STORY IN 2006 republished: PM Explains Reasons For Opposition Boycott Of Airport Renaming:
NO RESPECT FOR PINDLING
By Candia Dames –
Members of the Official Opposition boycotted the recent ceremony to rename Nassau International Airport not because of any mix up in getting their invitations out in a timely manner, but because they objected to the airport bearing the name, Lynden Pindling, Prime Minister Perry Christie declared in the House of Assembly on Wednesday.
Mr. Christie raised the issue nearly two weeks after the boycott created some controversy, and triggered widespread debate on local radio talk shows.
“The Government of The Bahamas has occasioned an historical development consistent with that done by the people of Barbados, the people of St. Kitts, the people of France, [and] the people of the United States of America in naming an airport after someone who has historically been deemed the father of the nation,” the prime minister said.
He added, “I think it is only fair for me to ensure that the full truth is known to the Bahamian people…I have read the reports about invitations and lack thereof and attendance and lack thereof at the naming of the Lynden Pindling International Airport.”
The ceremony to rename the airport in honour of the late former prime minister was an official independence event and Mr. Christie said he chose not to speak about the matter during the independence ceremonies because he did not want to have a political intervention of any kind during what are national observations.
The prime minister told House members that when the draft programme for the renaming ceremony was given to him, it proposed that Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe, Transport and Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna-Martin and himself as prime minister address the gathering.
He said he advised his colleagues that he wanted the ceremony to be seen to be a national ceremony. Mr. Christie said that is why the government invited the governor general to address the gathering and decided to take Minister Wilchcombe off the programme.
He said he also decided to consult with the Official Opposition on the matter and explained that one week before the event, he contacted Free National Movement Leader Hubert Ingraham, and Deputy Leader Brent Symonette.
Mr. Christie said Mr. Symonette advised him that he would be out of town during the renaming ceremony. Mr. Symonette later told the House of Assembly that it was his view that the airport should have been renamed in honour of Sir Lynden after it underwent major upgrades.
The prime minister further explained that he spoke with Mr. Ingraham before he traveled to St. Kitts for the CARICOM heads of government conference.
“I spoke in detail with the leader of the Opposition with respect to what I would want,” he said. “I told him that I would want to have the governor general speak; I would want to have, and I said by name, someone who is a distinguished Bahamian, a supporter of the FNM, a former parliamentarian [speak].”
Prime Minister Christie said Mr. Ingraham told him then that there had been some kind of mix up with the invitations, and he had received an invitation addressed to his wife in her capacity as a school administrator.
“This is a week before the event,” the prime minister pointed out, “and I observed that I was certain that that would be cleared up in any event, but [I wanted to ensure] that what was intended to be a national event received the full attention of the Opposition.”
However, he said Mr. Ingraham did not appear interested in attending the event.
“The member of parliament for North Abaco indicated to me that he would not have named the airport after Sir Lynden. He said some things and I’ll reserve those. He then said that he doesn’t know why I’m making such an effort to have the Opposition come to those ceremonies, or participate in them.”
Mr. Christie said Mr. Ingraham indicated to him that he would have named a terminal – and not the entire airport – after Sir Lynden.
The prime minister said he then questioned Mr. Ingraham about what occurred when the Cecil Wallace Whitfield Building was named “and he opined that he thought he just renamed it.”
That Cable Beach building houses the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Finance.
“It was very clear to me, Mr. Speaker, that there was no intention of their participating or even coming. [It had] nothing to do with invitations, nothing to do with whether or not they were invited. The prime minister of The Bahamas, consistent with my requesting the governor general to speak, endeavored to have that done in the way I have just described,” Mr. Christie said.
The prime minister reminded House members that during the renaming ceremony, he indicated that, “I am also speaking to those who could have come, but who chose not to.”
He said he did not intend to create further controversy on Wednesday, but added, “since there is such a hullabaloo about this matter it is important for history that I put on the record of this House that I chose to speak to the deputy leader [and the leader]; the intention was to ensure that we elevated that experience to the status of a national event not to be marred by any politics or anything controversial.”
A day before the renaming ceremony, Mr. Ingraham took issue in the House of Assembly with having received his invitation to the event only a day prior to it happening.
On Wednesday, Mr. Symonette confirmed in the House that he had spoken to the prime minister who called him on his cell phone when he was in the United States a week before the ceremony.
He also said he wanted to ensure that two separate issues were not clouded.
“As we go forward I trust that those responsible – and this is not meant as a political comment – find a way that the bureaucracy is able to get invitations to members in a timely fashion,” Mr. Symonette said.
Following the member’s comment, the prime minister highlighted that Mr. Symonette had made a distinction between “those of us who are in the political directorate” and bureaucrats.
He said this to say that the politicians were not directly responsible for the mix up in getting the invitations out in a timely fashion.
But he added, “I accept the responsibility for what has gone wrong”, and he indicated that former governor general, Sir Clifford Darling, received no invitations for the recent independence events.
“It was my intention, having put on the record what I did, to offer a full apology on behalf of the Government of The Bahamas to those who either did not receive an invitation, and should have, or who did receive one and it came late.”
He called the fact that Sir Clifford did not get invitations a “grievous error”.
The prime minister added that the government needs a secretariat to ensure that the sending of invitations is “efficiently and effectively done.”
20 July 2006