By Candia Dames
14th June 2005
Seeking to bring an end to the raging national debate on the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell on Monday announced that the government will not be signing the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas anytime soon.
In fact, Minister Mitchell said that it does not appear that the government will sign the Treaty, which establishes CSME, during this present term in office, which expires in 2007.
"There is a clear disconnect between the government and the wider community on this matter," said the Minister, who used the entire two hours allocated to him to contribute to the budget debate to address the CSME and other foreign affairs matters.
This meant that there was no room to address public service related issues or matters concerning his Fox Hill constituents.
Minister Mitchell said as it relates to the CSME, The Bahamas has reached the point where it must stop and review.
"The Bahamian people or more properly those who have created the din on the radio and in the press now have their wish," he announced.
"But they must know that it is not to me that they will have to answer for this, but to the future of this country."
Minister Mitchell said he was not panicked by the level of debate that led the government to decide to hold off on signing the Revised Treaty.
"The Bahamas has not signed the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and cannot now sign in these present circumstances," he said. "What we are now engaged in is a programme of public education and discussion on the issue.
"This has become a matter on which people are attacking me personally on a policy which is the decision of the government. I told both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister that I believe that my truthfulness has been called into question and my integrity challenged. No Minister has to seek to ask permission of anyone to seek redress for attacks on his or her personal integrity."
He said what is particularly regrettable is that the forces who opposed the independence of The Bahamas in 1972 now seek to impugn his character by suggesting that he would compromise the sovereignty of The Bahamas.
Minister Mitchell said, "They are false prophets and crying crocodile tears because we know that they did not want The Bahamas to be free in the first place. There is not a possible chance that this Minister, this individual, would compromise the sovereignty of The Bahamas."
Seeking to clarify what he called misinformation associated with the CSME debate, Minister Mitchell said, "It is clear that this matter of our participation in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas will not be decided within this present term.
There is too much misinformation, disinformation and emotion; too much political dishonesty. There is simply too much politics. Accordingly, the Minister of Trade kindly agreed for me to speak to The Bahamas Commission on Trade.
"The Trade Commission’s co-chair, Raymond Winder, has indicated by letter that subject to certain clarifications, they are ready and willing to work on the issues…The politics will hopefully then be out of the matter, the Commission will be free to review all the issues arising from the current debate, without a deadline, and the Ministry can now continue with other valuable projects in our Foreign Affairs.
It is only left for the government to provide a formal remit. It is my hope that this effectively brings an end to this matter."
The Minister also said there has been "considerable misinformation and deliberate disinformation" about the matter or reservations to the Treaty.
The government has said repeatedly that if it signs the Revised Treaty, it would seek reservations on the free movement of people; the monetary union; the Caribbean Court of Justice at the appellate level; and the common external tariff.
Addressing the confusion surrounding whether the reservations would have an expiration date, the Minister said, "The reservations that are proposed are without end.
With regard to this treaty; once you sign a treaty with a reservation, the provisions of the treaty against which there are reservations do not apply to The Bahamas, neither can they be questioned in any court. These are sovereign decisions of a sovereign government."
Minister Mitchell said that the CCJ reservation has been the cause of "considerable confusion."
"The confusion has been engendered by unintelligent – at the very least disingenuous – commentary by attorneys who ought to know better," he said.
Minister Mitchell announced that he will be representing Prime Minister Perry Christie at the next Heads of Government meeting set for St. Lucia early next month.
"The process of public education on this matter is nowhere near complete and so the question of signing anything in July does not arise," the Minister added.
He also spent much of his time lashing out at detractors whom he said have been spreading half-truths.
Minister Mitchell pointed to former Minister of Finance Sir William Allen, and former Minister of Economic Development Zhivargo Laing, saying, "They have been fudging, half truths and shades of deception, confused the public on this issue…This is the political season and no matter what the truth is, the response will be fudging, misinformation and mix up."
While he gave no attention to the public service in his address, Minister Mitchell, under whose portfolio the public service falls, also took a stab at John Pinder, president of The Bahamas Public Services Union.
"He is involved now in a campaign for reelection," the Minister pointed out. "I can only imagine that anything will be said for headlines. I have accused him before of always wanting to engage in the politics of rowing. I did not believe for one moment that he would resort to a deliberate untruth which should be clear to him and clear, as the lawyers say, on the face of the record."
Minister Mitchell said it is "nonsense" for Mr. Pinder to say that the government signed the Revised Treaty on December 21, 2004.
The Minister also slammed Chairman of The Bahamas Financial Services Consultative Forum Brian Moree, who has criticized the government for its handling of the whole debate, and has urged the Christie Administration not to sign the new Treaty.
Mr. Moree has said that it makes no sense to sign such a treaty and opt out of four of its major provisions.
But Minister Mitchell indicated that he’s baffled that Mr. Moree is vehemently opposed to the free movement of people under the CSME, when only a few months ago, he, as chairman of the Forum, released a controversial report strongly asking the government to liberalize its immigration laws.
"There are other critics," Minister Mitchell said. "They have said some pretty appalling things about me personally and about the government. One group that comes with the unfortunate acronym of BARF seems especially personally motivated…I only say this to the public: one should always look to see why a comment is being made and what interest is being served by that comment."
He said that it is clear that the detractors of his government on the CSME issue have one motto, and that is not to let the truth get in the way of a good story.