“…I have a right as a Bahamian….”

“They can’t just come here and expect to get citizenship”

“…As Bahamians, we have to protect our rights!…….”

Sound familiar? We hear it all day long on radio, on TV and on social media. Bahamians worried about their rights. What you probably don’t hear is a similar concern about the responsibilities that create those rights.

For example, the current discussion about the potential amendments to the Constitution revolves around two issues; the possibility of gay marriages and citizenship for the foreign husbands, wives and children of Bahamians. Bahamians are passionate about the protection of their citizenship. But what about the responsibilities of citizenship? Are they as passionate about living up to the responsibility to be engaged in the governance of their country? It appear not.

We do not intend to have foreigners come here and take advantage of our precious God-given citizenship.

For example, recently we embarked on a process to develop a 25-year plan for the development of the country. The first step is documenting the starting point, what the Government calls the State of the Nation. This is the foundation from which planning for the future begins. It is certainly a core citizenship responsibility to become involved in the construction of that foundation, first by becoming familiar with the contents of the report, then by providing responsible comments and responses, and finally by demanding that the final report represents something they can build on.

Unfortunately, I’ve spoken to too few people who have either read the document or intend to. They have accepted that the Government is on its own path and has its own agenda, and that their comments would have no impact on the final document, despite the effort to involve them in its initial compilation. To some extent, the present report does justify their concern, but it does not relieve them of the responsibility to engage in the process. The National Development Plan can only make sense if it is based upon agreed objectives. The choice of objectives is affected by the perception of the starting point. That is why this first step is so important. We cannot afford to “leave it up to Government”. Our rights as citizens is only worth fighting for if we are prepared to live up to our responsibilities as citizens. Then, and only then, can we be concerned about others “taking advantage” of our citizenship opportunities.

(By the way, as someone whose life – especially my creative life – has been immeasurably blessed by foreigners who decided to make the Bahamas their home, our paranoia about foreigners seems out of place.)

Living up to the responsibility of citizenship is what gives us rights. If we fail to live up to those responsibilities, we cannot expect to have the rights. It is time to begin behaving like citizens. Or are we just Permanent Residents with the Right to Gripe?

May 15, 2016