By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
DESPITE insistence by some that last week’s “We March Bahamas” protest was politically motivated, several Cabinet ministers yesterday praised the peaceful protest as a testament of democracy.
However, Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr Hubert Minnis, who attended the march, said the “historic” event was a “wake-up call” for politicians.
“I joined the march in solidarity with all Bahamian citizens who seek positive change,” Dr Minnis said. “This is the dawn of a new day. Bahamians will no longer accept second-class citizenship. We demand the highest standards of accountability, transparency and equality,” he added, as he urged people to register to vote.
Meanwhile, in a statement yesterday, Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald said he was glad that he attended the demonstration despite the “perceived short-sightedness” of organisers. He was referring to the position taken by organisers against the attendance of sitting government MPs.
“As many of you know, an invitation was extended to members of the government by the organisers to attend the march on Friday past and while the acceptance of this invitation was met with accusation of event hijacking by the organisers and the subsequent directive to the attendees to turn their backs on us, my individual decision to participate was based on my love and commitment for our great country,” Mr Fitzgerald said.
“At Arawak Cay prior to the march I had the opportunity to speak with many in attendance. I learned that some persons gathered there because they were dissatisfied with the government, some because they do not believe the opposition party is a credible voice to represent their interests and others because they simply wanted to be part of the event. But most of all, however, I spoke with people who above anything else, just wanted to put the politics aside and focus on improving our country.”
Mr Fitzgerald maintained that he too wanted a better and stronger Bahamas, and that this desire motivated him to commit the past nine years to front line politics.
He concluded that the march was reflective of Bahamian aspirations for nation building through a healthy exchange of ideas; a willingness to collaborate to improve our quality of life; communication; and listening to the Bahamian people. But he noted that the majority was often drowned out by the louder minority, whom he said had a “purely political agenda.”
Mr Fitzgerald said he was disappointed by the disrespectful rejection of the invitation to meet with Prime Minister Perry Christie.
“In doing so,” he continued, “the organisers in a fit of hubris have squandered an opportunity many of those who marched and supported them wished they would have seized instead of issuing threats to hold the country hostage.
“Despite what can be perceived as short-sightedness of the organisers, the peaceful display by Bahamians reflects the best of The Bahamas and how the majority of us are invested in making meaningful change.”
He added: “The government doesn’t have all the answers and we most certainly can’t solve every problem. At the end of the day, the rate and success of the change we desire as a nation will be dictated by the rate and pace of our change individually and collectively as a people.”
Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe remarked that the march demonstrated the strength of democracy in the country. He noted that the issues protested were wide-ranging, and as such, must be considered and prioritised accordingly by the government. One major concern raised by protesters that Mr Wilchcombe fully endorsed is calls for a solution to air pollution caused by the New Providence landfill. Speaking to calls for the release of Crown land, he said he personally felt that priority should be given to address the land issues arising from the Quieting Titles Act.
“The march speaks to our liberties and how we can manage affairs in a respectful way,” Mr Wilchcombe said.
“The issues that concern the people is the issues we should be dealing with, sometimes the issues we’re dealing with are important but not a priority for the people.
“The issues that concern the people are issues that concern us, that’s what we have to be concerned about if we’re of the people, for the people and about the people.”
Mr Wilchcombe also took issue with the organisers’ refusal to meet with Mr Christie, questioning how the meeting would detract from their cause if the end goal was to achieve a resolution.
“The integrity of everything is predicated on what you do after,” he said, “if we’re seeking to cause resolution of these issues, there’s a process in achieving that. I don’t know what that means saying you won’t meet privately with the prime minister.”
The day of the protest, Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell told his party’s supporters not to take part in the event, adding that the march would not change anything.
Speaking directly to this, Mr Wilchcombe said: “We have to appreciate that Fred Mitchell is Fred Mitchell and the prime minister spoke for the government, that is the position of the government. We may not all share in how he (Mr Mitchell) approaches things, but all of us appreciate that Fred will establish his positions. He was speaking as an individual member of Parliament.”
Minister of State for National Security Keith Bell yesterday maintained that Friday’s march was “purely political”, but noted that the government ought to remain focused on major initiatives the administration will begin rolling out in the near future.
“There are big announcements to be made shortly,” he said. “I’m very impressed with the prime minister, and happy with the position of the government on any number of issues. The Bahamian people will continue to have confidence in this government.”
Mr Bell said that while there were some legitimate concerns raised, the march appeared to be a “preemptive strike” with no intention to engage the government. He added that the intrusion of “certain characters” made the demonstration “purely political”.