will always rally to the vengeful and judgemental, but such sentiments tend to sit more easily with the followers of demagogues as opposed to those who are true adherents of parliamentary democracy for all its weaknesses and imperfections.
The nature of the political arena is such that there will always be those who are intent on playing to popular prejudices and irrational fears, which makes the call for curfews and the carrying of handguns all the more alarming. The Bahamas whilst no stranger to the influence of the United States of America, with approximately 80% of all its tourists coming from there, the last thing it needs is to emulate the likes of the National Rifle Association (NRA) or the deeply flawed American penal system, a system that at times more concerned with the colour of a person’s skin as opposed to their supposed innocence or guilt.
The Bahamas in common with nearly all Caribbean countries is facing significant challenges ranging from drug smuggling and illegal immigration to white collar crime and institutional corruption. All these problems are complex and whilst there are some who will always claim to have instant solutions, the fact is that those not in power rarely understand the limitations of what can be achieved. Whilst some will rail against illegal immigration it is noteworthy that they rarely chastise those who are happy to exploit those working in the country illegally. Popularism and playing to the gallery is all very well, but many of the most intractable problems require an ability to go to the root cause. Issues such as violent crime, unemployment and the inability to fully deliver on manifesto commitments are legitimate matters of public concern, debate and discussion, but it behoves serious and responsible politicians to use temperate language that seeks to be constructive rather than destructive. Lawyers know better than most the power of words, hence why it is that one often sees lawyers who enter politics engaging in sophistry and semantics.
The current government in The Bahamas still has much to do and needs to be mindful of the importance of serving all the people not just an established elite. Growing disparities of wealth and the corrosion of core values are issues that warrant immediate attention. If nothing else Mr McCartney has reminded all his fellow countrymen and women that there is no room for complacency and yet for all the undoubted passion of his convictions I doubt there is that much that any government can really learn from a man who feels the need to speak of “testicular fortitude”.