“Celebrating 50 Years of Foreign Relations and Beyond in an Independent Bahamas”
His Excellency Mr. Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations;
Her Excellency Baroness Patricia Scotland, KC, Commonwealth Secretary General;
Her Excellency Dr. Carla Barnett, CARICOM Secretary General;
Fellow heads of state, ministers, and senior government officials;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps and other Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen; Good morning.
To all our friends who have set foot on Bahamian soil for the very first time to engage in this esteemed forum, I extend special greetings.
To those Bahamian diplomats who have returned from Missions abroad, welcome home!
And to those resident here, I wish you a warm welcome back to Diplomatic Week 2023.
First of all, diplomats, thank you for your service to The Bahamas. By any measure, we are well represented as a nation and that is due, in large part, to the work you do each day.
We saw the power of diplomacy just a few days ago, as the Canadian government assisted us in evacuating Bahamians from Israel after the start of the most recent conflict in the Gaza Strip. Our diplomats stepped up to protect Bahamians; this service is not only acknowledged, it is deeply appreciated.
50 years of multilateralism
Today, I stand here as a witness to the independence of The Bahamas made possible, in part, by the support of the UN Special Committee of Twenty Four—an organ devoted to decolonisation.
In the words of African Christian Philosopher John Samuel Mbiti, “I am, because we are; and since therefore I am.” After fifty years as an independent state, our relationships with the leaders and states in this room and beyond have shaped statehood and multilateral engagement.
We are here today to recommit to multilateralism.
This morning, I will speak to a few issues which affect The Bahamas considerably; and I will also show how multilateralism, particularly through regional and international bodies, can assist in tackling those very same challenges.
Broadly speaking, these issues fall into three categories: economic and social justice, reparatory justice, and climate justice. These themes will anchor our multilateral policies for the next 50 years and beyond.
Economic and Social Justice: the UN Multi-Vulnerability Index (MVI)
As Small Island Developing States (SIDS), our economic and social development requires the use of the UN Multi-Vulnerability Index (MVI). It is a critical step forward in understanding the relationship between vulnerability, exposure, shock, debt and development. This index not only acknowledges economic vulnerabilities, but also considers factors like climate change, political stability, and social disparities, providing a more comprehensive picture of a nation’s susceptibility to external shocks. High-income states, such as The Bahamas, often encounter difficulties in accessing concessional financing due to classifications based solely on income.
The MVI recognizes that even relatively affluent nations can be highly vulnerable to various risks, making it imperative to reassess traditional financing models. By incorporating the MVI into international funding mechanisms, we can ensure that financial assistance reaches those who need it most, regardless of their income status, thereby promoting a more equitable and effective approach to sustainable development and disaster resilience.
I must recognise and commend the work of the UN High Level Panel on MVI in 2022, and I look forward to supporting evidence-based recommendations for policy and governance arrangements in 2023 and beyond.
Tax Justice: Global Financial Reform and the UN Tax Convention
Taxation, commerce, and debt are all inextricably linked. The current international tax system penalises and handicaps the international financial centres of the Global South. Multilateralism can help shape more effective and fair global governance arrangements through agenda-setting, cooperation, and the merging of political and technical spheres.
The UN has the capability of providing the technical capacity building that states need to execute essential taxation policies.
The Bahamas believes that the UN is the appropriate body to design and build an equitable and inclusive international tax administration architecture with equal-footed representation. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) cannot declare legitimacy for developing universal outputs while decision-making and membership remain exclusive. The Model Double Taxation Convention between developed and developing countries exemplifies why the UN is a more inclusive body for developing countries concerning international taxation.
Reparatory Justice: Truth, Reconciliation, and Justice
My friends, reparatory justice seeks not only to provide monetary compensation, but also to promote educational, cultural, and development programmes that empower the peoples of the Caribbean to overcome the enduring consequences of a painful past. It recognizes the need for reparations as a means of rectifying the profound and lasting socio-economic, cultural, and psychological scars left by centuries of colonial exploitation and oppression. Last month, leaders in our region recommitted to our plan to address the enduring legacy of slavery, indentured labourers, and the dispossession of indigenous peoples.
The Bahamas proudly acknowledges the work of our nationals involved in this search for truth, reconciliation and justice: Ms. Gaynel Curry to the UN Permanent Forum for People of African Descent, Dr. Niambi Hall Campbell as chair of our National Reparations Committee, and Mr. Philip Smith our Ambassador at Large for Reparatory Justice. We are at the precipice of a political, intellectual, legal and inter-continental campaign. We invite all to join us.
Human Rights and Democracy
Realising human rights and defending democracy is a central commitment of my administration. We have established a Parliamentary Human Rights Committee to: assess and evaluate all matters relating to the protection and enforcement of human rights in The Bahamas; determine the extent to which rights comply with regional and international obligations; make recommendations to guide legislative processes; and hold public hearings on human rights-related issues. This is the first of its kind in The Bahamas and the third such committee in the Caribbean.
A recent Privy Council Ruling on nationality affirmed that a child born out of wedlock in The Bahamas, in a situation in which the father was a Bahamian and the mother a foreign national, was a citizen of the Bahamas at birth. With these hierarchies of citizenship rights removed, legislative and policy reforms have been initiated to eliminate inequality in the transmission of citizenship, while addressing other citizenship issues, including granting citizenship to children born abroad to married Bahamian women and their foreign husbands.
We seek the progressive realisation of human rights through creative and digital means that are appropriate for our archipelagic state of over 700 islands. For example, our National Commission for Persons with Disabilities has created an accessibility app and our National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has provided closed captioning, and natural hazard alerts for those with hearing impairments. We will continue to prioritise poverty alleviation by implementing programmes targeting vulnerable sectors in our society.
Situation in Haiti
My friends, the situation in Haiti is an immediate and evolving crisis. The Bahamas is gravely concerned that the political, social and economic fabric of Haitian society is deteriorating. By all accounts, the reports from our Caribbean Community’s Eminent Persons Group, which includes former Prime Minister the Rt. Honourable Perry Christie, are a sobering reminder of how we have failed the Haitian people. The humanitarian and security support required to counter gang activities is urgent. The illicit flow of firearms allows gangs to stockpile dangerous weapons that are no match for the Haitian National Police. More and more, armed violence and gang encroachment into new neighbourhoods and territories in and around Port au Prince are worsening, resulting in harrowing experiences for Haitian citizens, especially women and girls, who are victims of sexual violence.
Let me be very clear, The Bahamas remains committed to deploying 150 troops to bring peace and stability to the Republic of Haiti, following the UN Security Council’s recent endorsement of a multi-national force. Our officers will join other regional and international counterparts to create humanitarian corridors and to assist in training and capacity building where necessary. We are still of the view that the solution to Haiti’s challenges must be led by Haitians. We firmly believe that without enhanced security, the Haitian people will only continue to suffer.
Climate Justice: Sustainable Development in a Climate Vulnerable State
A spate of unparalleled overlapping crises – global health emergencies, conflicts, inflation, food insecurity, debt, and climate disasters – have crippled action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress, and sustainability for all. We are no longer waiting on the impact of climate change that scientists have warned about – we are standing in the midst of it. In The Bahamas we have recorded temperatures this summer reaching 102 Fahrenheit/ 39 Celsius. The adverse impacts of climate change impact our islands as both the slow onset of sea levels rising and the extreme weather events such as hurricanes and natural hazards.
Last month marked the anniversary of Hurricane Dorian, a hurricane that left an indelible mark on Bahamian society, both in terms of its immediate devastation and long-term economic repercussions. The storm’s catastrophic winds and unprecedented rainfall led to the loss of lives, homes, and infrastructure, particularly in Abaco and Grand Bahama. The recovery efforts have required substantial resources, diverting funds that could have been invested in education, healthcare, and other vital services. Additionally, the ongoing threat of climate change and more intense hurricanes underscores the urgency of adaptation and mitigation and resilience planning in The Bahamas in order to secure our economic future in an increasingly unpredictable environment.
We have no choice but to seek creative ways to combat the costs associated with climate change, whether through multilateral agreements or through a private sector capital markets approach to financing sustainable development. A few weeks ago, my administration announced a new financing facility—The Bahamas Sustainable Investment Programme—designed to fund climate-resilient infrastructure, clean energy transition, coastal conservation, reducing biodiversity loss, regenerative agriculture, carbon sequestration and participation in natural asset-backed carbon credit programmes. As we prepare for COP28 hosted by the United Arab Emirates, we look forward to this opportunity to showcase how our country has ‘rethought, rebooted and refocused’ our approach to the climate change agenda.
My friends, the time has come to rebuild trust and to reignite solidarity. The Bahamas is committed to multilateralism and all it can achieve in addressing uneven geographies of development.
Our former Prime Minister, Sir Lynden Pindling, during his first address to the UN General Assembly after independence in 1973, said: “there is a need for perpetual interdependence of the Big and the Small, which will guarantee the perpetuation of the United Nations as the centre for the harmonisation of the actions of nations concerned with international peace and security, equality and freedom, economic justice and social justice for all peoples.”
As a Small Island State, we recognise that the solidarity of peoples is necessary to overcome challenges, remove the causes of asymmetries and inequities between and within States, and promote the security, development and human rights of all States.
We live in a globalised, interconnected world. While a single nation acting alone may have limited reach and influence, there is power in partnership. Partnerships are central to our approach to representing our national interests and taking on the biggest global challenges. And those partnerships are, by and large, forged through diplomacy.
Diplomats, as we celebrate Diplomatic Week, take this idea to heart, and reimagine what might emerge in a new age of multilateralism – a new era of cooperation, collaboration, and partnerships.
Once again, thank you for your service.
I wish you all a productive and fulfilling Diplomatic Week!