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THE Free National Movement has planned a number of activities this weekend in Grand Bahama to celebrate the life and legacy of the late Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield, who founded the FNM party in 1971.
By DENISE MAYCOCK
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to todayís ceremony. I am especially pleased to welcome Lady Naomi and Sir Cecilís children and other relatives, former colleagues and friends as we dedicate this new Centre in the name of Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield.
Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham yesterday officially opened and dedicated the new Cecil Wallace-Whitfield Centre on West Bay Street which is now the home of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).
In attendance were Vincent Wallace-Whitfield, son of Sir Cecil and his widow, Lady Naomi Wallace-Whitfield.
Former Prime Minister and member of Parliament-elect for the constituency of North Abaco Hubert A. Ingraham told his constituents that he will be stepping down as their representative on July 19. It was on that day 35 years ago that a 29-year-old attorney was first elected that area's member of Parliament. He would win eight consecutive elections in that area.
In 1977 Ingraham received 892 votes, or 69 percent, of the votes cast. There were 1,292 voters who cast their ballots on that day. In the May 7 general election, 4,130 constituents voted. Ingraham only received 2,235 votes, or 54 percent of the votes. After all the former prime minister did for that area, a staggering 46 percent of the voters were firmly against Ingraham winning that contest against an unknown candidate, Renardo Curry.
Obviously, Ingraham's base in that area has eroded over the years. Moreover, his political opponents pumped a lot of money into their campaign in an effort to humiliate the former prime minister at the polls in North Abaco. They were hoping for a major upset. The constituency of Cooper's Town was an impoverished, backward area when Ingraham first became its MP. Today, it is one of the more economically vibrant constituencies in The Bahamas. I cannot understand why the 1,895 residents who supported the two opposing candidates would want to deny the former prime minister another term in office.
On the night of May 7, a teary-eyed Ingraham conceded defeat at his party's headquarters on Mackey Street after it became clear that the governing party had been crushed at the polls. This would be the second election loss that the former prime minister had suffered in two years. His candidate, Dr. Duane Sands, lost his by-election contest in 2010. Perhaps that election defeat should have portended doom to the then Ingraham administration. The night of May 7 was first time I had ever seen Ingraham near tears. I had become so accustomed to seeing him win elections. But this was not to be this time around. His political opponents worked feverishly in portraying him as an intolerable tyrant to the youth of this nation. It was this voting bloc that did Ingraham in at the polls. These young people cannot appreciate what Ingraham has done for this country. The overwhelming majority of them don't read, so they know nothing about the reputation of The Bahamas being in tatters when Ingraham first became prime minister in 1992.
August 19, 1992 was the day that Ingraham and the Free National Movement (FNM) defeated Sir Lynden O. Pindling and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). The PLP was the government of The Bahamas for 25 consecutive years. It wasn't easy to defeat the PLP, which for many years has been considered the party of the small man and the black masses. Sir Lynden was called the Black Moses, who led the country to majority rule in 1967 and to independence in 1973.
Many Bahamians, including myself, just could not envisage Sir Lynden not being prime minister. He ruled this country with an iron fist. In fact, this alleged dictatorial tendency of the late father of the nation led eight PLP members of Parliament to abandon the party in the early 1970s. These political dissidents, Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, Arthur Foulkes, Warren J. Levarity, James Shepherd, Curtis McMillan, George Thompson, Elwood Donaldson and Maurice Moore, called themselves the Free-PLP party. They later formed a political party and called it the Free National Movement. The FNM was led by Wallace-Whitfield, who at one time was the minister of education in Sir Lynden's young government. The United Bahamian Party (UBP) also joined forces with the newly-formed opposition party.
History has proven that the move by the so-called Dissident Eight was a good one. Imagine not having a viable option to the PLP? The Bahamas would have never matured politically without the formation of the FNM. Granted, The Bahamas had several political parties during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
It was no secret that Sir Lynden had no intention of ever stepping down. Even when he was encouraged to relinquish his post as prime minister after the commission of inquiry of the mid-1980s, Sir Lynden dug in his heels and remained in his post. Sir Lynden and his PLP were so entrenched in this nation as the government that even after the shocking revelations of corruption in the 1984 commission of inquiry, the party still was able to hold on to the government in the 1987 general election.
Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie both won as independent candidates in 1987. Both Ingraham and Christie were kicked out of the Cabinet for protesting the rampant corruption within the party. Instead of being applauded for their courageous stand by Pindling, they were both fired. Subsequently, Ingraham was expelled from the PLP. Ingraham had served as minister of housing, national insurance and social services in Pindling's Cabinet. He was also chairman of The Bahamas Mortgage Corporation. In 1976, he was elected national chairman of the ruling PLP government.
I have heard several former prominent FNMs stating on numerous occasions that had Sir Cecil been alive to lead the FNM in the 1992 election, the party would have still won. Perhaps they are right, but we will never know. Providence had other plans for this nation. Besides, if there was ever a time for the then FNM Leader Sir Kendall Isaacs and his deputy Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield to defeat the PLP, it was in 1987. There was simply no way the PLP should have carried that election. In my humble opinion, the two FNM leaders of the 1980s were not as charismatic and energetic as Ingraham. Had Ingraham been the leader of the FNM in 1987, the PLP would have been defeated.
After the 1987 election, Sir Kendal stepped down as leader of the FNM. Sir Cecil once again became the leader of the opposition. However, Sir Cecil became gravely ill with cancer. He died in May 1990.
Ingraham became the new leader of the FNM following Sir Cecil's untimely death. He had joined the party in April of that year. Ingraham was successful in leading the FNM to victory in the Marco City by-election which was held in June of 1990. Ingraham also led the FNM to a stunning victory in the historic August 19,1992 general election, as was mentioned already.
I was amazed at Ingraham's boldness and charisma during the period leading up to the 1992 election. He was not afraid to challenge Sir Lynden. Back then I didn't know that we had people in this country who weren't afraid of the then prime minister. The FNM's victory in 1992 changed the course of Bahamian history.
In my humble opinion, the following decade, 1992 to 2002, was the greatest in this nation's history. It was without precedent. Ingraham was able to attract hotel mogul Sol Kerzner to this country. Kerzner built a first-class resort on Paradise Island, Atlantis. This new resort has transformed The Bahamas' tourism sector, which was dying in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. In fact, when the FNM became the new government in 1992, the unemployment rate was through the roof. Today, Atlantis is this nation's largest private employer. Ingraham also privatized government-owned hotels.
These failing hotels were a burden on the treasury. Ingraham also ended the government's broadcast monopoly. He opened up the airwaves. Now Bahamians can listen to other radio stations, instead of just ZNS Radio. He also brought cable television to New Providence and to several other Family Islands.
For years, the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas was the unofficial organ of Sir Lynden and the PLP. No one would have dared to criticize Sir Lynden on ZNS TV13 and Radio. Anyone brazen enough to do this would have been either fired from their job or disenfranchised by Sir Lynden's loyal supporters. Ingraham brought about sweeping changes to broadcasting. He has also deepened democracy in this country.
It is truly ironic, though, that the man who is responsible for deepening democracy in this country is labeled "The Dictator" and a tyrant by the PLP and his other detractors. Anyone could have gone on any radio talk show and lambaste Ingraham when he was prime minister and not suffered any political repercussions. I have even seen Ingraham's critics on ZNS TV13 lambasting him on many occasions. This country has matured politically under Ingraham's leadership. The FNM under Ingraham had made a solemn oath to do away with political victimization, which had allegedly become so common in Sir Lynden's government. Ingraham has also cleaned up the image of this country, which had been greatly tarnished by the PLP administration in the 1970s and 1980s. He restored the international community's confidence and trust in The Bahamas. That is why the Christie administration was able to attract several major investments between 2002 and 2007.
Ingraham also introduced local government to the Family Islands. Additionally, Ingraham was able to attract several major investments to Grand Bahama during his first decade as prime minister: Polymers International Ltd., the Freeport Container Port, Bradford Marine and the Grand Bahama Shipyard. Ingraham brought about a major economic boom in Grand Bahama and New Providence during the 1990s.
Ingraham had his share of challenges during his final term in office, owing to the Great Recession, along with high unemployment throughout The Bahamas; the grossly mismanaged New Providence Road Improvement Project; the sale of 51 percent of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) to Cable and Wireless Communications; the downsizing at the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas; the unrest at customs and immigration; and the crime crisis in New Providence.
There was the lingering possibility that the "Delivery Boy", as Sir Lynden labeled him in the early 1990s, might very well lose his first election as leader of the FNM because of the myriad of problems facing the nation. The possibility became a reality on the night of May 7.
Yet, despite all that has happened in his final term as prime minister, I believe that when future generations look back at this nation's first 38 years of independence, they will say that Hubert A.Ingraham was the greatest prime minister of The Bahamas. Many Bahamians seem to have forgotten what this nation was like before Ingraham became prime minister in 1992. All of a sudden we have conveniently forgotten the deplorable depths this nation had descended to in the 1970s and 1980s. I for one refuse to play the role of an amnesiac.
I would like to thank Ingraham for all he has done for this country. Informed Bahamians will forever be greatly indebted to him.
- Kevin Evans