National Confusion Thanks To The Prime Minister

Tuesday 19th, February 2013 / 08:13 Published by

Prime Minister Perry Christie and his government created what has variously been described as a conundrum, a dilemma and national confusion – among other unflattering things – regarding the PLP government’s recently held non-binding referendum.

From day one, the non-binding referendum process was, as it has been described by PLP MP Dr. Andre Rollins, awkward and untidy; and later by Minister of State Keith Bell as a process that should have included more education. Even Sean McWeeney, former attorney general and now chairman of the Constitutional Commission, conceded after the vote that more education was needed and his commission was likely to need more time to educate voters regarding the planned June 2013 referendum.

It seems that Christie has taken his advice given Christie’s announcement that the constitutional referendum will be held this November and not June, as originally planned.

Lest we forget, it was the Christie-led PLP government that planned to hold the referendum initially on December 3, 2012, a mere seven months after being elected last year. Why the rush? It was Christie, who famously said, in response to opposition criticism regarding the time it took to appoint his Cabinet and statutory boards in 2002, that he prefers to take his time and get it right than to rush and get it wrong. If only he had taken his own advice.

Further, Christie and his government need to say why they rushed to the web shop operators’ referendum instead of holding a constitutionally-binding referendum to give Bahamian women equal rights with men? They now say (as they did in 2002 when they were for it before they were against it) that they support equal constitutional rights for women, and the FNM is on record in support of it. We proposed it in 2001 in legislation before the House of Assembly when each of the PLP members voted for it, then campaigned against it publicly leading up to the February 2002 constitutionally-binding referendum.

It is well to recall that the FNM has always taken a progressive position on the rights of women going back to the constitutional conference in London in 1972. On that occasion the FNM delegation proposed full equality for women in all things including citizenship matters. The PLP delegation incredibly opposed it and the British government went along with them. That is why we have this problem in our constitution.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Christie and his government preferred to “sort out” – or pay back – the web shop operators for their general election and by-election support rather than ensure equal rights for Bahamian women. Incredible!

These are the same people who were pontificating just a few months ago in the House of Assembly and elsewhere about the 50th anniversary celebration of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Unbelievable!

In fact, it was only after Hubert A. Minnis, leader of the opposition, pointed out that there were a lot of unanswered questions as to the planned referendum that the PLP government changed the date to January 28, 2013.

Not only was the date of the referendum changed but the only question initially was legalization of web shops (only three or four of them). Of course, we know now that was also changed to include a national lottery question. Hence, we ended up with the January date and a national lottery question that was never contemplated by Christie and his colleagues.

If there is any doubt, be reminded that Christie told the country with all certainty that the UK consultant advised his government that a national lottery was not economically feasible, and he accepted that advice without equivocation.

It is noted that Dr. Minnis in the House of Assembly questioned the expertise of the same UK consultants. Subsequently, Christie spoke highly about going half way around the world to engage other gaming experts to advise them – whether there was a yes or no vote. It is noteworthy that the question has been asked on several occasions as to how much the Bahamian government paid them, or is likely to pay them, but to date Christie’s silence on this question is still deafening.

But then the legalization of web shops was the only question initially contemplated, but it ended up being regulation and taxation. Again, confusion; why ask the Bahamian people to regulate and tax an activity that is currently illegal? Was the PLP government telling us that they presumed that we were prepared to legalize those enterprises? Or, to allow them to continue operating outside the law in the event of a no answer? Therefore, they only needed to determine whether we supported regulating and taxing them?

Moreover, examination of the question regarding the national lottery suggests that Christie and his government either did not understand what they were doing or intentionally and deliberately put the question as they did so as to confuse the voters.

The phrase “national lottery” means just that and nothing more – a lottery that is available for participation nationwide – that is it. It does not speak to the real question; a state-owned national lottery.

Persons who support a state-owned national lottery ought to be very upset with Christie and his government because the reality is that a lot of countries in the world have those enterprises and the monies are typically dedicated to education, culture and/or sports development.

Further, we note that the FNM was not fundamentally opposed to such a lottery. In fact, had the question been put as suggested above, along with the necessary education, the result may well have been different.

So, why didn’t the PLP government ask the suggested question regarding the national lottery? It might very well be that, other than incompetence, it did so deliberately in order to keep open its options (implementation of a privately-owned national lottery) that would enrich a few and provide the PLP with campaign funds in perpetuity. After all we do not know if the web shop question failed, as it did, and the national lottery question passed, if the PLP government with the “consent” of the people would have given the same web shop operators a privately-owned national lottery. Incredible!

Let’s examine it. Apart from the “spinning” (computer or electronic) slot machines (casino-type gaming – another matter) which we now know are part of what happens in web shops, and reportedly personal loans on a small scale, they are really in the lottery business.

Hence, it is not far-fetched at all to imagine them obtaining a license from this PLP government to operate a privately-owned national lottery.

So, what did the PLP government really ask the people to support? Yes, ask to support because the prime minister and his ministers made sure to inform the public that even if there was a no vote they likely would not have the resources to enforce the laws that already exist, that the PLP government would have to increase taxes in the event of a no vote and that a lot of people (they say thousands, but not sure how many) would lose their jobs.

Oh, and days before the vote, Christie said that the government was then prepared to issue eight web shop licences; that is, a licence to every existing web shop operator. Not to mention that PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts told their women’s association to vote yes, then retracted the statement; but the horse was out of the barn. We also know that the yes campaign used many offices that the PLP used in the general election and many of the same canvassers.

Yet still, there was a landslide no vote on both questions on referendum day and where are we today? Effectively, nothing has been achieved except a conundrum, dilemma and national confusion, thanks to Christie and his colleagues. The web shops are still open and operating in the same fashion as before the vote, rendering the people’s overwhelming no vote meaningless, at least for the time being.

Finally, remember, it was Christie who told the Bahamian public in no uncertain terms that if the people voted no the law would be enforced and the web shops would be closed; but of course, that was in the early days of the unfolding fiasco

– Michael A. Foulkes
Secretary General, FNM

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