2002 Referendum Defended
By Candia Dames
11 April 2006
Two officials of the government-appointed Constitutional Review Commission are at odds over whether some of the new recommendations of the Commission are largely in line with what the Ingraham Administration had proposed in the 2002 referendum.
Co-deputy Chairman Michael Barnett even defended the position of the FNM government on the failed referendum, noting that the proposed changes had been supported by the then opposition in parliament and then later opposed.
"There is no radical difference in the nature of the recommendations with respect to constitutional change," said Mr. Barnett, who was one of the guests on the Love 97 programme ‘Jones and Company’ on Sunday.
He suggested that besides some "tinkering, glossing and tightening up" the recommendations of the new report "are very much the same" as what the FNM government had pushed in the referendum.
Shortly after members of the commission presented a copy of their preliminary report to Prime Minister Perry Christie last month, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, who is now again the leader of the FNM, noted essentially the same.
He also said that the PLP government appeared to now be suggesting that while the proposed changes were wrong under the FNM’s watch, they are now right under the PLP’s watch.
But Commission Co-chairman Paul Adderley, who was also on the Sunday programme, agreed that while Mr. Barnett was suggesting that the groundwork for what the commission is now doing was laid by the Ingraham Administration, that is not true.
He indicated that there are fundamental differences contained in the report of his commission, although he recognized that there are some similarities.
"Firstly, with regard to citizenship, no one objects to the concept of equality of women and the FNM proposal was that Bahamian women married to a foreigner [that their] children became Bahamians just like the children of Bahamian men," Mr. Adderley noted.
"That provision is exactly the same and I think everybody agrees with that."
But he pointed out that while the FNM government proposed that a foreign man who married a Bahamian woman could obtain citizenship immediately, the commission recommends that he be made to wait years before qualifying.
"That particular provision, I think, caused them more difficulty in the referendum than any other, that instantaneous citizenship," Mr. Adderley said. "This commission proposed between five to 10 years…That is the fundamental difference…That, I think, is very, very significant."
The commission co-chairman also pointed out that the FNM government proposed that the boundaries commission still be subjected to the prime minister’s power to amend.
But the Constitutional Commission is recommending that the constitution be amended to create a truly independent electoral and boundaries commission and remove the power of the prime minister to modify the report of the commission.
Mr. Barnett then insisted again that the concepts and the ideas of the 2002 proposal and the present one are the same.
"With respect to the marriage, what was proposed during the 2002 referendum exercise, I thought, is the concept that the right that was afforded to non-Bahamian women who were married to Bahamian men…that same right should be given to a non-Bahamian male who is married to a non-Bahamian female…That very same concept is repeated in the recommendations that have been made by this report," he said, repeating Mr. Adderley’s earlier point.
Mr. Adderley, meanwhile, said there are also significant differences as they relate to the 2002 proposal on the mandatory retirement age of judges.
"The point where we disagree is with regard to the term of judges," he said.
The Ingraham Administration recommended that the retirement age of a Supreme Court judge be extended from 67 to 72; and the retirement age of a justice of the Court of Appeal be extended to 75, with the right to extend being held by the prime minister.
"Mr. Adderley said, "We have number one suggested so far that the retirement age be 70 – fixed and no question of extending it by the prime minister because we thought that would give the prime minister a little too much leverage and power."
Mr. Barnett said he still thinks that the retirement age being recommended by the commission is "too low", but he said he agreed with the concept that the prime minister should not have the power to extend the retirement age.
On the point of the 2002 referendum defeat, Mr. Barnett pointed out that the PLP while in opposition had supported the Ingraham Administration’s proposal.
"You must not forget that the proposals that had been put forward had received the unanimous support of all the members of parliament and that the people could have been educated as to why those…proposals had been made and why it was that they supported them," he said.
"[The opposition] elected not to do so and as a result of that I think we got caught up in the politics of early 2002 and what were really sensible proposals were simply rejected…not because of the defects of the proposals or the lack of merit of the proposals because you can see many of the proposals are repeated here."
Mr. Adderley quickly said, "But don’t underestimate the people’s capacity once they are told something to think for themselves."
The commission intends to carry out another round of consultations with the Bahamian people before submitting final recommendations.
Responding to a question that was asked by the show’s host, Wendall Jones, Mr. Adderley said, "[The government doesn’t] have to accept a single word which we put down here, but a government would be a very foolish government not to accept anything we put down."
The commission makes many key provisional recommendations in its report – copies of which are available at the commission’s office in the Royal Victoria Gardens.
A few of the recommendations include abolishing the office of governor general and creating a democratic parliamentary republic with the head of state being the president; increasing the size of the senate to 23 and giving the president the power to appoint five of those senators; and eliminating gender bias from the constitution.
Prime Minister Christie has foreshadowed that a referendum will be held so Bahamians can decide on what changes would actually be made to the constitution.