Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The National Development Party (NDP) Demands “Full And Frank” Disclosure On Safety Protocol At The Freeport Container Port (FCP)

By Karissma Robinson:

The National Development Party (NDP) is calling on the government and Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH) to provide a full and frank disclosure about safety protocol at the Freeport Container Port (FCP).

Hutchison is a subsidiary of the multinational conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Limited (HWL).

In a press statement released yesterday, the NDP insisted that the type of work conducted at FCP puts its employee’s lives at a great risk on a daily basis.

Three Container Port workers were killed and 11 injured on Monday after a powerful tornado ripped through Grand Bahama, toppling a crane two of the workers were in.

"We want a full and frank disclosure as to safety protocols that were in place at the site and on the island to reduce this risk for the protection of workers. We want to know whether protocols were followed by the relevant authorities," the release said.

The NDP also expressed its condolences to Grand Bahamians.

According to initial reports, one of the cranes could not be stabilised due to the high winds and heavy rain.

As a result, that crane crashed into another creating a domino effect.

One of the toppling cranes crashed to the ground where some persons were conducting maintenance.

FCP CEO Gary Gilbert, as well as FCP Director Godfrey Smith sent out their condolences to the families of those employees who were killed. They also offered the company’s prayers for the full and complete recovery of those workers who were injured and are currently being treated at the Rand Memorial Hospital.

At least three tornadoes touched down in the Freeport area between midday and 1:00 p.m. leaving behind uprooted trees, scattered debris, damage homes, and vehicles.

The report came just before a severe thunderstorm watch was issued for the island warning of possible heavy rainfall, hail, heavy flooding, frequent lightning and funnel clouds.

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, along with the National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest and Social Development Minister Dion Foulkes made a special trip to Grand Bahama yesterday to get a first hand look at the damage.

March 31st, 2010


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bahamas Government has abandoned women suffering in silence

Tribune Staff Reporter

MY MOTHER always told me, 'a wise man can't reason away what a fool believes', so I have little faith my analysis will change the opinions of those afflicted with the ignorance virus, as it relates to the current debate about spousal rape.

I do hope those who are more informed and simply afflicted with a severe case of "spinelessness" will stop to think again about the impact their cowardice will have on victims of one of the most heinous crimes.

Victims of rape are not fantasies of the public's imagination; they are real people, as the woman who wrote about her ordeal in The Tribune last year testifies.

"When he forced himself on me he would say he paid for the right to have sex with me whenever he wanted. Many times I was left bruised and sore for days.. On two occasions I even contracted sexually transmitted diseases. He was a chronic "sweethearter" even to relations with a baby-sitter and a maid. The man made my life a nightmare and because of his abuse I often took it out on the children," she said.

"I often felt dirty, disgusted, hopeless and not in control of my own body. Since leaving nineteen years ago, I have not had a relationship with any other man -- scars are too deep. I vowed never to have to go through that kind of sexual abuse ever again! Thank you, Mrs Turner, for paving the way for women to have recourse and to be allowed to have control over their own bodies. I am sure a lot of women appreciate it," she said.

With the Government's decision to kill the bill proposed to amend to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, 1991 to extend protection against rape to married women, they have abandoned all of those women suffering in silence, like the one above. They have abandoned their so called progressive agenda; they have opted to represent those that oppress rather than those that are oppressed. According to a 2007 joint report of the United Nations and the World Bank, the Bahamas has the highest per capita rate of rape; not only in the region or the hemisphere, but in the world.

Last week, the Minister of State for Social Development Loretta Butler-Turner revealed the government has no intention of reintroducing the proposed amendments to the Sexual Offences Act when parliament is reconvened. The bill was dropped off the legislative agenda with the prorogation of Parliament last week.

This ends months of speculation about the future of the bill and whether Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham was truly "determined" to have it debated in the House of Assembly. Minister Butler-Turner said the reluctance was in large part because "the people who were meant to benefit most of all from the protection were the ones that have been quite quiet on it and even opposed to it."

This seems oddly suspicious considering just five months ago Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said he was "encouraged" by support for the proposal. He said so speaking at an FNM Women's Association meeting, where he also claimed the FNM was committed to equality for women.

Even though the Prime Minister is still at liberty to change his mind, which I certainly hope he does, the statement from Ms Butler-Turner is significant, because for months, while responding to the Tribune's coverage of the impact of prorogation, she has been reluctant to say the government was anything less than committed to having the debate. Her position was consistently confident in the Prime Minister's determination.

"This is not something we put forward without thought," she said at one time. When pessimism took her over in the past she avoided comment or dodged questions. Last week she said point blank the likelihood of progress is slim to none.

"Unfortunately it appears that we have a significant sector of our community that does not wish to participate in 21st Century progress," said Ms Butler-Turner.

Why is the Government scared to or incapable of taking a position on this matter? Each Member of Parliament should stand up and be counted; each should be held accountable for the support or lack thereof.

Why are they capitulating to nonsense claims of people like Deangelo Duncombe, who wrote last year: "As we know the majority of Bahamian women in society tend to be very spiteful. So here it is, her husband comes home after a hard day of work, and feels the need to perform sexual intercourse, but due to an argument they might have had the night before she decides she will not engage in such activity. Bear in mind she is only doing this to get back at him, now if the law was to pass and he insists on performing sex on her he can be imprisoned. Therefore, to save himself from going to jail he decides to go elsewhere to another female who is willing to satisfy him. However, he is now committing adultery and the wife wants a divorce, which can be morally wrong because the reason for him cheating is because of her displaying her spiteful characteristics."

I wonder if this is the message the Government truly wants to align itself with. I wonder if this is the lesson Mr Duncombe has taught his mother, sister or daughter. His use of language, no doubt unconscious, reveals a lot about his psychology and the psychology of some people in the Bahamian society. He speaks of a man "performing sex" on his wife, not having sex with his wife. Sex should be a mutual sharing between consenting adults. In this case, if a man wants a stage performance he should get a prostitute.

"Men go by what they see, women go by their emotions. A wife cannot walk around in the house half nude, come out of the shower wet, sleep in the same bed under her husband and expect him not to roll over and not wanting sex. If a husband is upset and he sees his wife, 99.1 per cent of husbands today if they are upset and they see their wife in a good sexual way they want to have sex (just to please themselves). A wife works by her emotions or (mind). If her husband did not cover one to three of a woman's five basic needs for that day, she will shut down. She will close shop, put on three layers of clothes just for bed, will not cook or clean and last, but not least, she will put on pads and say this is her time of the month -- move away," stated Terrance Gilbert, in a letter expressing his views last year.

Why is it, that in the 21st Century, we have to try to convince elected officials and some people in the Bahamian public that this perception is nothing but a bigoted, dogmatic, chauvinistic, and narrow-minded point of view?

This is not the law of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. No woman should feel or be made to feel as though that is her duty, obligation, or legal mandate.

No man should feel or be made to feel as though this is his right. A government that enables these views to persist is being extremely dishonest, highly irresponsible and downright offensive.

On the day that the 2002 referendum was defeated - the one that would have empowered Bahamian woman to pass on automatic Bahamian citizenship to their children - Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham declared he was "ashamed" the majority of voters decided not to bring the Bahamas in line with United Nations conventions on equal rights for women.

"I said during the course of the campaign that a 'no' vote in the Bahamas on the question of equality says we are not willing to be in compliance with the international convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and that we are unwilling to be in compliance with the United Nations on the rights of a child and that would cause me to hold my head in shame," said Mr Ingraham.

Question one of the 2002 referendum asked voters if they agreed that "all forms of discrimination against women, their children and spouses should be removed from the Constitution and that no person should be discriminated against on the grounds of gender and do you approve the proposed amendments to Articles 3,5,8,9,10,13,14,26 and 54 of the Constitution?"

Many of these articles, Articles 3, 8, 9 in particular, sought to correct the inequality between Bahamian men and women where only a male with Bahamian citizenship is able to transfer his citizenship to his children. In the end the referendum was defeated with more than 60 per cent of voters voting 'no'.

At the time the Prime Minister said he felt very comfortable with history saying that when Hubert Ingraham was prime minister of the Bahamas he sought to get the Bahamas to deepen its democracy and he sought to get the Bahamas to be in compliance with "these very fundamental international conventions with respect to human rights of women children and their spouses".

"History will show that I was on the right side," said Mr Ingraham.

At this eerily similar time, I think it is fitting to say, once again, what a sad and shameful day for the Bahamas. This time, history will not be on the prime minister's side, because his government did not even have the political will or good will of the people in mind, to offer the proposed amendment for debate on the floor of the House of Assembly.

They claim it has already defeated based on the response from the public, but when has that stopped the Government before. How many unpopular bills have made it to the floor and further to the law books?

As an online commentator posted at "What an incredibly sad day for the Bahamas. It would have been good for the usually biggety Ingraham administration to have pushed this through; now, the "vimens dem" know what the Ingraham administration thinks of us. What a sham."

Whatever happened to standing up for principle, not popular opinion? The principle of the matter is spouses should have the same legal protection from being raped by someone to whom they are married as any other person has from being raped by someone to whom they are not wed. That is good governance. That is basic human rights.

Pandering for votes and running scared is not leadership. The Hubert Ingraham-led government did not lose to the will of the people, they threw in their cards; they caved to the mob; they burned down their own house.

From the time the bill was introduced last July, it caused controversy, with opponents claiming it would increase infidelity, promiscuity and even homosexuality; it would destroy the institution of marriage and contradict the word of God. In fact it would only remove the loophole giving perpetrators of spousal rape impunity. With such a laundry list of nonfactual, illogical, misguided and ill-informed complaints, it is difficult to pinpoint where to start in refuting claims from the bill's opponents.

Kingdom Life Church pastor Cedric Moss argued that rape cannot be committed in marriage as each spouse gives the other authority over their body and agrees to open-ended sexual consent in the marriage vows. This view is endorsed by the Bahamas Christian Council, which is pretty much the only Christian body withholding support of the bill.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church all endorsed the proposed amendments, as well as several local advocacy groups.

"When will I, as a Bahamian woman, be considered equal to all other citizens in the nation I was born in? When will I no longer have to suffer because of arrogant 'men of the cloth' such as Cedric Moss? Who elected him to have jurisdiction over my marital bed or my immortal soul for that matter? My Lord, Jesus Christ, has not informed me of Cedric Moss' or the Christian Council's dominion over the religious or sexual affairs of my life," posted Woman Scorned on

"I do not recognise their authority and am fed up with being subject to their hateful, chauvinistic and selfish opinions on matters that are very, very personal and precious to me, such as my freedom," she said.

Cedric Moss and his fellow members of the clergy are out of touch with many in the Bahamian public and with international standards. Their lackey politicians are locked in step.

Sorry to say, the only reason rape cannot be committed in marriage is because there is an exception clause in the Sexual Offences Act that says: "Rape is the act of any person not under fourteen years of age having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse."

The only reason it says "who is not his spouse" is because the law is antiquated. The entire controversy surrounding the bill is based on the removal of these five words.

The exception was inherited from 18th and 19th Century English common law.

At that time in history, women had few to no legal rights - they could not vote, give evidence in court, attend university, gain custody of their children, and had limited property and inheritance rights and few employment opportunities.

Furthermore, at that time the law did not even apply to men and women of African descent because we were enslaved and considered chattel. The laws governing animals and property applied to us. To add insult to injury, the Christian basis of English common law is Old Testament Levitical Law, under which women were also considered chattel. Apparently, this is where some people in the Bahamas want us to say.

Times change. History has proven that. But apparently, time by-passed the Bahamas, as it relates to women's rights, sexual rights and common sense. In less than one decade, two major legislative pushes that would have advanced the rights of women in the Bahamas failed, because of partisan politics, political obstructionism, and an outright effort to miseducate the populous.

"Leaders lead and leaders should do the right thing. The leaders of this country must protect women's rights, even if (some of) the women themselves aren't educated enough to know why they need them. They won't get more educated until they get their rights. Unbelievable. Like living in the Dark Ages sometimes," stated regular commenter, Erasmus Folly.

Although I disagree with much his online commentary, he and I are aligned on this issue.

Another online commentator claimed Erasmus Folly was posturing himself as the "wisest man in the world," labelling everyone with a different opinion to his own, ignorant.

In response, Erasmus said: "I don't claim perfect knowledge, but I am happy to point out obvious ignorance when I see it. Not allowing for the reform of the law and preventing married women their rights is ignorance. So, yes, silly you, if you happen to think that way. It is a morally reprehensible and ignorant position to take. The ignorant are ignorant whether they know it or not - in fact that is the whole point - they don't know it and instead live in Bahamian hypocritical 'Christian' bliss while defending positions that Jesus himself would balk at." Let the preacher say, amen.

Marriage in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas is a legal contract governed by the laws of the land. It's most tangible impact, legally, is the way in which it regulates the distribution of assets, and inheritance. Most of the meaning society ascribes to marriage is symbolic; it is a belief maintained by a collection of individuals, predominantly with a Christian world view.

The fact that marriage has religious symbolism has no bearing on the fact that marriage is governed by the Marriage Act and the Matrimonial Causes Act.

Aside from an obligation to abide by the laws of the land, everyone in the Bahamas is free to determine for themselves if they choose to ascribe to a particular belief. Everyone is free to practice civil disobedience, to challenge or break laws, especially when they are believed to be unjust, oppressive, or antiquated, as long as they know their actions to be such.

I choose not to ascribe to the belief, touted most fervently by the Bahamas Christian Council that marriage means open ended sexual consent and further that a woman's body belongs to her husbands. That is my right. If the government wants to oblige me to live by that belief then they should enshrine that principle in law, and even then I would exercise my right to challenge the law. For the time being, there are no such laws in the Bahamas. If some Christians want to argue it is God's law, then I will take my chances on judgment day.

Religious morals do not govern the contract of marriage; they only govern a symbolic meaning of marriage; neither do they govern the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Laws do.

Although our laws are influenced by Christian principles, the extent of such is outlined in the setting of laws. Let us stop kidding ourselves. The preamble to the constitution is not law. It is a guiding principle. The founding fathers themselves cautioned the Church not to manipulate the meaning of the preamble.

Former parliamentarians George Smith and Sir Arthur Foulkes - both delegates to the 1972 constitutional conference in London - would probably agree, the notion that religious moral or religious ethic supersedes law is a dangerous proposition. The implications of such a vision are most evident in certain Muslim countries in which Islamic law, or Sharia law, is a part of the legal code. In countries where Sharia law is the law of the land, religious leaders have legal authority to determine aspects of daily life, including mandated daily routines, familial, financial and religious obligations.

For the time being, in the Bahamas, as Sir Arthur so eloquently said last year: "The church itself has no constitutional power. No church has the right to perform a government function."

At the end of the day, the argument for the government to stay out of the marital bed is completely a smoke screen, concocted to safeguard the last bastion of male dominance, which is the belief that a woman belongs to a man once wed, and therefore her body is his to do with as desired.

No matter how loud and impassioned the opponents scream; no matter which pulpit they cry bloody murder from, this is only a law in the minds of bible-thumping zealots, misinformed fanatics and their sheep. In this hypocritical 'Christian' society, where sweet-hearting is the norm, for pastors and politicians too, the government has the nerve to support those who seek to convince women that it is their duty, obligation and legal mandate to consent open-endedly to their spouses.

I say it again: This is not the law of the Bahamas, and no woman should feel or be made to feel as though that is her duty, obligation, or legal mandate..

No man should feel or be made to feel as though this is his right. A government that enables these views to persist is being extremely dishonest, highly irresponsible and downright offensive.

This thinking is so radically and fundamentally opposed to the basic tenants of human rights it is astounding. My body is my own. The Church, the government, my husband and no other entity has or should have a right to determine how, when and with whom it is used.

The proposed amendment has nothing to do with regulating marriage. Let me repeat. The proposed amendment has nothing to do with regulating marriage.

It seeks to regulate a heinous sexual offence, hence the reason it is an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act. It seeks to address the problem of sexual violence in our country that is all too prevalent.

Rape is not just some sexual activity taking place between consenting men and women inside or outside of the marriage. Rape is deadly business striking at the core of human dignity.

The irony of this playing out at the same time the United States is pushing through landmark health care legislation in the midst of an all out opposition war is striking. The health care bills were passed in an atmosphere where roughly two thirds of Americans said they were satisfied with the health insurance coverage they already had.

President Barack Obama had the courage to act on behalf of the other third - including 32 million previously uninsured individuals - despite the fact that his approval rating dropped as low as 40 per cent during the most difficult period of his campaign.

He was willing to put his neck on the chopping block because of the principle of the matter. He set his own personal standard that his success as president would be determined by his ability to succeed on health care.

Members of Congress had the courage to act even in face of a maddening crowd, responsible for vandalising senatorial offices and spreading racist propaganda.

The Bahamian Government did not even coordinate an effective public education campaign to galvanize support for the bill. It floundered the entire time. The full weight of the bill was placed on the shoulders of Loretta Butler-Turner.

The Government's excuse that the people most affected by the loophole were not speaking up is vexing to say the least. Rape is a crime in which victims suffer in silence. In the Bahamas, where the level of intolerance and lack of empathy for victims is frighteningly high, I completely understand why this is so.

And in any event, when since was it that only a woman could speak for a woman; only victims could speak for victims? Is this the regressive agenda of the so called progressive FNM government? If that is the case then we should implement an instant quota in the House of Assembly to reflect the relative gender distribution of the nation. Women make up almost 51 per cent of the population, and yet they sit in only five of the 41 seats in the House of Assembly.

This is acceptable in society because we operate based on a system of representational politics, in which citizens elect officials to have their voices represented, irrespective of whether that elected official is of the same gender, background, or political persuasion. Leaders are supposed to represent.

That being said, this is an issue that affects all women in Bahamian society. Therefore, women regardless of their political, religious or social affiliations should unite to counteract the oppressive societal beliefs that afflict our country today.

There is clearly a virus in the air that the Ministry of Health needs to investigate, seriously. It is making Bahamians repulsed by the thought of all women having equal protection against men who rape. This virus is infecting the minds of otherwise good thinking men and women in the country, straight to the top leadership of the country.

This debate makes it clear that unless an issue has political currency it has no value to politicians. I urge the prime minister to check himself and to check his party. Do what is right, not what is politically prudent. For a change, stand up for voiceless victims of heinous crime, not just people with political and financial clout. Let the opposition be on the wrong side of history.

If bringing the bill back only results in its death then give it an opportunity to die a noble death. To borrow the words of Harlem Renaissance poet, Jamaican born Claude McKay, "Like men (let it) face the murderous, cowardly pack, Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!"

Mr Prime Minister, I urge you to bring the bill back.

March 29, 2010


Monday, March 29, 2010

Perry Christie Christie - Opposition Leader won't stay on for another full term as prime minister

By Candia Dames ~ Guardian News Editor ~

Opposition Leader Perry Christie has confirmed that while he plans to lead his party into the next general election and fully expects to become prime minister again, it is his intention to step aside before the end of another five-year term.

Asked specifically about this, Christie told The Nassau Guardian, "Prime ministers should not say that, people who want to be prime ministers should not put a lame duck provision in their leadership, but I think when one looks mathematically at politics and you look at the ages of people, you look at the work they are doing to bring people into the party, you'd be able to read the tea leaves and to know that my work is to strengthen the Progressive Liberal Party."

If the next general election is called in early 2012, Christie would be 68 years old. While he confirmed that he does not intend to serve another five-year term, he did not specify when he intends to retire.

Christie said he is working aggressively to prepare the party for new, younger leadership.

He explained that this is why he is involved in attracting new faces to the PLP.

Christie said he believes he is the best person to lead the party into the elections, and he noted that this was certified during the party's November convention when he was reelected by an overwhelming majority of delegates.

The PLP leader also said the recent Elizabeth by-election defeat was a clear indication to him that more Bahamians are turning away from the Free National Movement and to the Progressive Liberal Party.

"Given what we had to face in the Elizabeth election, an experienced prime minister who decided to use the entire central government, all his arsenal in that by-election in terms of infrastructure improvements that would have pleased people to no end, the clearance of properties that would have pleased people to no end... notwithstanding that we were able to hold back the tide and win," he said.

"I think that demonstrates very clearly that there is a swing in this country, most certainly up to this point. That's what it demonstrates. I think the people wanted to make a statement and they did and they're not satisfied (with the current administration). This has happened in The Bahamas now and people are used to that."

Christie added, "I was sailing along at the end of 2006 with the economy booming, no one could have persuaded me to believe that I could possibly lose the 2007 election, but you know we have to come to terms with one reality, and that is the people choose and I think that the people of Elizabeth spoke well.

"And I don't pay any attention to a claim that we reduced the majority from 40-plus votes. To me, this is a magnificent victory for Ryan Pinder and the Progressive Liberal Party. It is good for the democracy of The Bahamas that we were able to hold that seat because it rejected the arrogance that happens with governments."

The PLP has already started naming candidates for the next general election. The naming of the first four candidates has come more than two years before the election must be called.

In 2007, PLP candidates were formally announced a few weeks before the general election.

Asked whether he regrets that late announcement, Christie told The Guardian, "There's no question about that. Looking back, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but you have to learn from mistakes.

"And I regret all sort of things, not just the time it took us to get going with the campaign, but also that there were some mistakes that I personally made in terms of accepting situations from colleagues and situations from members of Parliament that I ought to perhaps have been much more decisive in dealing with.

"Now, I've owned up to that, and I wanted to own up to that, because it is a series of mistakes that were made. And it is important that I promise people that I will not make them again."

While Christie has confirmed his intention not to stay on for another full five-year term should the PLP win the next general election, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has not yet announced whether he plans to lead his party into the election.

He has said, however, that he plans to make his intention known at the end of 2010.

March 29, 2010


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bahamas: Third Party Leaders React To Election Court Decision

By Karissma Robinson:

Two third party leaders who ran in the Elizabeth by-election last month are reacting to Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) candidate, Ryan Pinder’s Election Court victory.
On Tuesday, Senior Supreme Court Justices Anita Allen and Jon Isaacs decided to allow five protest votes to be counted in Mr. Pinder’s favour.

The decision led to Mr. Pinder winning the February 16, by-election.

The Bahama Journal spoke with National Development Party (NDP) candidate, Dr. André Rollins and Worker’s Party candidate, Rodney Moncur, who weighed in on the ruling.

Dr. Rollins pointed out that from the beginning of the court battle his party maintained that no voter should be disenfranchised and all lawful votes should be counted.

However, he said that the controversy surrounding the by-election process is a direct reflection of the country’s electoral process.

As a result, Dr. Rollins said parliamentarians "must take electoral reform very seriously."

"This is something that must be done in this country. It is unfortunate that it took so long for parliamentarians to realise that something is wrong with the process," said Dr Rollins.

Dr. Rollins suggested that parliamentarians look at several issues that he believes directly impacts the integrity of The Bahamas’ electoral process, including, establishing a fixed date for all general elections; compiling a database linking the National Insurance number, driver’s license number, passport number, voter identification number and a newly created public utility services Number to verify voters’ identities and to keep better track of where they live and when they die.

He said they should also look at making it mandatory for any voter register used in an election to be completed no less than six months prior to the election for which it is used.

Dr. Rollins said he was happy that the Elizabeth constituents have finally gotten a representative.

"The people of Elizabeth should not have been without a representative for a long period of time. I am most pleased with the fact that the ruling has been executed with a great deal of urgency," said Dr. Rollins

Meantime, Mr. Moncur maintained that Ryan Pinder – now the duly elected Member of Parliament for the Elizabeth constituency – is not the right man for the job.

In fact, he insists Mr. Pinder is still not qualified to even hold the Elizabeth seat.

"I am currently reviewing the ruling and consulting with counsel to make sure that I properly understand what I have read. After I would have read the ruling, I will determine whether or not that American (Mr. Pinder) should be sitting in a Bahamian parliament," said Mr. Moncur.

"I have not seen any evidence that this man has renounced his U.S. citizenship. It is scandalous that an American be elected to run in any of The Bahamas’ elections."

Mr. Pinder will be sworn in as the newest Member of Parliament on April 14 at the opening of parliament.

March 25th, 2010


Friday, March 26, 2010

Bahamas: Dismantling lecture on homosexuality

"God, in His grace, has already revealed the truth. It is our responsibility to seek out that truth, if we so choose. As ministers we have a greater responsibility to seek out the truth because we will be held accountable to correctly teach it,"

African-American minister, K Darnell Giles in the preface to his book, 'What Did Jesus Say? Why The Bible Did Not Condemn Homosexuality'.

Tribune Staff Reporter

NEARLY three weeks after I wrote an Insight article exposing the use of Biblical scriptures to demonise and ostracise gays and lesbians as a fallacy, I became the target of ridicule from one of our country's most prominent clergymen.

In a nearly 3,000 word retort, Pastor Lyall Bethel, senior pastor of Grace Community Church, questioned what authority I have to "passionately lecture" the "unsuspecting general public" on the "gay militant agenda". Juxtaposed next to a photo of the smiling pastor, appearing squeaky clean in a suit and tie, was a lengthy assault on gays, riddled with questionable statistics and quotes primed to put fear and prejudice in readers' minds.

Pastor Bethel, who accused me of naiveté, in his attempt to legitimise his claim that gays are disease-ridden, immoral folk, went so far as to cite the work of "Doctor" E Fields of Marietta, Georgia. "Doctor" Fields has been exposed as a non-practicing chiropractor, known white supremacist, neo-Nazi and member of the Klu Klux Klan. The Anti-defamation League, the United State's leading civil rights agency formed in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism and now all forms of bigotry, has extensive details on Mr Fields' decades-long links to racist and fascist groups.

Conservatives, who in the past have unwittingly cited Fields' material, have publicly apologised and distanced themselves from Fields, the author of "Is Homosexual Activity Normal". In my naiveté, I would expect that an upstanding man like Pastor Bethel, a respected black Christian leader, will follow suit.

But I digress.

As Pastor Bethel rebuked me, he attempted to undermine the gay rights movement. He subversively linked all gays with paedophilia, disease, extreme levels of domestic violence, promiscuity - even providing statistics to claim that gays run a higher risk of getting murdered than their straight counterparts. He also scoffed at my comparison of today's gay struggle to the historic civil rights movement in the United States. Yet he overlooked the thrust of my argument: That there is room for interpretation of Biblical scriptures used to condemn gays and therefore a religious argument against sexual orientation is invalid. But this is an issue I will revisit later.

First, I want to dismantle several statements in the pastor's "enlightened" lecture.


Pastor Bethel lists numerous goals of "the gay militant agenda" , which he said were expressed during the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. His selective account of the event shocked me. I was surprised that he forgot to mention that several high-profile black civil rights leaders threw their support behind the April 25 protest, which called for an end to discrimination of gays in the military. On February 26, 1993, The Washington Post reported that leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) endorsed the march, one of the largest protests in the DC area.

"The NAACP has always been in the forefront in the struggle for equal rights," said George Carter, then deputy director of the NAACP, at a press conference ahead of the march. The Post reported that at the time, the NAACP's board of directors had adopted a stance "to end discrimination against gay men and lesbian Americans in areas of American life where all citizens deserve equal protection and equal opportunity under the law."

According to The Boston Globe, before a crowd of hundreds of thousands of exuberant gay men and lesbian women attending that march, Reverend Benjamin Chavis, then executive director of the NAACP said: "We must be against all forms of injustice. We must be against treating all people unfairly, because of their race, their class or their sexual orientation."

This alone unravels one of Pastor Bethel's fallacious statements, which claimed that American civil rights leaders do not empathise with the gay community nor see similarities in their plight. Pastor Bethel mocked me because I drew a correlation between African Americans' struggle for equality to the plight of gays worldwide. "Sexual preference is nothing like skin colour," he Writes. "Homosexuality is not a civil right. It is an affront to African-Americans to say having past generations being prevented from taking a drink from a public water fountain or being sprayed down by fire hoses in a public park was on par with preventing a man from marrying another man."

He goes on to quote American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who said in a 2004 Boston Globe article that gays were never "called three-fifths of a person in the Constitution". What Mr Bethel does not tell you is that in that same article, Mr Jackson said he supports "equal protection under the law" for gay couples.

And what of Julian Bond, the NAACP's chairman from 1998 until February of this year, a champion to the gay and lesbian community for his fight for the rights of all people? As he received an award from the Human Rights Campaign in 2005, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political organisation in the US, Mr Bond was asked if gay rights are civil rights.

He said, "Of course they are. Civil rights are positive legal prerogatives - the right to equal treatment before the law. These are rights shared by all - there is no one in the United States who does not - or should not - share in these rights.

"When others gain these rights, my rights are not reduced in any way. The fight for civil rights is a win/win game; the more civil rights are won by others, the stronger the army defending my rights becomes. My rights are not diluted when my neighbour enjoys protection from the law - he or she becomes my ally in defending the rights we all share.

"For some, comparisons between the African-American civil rights movement and the movement for gay and lesbian rights seem to diminish the long black historical struggle with all its suffering, sacrifices and endless toil. However, people of colour ought to be flattered that our movement has provided so much inspiration for others, that it has been so widely imitated, and that our tactics, methods, heroines and heroes, even our songs, have been appropriated by or served as models for others," Bond said, according to the October 15, 2005, issue of the Atlanta Inquirer.

Mr Bond, as I did in my earlier piece, even compared the controversy surrounding gay marriage to the bigoted criticisms of interracial marriage during eras of racial tension: "We know there was a time, not so long ago, when black people in this country couldn't marry the person of their choice either."

This information is readily available to anyone with an internet connection, yet Pastor Bethel omitted these references from his essay. I wonder why.


Pastor Bethel, and like-minded persons, are quick to point out that they are not fighting the gay individual but rather they are waging war on "the gay agenda". Pastor Bethel takes the words of writer Michael Swift - which are widely accepted as satire - and omits the crucial first line of his essay, which puts the tone of the paper into context.

"This essay is an outré (bizarre), madness, a tragic, cruel fantasy, an eruption of inner rage, on how the oppressed desperately dream of being the oppressor," writes Swift in the preface to his 1987 article, The Gay Manifesto. In his hasty essay, Pastor Bethel ignores this introduction - in the typical vein of extremists - only exposing readers to carefully selected portions of Swift's piece. But surely, the pastor can grasp the concepts of satire and farce.

Too many times I've heard the word agenda - which is simply a list of things to be done - used as if it is a secret, evil plot to take over the world (insert evil laugh here). Uber conservatives and fundamentalists throw the phrase "gay agenda" around like a conspiracy theory, as if other minority groups and, people in general, don't have their own interests to push as they fight for their rights to be heard in this unfair world.

"Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are as diverse in our political beliefs as other communities ... notions of a 'homosexual agenda' are rhetorical inventions of anti-gay extremists seeking to create a climate of fear by portraying the pursuit of civil rights for LGBT people as sinister," the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has stated.

Right now in the United States, there is a heated debate between African-American leaders on whether or not President Barack Obama needs to advance the "black agenda" in the face of rising unemployment levels within the black sector, as the US reels from the job losses brought on by the recession. Embroiled in this dispute is Reverend Al Sharpton, and author and talk show host Tavis Smiley. Mr Smiley - who reportedly planned to host a panel of civil rights leaders and scholars entitled "We Count: The Black Agenda Is the American Agenda" - has lambasted the reverend for saying President Obama does not need to identify a black agenda to properly serve the needs of that community.

A Google search of "black agenda" turns up 20,600,000 results. A search for the "feminist agenda" reveals 895,000 results. A similar search on "gay agenda" provides 5,050,000 results. So if other minority groups are pushing their causes, and proudly label them as agendas, why should we fear one from the gay community?

Because being gay is "vile" with "painful and sometimes deadly consequences," says Mr Bethel.


If a non-objective reader drew nothing else from the pastor's reproof, it would be that all gays are child molesters, infected with a myriad of nasty diseases, violent, and intent on destroying the family. Throughout his piece, the pastor clumps homosexuality with the illicit act of paedophilia, as if the two are interchangeable.

He says that homophobes are right to fear gays as molesters ready to snatch little children out of their beds. He mentions an association - the North American Man and Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) - not mentioning that the fringe group has long been ostracised from and denounced by the international gay community for advocating for legal sex with young boys.

"These goals (of NAMBLA) constitute a form of child abuse and are repugnant to GLAAD," the group has said. NAMBLA has been subject to intense investigation and raids by the FBI, has about 1,200 members worldwide.

However it is not a new phenomenon for people to disenfranchise minorities by painting them all as lecherous fiends.

"Members of disliked minority groups are often stereotyped as representing a danger to the majority's most vulnerable members. For example, Jews in the Middle Ages were accused of murdering Christian babies in ritual sacrifices. Black men in the United States were often lynched after being falsely accused of raping white women. In a similar fashion, gay people have often been portrayed as a threat to children," writes Dr Gregory Herek, professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis, and an authority on sexual prejudice, in the essay Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation.

Pastor Bethel says he is arguing based on the facts, and lists a number of dubious statistics detailing, among other things, the high rates of violence, disease and promiscuity among homosexuals. The conclusion he would like persons to reach is that gays are afflicted with these problems only because they are homosexuals. Using his line of thinking, I wonder what Pastor Bethel would say about the high rate of violence among African-Americans in the US? Is it because they are black?

Of course not. What is true however, is that in many countries both gays and blacks are classified as minority groups. As such, they have historically been subjected to discrimination, violence and marginalised. Indeed this pattern repeats itself among oppressed minorities around the world including American Indians, non white Hispanics, etc.

On the question of promiscuity, I don't believe heterosexuals possess the moral high ground on this. Here in the Bahamas the most recent figures released by the Department of Statistics revealed that out of the 5,126 live births in the Bahamas in 2007 - 3,047 of them were to unwed mothers. Young girls between the ages of 15 and 19, who accounted for 604 live births in the respective period, had 581 children out of wedlock.


After my earlier article was published, I received an email from an angry reader who stressed to me that there should be no debate on this subject because the Bible decrees being gay an "abomination". The reader added that if God intended gays to be a part of the natural order, he would have created "Adam and Steve, not Adam and Eve".

K Darnell Giles, writes that the Creation story and a handful of other scriptures have been used by extremists to justify hatred and exclusion of gays. But this stance is based on "historical church practice and rumours" rather than an educated analysis of the Bible, Giles contends.

He explains that one cannot interpret today's Bible without understanding the cultural context of the scriptures. Scriptures that were translated into English from ancient Hebrew and Greek languages, which may not have had equivalent English translations.

It is argued that God created a man and a woman to populate the earth in His image, something extremists argue is impossible in a gay relationship therefore against God's master plan.

For this argument to hold water, it would have to apply to sterile men or infertile women, people who are biologically or otherwise incapable of reproducing.

"Are these men and women to be cast away by God because they are not bearing His image through procreation? Are they committing some type of sin because they cannot or choose not to produce children? Of course not," says Giles in his book, What Did Jesus Say? Why the Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality.

"I believe African Americans, above all other people, owe it to themselves to take a deeper look at the scriptures for a clearer understanding of its teaching on homosexuality instead of passively continuing the marginalizing of this people group.

"For hundreds of years, African American people have been oppressed as homosexuals are today, although in manners and with methods far more harsh.

"Our oppressors misinterpreted the same Bible to enslave our ancestors; and it is now used to marginalize and teach ignorance about homosexuals. The same holds true for how women have been treated in the distant and recent past within church culture and society as a whole," wrote Giles.


I don't see it as a stretch to say that Pastor Bethel responded so vehemently to my article because he thought it was a fight he thought he could win - presumably because he feels the majority of Bahamians are on his side. This is not the only way in which Pastor Bethel and the rest of the Christian Council are strategic in their choice of battles - they also choose only to attack issues which threaten their privileged position as self-appointed moral arbiters of the nation.

This is why domestic abuse, crime, violence, infidelity and a host of other problems this country faces are not on their most wanted list - everyone agrees these are social evils. Instead, they choose to rail against sexual orientation, gambling and "immoral" films, as these fall into the category of things they could formerly control, but which an increasing number of Bahamians feel are private affairs.

Lyall Bethel and his colleagues would pretend that in policing perceived "immoral activities", they are merely expressing their right to voice their opinions. But in agitating for stricter anti-gambling laws, urging Bahamians to take a stand against "further infiltration of homosexuality" and attempting to ban certain films from being seen by adults in theatres in the Bahamas, they are pushing for the state to limit the freedom of responsible, intelligent, adult individuals - much like the Sharia law in fundamentalist Islamic societies.

This suggests that they hold a number of assumptions which are incompatible with modern Bahamian society - among them that we are not qualified to make our own moral choices, that we are little more than children and require the enlightened guidance of men of the cloth, and - ironically - that their influence is so weak that they need the law to reinforce their position.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Election Court ruling on Elizabeth by-election

Tribune Staff Reporter

THE court ruled that the five protest votes cast in favour of PLP candidate Leo Ryan Pinder in the February 16 Elizabeth by-elections be allowed.

The court also validated a sixth protest vote which had been cast in favour of Bahamas Democratic Movement leader Cassius Stuart. Senior Justices Anita Allen and Jon Isaacs heard the election court case.

Voter 'A'

In relation to voter A the court noted that the voter had produced a voter's card to the presiding officer which showed she was registered in polling division 4 but her name was not on the register.

It was noted in the judgment that the voter's address was described on that voter's card as South Pine Barren Rood, West Barn Close. That address is in the Elizabeth constituency. "The counterfoil however is not the counterpart of that voter's card and it is alleged that it was the counterpart of the replaced card. The counterfoil describes her address as West Academy Street North Pine Barren Road, which is not in the Elizabeth constituency but in the Fox Hill constituency. The form B shows the same address. The voter had told the court that when she had collected her voter's card she realised that she had been placed in the wrong constituency and visited the Parliamentary Registration department to have it corrected," the judgment stated.

"It was never suggested to the voter that the voter's card was not genuine or was obtained by fraud or other improper means and the second respondent did not suggest that it was. The court accepts that there were no inconsistencies between the voter's evidence and that of her husband and Michael Bullard as to the date the new card was issued and other matters we felt were peripheral. The voter testified that she lives with her husband on South Pine Barren Road," the judgment stated.

The court accepted that there were inconsistencies between the evidence of the voter and her husband as to when they moved to Pine Barren Road but also found that there was not sufficient evidence to refute the fact that the voter lived at the address on her voter's card since at least 2006.

"In our view, this voter acted responsibly and did all she could reasonably do, to bring the error to the attention of the second respondent (Parliamentary Commissioner) but we find the second respondent failed to do what was required, to ensure this voter's name as included on the relevant register. It is no answer that the second respondent did not know of this matter until after the election. In the premises we are satisfied that voter A was entitled to be properly registered and was entitled to vote in Elizabeth. We allow the vote and order that the register be rectified to include the voter accordingly," the judgment stated.

Voter 'B'

In relation to voter B it was noted that the voter had produced a voter's card and was included on the register for polling division 5. The voter's name and address were consistent on the voter's card the counterfoil and on the form of oath (form B) but the voter's date of birth although consistent on the voter's card and on forms B and D as June 15, 1963, was shown as January 15, 1963 on the register.

"The second respondent admits that he was in error and acknowledges his responsibility for it. The third respondent contends that there is no evidence as to which of the entrees is correct and his vote ought not to be allowed. However in light of the send respondent's admission and given that the counterfoil and the oath subscribed by this voter are consistent as to his date of birth we are satisfied that the correct entry is June 15, 1963. We allow the voter and order that the register be rectified to reflect the correct date of birth accordingly," the judges stated in the ruling.

Voter 'C'

It was noted in the judgment that, similarly, voter C's name was on the Elizabeth register, which showed that her date of birth as January 3, 1970. The date of birth on her voter's card however is January 3, 1970. That date is also on the voter's passport which was used as a source of identification when registering. "The second respondent admits the error both on the counterfoil and register and concedes this vote as does the third respondent. "In the premises we allow the voter and order that the register be rectified to reflect the correct date of birth," the judgment sated.

Voter 'D'

It was noted in the judgment that voter D's name was not on the Elizabeth register. "When presenting to vote the voter produced a voter's card, the counterfoil of which shows that Elizabeth was crossed out in red ink and Yamacraw inserted. The address of 152 West Commonwealth Boulevard South Malaysia Way was crossed out by in crossing out the S and inserting an N which consequently put the address out of Elizabeth. The same alterations are on the form B," the judgment stated. The court noted that the Parliamentary Commissioner had admitted that he had authorised the alteration.

"The second respondent also accepted that the voter was first put on the register on January 12, 2010. He testified that the register was deemed closed at 11pm on the day before the Writ of Election, which was January 20, 2010. Under section 25 of the Act, no name or entry can thereafter be removed from any of the appropriate parts of the register until after polling day," it was stated in the judgment.

The judgment further stated, "The second respondent admitted his obligation to correct the register and to his credit acknowledged that he cannot change the register unless he verifies the information or contacts the voter and if he is unable to do so the information must remain on the register. When the second respondent purported to remove this voter's name off the register on January 30, 2010, then, he could not lawfully do so. He is not competent to summarily remove persons off the register whether or no he had reasonable cause to believe the information on the register is wrong and they should not be on the register."

Voter 'E'

In relation to voter E, the court noted that that voter was on the register and according to the voter's evidence and that of the presiding officer, this voter was made to vote on a coloured ballot only because she was challenged by an agent for the third respondent (Dr Sands). "The respondents have conceded that this vote should be allowed and we agree," the judgment stated.

Voter 'F'

The judges stated that they found the vote of voter F to be the most difficult to determine. "This voter did not produce a voter's card and was not on the register for Elizabeth. She used a driver's license as her means of identification and the presiding officer must have been satisfied of its sufficiency but not of her right to vote," the ruling stated. The court noted that it was the evidence of this voter that she moved from an address in Yamacraw on May 27, 2006 to Kemp's Street off South Pine Yard Road. The court also noted that the voter had produced a lease showing that she was a tenant of the premises with effect from that date.

"It is not disputed that the whole of Pine Yard Road and all houses on the north and south sides of that road are within Elizabeth. The voter swore that she was entitled to be registered and to vote in Elizabeth and it is not suggested to her on cross-examination that she did not live there and was not eligible to vote in Elizabeth. We believe that it is incorrect to say that the validity of a persons vote depends on whether or not that person made an efforts to transfer to the relevant consistency. Indeed, the second respondent acknowledged that he had an obligation to continuously review the register and to make provisions for persons who need to transfer to do so. He acknowledged that the voter has no obligation to do so and we agree," the court stated.

The court further stated, "It is not in this court's power under section 69(4) of the Act to determine whether the presiding officer was correct in permitting her to vote. Our jurisdiction is to determine the validity of the vote not the validity of the presiding officer's decision. On the evidence and in the absence of any evidence to refute it, we are satisfied that this voter lived in Elizabeth since May 27, 2006 and was so entitled and we allow this vote."

"Again this process has exposed failures, omissions and errors on the part of the Parliamentary Commissioner an his staff which may, if not corrected, threaten the fairness of the electoral process and ultimately our democracy. It is not an answer to say that the Parliamentary commissioner did not have resources to do what he is mandated to do by the law to do. No court can accept that as an explanation from disenfranchising a voter. We say emphatically that the Parliamentary Commission must be provided with sufficient resources, both financial and human to ensure he is able to properly discharge the duties imposed on him by law," the judgment stated.

March 24, 2010


Elizabeth residents react to Election Court decision

By Krystel Rolle ~ Guardian Staff Reporter ~

While some in the Elizabeth constituency are still reeling with excitement over Progressive Liberal Party member Ryan Pinder's historic Election Court win, others say it's time for the celebrations to stop and the member of Parliament-elect to begin to fulfill the promises that he made on the campaign trail.

"It's time for Mr. Pinder to get to work," said Free National Movement supporter Dennis Humes.

Humes, 50, who recently moved into the constituency, said he hopes that Pinder can deliver on his many promises.

"Now that the court has made [its] ruling, it's time to get to work," he added.

Humes was one of many in the Elizabeth constituency who responded to the Election Court ruling, which validated all five of the protest votes cast in favor of Pinder. That pushed him ahead of the FNM Elizabeth candidate Dr. Duane Sands by three votes.

The by-election's recount had ended with Sands receiving 1,501 votes and Pinder receiving 1,499 votes.

The five protest votes, however, brought Pinder's tally to 1,504 votes.

That small margin of victory is what had FNM supporter Braford Brown regretting his decision not to cast his vote during the by-election on February 16.

He said that if he and a couple of other supporters had shown up at the polls, Dr. Sands could have won.

However, the Elizabeth voter said despite his allegiance to the governing party, he would give Pinder a chance.

"I feel kind of bad that I didn't vote but I still will give Pinder a chance. I hope he could help put a stop to violence in the area and I hope that he can help with job creation," said 33-year-old Brown who is a resident of St. Zimbabwe Avenue.

Brown is one of about 1,700 registered Elizabeth voters who didn't show up to the polls to vote. He said Pinder seems like he does have some good ideas for the constituency.

Another FNM supporter, Pearlene Tinker, said she believes that Ryan Pinder may help the constituency.

"I hope so because there are plenty of hurting people around here," she said.

"I was disappointed that Dr. Sands didn't make it, but I can't be bitter against Pinder."

A couple of corners away from Tinker lives PLP supporter Escola Bell of Sandilands Village Road, who said she is overjoyed at Pinder's victory.

"He deserves it," said the 72-year-old resident.

"It wasn't his fault that those [protest] votes were cast. It was [the Parliamentary Registration Department's] fault."

Pinder, who addressed the media shortly after the Election Court justices ruled that all of the protest votes were accepted, said he is anxious to begin work in the constituency.

"We've already started some of our programs. We have the jobs skills bank already ongoing. We put together a framework for the promotion of small business within our constituency during these proceedings. So my programs are actively in full force."

He said the most pressing concerns in the constituency are related to economic success, small business growth and job creation.

"That's what my programs are based on and we've certainly began putting those in motion," Pinder added.

Bell said she hopes Pinder does his best.

"He said he would help the young people," Bell said. "I hope he shows them the way to go and how to help themselves so they just wouldn't be on the blocks. We have some young people who are just waiting on a push and I believe that Pinder is the person who would do that."

Sheniqua McKenzie, 24, who lives on an unnamed road in the Elizabeth constituency, said while she isn't really a Pinder supporter, she is satisfied that he won fairly.

She said she is looking for more improvements in the constituency, and hopes that he can follow through with his plan to help create job opportunities.

Elaine Munroe, 32, of Sandilands Road said she didn't vote, but is more than pleased with the results of the election.

Another PLP supporter, who didn't want to be named, said he can't believe that the PLP was able to withstand the "heat" of the governing party.

"They brought a lot of heat, but we overcame," said the supporter who was still in a celebratory mode after the rally on Tuesday night.

"I'm just celebrating the win. It's a happy day. I'm trying Ryan. It's Ryan's time baby."

March 25, 2010


Parliamentary Commissioner Errol Bethel: I did not break the law

By Candia Dames ~ Guardian News Editor ~

Parliamentary Commissioner Errol Bethel yesterday denied that he broke the law in the execution of his duties in the lead-up to the Elizabeth by-election last month.

Bethel sat down with The Nassau Guardian at his Farrington Road office a day after the justices of the Election Court said in a ruling that he violated the law when he removed a voter's name off the register after it had already been closed.

"I gave it everything I had, to be honest with you," he said of the recent Elizabeth registration process. "I always give my work everything I have. I always plunge fully into whatever it is I have to do, always. People who know me would tell you that... I always endeavor to do my best."

In their ruling, which propelled the Progressive Liberal Party's Ryan Pinder to victory, Senior Justices Anita Allen and Jon Isaacs said the Election Court case has once again exposed failures in the Parliamentary Registration Department.

"Again this process has exposed failures, omissions and errors on the part of the parliamentary commissioner and his staff which may, if not corrected, threaten the fairness of the electoral process and ultimately our democracy. It is not an answer to say that the parliamentary commissioner did not have the resources to do what he is mandated by the law to do. No court can accept that as an explanation for disenfranchising a voter," they said.

Bethel's staff includes fewer than 20 people. During election periods, other civil servants are seconded from other departments to assist.

Bethel admitted that his department is challenged in preparing for elections, but he said he has a hardworking staff that is quite capable.

"We made ourselves available to the people in Elizabeth when that election was called," he said. "The vacancy came on January 6. On January 7 we were in the constituency and we stayed there for the entire period until the register was closed. We registered new people; we did transfers, that sort of thing. So we did quite a bit of work, and also we walked the streets trying to determine where people are. So it isn't that we sat down; we actually worked to do our best to make sure we had everything in order."

He admitted that the process was difficult.

"You don't know an election is coming up until after it is called, but immediately after it was called we set out to work to make sure that we had things in order," said Bethel, who oversaw the last three general elections in the country, as well as local government elections and by-elections.

Bethel said if he did in fact make mistakes, he will work to ensure those mistakes will not be repeated. He admitted that some things may need to be done differently.

"I think we've got to go beyond what we did to make sure we have total accuracy in terms of where people live," he said.

Pointing to the various challenges faced by his department, Bethel said, "In terms of citizenship, day after day this is becoming an extremely difficult situation to deal with. In the Passport Office for instance, one of the things that happens is that you wait two, three weeks for a passport. When people come to us they expect to get registered in two or three minutes.

"So, we have got to be extremely careful in terms of getting information and people don't understand how difficult that is. There are so many Bahamians who don't have passports, who don't even have birth certificates, so it becomes extremely difficult but we have been working through this and I think we've done a pretty good job."

Asked to respond to people who believe his resignation may be in order, Bethel, who has a constitutionally protected position, said, "I will go. I will go. I'm sure the time will come when I will go. I'm not sure when that is. It may be today, it may be tomorrow, I don't know. If people are going to be fair, I think people also need to give credit for the work I have done over the years and what I continue to do in terms of giving service to this country. I don't think I've cheated the country in any way."

The Election Court justices were also critical of the parliamentary commissioner in the 2008 Pinewood ruling, saying the case had exposed the most egregious failures in the system.

Bethel admitted yesterday that the timing of the 2007 Boundaries Commission report created substantial challenges for him and his staff.

"In preparation of a new register you tend to start at a period of time when you want to make sure that by the time the old register expires you'll have a new register to replace it," he said.

"And so we started the 2007 register in September 2005. We started early because we wanted to make sure that we were able to register anybody who wanted to register. The thing to bear in mind is that in preparation of a new register you do not issue the [voter's] cards.

"The cards are not issued until the new register actually comes into force and the new register did not come into force until the House was dissolved in 2007. The House was dissolved on April 4, 2007. Now, you know that there was a Boundaries Commission (report). That Boundaries Commission report came into effect on March 26, 2007. On April 3 the register was closed for the new election because the House was dissolved on the 4th. After the Boundaries Commission report came into force, what we had to do is, first and foremost, we had to create a new register because we had to create a register that reflects these new constituencies and new polling divisions. So we had to go through the whole registration system in our computer and build this new register."

He said his staff worked day and night in the one week they had to get the job done.

"When people got their cards — remember we started registration in 2005 — a lot of people found the moment they received their cards that they were not in the right place," he said.

"But there is nothing we could do about it because the system does not allow us to move people after the register is closed, but that is what we had to work with. And I think the public needs to understand, you're talking about almost an impossible situation, and at the same time while we were trying to get these cards corrected and get them out we had to be planning an election in terms of putting a staff together, in terms of finding polling places, making sure all the election materials are in place and also making sure that we have ballots for the election. So it is not just one task you have to do. There are a number of different tasks that you have to do all at the same time."

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said at a press conference Tuesday evening he saw no reason for Bethel to leave his post. Ingraham also pledged that the government will effect reforms in the registration process and indicated that it may also amend the law in this regard.

March 25, 2010


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dr. Duane Sands looks ahead to 2012 Elizabeth race

By Brent Dean ~ Guardian Senior Reporter ~

While expressing disappointment in the Election Court result, defeated Free National Movement Elizabeth candidate Dr. Duane Sands indicated that he expects to run again for the constituency seat and to be successful in the next race.

"I want to say thank you to the people of Elizabeth. They are truly the victors here. They are the people that this is all about and certainly I look forward to representing them in the House of Assembly, and that they could bank on," said Dr. Sands outside the Supreme Court yesterday.

Dr. Sands was ahead by two regular votes after the Elizabeth recount.

However, the Election Court yesterday allowed all five protest votes cast for Progressive Liberal Party candidate Ryan Pinder, making Pinder the MP-elect for the constituency.

"Well I think, obviously, this is a disappointing ruling but I think in our democracy we certainly must pay respect to the edict, or the ruling of our justices. We'll sit and reflect and we'll make a determination as to what the next step is," said Dr. Sands.

FNM chairman Carl Bethel said that the judges made "new law" in making the determination that led to yesterday's decision.

In the case, the FNM did not accept that all the constituents who voted on protest ballots were legally entitled to vote in Elizabeth – the FNM eventually conceded that voters C and E were entitled to vote.

The court, however, validated all five votes for the PLP and another for Bahamas Democratic Movement candidate Cassius Stuart.

This case was the first under section 69 of the Parliamentary Elections Act.

This part of the Act refers to the procedure to determine elections when the number of protest votes cast outnumber the margin of victory in an election.

National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest said that amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Act may be necessary as a result of the ruling.

"It (the ruling) speaks to where a person is eligible to be registered, at what stage if they move should they be transferred off the register and whose responsibility that is to have them transferred," he said.

"And so obviously there will be questions that we will have to look at as a Parliament — as a country — and determine in the most broadest consultative way how we want to move forward in our parliamentary democracy to ensure free and fair elections."

There are no appeals of the decisions of the Election Court.

Bethel said, however, that there may be some legal points they may be able to appeal to some court in order to look at the constitutional validity of parts of the decision in the Elizabeth Election Court case.

March 24, 2010


The Office of the Attorney General to review by-election ruling

By Candia Dames ~ Guardian News Editor ~

Prime Minister and Free National Movement Leader Hubert Ingraham said yesterday evening the Office of the Attorney General will review the decision of the Election Court, which was handed down in favor of the Progressive Liberal Party and its Elizabeth candidate Ryan Pinder.

The justices validated all of the five protest votes cast in Pinder's favor in the February 16 by-election, resulting in him winning by three votes.

But Ingraham indicated that the FNM has concerns about the reasoning behind the decision.

Making it clear that he was speaking in his capacity as prime minister, Ingraham said, "We were surprised by the reasoning for the decision of the Election Court. It is outside anything we have known up to now as to the meaning of our law. We will therefore have the Office of the Attorney General undertake a review of the decision so that determinations can be made as to the extent to which any consideration ought to be given to either amending the law or calling upon a higher court to determine the validity of the reasoning issued by the court.

"It is our purpose and intent to ensure that orderly, fair and predictable elections are held in The Bahamas."

Ingraham called a press conference at FNM headquarters. It was held shortly after he returned from Inter-American Development Bank meetings in Cancun, Mexico.

The majority of his comments were made in his capacity as leader of the FNM.

"The Free National Movement accepts the court's decision in regard to the final count in the Elizabeth by-election. As I have previously stated, elections should be won on the ground, not in the court," he said as a packed room of FNM supporters looked on.

"Accordingly, the FNM does not propose to do what the PLP did after the last general election and tie up the courts with all manner of electoral challenges. While we may not see eye to eye with the court's reasoning in this case we honor its authority and its final determination.

"We honor also the will of the majority of the voters in the Elizabeth constituency and we will continue to honor the will of the majority of Bahamian people who reposed their trust in the FNM in the 2007 general election. In our democracy, every vote counts. Today, after all of the eligible votes have been counted, the PLP retained a seat they won in the last election with a majority of 45 votes. We are grateful to the people of the Elizabeth constituency for their support of Dr. Duane Sands and the FNM. We are pleased by the fact that we reduced the PLP's margin in Elizabeth during these especially difficult economic times. We are also pleased that we reduced the PLP's margin in Elizabeth by a sizable amount, 42 votes."

The by-election became necessary after Malcolm Adderley — who won the seat in 2002 and 2007 on the PLP's ticket — resigned at the beginning of this year from the PLP and the House of Assembly.

The FNM had hoped that Dr. Duane Sands would fill the seat.

"Duane Sands has a bright future in the political and public life of The Bahamas," Ingraham said yesterday. Asked whether he was planning on appointing Sands to the Senate, the prime minister said, "No. I'm going to have him elected to the House."

He also said, "The country and the FNM need his energy, his dedication and his passion for the empowerment of the people of Elizabeth and the wider Bahamas. Now, the by-election is over and the court case is done. The business of government continues. One of the first orders of business in terms of Elizabeth is to ensure that the promises we made as the government of the day to the people of that constituency are honored. We are a government and party that matches our words with our deeds."

Once again, the Election Court justices raised concerns about the parliamentary election process and spoke to the need for the Parliamentary Registration Department to have the necessary resources to do its job.

Ingraham said, "Because fair and well run elections are essential to the democratic process, we are working to reform and upgrade the registration process that was left in a chaotic and confused state because of PLP inaction and incompetence. That work has already begun. The Parliamentary Registration Department will begin a new voters register in April. In the remaining time of our mandate we will work to ensure that economic recovery is followed by economic prosperity. We will continue to vigorously confront crime and its root causes. We will continue to put in place the building blocks for a sustainable national health insurance plan..."

Asked whether it is his view that Parliamentary Commissioner Errol Bethel should resign in light of the strong criticisms of the Election Court, the prime minister pointed out that the parliamentary commissioner has constitutional protection, just like judges.

"They are both constitutionally protected from removal from office except for cause," he noted. "And the same provisions that apply to judges apply to the parliamentary commissioner in terms of the removal from office. There is no basis upon which I can conceive of that will require the removal of the parliamentary commissioner from office. I do not blame the parliamentary commissioner for anything. He did his job."

Providing a further response to the determination of the Election Court, Ingraham said, "It has never entered my head that in The Bahamas it is possible for someone who is not registered to vote, who has no voter's card, whose name is not on a voter's list to be able to show up on election day and vote. I never knew that was possible in The Bahamas.

"I never knew it was possible in The Bahamas for me to be registered in one constituency, move to another constituency, do not transfer my voter's card, show up with a voter's card that says I'm in the other constituency, show up with a driver's license actually, and have my vote cast and my vote counted. I never knew that was possible in The Bahamas."

March 24, 2010


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

PLP's Ryan Pinder wins Elizabeth following court ruling


1:16pm – The court has just ruled that 3/4 of the costs will be paid by the Parliamentary Commissioner and the remaining 1/4 by the 3rd respondent, the FNM's Dr Duane Sands.

1:14pm – Lead counsel for the FNM's Dr Duane Sands, Thomas Evans, QC, just spoke with The Tribune and said that once he's had a chance to read the ruling completely he will advise his client on whether further steps should be taken, and said there may well be further steps.

1:06pm – For clarification, the justices actually ruled that all 6 votes that had been protested on election day be counted. Five of them were cast for the PLP's Ryan Pinder, giving him a final 3 vote lead over the FNM's Dr Duane Sands. The other vote had been cast for the BDM's Cassius Stuart, but in no way affected the final outcome.

12:52pm – A loud eruption of cheering broke out when the PLP supporters waiting outside the courtroom heard that their candidate Ryan Pinder had been declared the winner of the Elizabeth constituency seat. PLP leader Perry Christie went outside during the break and was shaking hands with supporters.

12:50pm – Court has been adjourned for a few minutes to allow the judges to deliberate over who should pay costs for this case and how the costs should be divided. The argument has been made that the Parliamentary Commissioner's office should assume a significant portion of the costs as it turned out that the votes were protested because of errors in the registration process.

12:41pm – The proceedings continue with debate over who should be required to pay election court costs.

12pm – Senior Justice Anita Allen has just ruled that following the hearing and deliberation, all five protested votes will be counted. This ruling puts the PLP's Ryan Pinder ahead by three votes. Allen warned the packed courtroom that she would not tolerate any outbursts before she began and when the results were read, there was complete silence in the courtroom.

11:33am – Everyone involved in the Elizabeth by-election court case is now inside the courtroom and proceedings have begun. The courtroom is filled to capacity.

10:58am – A crowd of about 50 curious onlookers and supporters of both the Free National Movement and the Progressive Liberal Party have gathered outside the court hearing the Elizabeth by-election case.

Senior Justice Anita Allen and Jon Isaacs who have been presiding over the case have just arrived at court, but the two candidates vying for the parliamentary seat – FNM's Dr Duane Sands and PLP's Ryan Pinder have not been spotted.

When the case is scheduled to resume at 11:30 today, a ruling will be given as whether any of the five protested votes cast for Pinder will be counted. Pinder needs three votes to be declared the winner of the election. A two vote gain for Pinder would result in another election.

March 23,2010


Carl Bethel - Free National Movement (FNM) chairman says party won't name candidates yet for the next general election

By Brent Dean ~ Guardian Senior Reporter ~

Free National Movement (FNM) Chairman Carl Bethel has confirmed that the governing party will not be announcing candidates for the next general election at this time, as has been done by the opposition party.

"We are not involved in that process as of yet," said Bethel yesterday in an interview.

PLP leader Perry Christie told The Nassau Guardian on Sunday that the nomination and selection process would be ongoing in that party.

The PLP ratified four candidates last Thursday.

Senators Jerome Fitzgerald (Marathon), Michael Halkitis (Golden Isles), Hope Strachan (Sea Breeze) and Dr. Kendal Major (Garden Hills) will run for the PLP in the next general election.

Christie added that it's important to ratify and introduce candidates to the various constituents as early as possible because of the changing needs of Bahamians and what they look for in their respective representatives.

Bethel said he is not surprised that the PLP moved to nominate candidates early.

"Oppositions do that type of thing. That's standard fare for opposition parties – that you nominate your candidates early in an attempt to, in a sense, give them a little stature when they go out into the field," he said.

As time goes, Christie confirmed that the PLP would name its candidates on a steady basis.

A party source said that it is possible that the PLP would continuously name candidates for seats it does not currently hold each month at its National General Council meeting.

The process of deciding which sitting PLP MP will or will not again receive nominations will take more time, the source said.

A general election must be held by 2012.

If Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham waits until then to call the poll, it would mean that the PLP began the ratification process two years before the general election.

In 2007, even though Christie called the general election, the PLP did not announce its slate of candidates until about six weeks before the vote.

The FNM's chairman said his party would not be directed with its candidate selection process based on the moves by the PLP.

"We at least have the ability to have a little more say over the timing of events. While it is necessary to always have regard to the political dimension, what the Bahamian people need right now from the governing party is government," he said.

"What the country needs is a steady hand on the tiller leading this country in correct direction and to take decisions that are based on the best interests of the Bahamian people and not on political considerations."

Bethel said this is what the government is focused on.

It is still unclear if Prime Minister Ingraham will lead the FNM into the next general election. Ingraham has said he would inform the country of his decision by the end of the year.

Christie has confirmed his intention to run again as PLP leader.

March 23, 2010


Monday, March 22, 2010

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) ratifies four candidates for the next general election

By Krystel Rolle ~ Guardian Staff Reporter ~

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) yesterday officially announced its candidates for the Marathon, Golden Isles, Garden Hills and Sea Breeze constituencies -- in a move which its leader Perry Christie said would push the party forward as it readies itself for the next general election.

In a statement, the PLP said the National General Council (NGC), which is the policy arm of the organization, accepted the recommendations of the Candidates Committee and ratified Senators Jerome Fitzgerald, Michael Halkitis and Hope Strachan, along with political newcomer Dr. Kendal Major as candidates in the upcoming general election. Their nominations were accepted at the PLP headquarters on March 18.

As The Nassau Guardian reported on Thursday, Fitzgerald was nominated for Marathon; Halkitis for Golden Isles; Strachan for Sea Breeze; and Major, who is a dental specialist, was selected for Garden Hills.

The Marathon constituency is currently held by Minister of the Environment Earl Deveaux, the Sea Breeze constituency is represented by Free National Movement (FNM) Chairman Carl Bethel, Garden Hills is represented by Ministry of Housing Parliamentary Secretary Brensil Rolle and Golden Isles is being represented by Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Charles Maynard.

In 2007, the PLP didn't announce its slate of candidates until about six weeks before the May 2 general election. However, this time around the party is getting a jump start.

Christie said the nomination and selection process would be ongoing. He added it's important to ratify and introduce candidates to the various constituents as early as possible because of the changing needs of Bahamians and what they look for in their respective representatives.

"The [Elizabeth] by-election has reminded us and taught us a wonderful lesson: That you have to be prepared, because the constituencies are not just large but they have become more complex because of the downturn in the economy," Christie said.

"There is a significant movement of people in rental homes who are faced with challenges. So I think there is a significant move about of people in the constituencies throughout New Providence and I imagine this must be the same in places like Freeport and these urban areas. So we have to give our candidates as great of an opportunity as we possibly can to get to understand the constituency and get to know the people and allow the people to understand and meet them."

Christie said as time goes on the PLP would name its candidates on a very steady basis.

Asked when the full slate of candidates is expected to be announced, Christie said he could not be sure.

"We want to give the best opportunity to persons who may have not yet applied - who now know that the process has begun, and may be interested in entering public life for the Progressive Liberal Party," he said.

The PLP leader said the party's Candidates Committee meets every week to interview potential candidates.

"Obviously that process will continue and we involve the branches in the constituency and the community," he said, adding that the committee would then get everyone's contribution to the decision as to who the best candidate would be.

"So that's what we're doing now. So you'll find, on sort of a regular basis, we'll be pausing to name candidates."

Christie said in cases where many people are vying for the nomination to represent one constituency, they are required to consult within the constituency. Following their consultations, Christie said the Candidate's Committee then makes an assessment as to who the best representative is for that area.

The PLP has not fielded a full slate of candidates for the past several elections, opting for strategic reasons not to contest the Bamboo Town, Long Island and the former St. Margaret's constituencies.

March 22, 2010


Friday, March 19, 2010

FNM Lead attorney Thomas Evans QC: three protest votes must automatically be thrown out


LEAD attorney for FNM candidate Dr Duane Sands, Thomas Evans QC, yesterday argued in election court that of six protest votes cast in the Elizabeth by-election three must be automatically thrown out as the individual's names did not appear on the Elizabeth register on the day of the election.

"The evidence shows that three voters were not registered in Elizabeth. Two were in the adjacent Yamacraw and one was in Fox Hill. These voters plainly are not entitled to vote in the Elizabeth constituency and no question of retifcation of register with any of them," Mr Evans told the election court.

He further argued that in addition to these three votes - that of Voter A, D and F - the vote of Voter B should not be counted as his date of birth on his driver's licence which he sought to use to vote differed to that on the register and he never appeared before the court to explain why.

This left two protest votes, that of Voters C and E, which Mr Evans agreed should be counted. Philip Davis, lead attorney for PLP candidate, Ryan Pinder, had proposed on Wednesday that all five protest votes cast for his party's candidate should be upheld as valid.

But Mr Evans contended that the court can only consider counting the votes of those voters for whom clerical errors or omissions caused them to have to cast their ballot on a coloured or protest ballot, not those who did not appear on the register at all as the register should be consider "conclusive" on the day of the election.

He further stated that for the court to "stray" into the question of whether certain voters were resident in the constituency or not would cause the court to "overstep" its mandate in this particular matter.

The attorney made these comments as he gave his final submissions to the court on behalf of his client, FNM candidate Dr Duane Sands. Some had expected that once Mr Evans concluded his submissions today that judges would leave the court to deliberate and come to a conclusion on the matter as early as today. But yesterday when Mr Evans took his seat having made his final submissions relative to the votes, lead attorney for PLP candidate Ryan Pinder, Philip Davis stood to counter some of the points he had made and this is expected to continue tomorrow when the court resumes at 10.30am.

At present it is not entirely clear when a conclusion to the case will come, and it is possible that the matter may drag on until next week.

In the February 16 by-election in Elizabeth, Dr Duane Sands won 1,501 ordinary votes and Mr Pinder got 1,499. Mr Pinder made an application to the court to determine the validity of five "protest" votes cast for him, to see whether they could be added to the official vote count and therefore change the outcome of the election, making him the representative for the constituency.

Mr Evans spoke at some length about Voter A, whose vote he ultimately said should be discounted.

That voter claimed she registered at a foodstore then gave evidence to the court that she found that she had been "put in the wrong constituency" (Fox Hill not Elizabeth). She said she and some friends and family members net with Parliamentary Commissioner Errol Bethel to have the situation rectified.

However, Mr Evans drew that claim into question, and told the court he was "sorely tempted to ask you to dismiss" the evidence that she met with Mr Bethel and sought to have the discrepancy changed.

The attorney said this was because Errol Bethel was not questioned on this alleged meeting while he gave his evidence and because there were varying and significant differences between the evidence of voter A and other supporting witnesses connected to her, as well as between her own evidence at different times.

He noted that Mr Bethel said that he had no record of Voter A having attended his office to change her voter's card. There was no documentary evidence and her oath was unamended, said Mr Evans.

"Normally if a change was made it would be reflected in all of the documents relevant to that voter," said Mr Evans.

"The flood or accumulation of contradictions in the evidence is irrefutable proof of their lack of credibility," he said of voter A and associated witnesses.

"This court is invited to find that Voter A never made any such application or attendance at the Parliamentary Registrar's office,that Voter A voluntarily placed herself in the Fox Hill constituency by giving herself the address North Pine Barren Road and that her vote should not be allowed," proposed Mr Evans.

He added the inconsistencies raise the possibility of her voter's card being fraudulent. "I'm not saying anyone is guilty of fraud, but it is a possibility."

"We would say that from all the evidence available that the voter's card may very well not be genuine."

"If it is believed, you may direct further investigations along those lines."

In relation to Voter B, who was made to cast a protest vote after he could not produce a voter's card but only a driver's license which had a birth date upon it which differed from the date of birth on the register, Mr Evans said that because the voter has not appeared before the court or provided any evidence or explanation for the differences his vote should not be allowed.

"We have no evidence to show that the holder of the license is the same person on the register," said Mr Evans.

In relation to voter C, Mr Evans said that there was an inconsistency between the date of birth on her driver's license and on the counter foil and register. However, in this case Mr Evans said his client does not "suggest it can't be counted."

In relation to Voter D, Mr Evans said she does not live in the Elizabeth constituency and is registered in Yamacraw. "It follows that her vote can't be counted," he said. Voter D was removed from the register by the parliamentary commissioner.

Voter E, Mr Evans said she was on the Elizabeth register and had a voter's card and therefore she was "no doubt entitled" to vote. He said that the question of whether she was in fact an Elizabeth resident was a separate question, but could not be determined as part of this court matter.

With regard to Voter F, he said her vote should not be counted as she did not have a voter's card or appear on the Elizabeth register.

Mr Davis, beginning to respond to Mr Evan's submissions, said that if the court accepts the assertions made by Mr Evans it would "have startling results."

The attorney charged that the inconsistencies in the testimony of Voter A and other associated witnesses in fact make their evidence more believable.

If all of the witnesses had given the same story, one would suspect they had been "coached," he said.

"One has to look at the inconsistencies in regard to the passage of time," Mr Davis said.

"If a husband doesn't remember the date of his marriage, does that mean he didn't get married?" he asked.

March 19, 2010