THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (6-10 JUNE)
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Bahamians reject all four gender equality referendum bills
The biggest story of the week was the second constitutional referendum in The Bahamas’ forty-two year history as an independent nation; the historic vote was held on Tuesday of this week.
The referendum sought to create gender equality in citizenship matters involving both spouses and children and to prevent a future Parliament from legislating laws that will discriminate against a person because of their sex, that is, male or female.
The Bills were passed in both chambers of the House with near unanimous approval.
Just three constituencies approved any of the four gender equality bills voted on in Tuesday’s Constitutional Referendum. According to unofficial results released by The Bahamas Parliamentary Registration Department on Tuesday, St. Anne’s reported 1,205 yes votes to 1,078 no votes; Montagu, 1,315 to 1,130, and Central and South Abaco, 737 to 591, in support of passage of Bill number one, which sought to give Bahamian women married to foreign men the right to pass on their citizenship to any child of that union no matter where the child is born.
When all the votes were tallied, Bahamians rejected the referendum questions by a margin of two-to-one. According to the Parliamentary Commission, there were 102,562 YES votes and 231,322 NO votes for a total of 333,884 votes cast. Assuming that each eligible voter marked their ‘X’ to all four of the referendum questions on each ballot, an estimated 83,471 or 46% of eligible voters participated in the referendum, a number consistent with the level of participation in the advanced poll held on 31st May 2016.
I hasten to point out that to date the Parliamentary Commission has not released any official voter participation numbers.
Prime Minister Christie formally responds to referendum results
“I should like to commend the people of The Bahamas for their participation in yesterday’s (Tuesday) historic vote on gender equality.
“Yesterday’s referendum was fair, transparent and open. And the result was certainly clear. The voice of the people has sounded in the land. It needs to be respected and honoured. And it will be” said Mr. Christie from his feet in Parliament on Wednesday, formally responding to the results of Tuesday’s historic vote.
Prime Minister Christie also chronicled the entire referendum process, highlighting that “bi-partisanship and unity were of critical importance” inclusive of the input and concurrence political parties, civil society and the religious community.
“The Commission commenced consultations throughout the country including with all political parties, civil society and Church Leaders including the President of the Christian Council.
“Further, many consultations with Church Leaders took place in the Office of the Prime Minister with the Leader of the Opposition present.
“In those meetings the Commission discussed the Bills to be presented in Parliament. The Church Leaders present were told by me in the presence of the Leader of the Opposition that they should see the presence of Dr. Minnis with me at the table in the Office of the Prime Minister as indicative of a bi-partisan and united approach to these matters of national importance” said Mr. Christie.
The Prime Minister continued, underscoring a theme of bi-partisanship: “Special effort was made to indicate bi-partisanship at all times. Lady Sharon Wilson and Mrs. Lynn Holowesko agreed to be Co-Chairs. They were supported by Attorney Cheryl Bazard and Mrs. Heather Hunt. Attorney Constance McDonald and Mrs. Geneva Rutherford were appointed in Grand Bahama. Similar joint PLP/FNM appointments were made in the islands of Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma.”
Mr. Christie thanked a wide range of persons for their stellar performance in bringing about this referendum, including the chairs of the Constitutional Commission and the YES Bahamas campaign.
Acknowledging the “vigorous and fractious” nature of the public debate leading to the referendum vote, Mr. Christie urged that as a nation “we must now find ways to bridge our differences as we continue our struggle for a better and brighter future for all our people.”
Reaction to the referendum results
As expected, there were enough blame and opinions to go around in the wake of the failed gender equality referendum on Tuesday.
In addition to his formal statement from his feet in the House, Prime Minister Christie expressed “disappointment” in the results of the referendum and said he took the NO vote personally. He said he was hoping Bahamians would vote YES and make history.
Opposition leader Dr. Hubert Minnis, who said his vote “was a matter of confidentiality,” held a press conference on Wednesday to say that a rejection of the referendum was a rejection of the Christie Administration. He charged that a number of irregularities occurred during the referendum vote and called for international observers during the 2017 general elections.
Long Island MP the Hon. Loretta Butler-Turner said that Dr. Minnis played a part in the failed referendum and must accept some share of the blame and accept some responsibility.
Fort Charlotte MP the Hon. Andre Rollins called for the resignation of the Prime Minister.
Chairman of the Constitutional Commission Sean McWeeney told the media that Bahamians sent a message of ‘distrust’ in government with their NO vote.
The Save Our Bahamas group said that they stopped a “global homosexual agenda from advancing in our country” with their NO vote campaign.
Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Davis said that the results reflected cynicism of politicians and was a signal to both PLP and FNM.
Tall Pines MP the Hon. Leslie Miller attributed the failure of the referendum to the electorate’s inability to see the constitutional changes as beneficial to their everyday lives, but said he doubted the results would affect the PLP’s changes of regaining the government in the upcoming 2017 general elections.
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International yesterday called the failed gender equality referendum a “missed opportunity” for reform. The international agency insisted that human rights should not be determined by a vote, but protected by the state.
Highlights from the 2016/2017 Budget Debate
The legislative business of the government continued in the House on Wednesday with the commencement of the budget debate.
Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis projected a slowing in the rate of growth in the debt-to-gross domestic project (debt-to-GDP) ratio. He also predicted a decline in the 2017/2018 fiscal year. Minister Halkitis also provided further details on the Government’s revamped mortgage relief program (MRP) and announced that the companion Credit Bureau legislation is now in its final stages and will be brought to Parliament before the end of the upcoming fiscal year.
The member for East Grand Bahama the Hon. Peter Turnquest advised the House that the FNM has its own mortgage relief plan that could be released for public scrutiny as early as next month. No details were released but Mr. Turnquest said that, “the fundamental basis of the FNM plan is growing the economy and creating an opportunity for Bahamians to meet their obligations.”
Continuing her work to reform the Financial Services Sector, Minister Hope Strachan told House members that The Bahamas is committed to establishing a trading hub for Chinese currency and denominated securities. With the Chinese Renmimbi (RMB) now a benchmark currency worldwide along with the US dollar, the Euro and pound sterling, this could lead to the establishment of the first Chinese bank in The Bahamas that would be a clearing bank for all international business transactions emanating from The Bahamas.
Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration the Hon. Cleola Hamilton said that the government has spent more than $1 million on repatriation efforts in the current fiscal year. She said that repairs to the Carmichael Road Detention Center are ongoing and that the number of detainees there as of 8th June stood at 176.
State Minister for Public Works and Urban Development the Hon. Arnold Forbes touted the government’s performance in the areas of food supply (BAMSI) and jobs training and placement, but declared that the government’s crowning achievement will be National Health Insurance. He urged the government to move quickly on this policy initiative.
Central and South Eleuthera MP the Hon. Damian Gomez boasted that Southern Eleuthera was virtually crime free and that he was happy to report continued and steady growth in the second home market in his constituency. This was having a positive impact on the local economy said Mr. Gomez as the government is setting a sound economic foundation for the future growth and prosperity of that island.
Bamboo Town MP the Hon. Renward Wells challenged the government to invest in the upgrades of culturally significant physical infrastructure such as Fort Fincastle as other countries such as Australia has done. He sees this as an important revenue stream.
South Andros and Mangrove Cay MP the Hon. Picewell Forbes urged government to prioritize local young black entrepreneurs in its contract allocation and administration. He also called for greater training and job placement opportunities for young people in South Andros.
Debate resumes in the House on Monday, 13th June 2016.
NHI Stakeholder Advisory Council meets
On Thursday of this week, the Universal Health Care (UHC) Stakeholder Advisory Council foreshadowed by Prime Minister Christie in his 2016/2017 opening budget communication held its inaugural at the NHI Secretariat headquarters.
As stated earlier by the government, the UHC Stakeholder Advisory Council is “part of the Government’s approved integrated UHC governance structure, and will regularly bring together a select group of stakeholders representing the health sector, patients, employers, employees, civil society, and the insurance industry.” This position was reiterated by the NHI Secretariat on Thursday.
Dr. Mark Britnell, Chairman and Partner, Global Health Practice, KPMG, facilitated the discussion.
“We had a very productive first meeting with a lot of different perspectives coming together towards the one common goal and vision of universal health coverage which support modern, affordable and accessible health care for all” said Dr. Britnell. “I’m confident that continuing to engage with stakeholders through a formal advisory council as part of the overall governance structure will bring valuable ideas and feedback on the continued rollout of UHC” said Dr. Britnell.
The mandate of the UHC Stakeholder Advisory Council is to support the design and implementation of UHC, provide advice to the UHC Executive Steering Committee and to review and provide feedback on matters brought to the Advisory Council.
Although unable to provide a timeline for the implementation of the primary health care benefits phase, Peter Deveaux-Isaacs, Permanent Secretary at the NHI Secretariat believed that a timeline could be established at the next meeting of the UHC Stakeholder Council meeting.
Among the 14 stakeholders are President of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Bahamas Employers Confederation (BCCBEC) Edison Sumner and Bahamas Insurance Association (BIA) President Emmanuel Komolafe.
The Resorts World Hilton project in North Bimini has changed the way the government views sustainable Family Island developments, according to Prime Minister Christie; he called it a “game changer” for the island. Speaking in Bimini at the grand opening of the resort’s new 300-room luxury property on Saturday, Mr. Christie vowed that the project would expand the development of the island and ensure employment opportunities for residents.
Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner said on Monday that she “is not sure” if she will run again for leader of the FNM at the party’s July convention. In an interview, Butler-Turner said the FNM’s parliamentary caucus is pleased that FNM Leader Dr. Minnis decided an early convention was the best way forward.
The Bahamas Public Service Union’s (BPSU) president has praised the Government for “bringing some level of dignity” to ‘unregularised’ civil service employees, and called on the government to abide by established protocols when hiring temporary/contractual workers in the future.
This week the Bahamas Communication and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) maintained its objection to the grant of a second mobile license to Cable Bahamas Ltd. Prime Minister Christie updated the House on this process during his opening budget statement.
Bahamas Tourism Minister the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe urged Bahamians on Wednesday to further improve the country’s image and avoid repeated crime advisories. Minister Wilchombe’s comments came after the Canadian government became the latest to warn its citizens to “exercise a high degree of caution” when travelling to The Bahamas.
Updating Parliament on the ongoing negotiations to restart the Baha Mar project and responding to opposition charges of misleading the country on this project, Prime Minister Christie said in the House on Wednesday that his Government is currently “observing and energizing” negotiations between the EXIM Bank of China and China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) in hopes of “persuading the acceleration” of construction at Baha Mar. The receivers forBaha Mar have not reached an agreement with the CSCEC to resume construction even though Prime Minister Christie said “very active decisions” were being made on the issue.
Invest Grand Bahama Small Business Bureau (IGBSBB), a division of the GBPA, spearheaded a two-day training workshop at the Pelican Bay Resort on June 8th-9th of this week. One of the presenters, Valdez Russell, Principal of VKR Insights, stated that “the opportunity to participate in experiences like this reflects a modern and prosperous Bahamas, and that is exactly at the core of what we want. We want people to feel connected; we want people to also feel that they can prosper.”
The Grand Bahama tourism product got another shot in the arm this week when a new direct charter from Milan Italy arrived at the Grand Bahama International Airport on Thursday, 9th June 2016. The B767-300ER Alpitour flight brought 80 passengers on its inaugural voyage and will service the Grand Bahama Market throughout the summer, ending on the 1st September 2016.
With the positions of President, Treasurer and Trustee absent from the ballot and under court review, teachers across the nation went to the polls on Thursday to elect a new slate of officers for the next three years. According to Acting President Zane Lightbourne, some of the winners were as follow: Joan Turnquest – Vice President; John Musgrove – Secretary General; Tiffany Delancey – Assistant Secretary General; Charles Adderley – Assistant Treasurer; Quintin Laroda was returned unopposed along with the announcement of a number of area vice presidents and executive officers from various family islands who were successful.
The 20th annual Andros Crabfest kicked off in Fresh Creek Andros on Thursday, bringing local and international visitors to Central Andros for fun, music and to sample a wide variety of crab themed cuisines. The three-day festival will be officially opened on Friday, 10th June 2016 by the Prime Minister, the Hon. Perry G. Christie and Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis is expected to attend the festival on Saturday. Many Nassau residents use this occasion as a commercial venture by purchasing large volumes of crabs for resale in Nassau.
About the author: Elcott Coleby is a Deputy Director at the Bahamas Information Services. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry (B.Sc) and a Masters of Business Administration (MBA). He provides frequent commentary on public policy and communicates the works of the government. Address all comments to the following email: email@example.com