Governance, governing and the governed
By RAYNARD RIGBY
Nassau, The Bahamas
There is no doubt that we have yet to develop a concept or model of governance that adequately complements our political development and our uniqueness as a people.
Since independence, our sense of governance is dictated by the whims of the leaders who wear the hat as chief. The chief has the ordained right to assess and determine the best form and method for the dispensation of executive power.
His sole guiding rod is the singular provision in the Constitution (Article 72) that mandates that his Cabinet must be no less than eight other ministers and that “the Cabinet shall have the direction and control of the government of The Bahamas”. Even this simple declaration has led to abuse, by evidence of Gussiemae Cabinets and the appointment of incompetent ministers.
It is no doubt true that in our political dispensation the selection of a Cabinet is even fraught by much anxiety, even though many will agree that this should be the easiest first step in the development of a style of governance.
It appears that less consideration is placed on intellect, capacity, knowledge and just plain commonsense.
Far too little value is allotted to the possible minister’s record of excellence in business or a profession. This may be surprising given that the minister is treated as the CEO of the ministry.
It does not help though that the Constitution only refers to the principles of “direction” and “control” as tenements of governance. This perhaps creates a deep fallacy in our system because the notions of direction and control, by their very nature, are coextensive with all manners of governance. That is, by having the power to govern one must have control of the direction of the governed.
At the outset let me state that I am not an advocate for codifying, whether in the Constitution or by an act of Parliament, what should be the by-products of governance.
Truth is that there are some elements that must be left to the personal dogmas of a leader. However, there are shades of governance that must be universal, that apply to a people no matter who is their leader or prime minister. It is that side of the coin that should compel us to assess the state of our governance, the state and direction of the Bahamian people.
It must also be remembered that our nation is only now approaching ‘true adult’ maturity. For some the decade of membership in the elite 40-plus-group means a new burst of life, vigor and perspectives.
I assume that as this equally applies to adults it must be the same for a nation-state. So this means that next year should be the start of a golden era for governance in The Bahamas.
Within the doctrines of political science and history, governance is at its core a notion that rules should be made, followed and executed by the leader or prime minister (in our system) without fear, favor or failure.
It is a process. It mandates that all citizens and stakeholders have an appreciation for an understanding of the rules. More fundamentally, it expects that there will be no arbitrary alteration of the rules, but that change and modification will come by way of an organized and civilized process.
We often hear chatter from elected politicians of good governance. This is a new twist to the concept of governance. It probably was intended to be an extension of well-established and respected democratic traditions.
The use of the concept of good governance may also have been designed to attempt to define the quality of governance. It must be good versus bad or chaotic or even dogmatic.
Whatever descriptive word is employed, it really goes back to a rather simple narrative as to the state of governance within a society of people alongside their norms and customs.
Governance too invokes the strength of a nation’s traditions and institutions. Executive authority and power should be exercised through the institutions by way of a process of balanced value assessments.
Too, there must be a recognized framework for the airing-out of differing views and opinions and even for dissent in the sacred ranks. Individual thought and opinions must never be subjected to an archaic concept of loyalty.
Additionally, there must be an environment that fosters and demands excellence in thought, policy formation and public participation.
There is no denying the fact that governance as a concept invokes the notions and emotions of transparency, accountability, competence and equitable participation. By the latter, I mean that there must be carved out in the domain of public opinion rooms of thought for all socio-economic classes, which are masked by gender and age neutrality and even perhaps political neutrality.
In our current system, the thought of political neutrality is barren as no leader will think that he can manage his political survivability by encroaching on the precincts of a competing political ideology and or membership.
Governance and decision making
There must also be a well-established and recognized policy of restraint in governance. Just as the notion of good governance demands an appreciation for judicial independence, the restraints that operate must be of a similar nature that reject all forms and fashion of corruption, nepotism, abuse of power and harmful incompetence.
The restraints should be worn as a breastplate of the citizenry to demand and voice opposition to the prevailing threat that exists, which often leads to an unequal society.
This brings me to ask two questions: What is the state of Bahamian governance? Do we have a developing set of rules for decision making?
To answer the first question, without any political naivete or impartiality, requires an out-of-body experience for the majority of Bahamians, because we typically wrap our answers into a sense that speaks to the failures or successes of the party that we support.
In truth, the state of our governance is a by-product and a reflection of our collectivism and of community. It is a great indicator of our values, our vision for the future and our commitment to national development.
It is a clarion call to demand the formation of sensible policies, a pragmatic and participatory approach to decision making and a shared vision that is oriental in its respect for balancing the needs and saving the fruits of the national treasures for future generations.
It must also be recognized that to grade a nation’s state of governance is a difficult task because of all of the items in the breadbasket. A superficial analysis may dictate that realization be given to the level of poverty, unemployment and the lack of basic social and human essentials.
An all-inclusive and holistic evaluation will encompass an assessment of many factors, one of which is the state of active participation by the governed, meaning the electorate, in the apparatus of governance. And in this context, the governed refers to all sectors of the society and to all peoples.
No one can be left out of the equation, and if there is a segment of the populace that is silenced then the state of governance is poor. Democracies are by their very nature designed to be democratic and that means being open to all peoples.
Over the last 20 years, a trend is beginning to steadily creep into and is near institutionalization in our nation. Those with wealth and influence appear to be able to set the rules that favor them to the exclusion of others.
Too many are now marginalized and yet they are the ones who have a blind obsession to their ‘chief’. Politics sometimes produces the ugliness about human nature and we see it exemplified in the actions and decision-making style of those elected to govern.
There are so many events that demonstrate and support this view. One need only start with the continuation of an obscene policy that forces taxpayers’ dollars, now ever limited, to assist in the advertising of new hotels, or the payment of subsidies for cruise ships or the inability to levy a rational tax on companies that repatriate the lion’s share of their profits to overseas headquarters.
The most glaring recent example is the disclosure of the new gaming legislation that would favor an expanded industry for foreigner owners of casinos to the exclusion of Bahamian ownership.
No one needs to have a deep sense of nationalism to recognize the sharp economic inequality that such a policy will continue to foster. It is regressive and foolhardy.
The recent audit of NIB with a price tag of $861,000 is another fine example of the failures of a modern and thought-out approach to governance. A negotiated settlement of the disengagement of the director of NIB would have cost the tax payers far less than $861,000.
A new course
There are so many other illustrations where the lack of a clear, concise and well thought-out approach to governing The Bahamas have failed the nation and her people.
There are far too many people whose eyes reveal the sheer pain of their desperation and hopelessness in the future of this nation. These are the features of a society and people that are being subjected to a system of governance that is stale, out dated and unsuited for their continued development and evolution.
The governed must begin a new march for fundamental change in the way that the country is being managed. This demands a rethink of the national priorities and the recognition that the government must be reflective of the people’s wishes, hopes and dreams for tomorrow.
We must chart a new course that is built on the principles of moral and intelligent decision making. Our society must evolve and reject an insular approach to problem solving, and we must work together so that the future is secured and belongs to all of us and not just the chosen few.
I remain ever so convinced that The Bahamas remains the best vehicle by which the world can be transformed for the better.
• Raynard Rigby is a practising attorney-at-law at Baycourt Chambers. You are free to send comments about the column via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 29, 2013