Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Constitution Commission Submits Its Report to Prime Minister Perry Christie

It is The View of the Constitution Commission that there Should Be Greater Opportunity for The Involvement of Civil Society before The Exercise of Executive Power

There is Widespread Support Among The Bahamian People to Limit the Powers of The Prime Minister

Push To Limit PM’s Powers

By Candia Dames

Nassau, The Bahamas

23 March 2006

More than three years after it was appointed to review the Bahamas Constitution and make recommendations for change, the Constitution Commission yesterday presented its report to Prime Minister Perry Christie, which states that there is widespread support among the Bahamian people to limit the powers of the nation’s leader.

"By and large people felt the enormous powers of the prime minister, whether real or perceived, had to be limited without affecting the prime minister’s authority," the highly-anticipated report states.

"It was their view that there should be greater opportunity for the involvement of civil society before the exercise of executive power."

Former Attorney General Paul Adderley, who chairs the Commission with Queen’s Counsel Harvey Tynes, said the initial report will be widely circulated and the Commission will then draft final recommendations, which will be presented to the prime minister.

"We’re only half way through the process now and [we hope] that by the end of the day we have a general agreement in The Bahamas," said Mr. Adderley, who noted that the Commission received strong response from Family Islanders in particular during its consultations.

Prime Minister Christie, meanwhile, foreshadowed that there will have to be a referendum so that Bahamians could decide what changes they want to see to their constitution.

"At some stage we are going to go to the people on a referendum," Mr. Christie said.  "The lesson of this country is that when we do that we must have exhausted every opportunity we have now for consultation; that must never be an issue again, whether or not we have consulted sufficiently."

The prime minister was referring to the failed referendum of February 2002, during which time the Bahamian people overwhelmingly rejected the Ingraham Administration’s move to have changed certain provisions of the constitution, including those to do with citizenship.

Mr. Christie, who appointed the Commission on December 23, 2002, mandated it to carry out a comprehensive review and make recommendations that would strengthen fundamental freedoms and civil and political rights of the individual, and critically examine the structure of the executive authority.

In its preliminary report, the Constitutional Commission wrote that there were many criticisms leveled at the devotion to duty provided by some members of parliament, and many persons expressed the view that there should be some system for penalizing or recalling delinquent representatives.

Generally, the report states, there was not any great dissatisfaction with the basic system of parliamentary democracy and the two-chambered parliament.

However, there was reportedly widespread agreement with the need for reform of the Senate to make it a more mature representative body with membership drawn from broader segments of the community.

"Many persons expressed the view that the Senate should be an elected body," the report states, "but without altering its powers; others felt that some senators should have security of tenure."

It also says that the early town meetings of the commission held in New Providence and the Family Islands were dominated by a discussion on the preamble to the constitution and there was unanimous support for retaining the preamble in its current form.

The preamble, which is the section at the beginning of the constitution explaining the reasons for its enactment and its objectives, points to self-discipline, industry, loyalty, unity and an abiding respect for Christian values and the rule of law as being vital to guaranteeing the freedom of Bahamians.

Weeks after the appointment of Sir Arthur Hanna as the queen’s representative in The Bahamas, the report reveals that there were mixed feelings about the retention of the Queen of England as Queen of The Bahamas and head of state of The Bahamas.

It notes that there was a significant number of persons who expressed no opinion on the institution of monarchy; there were others who were of the opinion that the status quo should remain, while others were of the view that this link to the British Monarchy was inconsistent with Bahamian independence and sovereignty and should be severed while preserving membership with the Commonwealth of which queen is symbolic head.

The Commission recommends that the English Monarch shall no longer be the head of state of The Bahamas and the office of governor general be abolished.

The report also says that there was a common concern that the government did not have command of the immigration situation, and most people thought to some degree this was linked to the state of the citizenship and immigration laws.

"In particular, there was concern over the status of children born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents," the report adds.

The Commission also reported that a large number of Family Island persons resonated a call for greater autonomy in local government and for the constitution to specify the relationship between the central and local government.

"A realistic study of the governmental needs of the more developed islands and the less developed should be undertaken," the report says.