July 10, 2007

Bahamas - Truly independent Nation?

A truly independent nation?
Source: Nassau Guardian - Bahamas

Thirty-four years ago, on a still night just after midnight on July 10, when the brilliant black, gold and aquamarine flag of The Bahamas was raised for the first time on Clifford Park, Sir Arthur Foulkes remembered that his heart rate went up a little and that he was filled with a tremendous amount of pride.

"I felt very happy," he recalled. "The only regret I had was that when the flag was pulled up it was still, so there was no flag flapping in the wind – the flag was just hanging around the mast."

It was a time that tens of thousands of Bahamians witnessed and can recall with great pride, but probably few have thought about the significance of the event to any great extent since. In that moment, The Bahamas took complete responsibility for itself, but what exactly have we gained since becoming independent just over three decades ago? And are we truly independent, given our retention of many colonial trappings and the Privy Council?......
But how much asserting can we do given the fact that we have maintained some fairly significant ties to Britain, such as the Privy Council – the country's final court of appeal – and many of the colonial trappings, which for some are a grim reminder of the history of colonialism.

"I have a problem with us swearing our allegiance to the Queen, with the Queen being our Head of State," says Strachan. "To me, we don't have the sovereignty that we suggest we have. Our Members of Parliament and Senators should be swearing their allegiance to the Bahamian people who elected them and whom they are supposed to serve, who pay them and to whom they are answerable.

"I think we have all of these trappings and if we look at it carefully, I don't think there's a moral leg to stand on to maintain these trappings. I just don't. The history of slavery and colonialism alone is enough."

For others, the so-called "trappings" are inconsequential. "Swearing our allegiance to the Queen is just a trapping, her heirs are her ministers, according to law, she has no power of her own," says Sir Arthur. "The British do it very well... the niceties of system, but she couldn't say today, no I cannot appoint you.'"

But if a post like the Governor General means nothing, why have one at all? "It was thought that at the time the connection with Britain ought to be maintained, and as a small country the idea of having a Royal Bahamas Police Force and the royal this and that would add to the country's stability and our attraction as a tourist destination," explains Sir Arthur.

On the more practical side, The Bahamas' decision to retain the Privy Council, which sits in London, as opposed to joining the regional Caribbean Court of Justice, continues to receive mixed reviews.

For well-known lawyer Damien Gomez, replacing the Privy Council, which is used by many countries in the English-speaking Commonwealth, is a non-issue.

"You don't give up something you have to get something less," he told The Nassau Guardian.
"We don't have the technical resources here, the expertise, to readily find a replacement [for the Privy Council] from our own Bar. We are having problems with our local courts. [Former Supreme Court justices are having trouble getting their pensions]. Most of the supreme courts are housed in an antiquated, obsolete building. Modern facilities are not available. For us to seriously speak about having a local final court of appeal we would have to address our own deficiencies, and no government since independence has taken the issue of resourcing the courts seriously."

Despite the expertise and perceived stability that a body like the Privy Council provides for countries like The Bahamas, some still feel that Bahamians should be able to decide what laws they wish to abide by.

"If it is argued for the sake of impartiality or protection against compromise in the judicial system because of our size, I think the next step should be a regional court," says Strachan.....

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