PM regrets referendum
Christie says he should have regulated web shops
By CANDIA DAMES
Guardian News Editor
Prime Minister Perry Christie has admitted regret over going to referendum on the gambling issue nearly a year ago and said he should have taken the bold step of regulating web shops after coming to office instead of putting it to a vote.
“I ought to have moved immediately to regulate the industry without going to a referendum and to articulate to the people of the country that we were going to have enormous problems in trying to have an environment where it is not regulated, said Christie when asked by The Nassau Guardian if he regrets not ‘having a horse in the race’.
The government refused to take a position ahead of the referendum, and some observers have opined that this contributed to the referendum failing.
Christie said the government will eventually have to do something about the web shops and noted concerns connected to money laundering and unregulated ‘banking’.
“Today, the governor of the Central Bank is demonstrating concern for this because what has happened is there has now been the evolution of a new economy that is underground, a new banking order that is taking place where mortgages are being given and where huge sums of money are moving,” he said in an interview on Friday.
“You always have money laundering concerns when you don’t regulate, but I’m thinking now of when the banks say you can’t bank your money, the Central Bank says you can’t invest in treasury bills, the Central Bank says you can’t export your money, you can’t put it in another country, then you ask the question if that is the case, what is supposed to be happening to the money?
“And so that is a very trying set of circumstances for me now.”
Christie hinted that the government might still regulate web shops.
“As I said in a meeting with the church [on Thursday], I said anyone coming out of the referendum of the kind that we had would require a new level of moral authority to address this issue in the face of the referendum result,” he said.
“That moral authority has to come in a different way. And by that I mean this, if the country was faced with a situation where we were collapsing and things were really very difficult then I have to look at the facts, that I have no alternative but to go to the country and explain to them, I can find $50 million or $60 million or $100 million in an area that can be legitimately acquired and say to them this is what I have to do and live with the results of such a decision.
“I am not at that point yet, but I’m at the point where discussions are being held, as they should be, over this really significant development in our country that has to be addressed. The good news is it’s not being ignored.”
But Christie said he does not see the failed referendum as a low moment in his public life.
“I think it has been a low result for the country,” he said.
“I don’t have low moments in politics. This is my 40th year in public life and that’s a lifetime, and so I have been able to introduce in my own life a hardening where I’m able to resist the temptation to feel sorry for myself and to move on.”
On January 28, 2012, voters were asked whether they support the regularization and taxation of web shops, and whether they support the establishment of a national lottery.
The total number of votes cast against the web shop question was 51,146 or 62 percent of the votes cast versus 31,657 or 38 percent of the votes cast in favor of taxing web shops.
Less than 50 percent of registered voters voted.
However, the Christian Council has demanded that the government respect the results of the referendum.
Last week, The Nassau Guardian reported on a Public Domain survey that showed strong support for web shops.
Respondents were asked whether they support the legalization of web shops.
Thirty-seven percent said they “strongly support” and 18 percent said they “somewhat support”.
Thirty-two percent said they “strongly oppose” and another eight percent said they “somewhat oppose”.
Five percent of respondents did not know or did not answer.
“The fact is that although the majority of Bahamians voted against such legalization in last year’s referendum is neither persuasive nor conclusive,” said Philip Galanis, who coordinated the ‘Vote Yes’ campaign.
“We maintain that the referendum results do not represent the national sentiment on this issue, particularly in light of the low voter turnout.”
A legal challenge brought by web shop operators after the referendum remains tied up in courts as their businesses continue to operate in the open.
January 20, 2014