28 June 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am pleased to express my thanks and appreciation for the public service of an extraordinary Bahamian woman.

I also welcome the opportunity to make some remarks about a distinguished public servant, Ruth Rosalie Millar, who is a fine example of what a public servant should be.

Her public service is a reminder that we Bahamians are a talented people who are capable of high achievement.

The dedicated service of Mrs. Millar should be an inspiration to excellence for all those who currently populate the Bahamas Public Service and, indeed, for the whole country.

Even a cursory review of her record would indicate that she was born with outstanding gifts — including a high intelligence, a passion for knowledge and the ability to master multiple disciplines. Indeed, she has been a perpetual student throughout her life.

She began her public service career as a nurse for which she qualified in the United Kingdom; studied hospital administration in Canada; obtained a Masters in Business Administration and qualified as a CPA. Now she tells me she is going to study theology!

Mrs. Millar’s achievement is an important lesson for others, particularly in this world of the 21st century where nothing stands still, where new technologies both challenge and enable us, where international developments throw new obstacles in our path but also present us with new opportunities.

Our paths first crossed in 1982 when, as a newly appointed Minister in the Cabinet of Sir Lynden Pindling, I assumed responsibility for the newly created Ministry of Housing and National Insurance. Among the responsibilities of the new Ministry was the Grant’s Town Urban Improvement Project. There I met Mrs. Millar.

I was a young man of 34 years of age at the time. She was just shy of 50. I very quickly discovered that she had a very good brain, an excellent work ethic and unquestioned dedication to the job.

I just as quickly realized that her assignment at the Grant’s Town Redevelopment Project was too confining/limiting for a woman of her ability and experience. And so I engaged her in the development of a real housing policy for the Government of The Bahamas.

She soon became my constant companion and chief advisor. I caused her to travel to observe housing practices in the US and she and I travelled together to Canada, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago in an effort to identify good housing policies we could make use of and, as importantly, to learn which failed policies to avoid.

Despite our efforts, some of those bad policies and practices which we encountered in our travels subsequently found their way into The Bahamas.

A significant accomplishment at the fledgling new Ministry responsible for Housing was the completion of the first Assessment of the Housing Stock of The Bahamas, most particularly in New Providence, which informed our plans for new low and medium income housing developments and the construction of government residential rental units.

We recruited the right staff to assist in modernizing and amending our housing laws and in creating the funding agency to support Government’s housing plans – that is the Bahamas Mortgage Corporation.

The Bahamas Mortgage Corporation Act entered into effect in August 1983, just over a year following upon the creation of the Ministry of Housing and National Insurance. I was pleased to cause Mrs. Millar’s appointment as the first Managing Director of the Mortgage Corporation.

The Corporation was guided in its operation by clearly established and enunciated policies. Just as clear were the criteria for approval of mortgages and the rules for what matters had to be referred to the Board for decision.

I never received any complaints. The Corporation developed a reputation for fairly and objectively implementing its policies.

When the idea for the Government to create a National Health Insurance scheme for The Bahamas was floated, I caused Mrs. Millar to be appointed, in 1984, as Chairperson of the Working Party on National Health Insurance and of the Ad Hoc Task Force on a proposed National Health Insurance Plan. She also served on the National Insurance Board’s Health Infrastructure Committee.

With Mrs. Millar’s assistance we developed and implemented many plans which positively impacted the quality of life of many persons, most particularly medium and low income citizens.

Of course, I didn’t stay long at Housing. I got fired after just two years, three months and a couple of days on the job.

But Mrs. Millar remained and she continued to perform admirably. I have no doubt that my successors learned, just as I had, that Mrs. Millar could be relied upon. She was always available; the public service had become her life; her duty received her all, not only some of the time, but all of the time.

When I returned to Government in 1992, this time as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance & Planning, I discovered great deficiencies in the Ministry of Finance. Increased discipline was urgently required if the finances of the Government were to be properly and adequately controlled.

It didn’t take me long to determine that the best person for the job was Ruth Millar. I found her where I had left her, as Managing Director of the Mortgage Corporation, and I caused her to be appointed Director of the Budget in the Ministry of Finance beginning in January, 1993 – three months after my election and appointment as Prime Minister. The next year she would become Financial Secretary.

The simplified and improved control systems and processes implemented at the Treasury and in the Ministry of Finance during Mrs. Millar’s tenure as Financial Secretary continue measurably to improve the efficiencies of government accounting and financial administration. Indeed, both are in better shape because of her service.

I was pleased to recommend Mrs. Millar to be designated a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George by Her Majesty the Queen in 1996 in recognition of her distinguished service.

When I returned to office in May 2007, following an interim of five years, I met Mrs. Millar still as Financial Secretary. She told me she was ready to begin her long deferred retirement. I asked her to wait a little while and, as expected, this dedicated public officer obliged me.

I know her and she knows me. She has now determined that it is, finally, her time to go. I am obligated to accept her wish. All good things come to an end, after all. She has given good and faithful service; she is a credit to her family, her community and her country.

I was fortunate to have been the recipient of her sage advice during three separate periods of my life – once as Minister with responsibility for Housing and National Insurance, and twice as Prime Minister.
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Those of us who are from time to time privileged to serve our country in the political leadership are constantly and acutely aware of the important role of those who serve as public servants.

These are the people who actually maintain and operate the machinery of government. Without them there can be no government.

Like the citizens of other countries, we Bahamians take delight in decrying our civil servants, mostly because of the few with whom the public comes into direct contact and who let the side down.

But there are many others who, year after year, day in and day out, and sometimes well into the night, devote the best of themselves, their talents, their knowledge and their skills, to the service of their country.

Ruth Millar has, for many years, been high in the ranks of this extraordinary contingent. And truly in her case each working day literally extended well into the night.

She has unstintingly given of her vast knowledge, experience and capacity for work over many crucial years in our country’s recent history.

She has contributed to the development and success of many public projects and initiatives.

She has come as close as possible to being the perfect public servant. She has her own private personal preferences, of course, but she has never allowed that to diminish her response to the call of duty.

She has served under each administration with equal dedication and enthusiasm and that, too, is an important lesson for others in the service.

Furthermore, long after she had earned a well-deserved retirement, she continued to serve. I should like to thank her personally for her loyal service to the administrations I have had the honour to head, and for her best advice to me on every occasion.

I should also like to thank her on behalf of the Government and the people of The Bahamas for her many years of sterling service to our beloved Bahamas.

On behalf of a grateful nation, I thank you Ma’am.