Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Here follows remarks by Prime Minister Perry Christie May 6 in the House of Assembly:
The bill now before the House has received the very close attention of honourable members on both sides of the political divide. Much has been said about it already in the contributions of those who have preceded me, so I need not prolong this debate unnecessarily.
There are, however, just a few points that I feel I really do need to address from what I would regard as a high altitude. We need to do that from time to time so that the “bigger picture” that frames important legislation can be better understood and appreciated.
The first thing I would like to address is this whole question as to whether we have too many public holidays already.
DO WE HAVE TOO MANY PUBLIC HOLIDAYS?
Let’s begin with the facts and then make some comparisons.
At present, we observe 10 national or public holidays in The Bahamas. The addition of Majority Rule Day will bring this number to 11.
How does this compare with other countries?
As a comparative frame of reference, the following should be noted:
In the U.S. there are 11 federal public holidays (one of these, it should be noted, is observed quadrennially (the others being observed annually).
In Barbados, they also have 11 public holidays. (Of particular interest, Barbados has both a National Heroes Day and an Errol Barrow Day observed as separate national holidays).
In Trinidad, they have as many as 14 national holidays.
In the United Kingdom, the position varies: England has 8 “bank” holidays, as they are called, but Scotland and Northern Island which are integral parts of the United Kingdom have 9 and 10 public holidays, respectively.
In Bermuda, a colonial territory with whom we have a great deal in common, both in terms of our historical ties and basic economic configuration (tourism and financial services), there are 10 public holidays.
In the Cayman Islands, another colonial territory with which we have certain economic similarities, they have 12 public holidays.
Looking farther afield in continental Europe, in France, they have 12 public holidays
In Switzerland, a country that we have a lot to do with in terms of our financial services industry, holidays are set not by the federal government but by the 26 individual cantons into which the country is divided. Interestingly, however, for a country that justifiably prides itself on its work ethic, 17 of the 26 cantons have public holidays of 10 or more. In fact, there are some cantons in Switzerland that have as many as 14 to 15 public holidays every year.
So, based on that random survey, it will be readily appreciated that with 11 national holidays – that’s including the addition of Majority Rule Day – we, in The Bahamas, are not, and will not, be out of sync with international norms. Indeed whether one looks at it intra-regionally, hemispherically, or globally, we will remain very much in line with the norms of developed and developing countries alike
So, the concern about the aggregate number of public holidays in The Bahamas is, I, would submit, greatly exaggerated.
SHOULD WE NOW CAP THE NUMBER OF PUBLIC HOLIDAYS?
Having said that, we are, all of us, concerned, of course, with maximizing productivity in the work place and, concomitantly with that, we are all concerned, I am sure, not to add unduly to the stresses that plague many of our businesses in these difficult times. I have great sympathy for these business owners and I fully recognize that adding additional holidays may translate into additional measurable financial losses.
However, that is not an argument against making Majority Rule Day a public holiday. Rather it is, I would submit, an argument – and a perfectly legitimate argument – that perhaps the time has come for national bi-partisan consensus that the total number of public holidays should not increase beyond the total number that will come about when Majority Rule is added to the list.
In other words the time has perhaps come for us to agree that after this addition of Majority Rule Day, no more holidays will be added in the future unless an existing holiday is eliminated. That way, the total number would remain stable for the indefinite future.
Speaking for myself, however, I would prefer if we were to set the total maximum number of annual public holidays at twelve (12). I say that because the day will come – be it in the near term or in the far term is still too early to say – but the day will surely come when The Bahamas will constitutionally evolve into a republic. And when that happens, as inevitably it will at some future point in time, we will almost certainly, as a people, want, at that time, to add “Republic Day” as a national holiday while at the same time keeping and preserving Independence Day as a national holiday as well. (Indeed this is precisely what the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago has done).
So, I think an even dozen – 12 – should be the maximum number that we should all be able to agree on, going forward.
Having said that, however, I also need to make this observation : I notice that those who are suggesting that we have too many public holidays already are not proposing that any one of the existing 10 public holidays should be done away with to make room for Majority Rule Day.
I am aware that some persons have suggested that of all the 10 public holidays we now have, the one that may be the most difficult to justify retaining is Whit Monday. With the exception of Barbados and a few – just a few – countries in Europe and just one country in Africa, Whit Monday is no longer observed as a public holiday by any other sovereign state. Indeed, it is no longer observed as a public holiday even in England, having been replaced years ago by an ordinary bank holiday.
Although I am not personally convinced that the eliminating Whit Monday as a holiday is a good idea, I acknowledge that there are others, however few in number, who believe that it should either be done away with altogether or that it should be replaced by something else, possibly of an equally religious character, perhaps a National Prayer Day that would take the place of Whit Monday in the list of public holidays.
However that may be, I repeat the observation that I was making earlier, namely, that I notice that the critics of this bill, while complaining that we have too many holidays already, are not suggesting that we get rid of any specific holiday in order to make room for Majority Rule Day.
I hope this doesn’t mean that the critics of the bill are somehow of the view that when you get right down to it, Majority Rule Day is simply not as important as any of the other holidays we have.
Of all the secular, non-religious holidays we have, there is none, as far as I am concerned, that is historically more important than Majority Rule.
I have said it many times before, as has the Governor-General Sir Arthur Foulkes, that the attainment of Majority Rule in 1967 was a more historically significant event than Emancipation which, as we all know, is rightfully commemorated as a public holiday every year in August.
Even Independence had a certain inevitability, a certain consequential quality to it. It was, in many respects, a result of the attainment of Majority Rule. Indeed, as we know, it followed just 6 years afterwards.
And it’s certainly more important, in terms of historical impact, than Boxing Day was, is, or could ever hope to be.
And yet, despite the very special place that the attainment of Majority Rule holds in the grand sweep of Bahamian history, I find it a little disappointing that some would suggest that we simply not make Majority Rule Day a holiday at all, rather than at least suggesting that it is so important that we should find a place for it in the calendar of public holidays, even if it means eliminating one of the holidays we have.
But for my part, I think we are absolutely right in adding Majority Rule as a national holiday even as we commit ourselves to holding the line on future holiday-creation subject to the singular exception that I mentioned earlier.
Mr. Speaker :
Just two other points very quickly, if I may.
I need to make the point again, as I have so many times before, that Majority Rule belongs to all of us, whether PLP or FNM, whether black or white. It should be celebrated as a transcendental turning point in our history; one that was as psychologically liberating for black Bahamians as it was for white Bahamians, even if neither race could really see it at the time in 1967.
This is an extremely point. As PLPs, it is, of course, a matter of immense pride for us to know that we were the ones who spearheaded the struggle and brought it to fruition.
At the same time, as PLPS, we must resist the temptation to treat Majority Rule Day as though it were something that is registered in our name as some sort of trademarked property to which we, and we alone, are entitled.
What the PLP accomplished on January 10th, 1967, was not for itself alone but in trust for all the Bahamian people.
And that’s what I mean when I say that Majority Rule Day belongs to all of us and that it should be commemorated by all Bahamians as an occasion for national reconciliation and unity.
TRIBUTE TO THOSE ON WHOSE SHOULDERS WE STAND, THE HEROES OF THE STRUGGLE FOR MAJORITY RULE
The second and final point I want to make before I close is to again acknowledge, as I hope we will do on each and every Majority Rule Day in the future, the immense debt that all of us owe to those many great men and women who once upon a time rose up and struck a blow for freedom and for justice in our land. It was their combined blows that made Majority Rule a reality 46 years ago.
We are the heirs to that legacy of struggle and we must never forget those who bequeathed it to us.
– Pompey, the slave who bravely led a revolt against injustice in Exuma.
– Black Dick, the slave, who was executed for staging a slave revolt in what is now Cat Island;
– Stephen Dillet, the first non-white member of this honourable house – first elected 180 years ago;
– James Carmichael Smith, the leader of the protest movement near the end of the 19th century;
– W.P Adderley and his son, the Hon. A.F. Adderley and, later on, his son, the Hon. Paul L. Adderley;
– L.W. Young, Etienne Dupuch, and Dr. C.R. Walker;
– The late, great Milo Boughton Butler
– Clarence Bain, H.M. Taylor, Cyril Stevenson and William Cartwright;
– Randol Fawkes and Clifford Darling
– Doris Johnson
– Carlton Francis
– Cecil Wallace Whitfield
– Warren Levarity, Arthur Foulkes, Jeff Thompson, and Jimmy Shepherd
– Clement and Andrew “Dud” Maynard
– Young Turks of their time like Eldwood Donaldson, Eugene Newry, Oscar Johnson, Oswald Brown, and Caddie Armbrister
– A.D. Hanna
– The greatest of them all, Lynden Oscar Pindling;
– And the hundreds upon hundreds of others whose names and the heroic deeds they performed are forever etched in glorious remembrance, now and forever.
We owe it all to them.