24th May 2005
Amid increased debate over the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), Free National Movement Leader Senator Tommy Turnquest yesterday set the record straight on the FNM’s position on the controversial agreement, saying it is not the same position held by the government.
Mr. Turnquest said it is the FNM’s position that The Bahamas should not join the CSME.
He made the comment in an interview with The Bahama Journal on the heels of continued statements made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell that the FNM agrees with the government on how to proceed on CSME.
Minister Mitchell indicated recently in a statement that, "the position of the Official Opposition as communicated to the Minister is that they agree, and are at one with the government’s position on CSME- provided reservations are obtained for The Bahamas not to participate in the free movement of people; the Caribbean Court of Justice at the appellate level, the single currency and monetary union and the Common External Tariff."
During an address last week to the Abaco Chamber of Commerce, the Minister said, "Both political parties agree with the approach that we have decided with regard to [the CSME]. You will see a lowering of the temperature on this over the next few weeks. The arguments from the opponents have been exhausted. You can see this with the lengths of the desperation and invention that are taking place."
But Mr. Turnquest said the Foreign Affairs Minister "ought to desist from saying what he’s saying about the Free National Movement" regarding its position on CSME.
While he said that the FNM believes that the government should not sign the agreement, he also indicated that the party supports a referendum on the issue.
In addition, he said- should The Bahamas sign on; it should secure the mentioned reservations. But Mr. Turnquest – joining a growing chorus – questioned how long the reservations would last.
"We want to be assured that the reservations at some point in the future don’t just fall away and we find ourselves automatically becoming a part of this Caribbean union with those tenets being in place," Mr. Turnquest said.
But while on the Love 97 programme "Jones and Company" on Sunday, Minister Mitchell indicated that the reservations would last for as long as a Government of The Bahamas wishes them to.
Mr. Turnquest said yesterday that the FNM’s position has "evolved to where we support the position that Bahamians have. We ought to have a referendum on it."
He said, "There are some theorists or constitutional experts who say that our constitution does not allow for that type of referendum to be held. We can amend our laws so that the people of The Bahamas have more of a say in this matter.
As far as I am concerned, the people ought to decide.
"I listened to Brian Moree on Jones and Co. [Sunday] when he said if you disagree with five fundamental positions like that, why then join and I wholeheartedly agree with him. That’s exactly what I’m saying."
Mr. Turnquest was asked whether The Bahamas should no longer be a part of Caricom.
"If they are not prepared to accept us as a part of it [then so be it], but I think they would be prepared to have us in terms of the cooperation and other aspects and they would benefit as would we. I don’t see that there are any great benefits to us signing and opting out of the major provisions," he said.
Asked on the show on Sunday if The Bahamas would be axed from Caricom if it does not sign the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, Minister Mitchell declined to give a direct answer.
He did say, however, that, "The great beauty of the Caricom movement is it isn’t one of these hard and fast, black and white issues. The fact is we do participate in all of the organs of the community at the moment, but it is just appropriate for us to be signatories to the treaty. Everyone else in the community is a signatory to the treaty."
When asked by the show’s host, Wendall Jones, whether The Bahamas should sign the treaty, he said, "I believe it should. In fact, the government decided on the 21st of December last year that we ought to do that subject to obtaining the reservations which we have advanced in the public domain."