“The public no longer has any confidence in the honesty of the people they have elected”
After reading this quote in a statement released by a respected and good intentioned Bahamian politician, I had to ask myself a few questions.
Do Bahamians express a weighty desire for confidence in the honesty of local politicians? More importantly, to what degree is honesty representative of the social and moral fabric of the Bahamian community?
To begin, I would like to state unequivocally, that I have much admiration and optimism for the fact that [we] refer to ourselves as a Christian nation. However, I am not certain to what extent does such a terminology equates to that of an honest nation, and where they relate and differ in discourse.
I wish to address this idea of an “honest politician”, many Bahamians view the use of such an expression as a blatant oxymoron aimed at dignifying a profession that is stained with the dye of corruption, scandal and dishonesty. This however, does not suggest politicians are men incapable of just action. An honest politician, or better yet a politician that acts solely within the law risks doing what is good although not always lawful. According to social psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, at the social contract level of moral development, Individuals reason that values, rights, and principles undergird or transcend the law. While politicians may not be generally perceived as “honest men”, this in no way means that they are unavoidably outside the realm of “just men”.
I write as a Bahamian who wrestles with this notion that our people truly desire “honest politicians”. This notion contradicts many of the local practices that are deeply embedded in Bahamian social norms.
As a child I recall a public that waited anxiously for the festive and gift-giving election season, a time of plenty and hand-outs for all. Persons vying to be parliamentary representatives were perceived as nothing less than the Santa Clause of their constituencies. The public as mentioned above, engaged in behaviors that were far from what I regard as honest practices.
Throughout these Islands Bahamians seem less interested in political rhetoric, many of whom appear more likely to support leaders who able to provide economic or material gifts. My experience has taught me that the balloting public were generally willing to negotiate their vote under selective exchange conditions. Some citizens wanted an assured government scholarship, others a government job and a large majority settled for work during the campaign, or simply a few dollars in hand. Those citizens more ambitious in their endeavors, use this opportunity to secure potential government contracts. In addition, many organizations within the community consider the political season a perfect opportunity to protest, the public realizing the finest time to get what you want from politicians is when you have something worth their consideration.
Many Bahamians do not seem to regard the fulfillment of personal promises made on the campaign trail as unethical or dishonest. Civil servants know the extent of public dishonesty quite well, as they themselves are sometimes willing participants. For a few dollars having your documents or parcels of interest fast tracked doesn’t seem wrong when you are the beneficiary. Being bumped up to the front of the line seems harmless when you perceive your situation as dire compared to others, simply because you have a friend that knows a friend.
Is it possible that persons vying to justly represent the masses become exploited? Sometimes I question whether, it is that formerly honest men undergo political modification throughout the electoral procedure as a result of public and party demands?
However, I am somewhat mystified on what the character of this honest politician would look like, and how easy it would be to find an honest man in a largely dishonest community. Many Bahamians pay far too much attention on the smaller issue of dishonest politicians, while deceit and corruption is greatest in the larger community.
If Bahamians truly desired an honest politician, he would be one who refrain from engaging in all or any of the following actions:
• special favors to family and friends
• offer or approve scholarships to friends, families or constituents without just and proper approval
• Give money to voters
• Give any form of gift to voters e.g. refrigerators, stove, alcohol, food, contracts etc.
• Approve jobs or conspire with others to employ family/friends/constituents outside of normal or just procedures
• Provide any form of assistance or contracts that would show favor to an individual or group
• Do anything in the interest of family from their appointed office that is regarded as special favor
• Provide special concessions to lobbyist and investors in exchange for support
• Award cronies work and other opportunities unjustly
If politicians were to refrain from the above actions certainly we would have a more honest society, probably with a lot more angry people. Are Bahamians remotely prepared to deal with a local politician that is not afraid to tell his constituents NO at any political cost?
In truth, sometimes Bahamians “want their cake and eat it too”, we want honest politicians that would compromise what is right when our needs arise. Often times when politicians do not address our personal needs we lash out. If ever unsatisfied, Bahamians occasionally refer to a government or politician as doing nothing while in office, this sometimes speaks to a personal need that has not been met. Such citizens measure good governance by whether or not government initiatives impact their life in a personal way, it matters not the impact of such an initiative on the lives of the larger community.
Presently, I am not convinced that Bahamians elect politicians based on confidence in their ability to be honest, especially since many of us acknowledge dishonesty as a vice that blemishes all men from time to time. More importantly, politicians should embody the virtue of a just man.
Politicians simply reflect the morals, values and norms of the community from which they are elected.
In the words of Kahtil Gibran in The Poet:
“Often times have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world… As a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree…So the wrongdoer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.”
While I don’t believe Bahamians elect men for their honesty, I do see value in honest elected officials. In moving forward the question to be considered is: To what extent is a lack of honest officials the result of an essentially dishonest public? Currently, many Bahamians benefit from the actions of dishonest politicians, and quite frankly others may just be waiting in line for an opportunity themselves.
We always pay more attention to the withered leaves at the top of a dying tree, while the infection lie at the root.