Sir Randol Fawkes’ Speech To The United Nations On Bahamas National Independence - September 1966

SIR RANDOL FAWKES’ APPEAL TO THE UNITED NATIONS ON NATIONAL INDEPENDENCE

 

 

 

MR CHAIRMAN,

 

DISTINGUISHED REPRESENTATIVES OF THE COMMITTEE ON COLONIALISM

 

     I am here today to secure the encouragement and the concrete assistance of the United Nations in the efforts of the people of the Bahama Islands to prepare themselves for independence. 

 

     In this we seek your expert advice and technical assistance in the promotion of the political, economic, and social advancement of the Bahamas that would make a transition from colonialism to freedom less painful than it otherwise would be.

 

     It is our conviction that eternal colonialism in the Bahamas prevents the development of international and economic cooperation, impedes the social, economic and cultural development, and violates the spirit and letter of the Charter of the United Nations.  We therefore hope that the United Nations will recognize the indisputable right of the Bahamas to complete freedom and will help us to achieve and exercise our sovereignty and the intergrity of our national territory.  In faith believing, I relate the following:

 

      On September 1966, your petitioner requested a select committee to take into consideration the advisability of inviting the government of the United Kingdom to convene a constitutional conference with a view to establishing the independence of the Bahama Islands.

 

     Before the speaker could reach the item on the agenda calling for the appointment of select committees, The Premier, Sir Roland Symonette read the following prepared communication:  “I wish to make the following communication to the House in view of the public interest that has been aroused on the question of a constitutional conference on independence.  This is a statement that I would have given to the House on Thursday the 25th August if the motion on the agenda for the appointment of a select committee on the subject had been proceeded with on that day:

 

      As a result of the 1963 Constitutional Conference, the Bahamian Islands now enjoy a constitution which gives the people, through their representatives, virtually full control of their internal governmental affairs.

 

     It has been suggested that because some other countries - perhaps less able to accept full autonomy – have become or are becoming independent, the Bahamas should do the same.  The government regards this attitude as misconceived.  Independence could be requested, and would no doubt be granted, and this government would be glad to manage the external affairs of the country but the facts must be looked squarely in the face.

   

      Complete independence would impose on our country the financial burden of responsibility for security, defence and external affairs.  This burden is at present largely borne by Her Majesty’s government, at small cost within the framework of Britain’s defense and diplomatic commitments, but it would be extremely expensive, both in money and in manpower for the Bahamas government to take on the task of establishing embassies and high commissions abroad, and of raising and the equipping its own armed forces.  Considerable government funds would have to be diverted for these purposes which, in the view of this government, would be much better spent on the progress and development of the Bahama Islands for the good of all the inhabitants.  For these reasons the government cannot support proposals for a constitutional conference at the present time.”

 

      In due course, the motion was put but was lost by a vote of thirteen to seven.   Both Progressive Liberal Bahamian Party and the National Democratic Party supported the motion, but the United Bahamian Party not only denied the courtesy of a select committee, but no member of the party participated in the debate.

 

Now if we were to examine the statement of the Premier, we will find that his argument against independence is facetious.  The premier stated that the Bahamas could not take on the expense of establishing embassies and high commissions abroad but Gentlemen the Bahamas government is now maintaining very highly paid administrative offices in major cities of the world.  Some of them in London, Miami, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, St. Louis, Washington, and even in Bonn, Germany.

 

     In many of these offices, Bahamian personal is either nil or negligible.  So the excuse that we cannot maintain an embassy is tenuous indeed.

 

     According to the United Kingdom, we are not Africans, yet “Bahamians” is not a legal term under the constitution, and no one can say with any degree of truth that we are British.  As a people we are without history, without culture, and without a national identity.  We study British history, British culture, and even British weather, but about ourselves, we have no past – and in colonialism, no future.

 

     Because of the colonial status, the value of the Bahamian dollar is questionable.  Should the British pound be devalued, it would have serious consequences on the economy of the Bahamas.

 

     Because of our colonial status, Bahamians pay a penalty in the form of high custom duty for trading with countries other than the British Commonwealth.  Our economy is tied to the Western Hemisphere.  Indeed everything we eat and wear comes from the Caribbean, North or South America.

 

     It has been suggested that the Bahamas has a democratic constitution based on municipal suffrage – one man, one vote.  Because members in the House of Assembly are not paid, only the rich are financially able to represent their districts – hence membership in the present assembly is composed mainly of the merchants and professional class, but the labouring class has only very limited representation.  In the past 200 years, only on two or three occasions have the Out Islands been able to have representation by a person who resides in the Out Islands.

 

    This situation is aggravated by the fact that there is no local government of the Out Islands.  These areas are governed only by an appointed commissioner, but there are other elected bodies to assist in the administration.  Without more education and greater participation in government, the people will not be prepared to master the responsibilities of independence.

 

 We therefore, request that the United Nations take swift action to influence Britain to set a time-table for the eventual independence of the Bahamas and, in the meantime a commission of United Nations experts should be appointed to make a survey of the political, economic and social conditions of the Bahamas with a view to introducing adequate measures that would prepare the Bahamian people to master their own responsibilities.

 

 

 

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